Occupy Toledo sets sights on courthouse to protest ruling


Weeks after Occupy Toledo protesters cleared out of downtown's Levis Square, a new occupation has been scheduled -- this time, to send a message to the federal court system.

Occupy the Courts is to take place Friday afternoon in front of the federal courthouse at 1716 Spielbusch Ave. The demonstration is being held in conjunction with others nationwide to call attention to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that some say furthers the trend toward giving rights to corporations.

The protest, local organizer Doug Jambard-Sweet said, is a way to show the courts that average Americans want change. The group particularly is looking for support for a constitutional amendment that organizers say would end "corporate personhood rights."

"I think change has to be initially the general public. In order for there to be a movement for a constitutional amendment, you need vast grass-roots support," said Mr. Jambard-Sweet, 55, of Maumee. "What is needed is millions of people who are willing to come forward and say, 'I agree with this, and I think something needs to be done about it.' "

The demonstration is planned to coincide with the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. The Jan. 21, 2010, court decision said the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions.

While supporters lauded limitations placed on governmental regulations, opponents railed against the decision, saying it gave corporations and special-interest groups similar rights to those of citizens.

Rebecca Zietlow, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Toledo College of Law, said in the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision, the majority rejected the argument that corporations should not have same free-speech rights as "living, breathing people." Instead, the court decided that limiting the free speech of anyone, including corporations, was unconstitutional.

Ms. Zietlow said the Occupy movement seems to show as much concern "about the power of corporations as the courts and civil libertarians are concerned about the power of the government."

"I do think that political movements like this at least do have a long-term impact on the law," she said, noting that polls show more people are expressing opinions about the issues raised by the movement. "…They have an impact on the way people think of these issues."

Mr. Jambard-Sweet said he expects about 30 people to participate in the demonstration but hopes for many more.

"Since Occupy Toledo came together specifically, people realized there is a whole network of people who want to do something," he said. "It became a leaping-off point for those who are interested in proposing political activity. This is an example of that."

According to the Move to Amend national Web site, movetoamend.org, Friday's demonstration was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which included rallies in cities across the country.

Participants are asked to meet at Third Space, 137 N. Michigan St., at 2:30 p.m. and will march to the federal courthouse, where the rally will be held. The event is scheduled to last about three hours.

Toledo police spokesman Sgt. Joe Heffernan said his department was made aware of the planned demonstration by the federal officials. He said neither the courthouse nor the police anticipates any problems.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.