Pushing his way through the crowd outside the Wells Fargo headquarters, Ronald Colbert tried his best to get inside the banking giant’s annual shareholders’ meeting.
“Look, I have a proxy vote,” Colbert shouted to the policemen blocking his way, holding up his shareholder invitation. “I have a right to be at that meeting, and tell Wells Fargo to stop foreclosing on all my friends and neighbors.”
The cops, let alone the bankers, had no interest in listening to such pleas, but that did not stop Colbert from joining over 1,000 people in making their protests against Wells Fargo heard outside on the streets — and some inside the meeting itself. A broad coalition of housing activists, immigrants, union workers, students, and Occupy protesters took over the streets of San Francisco’s financial district on Tuesday, bringing their demands directly to one of the largest, and most controversial, banks in America.
Several dozen activists made it inside the shareholder meeting, disrupting the proceedings before being escorted out by police. 24 people were arrested during the day, but for the most part there was little of the police-protester confrontations that have accompanied other Occupy protests in the Bay Area. Instead, activists were able to focus their message on Wells Fargo’s numerous misdeeds, above all, its major role in the ongoing foreclosure crisis.
“In my neighborhood, no one can afford to pay their mortgage. It was all those subprime loans and now the banks won’t renegotiate,” said Mark Lopez, a Los Angeles resident and member of the Bus Riders Union who made the six-hour drive that morning. “So you’ve got three or four families living together in one unit, and then right next door, a whole house is sitting there empty and foreclosed.”
Housing was not the only issue on the table for activists. From being labeled “America’s largest tax dodger” for its refusal to pay any corporate taxes since 2008 to its investments in private prisons and lobbying for anti-immigration legislation, protesters denounced Wells Fargo as both a symbol and a cause of corporate power in America. Tuesday’s action was the first in a series of nation-wide protests set to taking on America’s largest corporations over the next two months, organized by a national coalition of progressive organizations called 99% Power.