Occupy S.F. protesters block banks

SAN FRANCISCO - Hundreds of protesters clad in rain gear marched through downtown Friday evening - one of several events in a day of action organized by Occupy San Francisco and other allied groups on the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, which removed limits on how much money corporations could spend on political campaigns.

Multiple blocks of California Street and Montgomery Street were blocked for hours Friday by the demonstrations at two banks and the ensuing response by police in riot gear.

In the city's financial district police arrested 18 people for trespassing, including a group that refused to move their human chain blocking an entrance to the headquarters of Wells Fargo. Another was arrested for allegedly grabbing a police officer's baton.

A spokesman for Wells Fargo said that the bank is doing its part to help those facing financial hardships, and that in the past year less than 2 percent of homeowner-occupied loans in the bank's servicing portfolio have proceeded to foreclosure sale.

On Friday afternoon more than 100 people gathered outside a federal courthouse to call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the legal doctrine of corporate personhood.

Occupy makes small, shrill showing at courts

Occupy Wall Street activists joined forces with Move to Amend, a grassroots coalition that organized the event in more than 100 cities, though with freezing temperatures and snowy weather the turnout in many places was low.

Protesters said they were kicking off petition drives in support of a constitutional amendment that would overturn a 2010 court ruling that allowed private groups to spend huge amounts on political campaigns with few restrictions.

In Washington, D.C., 11 people who got into confrontations with police were arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court House and on the plaza, while another person was arrested inside the courthouse for unlawful entry. A crowd of about 100 protesters gathered on the sidewalk outside the court's 1,300-pound bronze doors, which were shut on account of the protest, chanting: "Whose steps? Our steps."

Earlier, demonstrators wearing black robes and pretending to be Supreme Court justices sang songs mocking the Citizens United ruling on the Capitol lawn.

Several hundred Occupy protesters march through San Francisco's financial district on Friday, Jan. 20, 2012. AP Photo/Noah Berger

In Boston, fife and drum music played as protesters rallied at the federal courthouse. Some protestors even dressed their dogs in pinstripes and red ties, saying that dogs should be able to vote if big businesses basically can.

A demonstration of about 100 people outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis included chants and street theater. One skit included a judge who performed a marriage ceremony between a person and a corporation.

About 50 people braved blizzard-like conditions in Chicago, waving at passing cars and chanting, "Money out of politics."

In Cleveland, about 40 to 50 protesters in hats, hoods and gloves held a morning vigil outside the Metzenbaum Federal Courthouse, followed by a march through downtown streets. During the march, paper $50 "bills" were taped over the mouths of ralliers.

About two dozen protesters drew occasional honks from passing drivers as they stood outside Baltimore's federal courthouse with signs that read: "Corporations are not people, Money is not speech," and "B-heard: Corporate money out of politics."

In Albany, about 50 demonstrators carried placards and a cardboard coffin labeled "Democracy RIP." And several dozen protesters in Denver went inside the Capitol to meet lawmakers after the protest.

But in St. Louis, just four people showed up for a planned gathering outside of City Hall. They hung around for several minutes before leaving without a rally. Those who did attend blamed the frigid weather — blustery winds and temperature in the low 20s — and an apparent lack of communication.

It was a far cry from Occupy protests in the fall, when hundreds gathered around the clock at a small downtown park near Busch Stadium.

"Back in October it was easy to find out what was going on," said 51-year-old Don Higgins of St. Louis. "You just went down to Kiener Plaza and asked somebody."

The turnout was similarly small in Indianapolis, where protester Ken Chestek, a professor at Indiana University's McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, lamented the fact that only 15 people showed up for a demonstration against Citizens United v. FEC.

"When I heard the Citizens decision announced on NPR two years ago, I started screaming, `This is the end of the republic,"' he said. "To give corporations political power, that's the end of democracy."

Activists in New York scrambled to move their protest after a judge ruled Thursday that demonstrators don't have a First Amendment right to protest in front of a federal courthouse.

Protesters had filed a lawsuit asking the judge to overturn the government's rejection of their permit application. The permit was denied on grounds that the courthouse poses unique security concerns.

In a statement late Thursday, Move to Amend said the rally would be moved to Foley Square, near the courthouse, and that activists would focus on organizing the protests rather than appealing the ruling.

In San Francisco CBS Station KPIX reports that some protesters got into an altercation with officers in riot gear near Van Ness Avenue and Geary Street shortly after 7 p.m. Roughly a dozen people were pepper sprayed by officers, protesters said. Protesters also said some officers used physical force against the demonstrators.

Police Officer Carlos Manfredi told KPIX demonstrators used umbrellas "kind of like grappling hooks" to latch onto barricades and rip them down.

Shortly after the confrontation, some protesters appeared to break at least one window of a business - a window at a Bentley dealership - which drew criticism from fellow Occupiers.

KPIX reports between 20 and 30 protesters got inside a vacant hotel building on Cathedral Hill, with a group going up to the roof and throwing Bibles onto the streets.

Protester Bradley Angel said the occupation of the vacant building was "to emphasize that people are getting thrown out of their homes."