Chants, a drumline and snapshots
Posted: Wednesday, May. 09, 2012
Published in: Politics
Some wanted foreclosure relief and mortgage modifications. Some demanded an end to mountaintop-removal coal mining. Others came to protest war or urge immigration reform, and there was even a small group handing out anarchist literature.
One woman’s shirt simply read, “Stay Human.”
They had one thing in common: The belief that Bank of America, is, as they chanted often, “Bad for America.”
The protesters came from across North Carolina, and from cities including New York, Atlanta, Columbia, S.C., Boston and Oakland, where many, but by no means all, were affiliated with Occupy movements.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said it was the city’s largest protest in years. Police estimated the crowd at about 500, while protest organizers put the figure somewhere above 700.
The chanting and marching, as well as the large police presence, are likely a portent of what to expect in September, when the Democratic National Convention is expected to draw thousands of protesters.
Wednesday, a few moments of tension between police and protesters were quickly defused, and the events unfolded with only six arrests. Last month, 24 protesters were arrested in San Francisco during demonstrations against Wells Fargo & Co.
“I saw Bank of America personally kicking people out of their homes,” said Luis Rodriguez, a Charlotte-based community organizer with the group Action N.C. He was wearing mock chains tying him by his neck to a giant black “debt ball” in the middle of the intersection at Fifth and College streets. “Ever since then, I haven’t been a fan.”
Sandra Diaz, who works for environmental group Appalachian Voices, stood in between Bank of America Stadium and the Duke Energy Center, symbols of her two main opponents.
“We want them to stop mountaintop removal coal mining,” she said, holding up a picture of denuded mountains. “They’re financing the whole cycle,” the Boone resident said.
Prepared for arrest
At about 9 a.m., as the protest gathered at Fifth and College streets in front of 1 Bank of America Center, organizers kicked off a “festival of resistance,” with musical acts and testimony of people who said they’ve been victimized by the bank.
In the almost celebratory atmosphere, shareholders waiting in line and protesters snapped pictures of one another with their smart phones.
Some protesters were prepared to be arrested, with phone numbers for legal help written on their arms. One of them was Johnny Rosa, who said he had traveled from Framingham, Mass., to protest his home’s foreclosure.
“We couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage,” said Rosa, who said his wife lost her job following an accident, and his pay had been cut. “We tried to make a deal with them. We’re fed up.” He was one of four people arrested when they rushed police barricades in front of the shareholder meeting.
Things turned ugly for a moment after the arrests, as a group of protesters began chanting, “Murderers, cops, pigs.” Organizers quickly quieted them and the chant changed to “Shame, shame,” and “No justice, no peace.”
A drumline thumped out a martial beat as protesters marched up Fifth Street and then turned south on Tryon Street, filling two lanes and stretching for about two blocks.
The groups mixed chants such as, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” and “This is what democracy looks like.” They handed out flyers to curious office workers and restaurant employees, who lined the streets and snapped pictures.
Protesters then stopped in front of Bank of America Stadium. They called on President Barack Obama, who will speak there at the conclusion of the DNC, to do more to promote economic equality.
The other tense moments came after that, during a second march, when police repeatedly ordered protesters onto the sidewalk.
At least one protester was arrested when she didn’t leave College Street near the EpiCentre. Some protesters refused to leave the street, and briefly blocked traffic at Fourth and Brevard. With cries of “Hold the line!” dozens of protesters advanced on a line of bicycle-mounted CMPD officers in front of the intersection. But they quickly returned to the sidewalk after organizers with megaphones asked them to.
Organizers and police both called the event a success, and neither had any major complaints about the other’s behavior.
Deputy Chief Harold Medlock said the department had met with protest leaders last week to discuss march routes and other plans. “I think these folks want to feel safe. Folks really do want to have their voice heard, but they don’t have a problem sharing what their plans are,” said Medlock, who is overseeing the department’s planning for the DNC. “It’s not us vs. them.”
No banned items confiscated
The protests were designated an “extraordinary event” under a new Charlotte statute, which gives police expanded powers to search bags and bans certain items, such as helmets, from extraordinary events. Police said they did not search any backpacks or confiscate any banned items Wednesday.
Protest leaders also said they are planning several more “actions” during the summer, leading up to the DNC. Michael Zytkow, an Occupy Charlotte protester, said Wednesday’s protests are a sign of what’s to come.
“We’re such a big city, and we’re not used to this,” Zytkow said. “We’re trying to normalize protest culture in Charlotte. We have a lot of plans for the DNC.” Staff Writer Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed.
Hundreds Protest Bank of America in Charlotte
May 10, 2012
Hundreds of people marched in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Wednesday for a rally outside the annual shareholders’ meeting of the financial giant Bank of America. Demonstrators from a number of groups gathered to protest Bank of America’s support for the coal industry, as well as its record on foreclosures. Todd Zimmer of the Rainforest Action Network said Bank of America’s funding of the coal industry has harmed cities like Charlotte.
Todd Zimmer: “I’m here because the price that we pay for Bank of America’s profit from coal funding is too high. So, in this community, one in four Charlotte kids will develop respiratory disease or asthma as a result of Bank of America’s coal funding. And not only that, but Bank of America’s funding for coal is putting the entire future of our planet at risk, because it drives runaway climate change. We should not have to bear these burdens and face these perils so that Bank of America can make a profit.”
Protesters voice anger outside BofA annual meeting
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina | Wed May 9, 2012 12:39pm EDT(Reuters) – Hundreds of demonstrators marched outside Bank of America Corp’s (BAC.N) annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday to voice anger over issues ranging from foreclosures to corporate taxes to financing for the coal industry.The meeting, held in the bank’s headquarters city of Charlotte, North Carolina, has drawn protesters in the past, but the crowd this year was bigger than any time in recent memory.By 11 a.m., the crowd was estimated at 700 to 800, Jen Soriano, a spokeswoman for Unity, an alliance of groups participating in the protest.Demonstrators staged a mock boxing match between two fighters, one said to represent the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and the other representing the other 99 percent. The group coordinating the protests calls itself “99 Percent Power.”Bank of America’s shareholders approved the proposed executive pay package. All shareholder proposals failed to pass.Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, demonstrators have been targeting corporate shareholder meetings this year to keep a spotlight on concerns about economic disparity in the United States. More than 500 demonstrators engulfed Wells Fargo & Co’s (WFC.N) meeting site in April, resulting in 24 arrests.Charlotte officials have declared the Bank of America meeting an “extraordinary event” under an ordinance passed in January to help handle protests expected in the city during the Democratic National Convention in September.The ordinance allows the city to ban certain items, ranging from backpacks to crowbars, at large events.Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri declined to comment on the protests.During the meeting, most of the questions Moynihan faced from shareholders and homeowners focused on the bank’s handling of loan modifications and foreclosures. A number of speakers said they had trouble working with the bank, which had lost documents or not returned telephone calls.Moynihan told one shareholder the bank was cleaning up after Countrywide Financial, the lender it bought in 2008. That led Michael Garland, corporate governance director for the New York City comptroller’s office, to criticize what he called the CEO’s “pro forma” answer.
While Countrywide may have made the loans, Bank of America is now the servicer of those mortgages.
“These are issues that the board and the management are responsible for,” Garland said.
Moynihan responded that the bank has 50,000 people working on the issue and has modified more than 1 million loans.
“I think we’re doing everything we can,” he said.
The New York comptroller’s office sponsored a shareholder proposal that would have required an audit of the bank’s mortgage operations, but stockholders did not approve the resolution.
BANKRUPTCY IS POSSIBLE
In response to another question, Moynihan said the bank has considered bankruptcy for Countrywide and will continue to look at that option. Ally Financial, the former finance unit of General Motors that is now independent of the automaker, is likely to put its mortgage finance arm into bankruptcy soon.
Bank of America has faced intense scrutiny for taking government bailouts during the financial crisis, for mishandling foreclosure paperwork and for attempting to implement a now-canceled monthly $5 debit card fee last fall.
Meanwhile, stockholders are not happy about a stock price below $10 and a quarterly dividend slashed to a penny per share since the financial crisis. Moynihan, who is presiding over his third annual meeting, made progress last year building the bank’s capital levels, but faces questions about the company’s ability to increase future earnings. To boost profits, the bank is focused on cutting costs, including plans to eliminate about 300 jobs in its investment banking and capital markets group.
Executive compensation has become a hot issue during this year’s annual meeting season after Citigroup Inc (C.N) shareholders rejected that company’s pay plan.
Moynihan received total compensation of $8.1 million in 2011, up from $1.9 million in 2010. He received no cash bonus and most of his stock would pay out only if the company attained performance goals. ISS Proxy Advisory Services and Glass Lewis & Co, which advise large shareholders on how to vote at annual meetings, have backed Bank of America’s pay plan.
(Reporting By Rick Rothacker in Charlotte, North Carolina; additional reporting by Lee Howard; editing by Steve Orlofsky, Gerald E. McCormick and Andre Grenon)
Bank of America CEO Faces Shareholder Ire Amid Protests
By Hugh Son – May 9, 2012 5:30 PM ET
Bank of America Corp., the second- biggest U.S. lender, is following a “disciplined” strategy to rebuild, Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan said today as protests swirled inside and outside the firm’s annual meeting.
Enlarge image Bank of America Meets Shareholders as Protests Swirl Outside
Protestors before Bank of America’s annual shareholder meeting in New York on May 8, 2012. Photographer: Seth Wenig/AP Photo
Moynihan, 52, presided over a contentious two-hour gathering as shareholders pressed him on complaints ranging from mortgage practices and foreclosures to customer service and political contributions. One attendee at the Charlotte, North Carolina event lamented the lost value of his shares and referred to the bank as “a felon.”
“We abide by the law every day,” Moynihan said, adding that managers are cleaning up the bank’s practices and that 50,000 employees are giving borrowers “every chance” to get mortgage modifications. “I think we’re doing everything we can,” he said.
Investors and protesters from San Francisco to London have used shareholder meetings this year to denounce financial firms for making shoddy loans and overpaying executives. Bank of America’s stock has lost almost half its value since the start of 2010, when Moynihan was named CEO.
Much of the criticism stems from Bank of America’s 2008 takeover of Countrywide Financial Corp. The subprime lender has been blamed by lawmakers for fueling the housing collapse, by regulators for sloppy and discriminatory lending and by investors for driving more than $40 billion of costs tied to soured mortgages and improper foreclosures.
At least three speakers at the meeting told Moynihan that the bank has failed to improve mortgage servicing after years of complaints that employees gave wrong information, didn’t return phone calls and repeatedly lost paperwork.
“You’ve got to do something about your mortgage servicing,” one speaker told Moynihan. The CEO told borrowers in the hall and “everyone out there” that he personally pledged the bank would work with them. “You can call us and we will figure it out,” he said, eliciting laughter in the audience as he encouraged them to dial a toll-free number. Moynihan said 1 million modifications have been completed, “and I don’t think we could have done that without being competent.”
He fielded repeated pleas to halt funding for coal mining, including techniques that involve removing entire mountaintops because of the effect on communities and the environment, and some audience members accused the bank of ducking U.S. taxes. The CEO said coal funding would be reviewed and that the company has paid billions of dollars in taxes.
Marching on BofA
Hundreds of protesters in three separate marches converged on Bank of America’s headquarters, decrying foreclosure practices and what they called corporate greed.
Police flanked the marchers, who chanted, banged on drums and carried banners. A mock boxing match was staged between a Moynihan impersonator and a representative of the “99 percent” of people who aren’t in the wealthiest tier of Americans, meant to highlight income inequality. Police arrested at least four people, the Charlotte Observer newspaper said on its website.
Metal barricades kept protesters away from the building entrance. Judith Koenick, with one arm in a sling, held a placard that read, “Bank of America stole $500,000 from me.” She was asked to give up the sign before entering the auditorium.
Koenick, a retiree from Chevy Chase, Maryland, said the lender’s share decline forced her to liquidate holdings and make do with less income from dividends. Bank of America has a 1-cent quarterly payout, down from 64 cents before the financial crisis.
Timers With Chimes
“He has the audacity to get up there and say he’s not responsible for the things that Countrywide did,” Koenick said after the meeting. “They bought it.”
Inside, investors as well as Bank of America’s workers wore stickers that said “Shareholders 2012,” with a different color for the staff. The label referred to the event rather than the individual, according to Scott Silvestri, a company spokesman. Moynihan set a two-minute limit on individual comments and questions with a timer and a chime, and banned the use of recorders and electronic devices.
Charlotte city managers said last month that Bank of America’s meeting is an “extraordinary event” that merits special restrictions on people near the site to prevent violence, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.
‘Don’t Feel Threatened’
When a shareholder complained about the level of security, Moynihan said the rules and measures were meant to protect everyone. “I don’t feel threatened at all,” he said.
The Charlotte ordinance, drawn up for the Democratic National Convention later this year, gave police broader powers to search individuals, outlawing items including permanent markers, lumber, pepper spray and padlocks. The Observer reported that police didn’t use the authority they had been granted to search backpacks and other containers.
The measures didn’t prevent more than two dozen members of a group called National People’s Action from attending the meeting. When Moynihan declared the event over, the activists stood up and shouted anti-Bank of America slogans until leaving at the behest of police.
“Many of you people may think there are a lot of crazies here today, but this is a pushback,” an attendant told Moynihan moments before. “You’re hearing despair.”
Members linked to Occupy Wall Street are among groups seeking to revive last year’s protests against the nation’s biggest banks for their role in causing the financial crisis and gaps between the incomes of the richest and poorest citizens.
Last month, more than 500 people gathered at Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC)’s San Francisco headquarters to disrupt the firm’s annual meeting. About two dozen were arrested as protesters chained themselves together to block an entrance to where the meeting was held, and police helped clear a path for shareholders.
In New York, Citigroup Inc. (C) shareholders rejected the firm’s executive-pay plan on April 16, the first time that’s happened among the six largest U.S. banks. Directors awarded Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit, 55, about $15 million for 2011 plus a multiyear retention package that may be worth $40 million. While the bank promised to meet shareholders to consider changes, no revisions have been announced.
Moynihan was awarded a $7 million pay package for last year, with shareholders approving the compensation plan in an advisory vote today with 92 percent of the ballots, according to a preliminary tally. Citigroup and Bank of America accepted $45 billion each from U.S. taxpayers to help them survive the financial crisis. The firms have since repaid the bailouts.
In Europe, Andrew Moss quit as CEO of Aviva Plc (AV/), the second-biggest U.K. insurer, after investors voted down the compensation plan, and Barclays Plc (BARC) chief Robert Diamond was heckled over pay at the annual meeting. Investors also staged protests at UBS AG and Inmarsat Plc (ISAT) for failing to keep compensation in line with stock performance.
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Over 1,000 to Converge on Bank of America Shareholder Meeting
City announces harsh lockdown ahead of UNITY’s “Showdown in Charlotte” on May 9
CHARLOTTE, NC—On May 9, 2012, over 1,000 grassroots leaders from the UNITY alliance and allies will converge on Bank of America’s shareholder meeting to demand racial and economic justice from a predatory bank that has looted communities, increased the racial wealth gap, and robbed Americans of generations of financial security.
Ahead of the event, the City of Charlotte invoked a draconian anti-free speech law for the day of the march in an attempt to intimidate the marchers. The law makes the possession of a permanent marker an arrestable offense.
The “Showdown in Charlotte” is part of a series of direct nonviolent actions taking place at corporate shareholder meetings this spring under the banner of the 99% Power coalition.
Events and visuals will include:
- Marches from three sites in at 8:30am, converging on shareholder meeting at 9am
- Protests inside from BofA shareholder members of UNITY, outside by hundreds of affected people and supporters
- “Bank vs. America” boxing match outside meeting site at 9:30am
- Press conference outside meeting site with UNITY spokespeople and allies after shareholder meeting
UNITY is a national grassroots movement for racial and economic justice that represents hundreds of thousands of poor and working-class people and communities of color.
“I’m coming to Charlotte to fight for myself, for my six daughters, for everyone in America who needs justice from Bank of America,” said Antonio Ennis, a Boston-based community leader from UNITY members City Life and Right to the City who has been fighting foreclosure by Bank of America. “They can’t scare us off—our need is greater than their greed.”
UNITY is demanding an end to Bank of America’s fraudulent foreclosures, predatory lending, renewed redlining, violations of workers’ rights, dirty coal and mountaintop removal, and investment in prisons and immigrant detention centers.
99% Power protests are targeting corporations including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, GE, Verizon, Sallie Mae, Wal-Mart, and Verizon—directly challenging the 1% board members and executives whose actions have expanded inequality, threatened democracy, destroyed the environment, and driven countless Americans from their homes.
WHAT: UNITY/99% Power “Showdown in Charlotte” at BoA shareholder meeting
WHO: More than 1,000 grassroots leader from UNITY and 99% Power
WHEN: May 9, 2012, marches start 8:30am; “Bank vs. America” boxing match at 9:30am
Housing Justice Now march: Bank of America, N. Tryon & 9th St.
Anti Coal Investment march: The Green, Tryon & Levine Ave of the Arts
Worker’s Rights march: Old City Hall, Davidson & 4th St
“Bank vs. America” boxing match at 930am: Trade & Tryon
WHY: To demand action for racial and economic justice from Bank of America