The “99 percent” take on Bank of America at shareholders meeting

Protesters marching to the Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo published on Instagram by Occupy Eye.
 
The Occupy movement may be less visible than it was last autumn, but the activists that comprise the loose network are working hard to re-energise their troops now that protest-friendly weather is back – notably with a series of demonstrations targeting big banks’ shareholders meetings. On Wednesday, they descended on the headquarters of the United States’ second-largest bank, Bank of America, which was holding its annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina.
 
Protesters gathered in front of Bank of America's headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
 
According to city officials, about 1,000 protesters from around the state and the country gathered in uptown Charlotte on Wednesday morning. Their aim was to protest Bank of America’s involvement in the home foreclosure crisis, with three separate marches converging on the bank’s headquarters. They sang slogans like, “Hey hey, B.O.A., don’t take our homes away!” The local police were out en masse and took several people into custody; meanwhile, helicopters hovered over the protest.
 
Police taking two protesters into custody in front of Bank of America's headquarters. Photo published on Twitter by @studentlabor.
 
Besides the traditional chanting and banners, protesters held a fake boxing match, which pitched a man dressed up as Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan against a woman called “Miss 99% Power.” The expression “the 99%”, which came out of the Occupy protests last fall, designates the majority of the US population, as opposed to the richest 1%.
 
Photo of mock boxing match published on Instagram by Andrew Dunn.
 
This protest followed a smaller one outside a Bank of America office in New York City the previous day.
 
Bank of America has not reacted to the protests as of yet. The bank recently pointed out that it had modified the terms of more than a million mortgages since 2008, and that it was committed to helping people avoid foreclosure. Critics, however, claim these modifications do not necessarily target the homeowners most in need, who represent a bigger financial risk.
Contributors

“Bank of America is definitely not feeling the weight of the pain it has inflicted on ordinary Americans”

Michael Guerrero is one of the protest’s organisers. He is involved with several social justice organisations, including the Unity Alliance, which co-hosted the protest with the 99% Power movement.
 
Bank of America was one of the main beneficiaries of the policies of financial deregulation these past few decades, policies which have led to a massive wave of foreclosures. Today, thousands of people continue to lose their homes due to the bank’s predatory lending; meanwhile, Bank of America weathered the financial crisis thanks to a federal bailout [the bank received 45 billion dollars, which it has since paid back] and is now thriving, buying out more small banks and giving out huge bonuses to its top executives. [Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan’s total compensation quadrupled last year.] The bank is definitely not feeling the weight of the pain it has inflicted on ordinary Americans.
 
We want them to feel that pain, and we want them to do what it takes to keep people in their homes. That means bearing part of the costs, by reducing borrowers’ debt loads.
 
We’re also looking at Bank of America’s activities across the board. We’re taking this opportunity to protest their investments in coal production, which involves environmentally hazardous mountaintop removal mining.
 
We hope that our protest will catch the attention of policymakers, and that they regulate the banking sector to make its practices fairer. We would love for Bank of America’s leaders to hear what we’re saying, and do the right thing of their own accord, but so far their behaviour hasn’t been very encouraging. There have been no overtures toward dialogue ahead of the meeting. The city of Charlotte, meanwhile, has declared the shareholders’ meeting an “extraordinary event,” meaning police have broader powers to search anyone they’re afraid of.
 
[The “extraordinary event” ordinance stipulates that, within the bounds of the so-called extraordinary event, established by the city, it is unlawful to carry, among other things, any object of “sufficient weight that may be used as a projectile,” “markers containing fluid that is not water-soluble,” “a backpack, duffle bag, satchel, cooler, or other item carried with the intent of to conceal weapons or other prohibited materials,” and animals.]
 
The city may well be trying to put on a tough face in anticipation of the Democratic National Convention, which is to be held in Charlotte in September. However, this is part of a bigger trend: dissent is becoming criminalised in the United States. This was very clear with the crackdowns on Occupy protests around the country in the fall; nevertheless, we’ll continue to do what is within our rights and hope our right to freedom of speech is respected.
 
Photo published on Instagram by Occupy Eye.
 
An activist tells the crowd about how Bank of America "stole her house," and lists protesters' demands. 

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