January 20, 2012 / 3:10 PM / 6 years ago

"Occupy" targets banks, corporate campaign spending

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dozens of Occupy protesters chained themselves to doors at Wells Fargo bank headquarters in San Francisco on Friday, while across the United States hundreds more demonstrators rallied at federal courthouses against corporate campaign donations.

Police arrest a demonstrator on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building, on the anniversary of the Citizens United decision, in Washington, January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Activists in San Francisco aimed to disrupt the city’s financial district as part of “Occupy Wall Street West” by targeting 22 bank branches and other financial industry offices.

At least 11 protesters who had chained themselves to a rear entrance to the Wells Fargo headquarters were removed and arrested for trespassing, but police allowed other protesters to remain chained to other doors of the building.

“It’s peaceful and many banks have taken steps to mitigate the impact, so it’s an ideal situation,” said San Francisco Police Commander Richard Corriea. Wells Fargo told many employees to work from home, he said.

Donna Vieira, 42, a real estate appraiser, said she was protesting because the bank had “unfairly” foreclosed on her home in Reno, Nevada, last year.

“I can get it back if the attorney general takes action,” Vieira said. “Nobody is going after the big banks. And loss and pain and suffering doesn’t matter to the regulators.”

Protesters turned out under the banner “Occupy the Courts” at some 150 courthouses nationwide, marking the second anniversary of a Supreme Court’s decision on Citizen United v. Federal Election Commission, which protesters complain allows unlimited corporate campaign spending.

The decision has led to more than $25 million in spending so far this campaign season by outside groups seeking to influence the 2012 presidential election.

In Washington, a couple of hundred protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court, chanting “Rights are for people, not for corporations” and “Which side are you on?” Police arrested a 12 people.

“I don’t see how a real democracy of the people can take place when so much money is in our electoral system,” said Lucy Craig, 36, from New Jersey, who held a sign that read: “Citizens United: best democracy money can buy.”

About 200 protesters demonstrated peacefully in Denver outside the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, carrying signs that read “Citizens United Not Fair.”

The nonprofit organization Move to Amend organized “Occupy the Courts” to launch its campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution, seeking to abolish corporate constitutional rights and establish that money is not speech.

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators block an entrance to the Wells Fargo headquarters during a protest aimed to disrupt the city's financial district in San Francisco, California January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Stephen Lam


Move to Amend expected up to 25,000 people to rally across the United States on Friday, spokesman David Cobb said. Occupy protest crowds tend to number in the hundreds rather than thousands of people, despite the movement’s headline-grabbing actions and social media savvy.

“I would like to see more people,” said Lance Lawson, 27 from Tennessee, who was at the Washington protest.

In Boston, more than 100 protesters rallied outside the federal courthouse. Jacqueline Leary, 72, a writer from Beverly, Massachusetts, said there was too much money in politics.

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“Citizens United, it’s been eating away at me, infuriating me,” she said. “It’s so wrong and erodes your belief in the Supreme Court.”

About 75 people protested in front of the federal courthouse in Atlanta and in Phoenix, about 50 protesters marched outside the Sandra Day O‘Connor U.S. Court House in Phoenix, chanting “the 99 are here to stay, Wall Street it’s time to pay!”

“Four hundred Americans control all the wealth,” said Mickey Mize, a spokesman for Occupy Phoenix. “They are the ones who control the job market, they are trying to control everything from education to our birthrights.”

Inspired by the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street began when protesters set up camp in New York’s Zuccotti Park on September 17, sparking demonstrations across the United States and elsewhere in the world and, in some cases, violent clashes with police.

But the eviction of protesters in New York and public spaces in other U.S. cities in November and December has made the protests less visible and organizers now face the challenge of how to maintain momentum without the physical camps.

Protesters say they are upset that billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks during the recession allowed a return to huge profits while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and a struggling economy.

Critics accuse the Occupy protest of not having a clear message or demands and a new poll on Friday of more than 17,000 people by global research company Ipsos for Reuters found the movement’s ambiguity could be hindering its growth.

More than half of those surveyed were unsure how they felt about the movement -- which prides itself on being leaderless -- while a third sympathized with the protesters and 13 percent had an unfavorable view.

Yet when told more about the general objectives of Occupy, sympathy for the group rose to 53 percent from 33 percent.

Additional reporting by Lauren Keiper in Boston, David Beasley in Atlanta, Robert Boczkiewicz in Denver and Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Writing by Michelle Nichols; editing by Daniel Trotta

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