'Occupy' protests target banks, corporate campaign donations
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SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON -- Dozens of Occupy protesters chained themselves to doors at Wells Fargo bank headquarters in San Francisco on Friday, while across the United States hundreds more demonstrators rallied at federal courthouses against corporate campaign donations.
Activists in San Francisco were aiming 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, who said Wells Fargo had told many employees to work from home.
Protesters targeting other buildings in the city's financial district found barriers and security guards preventing them from blocking entrances.
Donna Vieira, 42, a real estate appraiser, was protesting at Wells Fargo in San Francisco because she said the bank had "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."
Elsewhere in the country, protesters turned out under the banner "Occupy the Courts" at some 150 courthouses, marking the second anniversary of a US Supreme Court decision on Citizen United v. Federal Election Commission, which protesters complain allows unlimited corporate campaign spending.
The High Court ruled in 2010 that the government cannot restrict political speech and spending by corporations, unions and other outside groups, allowing PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns - creating what are known as Super PACs.
In Washington, a couple of hundred protesters gathered across the street from the Supreme Court, chanting "Rights are for people, not for corporations" and "Which side are you on?" Police arrested a handful of protesters.
"I don't see how a real democracy of the people can take place when so much money is in our electoral system," said Lucy Craig, 36, from New Jersey, who was holding a sign that read: "Citizens United: best democracy money can buy."
The nonprofit organization Move to Amend organized "Occupy the Courts" to launch its campaign to amend the US Constitution, seeking to abolish corporate constitutional rights and establish that money is not speech.
Occupy profile struggle
Move to Amend expected up to 25,000 people to rally across the United States on Friday, spokesman David Cobb said. Occupy protest crowds often number in the hundreds rather than thousands of people, despite the movement's headline-grabbing antics 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," she added.
In Phoenix, about 50 protesters marched outside the Sandra Day O'Connor US Court House, chanting "the 99 are here to stay, Wall Street it's time to pay!"
"Four hundred Americans control all the wealth," said Micky Mize, a spokesman for Occupy Phoenix. "They are the ones who control the job market, they are trying to control everything from education to our birthrights."
Inspired by the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street began when protesters set up camp in New York's Zuccotti Park on Sept. 17, sparking demonstrations across the United States and elsewhere in the world and, in some cases, violent clashes with police.
But the eviction of protesters in New York and public spaces in other US cities in November and December has made the protests less visible and organizers now face the challenge of how to maintain momentum without the physical camps.
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 have had no relief from high unemployment and a struggling economy.
They also believe the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share of taxes.
Critics accuse the Occupy protest of not having a clear message or demands and a new poll on Friday of more than 17,000 people by global research company Ipsos for Reuters found that the movement's ambiguity could be hindering its growth.
More than half of those surveyed by Ipsos 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 of the group.
Yet when told more about the general objectives of Occupy -- to protest social and economic inequality, corporate greed, the power of the financial sector and the global financial system -- sympathy for the group rose to 53 percent from 33 percent.