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Progressive groups plan Wells Fargo protest

Published April 24, 2012 9:29 am

Dissent • Activists plan nonviolent disobedience at shareholders meeting.
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If protesters have their way, it will not be business as usual at the annual Wells Fargo shareholders meeting Tuesday morning in San Francisco.

A broad coalition of progressive groups dubbed the 99% Power movement promises that Tuesday's nonviolent disobedience is just the beginning of an entire spring of well-planned disruptions.

"This shareholders season you'll see more demonstrations at more meetings with a greater number of people than at any point in our history," said Becky Tarbotton, executive director for Rainforest Action Network and a coalition member. The alliance says it includes thousands of people, including workers, retirees, families fighting foreclosure, unemployed students, immigrants, environmentalists — and shareholders.

Rather than airing their demands for economic and ecological justice to the public or to elected officials, the activists intend to take them directly to those who can affect change.

"Their shareholder meetings give us an opportunity to go face-to-face with their decision makers," Tarbotton said in a recent conference call.

Archbishop Franzo King, founder of the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco and a member of the Alliance for Californians for Community Empowerment, will join other clergy who hope to speak directly to Wells Fargo executives and shareholders Tuesday.

In 2005, King said he and his wife were talked into a "pick a payment," adjustable-rate mortgage loan, with a realty agent reportedly telling them the loan would help repair their credit and tap the wealth sitting dormant in their home.

"We were told there would be an opportunity to refinance in two years," King said.

By then however, both the agent and broker had moved away, some of the loan papers appeared to have been forged — and refinancing at a lower interest rate was no longer on the table.

King said the couple applied for a loan modification, only to be denied. He and his wife were part of a wave of vulnerable homeowners taken in by the high-risk loans that led to a flood of foreclosures and class-action lawsuits. In 2011, Wachovia and Wells Fargo agreed to hefty cash settlements to end the litigation.

"We had no idea what a grave situation we were entering into, that we were being led into the graveyard to bury our hopes, our dreams . . . our inheritance for our children and also our retirement," King said.

He expects thousands to protest outside the Merchants Exchange Building, where Wells Fargo shareholders will meet Tuesday. He hopes to join scores of activists inside to ask that board members pressure bank executives to "do that which is right for the people."

According to a 99% Power statement, demands include putting an end to practices that profit off community losses: foreclosure, predatory lending, tax dodging and private prison investment top their list.

Tarbotton credited the Occupy Wall Street protest movement for having "opened up a real space to talk about inequality and corporate power in this country."

"The coalition is taking what we consider the next step," Tarbotton said. "We're channeling that energy into focused pressure on the worst corporate offenders in the country."

Other corporations that can expect similar action at their upcoming shareholder sessions include Bank of America, General Electric, Verizon Wireless, Walmart and Sallie Mae, a publicly traded student loan association.