Protesters by the dozens in Salt Lake City and the hundreds elsewhere, not the thousands hoped, gathered at courthouses Friday to protest a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed most limits on corporate and labor spending in federal elections.
Move to Amend, the grassroots coalition that organized the event, said protesters in more than 100 cities would launch petition drives to gain support for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the court’s decision allowing private groups to spend huge amounts on political campaigns with few restrictions. Occupy Wall Street activists joined forces with Move to Amend.
In Salt Lake City, about 20 protesters held signs outside the Frank E. Moss federal courthouse as a cluster of police officers maintained a presence nearby.
Sandy resident Kole Bodell, 28, recently organized a Move to Amend presence in Utah. He took a vacation day from his mechanical engineering job with Rio Tinto to protest the high court’s ruling in the case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission in 2010.
A former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq, Bodell carried a sign that read, "Veterans don’t fight for profit."
"When I served four years in the military, it wasn’t so that Bechtel, KBR, Halliburton and all the other corporations could make money and buy politicians to further drag out the war and create policies that support all that," Bodell said. "I fought for the Constitution, for representation and for freedom of the American people."
Bodell said he felt betrayed by the Supreme Court ruling.
"Companies can influence people by pouring propaganda down their throats through TV and media outlets," Bodell said. "We need politicians that want to represent the people, not special interests."
His 23-year-old brother, Jadee Bodell, served in the Air Force in Afghanistan. His sign read, "My speech is free, don’t outbid me."
Jadee Bodell is an engineering student at the University of Utah. He also works at Kennecott as a chemist and at the university as a research assistant. Salt Lake City’s Move to Amend group numbers about 70 members, he said.
"Bringing about a constitutional amendment is no small feat," Bodell said, anticipating that the effort could take three to four years. He said the group’s next step will be to get a nonbinding resolution supported by city and county representatives and eventually a statewide ballot initiative. The ultimate target is a constitutional convention where a legislative fix could occur.
"The federal courthouse has been really nervous about our protest — it caused a really big stir," Bodell said, noting that Move to Amend had to clear several layers of bureaucracy to be able to protest on the courthouse steps, including a meeting with U.S. Marshals last week. The group also obtained a permit from Salt Lake City to protest on the sidewalk.
Carol Holland, 74, a member of Occupy Ogden, came with eight other members to participate in Friday’s protest.
The retired Clearfield Job Corps counselor held a sign saying "Corporations are not people, $ is not speech."
"The way the country is going financially, corporations go in and support their candidates and put in billions of dollars," Holland said. "There’s even corporations that are not in the United States that are supporting their favorite candidate — and that’s offensive."
In Washington, D.C., about 150 protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court. Other cities drew relatively small numbers, as well, including Baltimore; Albany, N.Y.; and San Francisco. A protest in Minneapolis included chants and street theater. In Denver, several dozen activists entered the Capitol to engage lawmakers following the protest.
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Cathy McKitrick contributed to this story
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