“The fight is just beginning,” State Rep. Frank Hornstein told his daughter Rebecca, a Macalester College senior, after she and three other “Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus” (KWOC) activists emerged from the Campus Center building, rebuffed but determined, following a meeting this afternoon with college President Brian Rosenberg and vice president for administration and finance, David Wheaton.
Rosenberg, known among the Macalester student body as “PBR,” again refused to heed his students’ demands to divest the Saint Paul-based liberal arts college’s finances from Wells Fargo, which KWOC and other activists blame for putting thousands of homeowners on the streets during the foreclosure crisis.
“We are confused and we are disappointed by the administration’s resistance to this simple step that would make a huge difference,” said Rebecca Hornstein. “But we are strong and we will continue to stand with our community. This is the beginning of a new three-year phase to Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus.
“We hope the administration comes to its senses soon. It’s against our principles to be part of an institution that sides with corporate values over the calls of our community.”
About two dozen Macalester students began an around-the-clock sit-in at Rosenberg’s office in Weyerhaeuser Hall after the college first announced Monday that it would not divest its finances. During the four-day occupation, activists, housing justice groups and union leaders from around the Twin Cities rallied behind KWOC. Meanwhile, students from colleges around the country called the Italian Pie Shoppe on Grand Ave., a block away from Weyerhaeuser, and ordered a total of 20 pizzas to feed the occupiers and to show their solidarity with the cause.
The sit-in was suspended at 1 p.m. today when Rosenberg, following a two-day trip to Chicago, agreed to meet with four KWOC activists — Rebecca Hornstein, Sarah Knispel, Leewana Thomas, and Maya Pisel — plus a reporter from The Mac Weekly student newspaper, Sean Ryan. Once again, Rosenberg refused to cut Macalester’s ties from Wells Fargo.
Meanwhile, outside in front of the college Campus Center, some 50 students, activists and organizers from SEIU, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, Occupy Homes and Jewish Community Action rallied as they awaited Rosenberg’s answer. Students studying for exams or playing Ultimate Frisbee on the lawn occasionally sauntered over and joined the rally.
Offering a brief history of the housing bubble and bust, KWOC used a bullhorn to articulate why it wants the school to divest from Wells Fargo, as Minneapolis Public Schools have done:
The lecture-by-bullhorn went (loosely), like this: When the economy was booming and many people wanted to buy homes, banks realized they could profit from this surge and offered people houses that were more expensive than they could afford. People were lured in by predatory loans with deceptively low interest rates. Then the banks packaged these mortgages together and sold them to investors who took advantage of the booming market until the bubble burst and home prices began to fall, when many people started to default on the predatory mortgages. Now, the banks that made billions continue to callously foreclose on struggling homeowners.
Rep. Hornstein, a Minneapolis DFLer and Macalester graduate who took part in anti-nuclear demonstrations on the campus during the 1980s, expressed his solidarity with the KWOC campaign of his daughter and her allies. Hornstein made glowing comparisons between these students and those who led anti-sweat shop demonstrations a decade ago, anti-apartheid demonstrations and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations during the 1960s and ’70s.
“You’re doing this Macalester tradition of social justice activism,” said Hornstein, who said he chose Macalester because of that social justice tradition. “We were doing this on apartheid, people were doing this in 2001 to divest from Nike…This is a tried and true and important Macalester tradition, and I thank all of you for doing it.”
When Knispel, Thomas, Pisel and Hornstein’s daughter emerged empty-handed from their meeting with Rosenberg, the crowd nevertheless cheered as the protesters promised to fight on. The elder Hornstein pulled Knispel aside and compared their setback to the temporary defeat at the State Capitol in 2011 when the Minnesota State House put an amendment on the ballot that sought to constitutionally ban gay marriage.
Far from defeated, a raucous, passionate crowd fighting for marriage equality outside the House chambers that day vowed that their battle then was just beginning. Last November, Minnesota voters voted down the marriage restriction amendment and voted out the Republican majority that put it on the ballot.
Though the road ahead of them may be long, Hornstein and KWOC activists hope the campaign to force Macalester to divest from Wells Fargo meets the same success.
“You’re inspiring a national movement,” said Anthony Newby, an organizer at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and one of the original leaders of Occupy Homes MN. “The whole country is watching what’s happening on this campus.
“We’re not the ones who should be nervous, it’s the people in the offices making the decisions on whether to stand with the people and the students, or the maniacs who crashed our economy.”