January 21, 2012 / 12:56 AM / 8 years ago

"Occupy" targets banks, corporate campaign spending

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

Jed Holtzman, of Occupy Bernal Heights, reads the details from a purposed 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution concerning corporate personhood outside the United States 9th Circuit Court building in San Francisco, California, January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

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 “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 the Supreme Court decision - Citizen United v. Federal Election Commission - which protesters complain allowed unlimited corporate campaign spending.

The high court ruled in 2010 that the government could not restrict political speech and spending by corporations, unions and other outside groups, allowing political action committees to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns - creating what are known as Super PACs.

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 12 people.

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 non-profit 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.

HUNDREDS, NOT THOUSANDS

Move to Amend had 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, 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.

“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, chanting, “The 99 are here to stay, Wall Street it’s time to pay!”

Protests at federal courthouses in New York City and Charlottesville, Virginia, each drew about 100 people.

Inspired by the Arab Spring protests, 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.

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 had no relief from unemployment and a struggle economy.

Critics accuse the Occupy movement of not having a clear message or demands. A 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.

When respondents were 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 and Peter Cooney

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