Activists held a massive banner and pitched a tent on the roof of the Wells Fargo branch at 16th and Mission Jan 14, while 150 supporters watched from the parking lot. Seven were arrested.
Organizers say the demonstration was meant to draw attention to the bank’s complicity in unfair foreclosures and evictions.
The protest was planned by a coalition of Bay Area housing rights and homelessness advocacy groups, along with organizers from Occupy San Francisco.
Sarah Shortt, Executive Director of the San Francisco Housing Rights Committee, says that abuses by corporate banks are inextricably linked to issues that her group has been working on for years; “evictions, displacement, affordable housing, and tenants rights.”
After rallying at 16th and Mission, protesters looked up to see that six had climbed to the roof. They unfurled a banner reading “Banks: No Foreclosures/Evictions for Profit!”
A fire truck arrived ten minutes later, and put up a ladder to give the police and firefighters access to the roof.
The Police Department cooperated with protesters, assisting a negotiation with the bank branch’s manager. A letter detailing their demands, including a moratorium on foreclosures and an end to predatory and speculative loans, was apparently faxed to Wells Fargo spokeswoman Holly Rockwood.
Protesters said that they would not leave the roof until they had a meeting scheduled with Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. Six were arrested.
According to an SFPD statement, “A bank employee signed a private person's arrest (citizens arrest) for trespassing.”
After those arrested were painstakingly shuttled down the ladder and into a police van, protesters blocked the van from leaving Hoff street between 16th and 17th for about ten minutes until it sped out through the parking lot. Protesters then marched to the nearby Mission Police Station, where a drummer from the Brass Liberation Orchestra, which often accompanies protest events in the city, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer with her drum.
Those arrested on the roof were cited for trespassing and released within hours. Supporters have put up money to release the drummer, known as Montana; bail was set at $8,100.
While the drama on the roof unfolded, Shortt, along with organizers from Causa Justa: Just Cause and the San Francisco Tenants Union, spoke about abuses committed against tenants and homeowners. They also spoke about Wells Fargo’s investment in private prisons.
In a press release, organizers said that the protest was meant to call attention to “predatory equity scams, Ellis Act evictions, and immoral home loans.”
The Ellis Act allows landlords to evict tenants for any reason, if they don't re-rent the units at a higher price in the next five years. The act hasno restrictions on selling the units as tenancies in common -- a backdoor way to create condos -- and that's a lucrative and common practice in the Mission.
Ellis Act evictions increased by 8% in 2011, According to the San Francisco Rent Board Annual Report.
Jose Morales, a tenant who was evicted based on the Ellis Act and activist with the San Francisco Tenants Union, spoke to the crowd Saturday. Said Morales, “I have osteoporosis, I’m 82 and a half years old, but you still see me walking around with my sign.”
He displayed protest signs declaring that housing is a human right and urging single-payer health care.
Mesha Irizarry also told her story to the protesters. Her Bayview home was sold to Bank of New York, then transferred to Bank of America on September 1, but says that she refuses to leave and is fighting the foreclosure.
“We do not play the blame-the-victim game. We are not alone. We are not ashamed to sat ay what has happened to us. We are fighting back, and we are going to win” said Irizarry, who named several other women who are resisting foreclosures in Bayview.
Irizarry began a San Francisco chapter of Occupy the Hood, a group dedicated to confronting problems that disproportionately affect the poor and people of color within the Occupy Movement. In San Francisco, the branch has focused mainly on defending homes from foreclosure and eviction. Saturday’s protest was part of that effort.
This demonstration was also a part of a series targeting banks, that protesters plan to top off with a day-long “occupation of the financial district” January 20th.
Said Occupy SF Housing Coalition media spokesman Gene Doherty, “The banks and the development companies that have gotten us all into (the foreclosure crisis) are a major part of the problem…it is their ethical duty, moral duty right now to be fixing this. And if that means it’s going to eat into their profit, that means it eats into their profit.”