At 7 a.m. this morning (Wed/12), protesters against corporate greed were poised for one of the most impactful actions since OccupySF began.
About 50 people associated with the Foreclose Wall Street coalition were seated in front of all the entrances to the Wells Fargo corporate headquarters on California and Montgomery streets. Back at the site of the OccupySF camp in front of the Federal Reserve Bank on Market Street, protesters gathered. They held a rally there that included a speech from Sup. John Avalos, the only mayoral candidate to actively support the movement.
When the march started off to join those blockading Wells Fargo, there were about 1,000 protesters present, according to estimates of those present. They stopped off at the Hyatt across the street from the Fed to support Unite Here Local 2 hotel workers who are involved in a boycott against the Hyatt before continuing in the march. Protesters chanted, “make banks pay” and “we are the 99 percent.”
The march reached the Wells Fargo building and began rallying there. The sit-ins in front of entrances were still going strong. There, activist and author Naomi Klein addressed the crowd.
When Wells Fargo employees began to arrive at work. According to Max Bell Alper, one of those involved in the blockade, “a number of bankers were trying to get in and yelling at us.” Then they called the police.
When the police arrived, Alper says, “at first, the people from the march were physically blocking them from arresting us.”
Around 8:30 a.m., 11 were arrested. They were brought to the North Beach/Chinatown police station, were they were cited for trespassing, held for about an hour and then released. When I spoke to Alper, he was back from the police station, chanting and marching with the crowd.
He told me that when his parents’ home was foreclosed this year, they moved in with his uncle, whose home was then foreclosed. Currently his grandmother is facing foreclosure. He listed Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America as the banks involved in his family members’ foreclosures.
“Enough is enough. Banks need to recognize that they need to pay,” said Alper.
Protesters continued to block every entrance besides the employee entrance on Leidesdorff Street with sit-ins, as well as march in picket lines, chant “banks got bailed out, we got sold out”, and cheer as organizers spoke. The bank was unable to open until they chose to leave around noon.
SFPD Lt. Troy Dangerfield said that no more arrests were made because Wells Fargo did not request them- apparently, they preferred to wait it out. Said Dangerfield, “It would make it worse if they had to remove them. It doesn’t look good.”
Dangerfield insisted that he “had no stake whatsoever” in what will result from the Occupy movement throughout the country. He has noticed, “it seems like it’s growing nationwide.”
Activist Lucia Kimble sat helping to block the bank’s California entrance from 7:15 to noon. She says protesters voluntarily left at noon because, “We’ve been out here five hours. We successfully shut down the bank. I think our message has been heard.”
Kimble, 27, is a Bay Area resident and housing counselor with Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a group that works to advocate for housing and tenants rights for low income and African American and Latino communities in San Francisco and Oakland. Kimble said that her group was part of the coalition that put on this event “to give a voice to those most affected by our economic crisis.”
Kimble listed the Foreclose Wall Street West coalition’s demands with this action: an immediate moratorium on foreclosures, fixed annual interest rates, an end to Wells Fargo’s financing of high-interest Pay Day Loans, and that they “pay their fair share – pay taxes and give them to the community.”
Shaw San Liu of the Chinese Progressive Association – which just voted to endorse OccupySF and today joined the movement – was an energetic and inspiring speaker throughout the event. Said Liu: “A lot of folks have been saying there’s no diversity in the Occupy movement…In San Francisco it’s becoming clear the diversity of groups that support this movement. Youth, community groups, anti-war, we’re all coming together”
Liu maintained that the problems she was fighting did not start with the financial collapse in 2008. “In my work in Chinese immigrant communities, I know that even before the recession, we were already suffering from unemployment, low wages, and poor housing. I’m excited to see how the country is waking up to oppose a system that allows 1 percent of the people to control 42 percent of the wealth.”
The California Nurses Association, one of the many labor organizations that have showed support for OccupySF, was present at the protest. Said Pilar Schiavo, 36, a CNA organizer from Oakland, “I’m fed up with social inequity. I’m tired of corporate America buying politicians and passing laws to benefit the rich.”
“Patients are foregoing treatment and losing their healthcare. The nurses are here fighting for everyone,” she said.
Schiavo’s father, Bill, drove from Sonora to be at the protest today. A 65-year-old retired electrician, he says that the medical benefits he felt fortunate to have after retiring from a secure job have become unaffordable. “My medical benefits went up $300 a month this year. Who can afford that? Does anyone get a $300 raise? But Wall Street has benefits galore.”
Schiavo made his opinion clear about the Wall Street crisis and bailouts: “It was unbridled theft. We’re angry.”