Disrupting Business As Usual For ‘Hells Fargo’
In the midst of a national recession indelibly identified with the foreclosure crisis, Wells Fargo’s 2011 profits rose 28 percent, to $15.9 billion. As a result, CEO John Stumpf’s 2012 compensation package totaled nearly $20 million. In years past, the bank’s annual shareholder’s meeting came and went without a second thought. Not so in 2012. This year, Occupy protestors—aka the “99%”—planned an action to disrupt business as usual.
The action took place April 24, at the Merchant Exchange building on California and Montgomery Sts. —smack dab in the middle of a “1%” stronghold, San Francisco’s financial district.
Before the meeting started, a colorfully-dressed man, who identified himself as Franzo King, Archbishop of the Church of John Coltrane, explained why he had come. Among the many injustices he was concerned about were “illegal evictions and foreclosures behind predatory loans, and the way that is affecting our communities. The African communities and the brown communities are really being destroyed.”
These communities, King charged, were targeted by lenders who made promises they never intended to keep. He was one of many people, he said, who had been talked into taking out a loan and was now facing a foreclosure eviction.
The sound of marchers up California Street signaled the arrival of the 99% vanguard: hundreds of people, representing a broad coalition comprised of labor unions, housing-rights organizations, interfaith groups, immigrants and native-Spanish speakers, and Occupy movements from SF, other California cities and even other states.
One protest sign read “Hells Fargo” – complete with a banner decorated with burning flames. There was a mock stagecoach—the bank’s iconic symbol—adorned with Stumpf’s face on “Wanted” posters. Several protestors dressed in orange jail jumpsuits, a reference to the bank’s investment in private prisons.
For several hours, organizers kept the energy level of the protestors high. Speakers led the crowd in anti-bank chants from a truckbed which had become an impromptu stage. Bands played music; dancers danced. ATMs were blockaded; street entrances were covered. Several protestors chained themselves to metal barricades (and were later arrested). All this activity was not lost on the Financial District’s everyday inhabitants—most of them older Caucasian gentlemen in expensive suits. The suits glanced around nervously, afraid to make eye contact with the 99%-ers.
One protestor, who identified herself as Ari Clemenzi, said she was there because her friends and family had been impacted by foreclosures. After closing her Wells Fargo account, chaining herself to a barricade, she said, “felt like the only next step I could take.”
Up on the 15th floor of the Merchant Exchange building, under a massive, opulent chandelier, shareholders were asked to show proof of investment, i.e. stock certificates, before being allowed to enter the meeting. Among the 250 investors allowed inside were about fifteen people identified as “one share protestors,” 99% members who had purchased single shares of bank stock.
These activists were a Trojan horse: once inside, they stood up and denounced Well Fargo’s practices as Stumpf watched. Twenty minutes after the meeting started, a Causa Justa representative told the crowd outside the building that the 99%-ers had “taken over” the meeting, which ended more than two hours earlier than scheduled. Upon hearing the news, the crowd chanted “Si se puede!” (yes, it is possible).
Eric K. Arnold is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been documenting hip hop and youth movements since 1994.
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