Traffic in downtown Minneapolis came to a standstill on Friday as protesters targeted big banks for bringing the economy and the lives of many people to a standstill as well.
“Everyone’s starting to see that the root of a whole lot of our problems whether it’s education or immigration, we’re all coming together around what the banks are doing to our communities.” said Steve Fletcher of Neighborhoods Organizing For Change.
About 500 people from many activist groups began a march from Peavey Plaza on May 11, 2012 to visit local bank headquarters and to generate attention along the way. They blocked traffic, sat down in two major Minneapolis Mall intersections, ignored police orders to leave and answered the order with chants, incense and Aztec dancing.
The police wisely retreated and let the demonstration play its course.
The people were angry, tempers were flaring, hostile words were spoken but there was not one violent action. Whether the world was changed remains to be seen, but Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank got an earful of what was expected of them.
Occupy provided the catalyst, but many activist and neighborhood groups joined in with specific issues:
1. The rash of home foreclosures and the banks foot dragging on resolution.
2. Banks refusal to participate on funds transfers for Somali families.
3. The proposed voter ID amendment’s tragic impact on voter disenfranchisement.
4. The banks investment in Corporations Corporation of America, private prisons that drive much of the anti-immigrant legislation.
The march from Peavey Plaza made a stop at Target Headquarters to thank them for just two days before agreeing to meet with the, “Justice for All Committee.”
They proceeded to Wells Fargo Minneapolis headquarters, joining up with Somalis protesting funds blockage and union workers from SEIU (Service Employees International Union). The Somalis were there to close there accounts as threatened several months ago.
The bank was locked down, but a guard at a side door was letting in one person at a time to close accounts. That day SEIU withdrew $72,000 from Wells Fargo. State Representative Karen Clark joined the group an announced that she had closed her Wells Fargo account.
They marched to the intersection of 8th and Nicollet Mall and a group sat in the middle of the intersection with arms locked. Repeated requests by the police to clear the intersection were ignored. The police arrested one man who was not part of the group sitting in the street. He was released without charging and the police packed up and left the scene. Squad cars were blocking intersections a block away to divert traffic.
This could have degenerated into conflict, but it didn’t with both the protestors and police showing restraint.
Half the group peeled off and marched by the apprehensive guards at U. S. Bancorp Center to occupy the intersection at 9th and Nicollet. Downtown traffic was snarled for blocks around, but the police kept their distance.
Then the two groups left the intersections and converged on U. S. Bancorp Center. The bank was asked if they can provide mortgage relief for one or two people why can’t they provide for more. One protestor said, “We can do this one at a time if necessary.”
Activist Nick Espinosa said his mother was ashamed when she got a sheriff’s sale notice, he said, “You know who should feel ashamed? The bank!”
It’s not clear if any bankers minds were changed, but they and hundreds of other watching citizens were aware of the issues and the intensity of feelings.