Billionaires and Blank Brick Walls

by Marilee Jolin, columnist

There was a distinct fall chill in the air and leaves flew all over the Rainier Avenue sidewalks, but the film crew and expectant participants were not deterred.  By 10am, this past Thursday, the parking lot of Rocket Crossfit on the corner of Mead and Rainier was filled with lights, cameras and plenty action in support of End Citizens United a young, grassroots movement whose goal is to get corporate money out of our political system.  

The group’s name references the 2010 Supreme Court Decision that the government cannot restrict or regulate how corporations spend money on political campaigns.  Essentially, the court said that corporations have the same free speech protections as individuals when it comes to political campaigns, creating new avenues for the uber-wealthy to influence elections and politics.

Resident Tammy Morales signs position to overturn Citizens United. Photo Credit: Alex Garland
Resident Tammy Morales signs position to overturn Citizens United. Photo Credit: Alex Garland

For Alyssa Royse, owner of Rocket Crossfit, this decision and its effects are the most important issue facing our nation today.  “Right now our political system is driven entirely by special interests and big business,” Royse tells me.  She becomes more animated as she goes on: “[Citizens United] says that these corporations have equal rights to all of the people in this country and they don’t!” Royse contends.“They are killing our citizens, not serving them.”  

Royse’s passion about this issue led her to answer an open call from End Citizens United looking for filming locations for their first national commercial campaign.  They were simply seeking a “giant, blank, brick wall”.  Royse says she emailed them back quickly to offer the brick wall next to her parking lot and whatever other help they’d need to film in Hillman City.

Richard Carbo, communications director for End Citizens United, was happy to receive the help.  End Citizens United is quite new – only established in March 2015 but they have already received impressive support. “We’ve got 500,000 people from all over the country who have signed a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn citizens united”, Carbo tells me.  And, in direct contrast the big money being spent by billionaire corporate PACS, End Citizens United focuses on small contributions from ordinary people. Since March, the group has raised almost 4 million dollars through “more than 260,000 contributions with an average contribution of less than $15.”  

With this money, End Citizens United is using some of this money for what promises to be an impressive public awareness campaign.  Filming in multiple cities around the country, the crew invites average citizens to join the movement by signing their name on a colored tile and then assembling all the tiles together to create an image and slogan about ending the influence of money in politics.  

The Hillman City installation will read “We the people, not we the wealthy”.  Watching the slogan begin to take shape – the blue and white tiles bright against the brick wall – I couldn’t help but be mesmerized; drawing closer to read the individual names all coming together in pursuit of something larger.

Carbo says the reason people are joining them, contributing their money and coming out to put their name on the murals is because they are “tired of their voices being drowned out by billionaires and corporations.”  Today we did our part in Hillman City, adding our names, sharing our thoughts and joining a movement to make our voices heard.

Be on watch for the Citizens United television spots coming soon, featuring murals and interviews from people in Chicago, Phoenix, Atlanta and – of course, Hillman City, Seattle.  You might just recognize a neighbor – and a giant brick wall.  

The finished mural can be seen on the north east corner of Mead and Rainier.

Marilee Jolin writes a regular column for the Emerald. She lives in Beacon Hill with her husband and two daughters.

Featured photo: Alex Garland

One thought on “Billionaires and Blank Brick Walls”

  1. I was excited to hear about this project and organization, but disappointed when I drove by the wall and saw it blank. Was this just performance art and then taken down? Too bad, because the wall looks barren without it. But here’s to bringing down “citizens United,” aka corporations United.