"If you believe in the same God as I do, then you will stop the foreclosure madness right now."
These words rang out yesterday in front of a hushed audience, as Rev. Dr. Mario Howell, pastor of Antioch Church Family and a CCISCO clergy leader, spoke directly to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf at the bank’s annual shareholders gathering in San Francisco.
A delegation of 12 people – including homeowners facing foreclosure from ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment), CCISCO (Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization), SEIU and Causa Justa::Just Cause – demanded that Stumpf agree to negotiate with them on a moratorium on foreclosures and a series of other reforms that would keep families in their homes and stop the bank’s pervasive record of predatory lending.
Betty Olsen-Jones, President of the Oakland Teacher’s Union, spoke of the impact that the decisions of big banks like Wells Fargo are having on teachers, parents and students. Homeowners like Donna Vieira, a community leader with ACCE and CCISCO, and Sara Kershnar of Causa Justa::Just Cause spoke about their own struggles to save their homes and the need for an immediate moratorium.
At one point, Wells’ Stumpf tried to argue that the group had it wrong and that foreclosures actually helped spur job creation. He then claimed that a moratorium would not help because it “only puts off the inevitable.”
When Stumpf tried to dismiss Tanya Dennis – an ACCE leader evicted from her home by Wells Fargo despite failing to prove that they are the rightful owner of her mortgage – as an “individual concern” that was not relevant to the meeting, she quick corrected him, saying that she was there for every Wells victim being wrongfully foreclosed upon throughout the country.
The team of leaders then refused to step down from the microphone until Stumpf changed his mind and agreed to their demands on behalf of thousands of homeowners and working people. Bank representatives turned off the microphone but the group persisted. Despite being on the 15th floor of the building, the voices of hundreds of people outside chanting “You owe us” could be heard inside the meeting.
The police were eventually called in and removed the delegation.
As the delegation approached the lobby, and with hundreds of continuing to rally outside, they decided to block each of the entrances of the Merchant’s Exchange Building, where the meeting was being held. Eight delegation members were then arrested by the San Francisco police.
Donna Vieira, who was one of those arrested, said that the police were arresting the wrong people. That instead of arresting homeowners who were trying to get the bank to do the right thing, they should be arresting the bank leadership for illegally foreclosing on so many families.Outside, hundreds marched to the meeting and held a rally while the delegation was inside. Labor and faith groups announced that they are closing their accounts with Wells Fargo to protest the bank’s lending practices. The Oakland Educators Association and PICO affiliate PACT San Jose both pledged to pull millions out of the bank and encourage their allies to consider doing the same.
Yesterday’s action was organized by a broad coalition of community, faith and labor organizations from across the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the first of a series of events at big bank shareholder gatherings throughout the month of May as part of the New Bottom Line Campaign. You can find out more about other events at www.newbottomline.com