West's Words

Best-selling author and activist Cornel West speaks Friday at Bo Diddley Community Plaza, the home base of the Occupy Gainesville movement.

A 10-foot-tall cardboard skyscraper puppet plastered with corporation logos pumped its huge arms over a chanting crowd at the Alachua County Courthouse on Friday.

The puppet, carried by four members of Occupy Gainesville, symbolized what the protesters wanted to change.

They had marched to the courthouse as part of Move to Amend's Occupy the Courts event, calling for an amendment to reverse the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to politicians.

"We want to restore personhood to the flesh people in the money-equals-speech equation," said Occupy Gainesville member Zot Lynn Szurgot.

At Friday's event, Bo Diddley Community Plaza was crammed with people of all ages. After a skit, songs, poetry and speeches, the event's honored guest, best-selling author Cornel West, took the stage.

Szurgot said West had planned to be at the Move to Amend protest at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. But when he found out he'd be in Gainesville that night on an anti-poverty tour with talk show host Tavis Smiley, he contacted Occupy Gainesville.

"I wouldn't want to be in any other place but Gainesville, Florida, today," West said.

He was arrested in October for demonstrating on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court with Occupy D.C., according to Politico.

In his speech in Gainesville, West mentioned the "poison at work in these corporations" and called poverty in the U.S. an ethical abomination.

"Occupy is so crucial. Move to Amend is so crucial," he said. "There is deep, unapologetic love at the core of what we're trying to do."

The end of his speech was met with a standing ovation.

"It's like plugging into a power socket when he speaks," said John Berger, 66, a member of Occupy Gainesville.

At about 2:50 p.m., West led the crowd on its three-block march to the courthouse.

Dogs, children and adults walked in a pack along sidewalks and flooded into the streets. Someone drummed a beat, and protesters repeated chants such as, "The people united will never be defeated."

West sang along enthusiastically, dancing with the crowd. When they reached the courthouse, he took pictures, signed autographs and chanted for about 20 minutes. At about 3:15 p.m., West left by car, but many of the protesters remained in awe of the event.

"It was empowering to know that so many people have one voice and one message," said Claudia Youakim, 32.