Charlotte, NC: Bank of America had its shareholders meeting at their headquarters and for the first time in a generation a major protest poured onto the streets in Charlotte, NC. There was repression and arrests leading to and during the protests, whose details, soon to be described, show a potential reaction for the Democratic National Convention protests slated for the same town in September. Action success came from collaboration between large organizations, coalitions of smaller organizations, Occupy Wall Street movement groups and individuals that found unity and strength challenging the company in the company town. The question on the ground: could this be a step towards a more unified and collaborative left?
Mayor Anthony Foxx declared the protest an “extraordinary event,” dubiously authorizing the removal of civil liberties by police in an area around BoA, a “no free speech zone.” City officials and the police have never seen a crowd this big in protest. In giving police extraordinary abilities to arrest the working class who are daring to confront the worst 0.1%, the stage was set for a challenge of these onerous and illegal rules on the street.
Nerves were on edge as the police patrol in the area around the convergence center picked up beginning three days before the action. An empty box discovered in front of a Bank of America branch downtown was treated as a bomb threat Sunday evening, without any evidence, the media cast allusions of suspicion on the coming protesters. On Monday, three people were arrested for holding a banner above a highway a couple blocks away from the center. Concern began rising on the possibility of a raid of the convergence building even though the event was clearly promoted as being nonviolent.
The morning of the protest, marches began at 8:30AM at three separate locations, representing the three main demands. The hundreds of people in each march were there to force BoA into respecting democracy, stopping the funding of dirty coal and stopping foreclosures. Timed precisely, they righteously violated the extraordinary event rules and took the streets in unison one block before they all converged at the intersection in front of the shareholder meeting exactly at 9:00.
The energy at the moment of confluence was electric, joyous, proud, noisy and ferociously unstoppable. The police kept back even though some seemed earlier ready to challenge protesters who were disobeying rule but the protesters all stepped onto the street in unison and like an ocean wave crashing to the shore of the Outerbanks, the protesters swooshed past the police and flooded the road.
The strength of the day came from groups and people uniting against a common enemy. Bank of America IS bad for America. Why? Pick the poison and put it on a sign. The three big ones that framed the marches are hardly the only reasons. The working class has seethed from the bail out in 2008, now recognizing that moment as a swindling of American taxes towards protecting the wealthy. Occupy Wall Street projected that sentiment as it was stemming from a sense that finding a mainstream political solution, considering the show of bipartisan support towards giving the big banks everything they wanted, was not possible. Four years later the economy is still tanked and teetering but the Brian “Big Banks” Moynihans of the world rake in millions in bonuses rather than go to jail.
Jail for the CEO and all the executives, a dissolving of the BoA corporate charter and the redistribution of their ill-gotten wealth seems unlikely to come from our federal government. Enough elected officials have been bought by the financial institutions to make reform through elections much more difficult or impossible at this moment. Though the messages that day seemed to indicate an agreement around the scope of BoA’s malfeasance, a strategy for directly organizing for BoA dissolution still seems far off. Clearly there is no making Bank of America a better bank for everyone without dissolving it at least until the point where it is no longer “too big to fail.”
Larger organizations behind this effort have specific self-interested goals. For the larger environmental organizations it is a legal agreement that BoA stops funding the building of coal power plants. The central staffs of these large organizations do not prioritize building movement unity and creating longterm shifts towards democratic power. If these environmental organizations worked more in a solidarity model, they would not break the campaign after BoA agrees to some request around coal. Instead their demands would be unified with the greater movement goals on BoA having to agree to principle reduction for foreclosed homes, to not spending money on election manipulation and the terms of smaller coalition members around stopping outrageous fees affecting the most vulnerable.
A major environmental organization may focus on stopping coal but when it comes down to demands of BoA it is disingenuous to abandon the demands of alliance partners that helped pressure the bank for a deal. This unfortunately happens often in alliances with larger organizations: the smaller organizations and local folks ending up facing the bank from a diminished position once the larger group gets what it wants. This is not to say that reforms should not be accepted on occasion and partial victories celebrated. However, alliances must be consulted and respected. Any reforms must not hurt long-term shared vision.
There is a lot of hope that this action will energize continued relationship development in Wall Street South, as Charlotte has come to be known. Solidarity takes trust developed in shared struggle and a lot of trust was built this week and the many months previous. These relationships should be nurtured for the long-term as Charlotte is a city that will remain a battleground against financial interests.
Financial institutions have risen since the 1970s to become the greatest concentrators of wealth in the US. The opulence of Bank of America stands out in their glass skyscraper, the biggest by far in Charlotte, a daily reminder of inequality for the 99% and an exception to the overall down to earth feeling in the rest of the city. Their concentration of wealth has directly correlated to their increase in political power. The DNC being held in Charlotte pays homage to the city’s clout in finance and the total subjugation of the Democrats to that power structure.
“The parties dissolved in many ways. It used to be that if a person in Congress hoped for a position such as a committee chair, he or she got it mainly through seniority and service. Within a couple of years, they started having to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead, a topic studied mainly by Tom Ferguson. That just drove the whole system even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector (increasingly the financial sector),” writes Noam Chomsky, in his article on Common Dreams titled, A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age?
The Democratic National Convention protest has the potential for highlighting this relationship between the big banks, especially BoA, and the Democrats. Protesting the relationship between the big bank and the party rather than the party directly would be a message that may resonate better with folks, especially locally. Many of the people of color, in this mixed metropolitan and multicultural city, have a growing voice but may feel divided in using it directly against Barak Obama. Engaging people in focusing on BoA could help efforts at uniting struggles against economic inequality and the continued struggle against racism. Getting BoA money out of the Democratic Party is a broad progressive issue and can put the spotlight on the inequality, especially for people of color, that has been accentuated in the foreclosure struggles, the lack of jobs, and the predatory fee practices of BoA.
The coalition that came together around the BoA shareholders meeting probably won’t be the same one that unites for the DNC protests. If it were, it would really scare the heck out of BoA and the Democrats. Perhaps for that reason alone it would be worthwhile to examine the possibility.
-By Bruce Wilkinson, AFGJ Grassroots Coordinator
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