Occupy St. Pete seniors endure the rain to protest predatory banking practices

06/01/12 Liz McKibbon
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It’s been less than a month since Bank of America’s annual shareholders meeting and protesters say they haven’t made any changes to benefit their customers. So members of the Occupy movement called for people to “Move Your Money” at a rally in downtown St. Pete.

“Move you money honey, move your money honey, move your money honey.”

Through drizzling rain, 15 protesters gathered to hold a “Move Your Money” protest outside of the bank’s 3rd Street South location. The group made speeches using a human microphone. Wendell Wilson holds Bank of America solely responsible for predatory practices.

“We want the Bank of America to stabilize the housing market. And revitalize the economy by investing in more small businesses. Finally we want the Bank of America to break this unhealthy relationship between bank and government. Until this is done, we advise all customers to move your money, honey!”

Robert Hudson, an 83 year-old resident, protested from a motorized wheelchair.

“My wife founded an elder group and the elder group is in charge of this action here. And we’re trying to alert the culture to the fact the wealth of the nation is so concentrated now that we have the best government money can buy. And we are in danger of slipping into an oligarchy as opposed to a representative democratic government. And it’s our way of protesting this in a nonviolent way. We’re very much interested in non-violent action.”

His wife, Abhi Hudson, says the idea of moving money out of Bank of America is spreading. She says that even if only a few people change their opinion, it’s worth the protest.

“There has been additional attention made—not just Occupy—but other groups around the country, to reinforce this move your money, and we’re learning that it’s beginning to have a big effect. That there are more and more people who have suddenly found a credit union or putting their money locally, feels like they’re doing something useful. So we decided we would come out again today, actually we had kind of figured every couple of months we would come out and to this. We’ll keep it going if we can.”

According to Javelin Strategy and Research, an estimated 5.6 million adults changed their banking relationship during the national “Bank Transfer Day” in late 2011. Hudson says not only has the bank failed to improve their practices, but have instead made things worse.

“The big banks are the ones that got bailed out and have failed to do anything significant to change the habits that caused their problems to begin with. And Bank of America is one of my particular favorites, because it was one of the first to get involved in this whole mortgage scam thing. And unfortunately, recently, we’ve learned that they’ve gotten very involved in the pay day lending program. Which is another big problem for very low income people who don’t fully understand what’s happening to them.”

Hudson is referring to Advance America Cash Advance Centers, to which Bank of America, Wachovia and Wells Fargo are all lenders. Bank of America isn’t the only national bank with a hand in pay day lending, or charging their customers fees. But that doesn’t mean protesters are just singling out the banking giant. Greg Stemm says the choice is more symbolic.

“We could have taken our pick, in between Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, any of them. We really feel that Bank of America pretty much symbolizes the systemic problem with all of the banks.”

Stemm says he wants to see all national banks be more responsible with the money entrusted to them.

”I’m part of the 99% and I’m very upset with the all the things that have been happening with the big banks, the home foreclosures, the extraordinary fees that they’re putting on customers, the big bonuses that they’re giving to their CEOs and basic just corporate irresponsibility.”

In contrast to previous protests at the Tampa Bank of America building, a single security guard was the only authoritative presence at the protest.

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