A corporate marriage at Federal Hall.

On January 19, Occupy Wall Street staged a wedding on the steps of Federal Hall in New York City to commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Citizens United vs. The FEC (Federal Election Commission).

Wedding booklet

Wedding booklet

But why would anyone stage a wedding to celebrate a Supreme Court ruling about election financing?

To understand this one must first know what the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Citizens United vs. The FEC. To quote the wedding booklet itself:

“In it’s Citizen United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that, because the law regards corporations as people with constitutional rights, it is within their First Amendment rights to donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates.”

Now we need to address part of that quote “…because the law regards corporations as people with constitutional rights…” Let’s explore this line further. Does it refer to CEO’s, or Vice Presidents, or Marketing experts who are actual people? No, the line is referring to the corporate entities, which are essentially nothing more than paperwork, who are considered actual people. To be even more specific a few random examples of commonly known corporations who fall under this classification of “being a person” are Chase Bank, General Electric, CBS, Viacom, Apple, Microsoft, Toyota, BP, Pfizer and the list goes on. (Once again as a note to the reader those corporations were not chosen for any reason other than the fact that they are commonly known.)

To explain just how a corporation can be considered a person in the first place you need look no further than the idea of “Corporate Personhood.”

What is Corporate Personhood?

To quote the booklet itself:

“‘Corporate personhood’ commonly refers to the Supreme Court-created precedent of corporations enjoying constitutional rights that were intended solely for human beings. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution ever mention corporations. But thanks to decades of rulings by Justices who molded law to favor elite interests, corporations today are granted so-called ‘rights’ that empower them to deny citizens the right to full self-governance.”

Is “corporate personhood” a new development? No. It’s actually about 200 years in the making. Once again to quote the wedding booklet:

“A long series of Supreme Court cases since the 1800′s have entrenched ‘corporate personhood’ in law. Justices have since struck down hundreds of local, state and federal laws enacted to protect people from corporate harm based on this illegitimate premise. Armed with ‘rights,’ corporations wield ever-increasing control over jobs, the environment, politicians, judges and the law.”

The information in the booklet was taken from the FAQ section of www.movetoamend.org

(Here is a photograph of the wedding booklet. On the left side you will find a cleverly political version of “Here Comes the Bride.” On the right side you will find the quotations referenced above.)

Inside the wedding booklet.

Inside the wedding booklet.

Having now explained the problems of corporate personhood, and how the conservative non-profit organization called Citizens United benefited from the concept, the idea behind the wedding was to have a human marry a non-human corporate person to illustrate the absurdity of the legal concept.

A quick history of the Citizens United ruling and its journey through the court system is useful now.

The Citizens United decision dates back to a 2008 Supreme Court case where the courts upheld the “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002-a federal enactment designed to prevent ‘big money’ from unfairly influencing federal elections-which, among other things, prohibits corporate financing of ‘electioneering communications’ and imposes mandatory disclosure and disclaimer requirements on such communications.” (See reference article)

It also overruled the 1990 case of “Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld limits on corporate spending in candidate elections.” (See reference article)

Okay, that’s enough legalese for one sitting.

The wedding was the focal point of the day. However, as it is also important, earlier there had been a conference hosted by the group Money Out Voters In. Here is Dennis Trainer Jr.’s video from the event.

The program from the Money Out Voters In event.

The program from the Money Out Voters In event.

Now for the wedding. Upon arrival and looking around (even briefly) the amount of creativity and effort put into the event was obvious.

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An organizer gathering people for planning.

An organizer gathering people for planning.

The devil

The devil

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As with any wedding there was of course, last-minute planning and choreography being discussed beforehand. Here is a short clip of some of the choreography being explained.

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What are the headdresses being worn in the above photos you might ask? Here is an explanation. Note, at the end, the person giving the explanation is holding a cigar which is a rolled-up dollar bill.

This event would have 7 brides marrying 7 corporations. Here is a clip of the gown one of the brides was wearing.

The gown

The gown

As the Reverend Billy Talen would be presiding over the ceremony his Stop Shopping Choir was present as well. Here is some of their rehearsal.

The brides also looked lovely as they prepared to be wed.

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When they had a minute I managed to conduct interviews with two of the brides.

Here is the interview with BP’s bride.

Here is the interview with Super PAC’s bride.

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There was also a king planning to marry Monsanto. Here is quick interview with him.

Now it was time to address everyone for last-minute wedding instructions.

A quick run-through of a parody of Here Comes the Bride was rehearsed. (See photo further up for the lyrics.)

All preparation was now finished. It was time to get married! The brides and grooms calmed their nerves as much as they could, led the procession and made their way to the steps of Federal Hall.

Brides and grooms paired up.

Brides and grooms paired up.

As the procession made its way to the steps of Federal Hall, Reverend Billy Talen spoke with praise of the marriage about to take place, and preached about courtship and the days of young love between people and corporations.

Reverend Billy Talen leads the group out of the rehearsal space at 60 Wall Street.

Reverend Billy Talen leads the group out of the rehearsal space at 60 Wall Street.

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Billy spoke highly of the children which would come as a result of the holy union between the human person and the non-human corporation. Of course we all know, when the Reverend spoke of the children to be produced, Billy was talking about the Subsidiary persons.

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Reverend Talen also called out about the consummation of the marriage through intercourse that night. In this case we all know he was talking about corporate mergers.

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He also discussed the days of pleasuring himself to corporations. This of course was a reference to his time as a shareholder, buying and selling visually appealing corporate stocks and bonds with the greatest investment potential. Over time he’d developed a very respectable portfolio.

It’s worth mentioning how (as the group marched in joyous song) the looks of shock, awe, confusion, appreciation, and amusement were obvious on the faces of unknowing bystanders.

Our police escort/motorcade.

Our police escort/motorcade.

Upon arriving at the steps there were minor trademark warnings from the accompanying police escort, making sure everyone was on the steps and had cleared a pathway for pedestrian traffic.

It should be noted for this event a permit had been acquired. Accordingly, the wedding had to remain on the steps but members of the press were allowed to occupy up to half the sidewalk at the foot of the steps.

Billy stands on the steps.

Billy stands on the steps.

The corporate persons gather on the steps.

The corporate persons gather on the steps.

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Reverend Billy Talen brought the ceremony to order and introduced his Stop Shopping Choir for a unique rendition of the Ave Maria. (The Ave Maria begins around the 1:15 mark)

Next the Reverend gave some quick background information to those present, and to the spectators now watching from across the street behind the police line and barricades.

“The corporation in its glorious personhood has reached out to an obviously beautiful trophy wife… A tall statuesque blonde trophy wife… has been proposed to and has accepted the hand of a corporate personhood… body. Amen? Did that make sense to anybody?

This wonderful ceremony has been brought to us by the ‘new Democracy project.’ They paid off the police and The New York Stock Exchange to make this…come to us.”

Billy also mentions Move to Amend and Occupy Wall Street as groups who organized the event.

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The parody of Here Comes the Bride was now sang as the brides and their corporate personhood grooms approached and ascended the stairs.

Rev Billy narrated the moment”
“Foreclosure. Foreclosed property is being dragged in here.”
“There’s freedom of expression being manhandled by the British Petroleum. It’s like an unwilling date, there.”
“We have the monarchy, he’s the king, and he has counterfeited a large amount of money here.”
“Here we have a woman whose ability to express her needs has been papered over by a dollar bill.”
“The Pfizer corporations, McDonald’s, here’s Bank of America.”
“Here’s, and here’s the human being. The American citizen! Let’s give her a big round of applause! Covered with dollar bills.”

The American citizen bride.

The American citizen bride.

At one point the police gave instructions to keep the sidewalk clear and Reverend Billy Talen gave a shout-out to his “competing bullhorn over there.”

Corporate persons look on.

Corporate persons look on.

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Next the Reverend called up the lawyers and the terms of agreement were read. While they were read the American citizen bride signed her name where it was appropriate.

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Rev Talen then asked if there were any objections. After asking this the choir sang.

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As the choir sang Billy addressed the corporate person and the trophy wife about whether or not they wanted to get married. When he addressed the trophy wife he says of the corporate person “he’s very handsome… he’s rich… I work for him…!”

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A close up of the "flower bouquet" the bride was holding. It's made of dollar bills.

A close-up of the “flower bouquet” the bride was holding. It’s made of dollar bills.

Next, the Reverend asked the bride and corporate personhood groom if they would take each others’ hands in marriage. Here is where the bride realized what she was about to do… Watch.

This concluded the wedding. Next I conducted an interview with one of the organizers of the event.

The organizer’s name was Aaron Black. He said the biggest need was to overturn the Citizens United ruling. When asked how he said one way was for a “Supreme Court ruling, which they already ruled against overturning the decision 3 years ago by 5 to 4.” There are 4 Justices over the age of 70. “Potentially get some new blood in there and get it done.”

He further said a way to do it would be with 39 states and 2/3 of the house. “Right now I believe we have 12 states that have signed off on this and a hundred house members. It’s gonna take a massive public effort. You know the bottom line is people have been sending a lot of petitions around…but there hasn’t really been a big on-the-ground movement.”

He made some good points. Personally, I think getting a Constitutional Amendment passed might be setting sights too high in the short run though. It’s an excellent idea to organize around and the left is certainly in dire need of an organizational effort. Nevertheless it is essential to realize just how divided the country is between the left and right. Furthermore, as it’s strongly divided it will take several years to get an Amendment passed which needs bipartisan support. Several years, which will see many defeats and setbacks. It will also take several years to sufficiently organize.

The other drawback which concerns me is the association Move to Amend (who has been organizing for a constitutional Amendment for a while) has with groups in the Democratic Party. Move to Amend has been spearheading an Amendment to make corporations not equal to people and to make money not equal to free speech. I actually attended a talk once with David Cobb, one of Move to Amend’s founders, and was very impressed with what I heard.

In fact here are two videos I streamed from the talk back in March of 2012:
Talk with David Cobb 1
Talk with David Cobb 2

The concern I have from before is not with Democrats at all. The concern rather is how easy it will be to sell an idea being pushed by those groups aligning with Democrats, to Republicans. In a country as divided as America the prospects of selling something like a constitutional Amendment to those on the right may be very difficult. This is not to discredit anything which Move to Amend stands for or endorses. In fact I support them very much. The question is really one of people on both sides of the aisle becoming interested in something which, though beneficial to all Americans, is up against a lot of pro-corporate propaganda. Even if a majority of Americans (on both sides) want money out of politics they still view the issues from the perspective of party loyalty.

Another thing to investigate might be the penalties for a politician should they have money in an offshore account. Or what the penalty is if a politician has stock in a company who lobbies to him? To say most politicians these days have (potentially impeachable?) conflicts of interests is beating a dead horse. However, what’s not really discussed are the penalties they face for these conflicts of interests and whether they are effective measures to curtail these conflicts of interests.

Hypothetically speaking, if a politician has a few million dollars in an offshore account, and the penalty is no more than say… $30,000… will they really care about a $30,000 fine knowing they have however much more in an offshore account? Once again, I’m speaking hypothetically here and I’m not referencing actual figures. This is certainly something to research and think about though.

We need to keep in mind also, just how much some politicians might secretly like the current situation. They are making a great deal of money in the current political climate. I’m sure there are progressives on the hill but if a politician is profiting greatly from the current situation, they will need a substantial amount of pressure to go against what might be a very lucrative position for them. Few people actually dislike making money and getting rich.

The final interview I did was with a fellow named John Murdoch. Here is what he said:

“This is one of those things where…it seems so intractable and such a mess that you can’t do it but actually Aaron touched on it. If the Supreme Court doesn’t go, the states… You have 12 states now but, you know, every time you really make the argument, you win. People don’t want to watch their legislators that they pay get bribed. They spend 40% of their time raising money. They spend 40% of their time, while you pay them, getting bribed by much richer people to go against your interests…Those who own the very rich corporations and the average man are not the same. You know, they have much greater margin for error than the normal person, and that means they can be reckless with their finances, with the environment with…military. They don’t serve in the military, they are not the ones who are gonna drink the tainted water. They are not going to…live by the tainted ground. They are not going to be affected by…a horrible economy the way normal people are. And so that’s why we’re not represented. This is a very basic thing. I think this is the very core of Occupy. This is the very core of everything that we are fighting against, and it’s nice to see more of a coalition starting to come. You know, they say we’re done but we’re still here.”

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