The 99 percent dumps BofA

February 21, 2012

THE 99 percent broke up with the Bank of America on Valentine's Day, when Occupy Wall Street (OWS) activists in New York City shut down a BofA branch in the East Village. The action brought together housing and environmental activists.

It was an effort by members of OWS's Environmental Solidarity working group to deepen Occupy's roots in communities, many of whom have been decimated by the growing foreclosure crisis, and to widen the scope of the environmental movement.

There are two "eco" crises in the world today--one economic, the other ecological. The action targeting Bank of America brought home the links between the two. As Occupy activist Russell Lum told the Daily Beast's Josh Dzieza, "The same bank that's foreclosing on our homes is foreclosing on the planet."

BofA has shuttered more homes since 2007 than any other bank, is heavy invested in mountaintop removal, and has granted billions in loans to the U.S. coal industry. Coal is the number one source of carbon emissions contributing to global warming in the world today.

This is the same bank that uses its tax department as a profit arm, and that U.S. taxpayers propped up in 2008 when its sub-prime lending practices, primarily targeting Blacks and Latinos, drove it to ruin. BofA is not the only bank around kicking working folks to the curb and funding climate death, but it is one OWS has deemed worth making an example of.

Earlier this month, the watchdog group Public Citizen submitted a petition to the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, calling for Bank of America to be broken up. Public Citizen warned that the bank's too-big-to-fail status presents a grave threat to America's financial system.

On Valentine's Day, the 99 percent broke up with Bank of America. A statement from OWS highlights Bank of America's dating profile:

-- received a trillion dollar taxpayer bailout and a tax refund of $1.9 billion in 2009, and $1 billion in 2010

continues to foreclose on homes at an alarming rate

pumped $4.3 billion into the U.S. coal industry over the last two years--more than any other bank.

Clearly Bank of America loves profits more than people and more than our planet.

A GROUP of some 60 activists rallied at Washington Square and marched to a nearby Bank of America, flanked by a dozen police on motorbikes and trailed by officers on foot whispering into walkie-talkies.

Like any other breakup, the activists wanted back their stuff--in this case, their homes, their money and their fresh air. But when they marched through the bank's ATM lounge and tried the doors, they discovered they were locked out. Startled security guards and tellers blinked at them like goldfish behind the glass.

The demonstrators one by one slid blue heart-shaped pieces of paper though a crack in the bank's door, "Blue Valentines" demanding the cessation of foreclosures and divestment from coal and mountaintop removal. One Blue Valentine borrowed a slogan from the occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol last year, "Screw us and we multiply." While they would have clearly preferred to break up with BofA in person, they had to make due with a written axing of the relationship.

It dawned on the activists that they had shut down a Bank of America branch simply by showing up with a hearty crowd. The forecloser was foreclosed, at least for a time. No longer chained down by the constraints of a toxic relationship and glad to be single, chants of "We are the 99 percent" arose from the occupiers, who were packed into the bank's ATM lounge.

"The longer we stand here, the more money they loose," someone said and that seemed to be the general consensus. The occupiers formed a heart-shaped formation on the sidewalk in front of the bank, holding hands and conducting a people's mic where people shared their experiences. One man said he had been on his way to meet his wife for their Valentine's Day dinner, but had seen the protest and felt compelled to join. Shutting down the bank illustrates what we are capable of when we work together, he said.

Activists with Occupy in San Francisco also performed a breakup with the Bank of America. One activist told the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Our intention is not to shut down the banks, just to break up with them." But as in New York, the banks reflexively bolted their doors, locking employees inside at the first sign of people doing something other than giving them money.

This fall, we saw but a small glimpse of the power the 99 percent is historically capable of exercising, so long dormant in America and so refreshing to witness.

Occupy has already shifted the ideological discourse in this country and worldwide around income inequality and the influence of corporations on the political process. It's success in breaking up business as usual will depend on the strength of the ties it builds in communities on the frontlines of the housing crisis and ecological devastation, and in the workplaces where the 99 percent toils.

If 60 militant activists can stop a bank, think what a 100,000 or a million--think what 99 percent--can accomplish.

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