St. Pete protesters tell motorists to move their money out of big banks

11/07/11 Janelle Irwin
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Bank of America may have changed their mind about charging fees to customers for using their debit cards, but that didn’t stop protesters in St. Pete from encouraging customers to ditch the banking giant. The group waved signs at a busy Bank of America in Northeast St. Petersburg on Saturday afternoon.

Remember, Remember the fifth of November. The phrase originates from an early 17th century plan to blow up parliament. Anti-Bank of America protesters aren’t planning to blow anything up, but they do hope the 2011 fifth of November will rouse enough attention to get people to ditch their too big to fail banks in search of smaller community banks and credit unions. Ariel Fernandez dumped Bank of America just as they opened before joining other protesters.

“I was holding up my Bank of America debit card because I just closed my bank account and have not had the opportunity to cut it up yet. It’s in solidarity for everybody that’s driving by that just has not had the opportunity to close it yet. The reason for that is, we live in a society very go based and wants to be on the run and just needs the opportunity to take a second and step back and understand that they can just stop and close that bank account and move to these community banks.”

But switching from one company to another isn’t always an easy transition. Lori Cook spent weeks making phone calls and online transfers before her account was ready to be nixed. But she said all the leg work was well worth it.

“The last decision on the Bank of America’s part to charge the five dollars for drawing on my own money. And in spite of the fact that they retracted that decision, the fact that they made it to begin with after getting an initial bailout and then also getting a huge tax rebate and paying nothing in taxes in 2010 and the last quarter getting a 6.2 billion profit, to me, those actions added up are amoral. If you turn around and then charge the very people who keep you open an extra $5 to simply be able to access your own money. To me, it’s just amoral and I don’t want to have to do anything with a business that makes those types of decisions.”

Other self-proclaimed anti-corporation advocates made the switch long before this nationwide call to action. Jasmine Carter ended her brief relationship with the company that calls themselves the bank of opportunity when she was 16. She said they charged so many fees on accounts held by minors; she paid nearly half of what she made just to have an account.

“The people in my credit union have been there since I got there, I know everybody in it. It’s a much more personalized service. In my feeling, it’s not just a number to them. They actually sit down, they’ll talk with you, they’ll plan it out as long as you need them to be there. I went to Bank of America and it’s just, in and out, that’s all you got.”

And before he could even grab an after-work cocktail, Tyler Mitchell got tired of excessive and calculative fees as well. Both he and Carter are still with their credit unions.

“I realized they were screwing everybody so I closed my account when I was, like, 20. Just with their overdraft policy, say you run a bunch of small purchases through and then you have a big purchase that overdraws your account, they’ll run the big purchase through first and then run the smaller purchases through later so they can charge you as many overdraft fees as possible. First of all, they should run them through in the order you made the purchases. Clearly they’re just doing it to screw people out of their money. God, I’m 26 now, so that’s like six years ago I realized they were screwing people and I was just like, ‘you know what, forget this’ and I closed my bank account and got out of it.”

Tony Rawson used to work for one of the companies he now rallies against. He said his job was great until the mergers started happening.

“Great company, making lots of money, I thought I had a career and a pension and everything for the rest of my life because they were that type of company. Then we got bought up by a big conglomerate that was buying up all the companies just like us because they wanted to control this financial transaction market. So, I saw what was once a very good job, as soon as this company moved in they fired like 20% of the work force and started outsourcing different parts of the company to Mumbai, India and watching what was once a great place to work, a big profit center for this particular company by this whole corporate monopolization culture really destroy a great job for me. But the good twist of fate is, I kind of found a really similar job working for a credit union.”

Most of the protesters were there in solidarity with the Occupy St. Pete movement. But Lenny Flank came out with his sign to represent the Industrial Workers of the World union. He said it is time for people to send the message to big banks like Bank of America that their lack of devotion to customers will no longer be tolerated.

“The banks take depositors money and they use that to buy politicians who then sell us out and trash the economy. And then the politicians that they bought use our tax money to bail out the banks who use our money in the first place to crash the economy in the first place. So what we want to do is stop that by asking people to not give the banks their money anymore.”

The group also marched through downtown St. Petersburg prior to their general assembly meeting. They said they hope to start organizing more occupy events for longer periods of time. Unlike neighboring Occupy Tampa, the St. Pete group has not started overnight occupation in their city yet.

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Want some cheese with that whine?

"Jasmine Carter ended her brief relationship with the company that calls themselves the bank of opportunity when she was 16" Was that the same time that she broke up with her boyfriend?