“Why do these people even bother showing up?” The words came from a grandmotherly-looking woman with kind eyes who stood behind me in a line of shareholders waiting to be admitted to Bank of America’s annual meeting today. She was looking at a group of demonstrators on the street in front of us.
“Nothing’s going to change for them.”
I had arrived in Charlotte bearing a letter that confirmed that I was the representative of a politically sympathetic investor who, like the titular figure in an old TV series called The Millionaire, “wishes to remain anonymous.” The letter confirmed that “the investor is a holder of 82,000 shares of BANK OF AMERICA corporation.”
That would have guaranteed admission—and probably a little hospitality—at any normal corporation’s annual meeting. But Bank of America isn’t just any corporation. Like many banks, it has the government on its side—not only against the public, but against its own shareholders.
Three years ago the number of shares I was representing was worth $4,264,000. Today they’re worth less than $634,000. While that makes it tougher to pretend I’m in The Millionaire, you’d think the loss of $3.5 million would get a guy a chair and a glass of water to stave off the Carolina heat. Nah. Not even a lousy cup of coffee for a group of a bank’s own investors, many of whom began the morning feeling sympathetic toward the bank’s executives and hostile to the demonstrators.
At a planning meeting the previous night, Occupy protesters reaffirmed their commitment to nonviolence and discussed the city’s plan to suspend civil liberties by declaring the demonstration an “exceptional event.” Then an organizer led the crowd in chanting “We are exceptional.” That was followed by a chant that rhymed “The system’s gonna die” with “We need hella Occupy.” (This reporter thought the use of “hella” as an adjective ended when Gwen “Hella Good” Stefani parted ways with No Doubt. Apparently not.)
The planning event was held at the local Teamsters Hall, and the mix of people there and at the demonstration crossed North Carolina and North American socioeconomic boundaries in a way that was unheard-of in previous protest movements. The following day’s demonstration went smoothly. Although police were deployed in force, along with at least one customs officer, civility was the watchword.
The process was smooth and seemed well-rehearsed. As I spoke with one of the parish’s Catholic priests—who said, “Keep up the fight, brother”—police on bicycles quietly surrounded us and blocked access in and out of the crowd with their bikes. They had spun their web silently and efficiently. But there was no violence, no hostility and only a few arrests.
City officials and bank executives had clearly decided to avoid arresting anyone inside the meeting room itself, even after a mic check was called. But the “exceptional” declaration, and the assertion of extreme extrajudicial rights, seemed to catch Charlotte locals off-guard.
“We negotiated with them in good faith,” said one, “then this.” I asked another Occupy Charlotte organizer if they might have been wanted to invoke this plan as a dry run for the Democratic convention. “They said as much,” he answered. “They’re trying out their crowd control plan today, and then in a couple of weeks at a NASCAR event.”