The protestors, pictured here on Broadway not far from City hall, eventually made their way to Wall Street (Photo: J. Fergusson)
Several thousand people descended on Wall Street last Thursday to denounce the nation’s leading banks who they believe caused the economic crisis, and to demand that the US Senate pass financial reform.
"Because we are one country, when greed runs amok on Wall Street, it means lost jobs and shuttered stores on Main Street," Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of labor unions and one of the event's organizers, told the crowd.
"Wall Street, fix the mess you made!" he said, and “stop fighting” efforts in Washington to make the banking and financial systems more accountable.
Dozens of Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) members, young and old, were in attendance. Some held “Reclaim America” and “Hold Banks Accountable” signs. Others carried a giant, homemade squid (pictured below), in homage to a Rolling Stone writer’s famous claim that Goldman Sachs is a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
Adolfo Abreu, a 17-year-old youth leader with Sistas and Brothas United, the youth arm of the NWBCCC, was among those to speak. “With all these [school] budgets cuts, how am I going to succeed in life and obtain the pursuit of happiness?” he asked, in reference to school overcrowding and impending teacher layoffs.
Earlier that afternoon, as part of the same event, some 200 people squeezed into the lobby of 270 Park Ave. in Midtown, where JPMorgan Chase is headquartered. With sheepish security guards and curious employees looking on, the protestors began chanting "Bust Up Big Banks" and "Enough is Enough."
National People's Action, the organizer, said JPMorgan Chase was targeted because they charge low-income people fees to use Electronic Benefits Transfer Cards (EBT) and refuse to reduce the amount of money struggling homeowners' owe on their mortgages.
The scene inside JPMorgan Chase's headquarters last Thursday
Next up, the protestors, among them NWBCCC members and other community activists, walked a few blocks north where they took over the lobby of a building in which Wells Fargo has offices.
"This isn't fair. If you want to do this properly go outside like ladies and gentlemen," shouted a police officer who entered the lobby behind them - a plea that went unheeded for at least 20 minutes.
Wells Fargo controls the trust which holds the mortgage on a number of Bronx apartment buildings which are in foreclosure after Milbank Real Estate, the private equity firm that owns them, defaulted on its loan. Last month, Legal Services NYC-Bronx filed a lawsuit against the bank and another company in an effort to force them to maintain the buildings. The lawsuit, if successful, could have nationwide implications for tenants and landlords.
After the protest, Graciela Gomez, a Milbank tenant, described conditions inside her crumbling building at 770 Garden Ave., near the Bronx Zoo. She said the building's front doors have no locks, that the elevators and security cameras are broken, and that tenants are often without heat and hot water. The 52-apartment building has 405 housing violations.
"[We're here] to make the demand that banks like Wells Fargo stop lending money to bad landlords like Milbank because they don't take care of the tenants in the buildings." said Gomez, who was speaking in Spanish and had her words translated.
Protestors outside Wells Fargo's offices on Park Avenue
James Mumm, the former executive director of the NWBCCC, who now works for National People's Action, said the surprise visits were part of a "continuing campaign to get the CEOs of the biggest banks in America to meet with the communities they hurt."
At both banks, protesters left letters requesting a meeting with the CEO and laying out a list of demands, including more protection for families in danger of losing their homes, and investment in local development projects that create jobs
As of yesterday, neither bank had responded to the requests, said J CoCo Chang, a spokesperson for National People's Action.