Add ten more Americans to the list of non-CEOS who’ve gone to jail since the start of the financial crisis. On Monday afternoon, police arrested ten protesters at the office of Wells Fargo in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, among them a former Methodist minister, a Vietnam veteran, several unemployed Iowans and at least a couple of family farmers.
Former minister Stephanie Simmons, who was arrested Monday, explained her actions shortly after her arrest: “I love democracy and my concern, among other things, is the outrageous salaries and bonuses the bank executives are making when there are people just hanging on by their fingernails.”
Simmons lives in Guthrie Center, Iowa (population ca. 1,500). Her congregation of about 130 people supports twenty-seven families with food and other supplies every month.
“Our food banks have run short. Giving in the congregation is at an all-time low because people just don’t have the money. Children are short of school supplies.” Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf needs to take a look, said Simmons. “Take a look at what you’re doing. If you have a conscience at all, you need to take a look.”
Des Moines, Iowa, is the national headquarters of Wells Fargo’s Home Mortgage division. “Wells Fargo’s mortgage office here in Iowa is making billions in profits every year by kicking hardworking families out of their homes and they aren’t even paying taxes on their ill-got wealth,” said Kenn Bowen, a Vietnam veteran and retired communications worker from Winterset, Iowa, another arrestee. “That ain’t right. Wells Fargo should be broken up into smaller, community banks that will put people before profits.”
Jim Yunclas, another arrestee, a retired Agriculture extension officer. lives on a so-called century farm—one that’s been in his family for more than 100 years. His farm is bordered by factory farms underwritten by Wells Fargo, factory farms that house some 1 million chickens and 500 hogs, he says. Those factory farms, run by absentee owners, devalue local property, degrade the environment and drive up local taxpayer spending on road maintenance, healthcare and rent, says Yunclas. “They want profits, not community. They’re a burden on society and we pick up the tab. Financing factory farms, Wells Fargo isn’t being a good community banker, they’re being a thief.”
Simmons and Yunclas, like most of the Des Moines arrestees, belong to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement , a community faith and labor coalition that has been active for thirty-plus years in the state.
“Iowa CCI has been standing up to corporate power for thirty-eight years and this is the first time we have actively put our bodies on the line in the sense that we were willing to risk arrest,” said ICCI’s David Goodner in a phone call after the action Monday. All those who were arrested Monday had participated in a 99% Spring civil disobedience training last month. Two ICCI activists each bought one share of Wells Fargo, and are on their way to the shareholder meeting.
What the protesters wanted, they said as they spoke via human microphone at the locked-and-barred bank entrance, was time during the Wells Fargo shareholders’ meeting in San Francisco Tuesday for their colleagues to present their grievances to the public and the officials of the bank. The action in Iowa came a day ahead of what is anticipated to be a thousands-strong demonstration inside and outside the shareholder meeting. Time on the annual shareholder agenda, organizers believe, is the public’s best chance to get in front of bank officials, shareholders, the media and the public.
It’s been four long years since the start of the financial crisis, and Wells Fargo, whose mortgage division is housed in Des Moines, stands accused  of just about every corporate crime in the bankers’ book—from predatory lending to racial discrimination, tax evasion and profiteering of payday lending scams. They finance the factory farm industry too, and private prisons to boot, while spending hundreds of thousands on state ballot measures and state and federal elections. Yet Wells Fargo officials have yet to respond to the public—to the people whom its policies have hurt, said organizers.
Monday’s actions represent a stepping up of pressure, said George Goehl, director of National People’s Action, a co-sponsor of the Spring Trainings. Goehl was the tenth arrestee on Monday in Des Moines.
“This is hardly the first demonstration we’ve done, yet for four years Wells Fargo has refused to respond to the 99 percent,” said Goehl. “They’ve denied and deflected, denied and deflected. Well, we’re tired of being the only ones in crisis. Its time for Wells Fargo to be in crisis.”