WASHINGTON -- The Occupy movement came to the Supreme Court on Friday to protest the Citizens United decision on its second anniversary. What began as a peaceful gathering, complete with an a capella group of mock jurists and "Sesame Street" parodies, turned into a near-melee on the Court's steps leading to 11 arrests, according to a Court spokesperson.
The group Move to Amend had organized Occupy the Courts to protest at courthouses throughout the United States on Friday. The group supports a 28th constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and that campaign contributions are not a form of speech.
Move to Amend's rally, which started about noon across from the Supreme Court, was relatively orderly, anger over corporate influence mixing with optimism and good spirits. Among a couple of hundred demonstrators were a busload of self-described progressive Democrats from New Jersey and a Minnesotan currently living in Sweden.
"When the Supreme Court decision came down in 2010, I was outraged," Laird Monahan, the American expat, told The Huffington Post. "I expected to see rioting in the streets. I expected to see people marching on Washington with pitchforks and torches. And after five days, everyone went back to sleep."
But now the country was beginning to listen, he thought. "I believe the momentum will continue to build," Monahan said. "It's our job to wake up 300 million people, and we're in the process of doing that. I have no doubt that that's going to happen."
Mark Levine, a host of the Pacifica Radio show "Raucous Caucus," tried to end the rally with a call to action.
"It is not impossible to have change," he declared to the crowd. "The Citizens United decision was a 5-to-4 decision. All we have to do is wait and elect a president who, when one of those five justices is gone, will appoint a justice who will respect the Constitution of the United States."
"What is important is not this rally," said his co-host, Garland Nixon. "It's what you do when you leave this rally. It's who you talk to. It's how you build the movement. So keep in mind, these rallies are great rah-rah sessions, but when you leave here, don't just go home and feel good about it. Leave, do something, and there can be serious change from serious people."
Instead of leaving, though, the protesters decided to make their point heard on the Court's plaza. By midafternoon, scores of them broke past barricades erected by the Supreme Court Police and stormed the steps leading to the building's iconic brass doors. There they stood, holding signs and chanting with raised fists, until the police announced via bullhorn, "You're in violation of United States Code Title 40," which prohibits protests on the Court's grounds.
As police then moved in to make arrests, order broke down. Protesters fell to the ground and screamed profanities, while plainclothes officers turned their camcorders on the angry crowd. Occupy members caught it all on camera and streaming it live across the Internet.
A half-hour and 11 arrests later, the police had formed a line stretching the width of the Court building. The wall of officers steadily pressed forward, shouting, “Step! Step!” as they drove the protesters back to the sidewalk, where demonstrations can be lawfully conducted.
Four hours after the rally began, calm had returned. With the barricades back up and adrenaline going down, many of the police officers went inside and some protesters retired to a nearby building for strategy sessions on amending the Constitution.