WASHINGTON -- Around 35 OccupyDC protesters huddled in a cluster of trees in McPherson Square on Saturday morning during on-and-off rain showers, the beginning of what they said could be a several month-long occupation of the park in the nation's capital.
The protesters, inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, are asking for the "repeal [of] corporate personhood," according to the group's website. Thee group is focusing particularly on Citizens United, the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down campaign-finance laws applying to corporations and unions, freeing these groups to spend money on independent political ads.
That decision expanded the First Amendment rights for corporations under the legal doctrine called corporate personhood, a theory that gives some legal rights and duties to corporations as if they were people.
Which parts of corporate personhood does OccupyDC want to repeal -- the parts that allow corporations to enter into contracts, or just the Citizens United-related parts that focus on campaign finance law?
Jeffrey Light, a D.C.-based activist lawyer associated with OccupyDC, told The Huffington Post in an interview Friday that OccupyDC doesn't yet have a unified vision of what it means to repeal corporate personhood, but said the protest group would like to start by getting corporation-related campaign finance laws back in place. "We're most concerned with the power of corporations to amass huge amounts of wealth and then to use that to distort the political system. We're also concerned about corporations looking to the First Amendment to overturn legislation enacted by democratically enacted government."
Light said that the group would support some First Amendment rights for non-persons -- OccupyDC would not support the government being able to tell nonprofits that they have to carry anti-gay messages, for example.
"But when we're talking about regulations in the public interest, things like forcing corporations to abide by environmental standards, or campaign finance limits, then it's unreasonable for corporations to be able to override the public interest," he said. "Our concern is about basic democratic principles. Rather than just making theoretical statements about what we'd like the role of corporations to be in an ideal world, we're trying to create actual reforms right now. People aren't coming out in the street because they all have a fixed and agreed-upon idea of exactly where this line should be drawn. People are just really fed up with the status quo right now, and want to see some real changes."
But Light said the group has no current plans to change Citizens United with another lawsuit or by pushing for a constitutional amendment.
"We don't have a consensus yet on what the next step is," Light said. "Unlike some other protests, we're not a nonprofit with already articulated goals. It's kind of a fluid thing right now: just individuals coming together and trying to figure out what kind of actions we should take. So we haven't necessarily articulated our long-term strategy yet.
"And there are of course a lot of different solutions, everything from another Supreme Court case to a constitutional amendment," he added. "We're not necessarily all on the same page as to what the solution would be, but any of those things would be a step in the right direction."
In the meantime, the small contingent of protesters remained in the square Saturday afternoon. Some held protest signs on the K Street NW sidewalk, getting occasional honks from passing traffic. Assuming the rain doesn't drive them away, the protesters have awhile to work out a unified vision.
WATCH Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Corporate Personhood:
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