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After tent cities fade, Occupy turns to specifics

By Amy Westfeldt

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 1:10 a.m. MST

The call for tighter regulation of campaign contributions won't gain traction anytime soon. The Supreme Court, in its landmark Citizens United decision in January 2010, cleared the way for corporations to spend unlimited funds to influence elections, often using money from anonymous donors. The court struck down most of the so-called McCain-Feingold law that had set tight restrictions on such donations, arguing that government did not have the right to regulate political speech.

Campaign regulation, stopping wars that strain resources, halting corporate personhood — the spending power given to corporations in the 2010 Supreme Court ruling — and addressing higher education costs have emerged as key goals of the Occupy movement in Los Angeles. Organizers say they are now focusing on sharpening their objectives, as police moved in to shut down the two-month-old encampment this week.

"We've been collecting ideas, seeing what the priorities are, vetting and researching them," said activist Suzanne O'Keeffe, a member of Occupy LA's Demands & Objectives Committee.

Los Angeles member Mario Brito said the movement plans to pressure elected and bank officials for a moratorium on foreclosures, and said members would "occupy" bank lobbies, boardrooms and executives' homes to force the action.

In Minneapolis, five members of the Occupy MN "Cohesive Messaging Committee" gathered to talk strategy this week at a downtown coffee shop, asking that people attending recent General Assembly meetings fill out cards expressing broad themes that were important to them. The group entered the cards into a spreadsheet and found economic justice, democracy, education and campaign finance reform as the common themes.

Collinge, an aerospace engineer who later founded a website about problems with student loans, lists the congressional bill he wants passed to return bankruptcy protections to student loans. The Depression-Era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banking from investment banking, is another named law cited at the top of protesters' demands in cities across the country. Most of the restrictions that regulated the two forms of banking were repealed in 1999, and are blamed by many economists for contributing to the financial crisis in 2007.

Kalle Lasn, the co-founder of Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that helped ignite the Occupy movement, supports a 1 percent global "Robin Hood" tax on big financial transactions. Similar taxes and increases have been proposed for years, including the Obama administration's "financial crisis responsibility fee" tax proposal of last year, intended to raise $90 billion over the next decade.

As individual protesters and movements fashion a platform, experts and organizers warned that defining the movement more broadly keeps everyone in and keeps responsibility in the hands of the power brokers.

"They've achieved a lot by having the open ended process that they've had so far," said Parrott, the Fiscal Policy Institute's chief economist. "They should be selective in that there are some people who are trying to glom onto the stage that they've created" with ideas that aren't part of the main movement.

Will Birney, who left his job as a waiter in Westport, Ct., to join Occupy's New York movement, has one wish, although it can't be passed into law or regulated by the Treasury Department.

"I would instill a fair conscience, if people could look to morality," said Birney, 26.

He knows he's reaching, but says that's the point of the movement.

"I'm not even thinking we're going to get concrete solutions out of this," he said. "All I want is a change."

Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy, David B. Caruso and Verena Dobnik in New York, Christina Hoag in Los Angeles and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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