A coalition of activists is gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week to protest at Bank of America’s headquarters and its annual shareholder meeting to “demand an end to their practices that are bankrupting our economy and wrecking our climate,” according to the NC Against Corporate Power website.
The group includes members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, homeowners, students, immigrants, environmentalists, workers, women’s groups and peace activists, among others.
NCACP lists a plethora of complaints against BoA, including the facts that the bank is the leader in home foreclosures and funding of the US coal industry, and a huge job-killer (100,000 workers have been let go over the past several years). Meanwhile, BoA’s top five executives rewarded themselves with over $500 million in bonuses, while the bank saddled students with a lifetime of debt.
And the checklist of grievances goes on.
On the morning of May 9, the groups plan to participate in “creative, mass non-violent direct action” against BoA, including a march to the doors of the shareholder meeting and surrounding areas. On the day of the meeting, NCACP states that people will have the opportunity to engage in a variety of creative educational, cultural, theatrical, visibility and nonviolent direct action activities.
In response to the planned actions, the city manager of Charlotte, Curt Walton, has unilaterally declared the shareholder meeting an “extraordinary event,” meaning the city plans to restrict free speech and expand the ability of police and security forces to target and profile the homeowners, worker, community members, students and immigrants who plan to demand justice from one of the largest banks in the country.
The label tightens restrictions on what protesters are allowed to do at such events and gives police more power to search people’s property (backpacks, coolers, etc.) in the vicinity. Certain items, such as scarves, are now banned from the event, and the possession of items like markers, hammers and spray paint is now grounds for arrest.
The extraordinary event tag’s origins date back to a city ordinance enacted in January in anticipation of the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Charlotte in September.
Thus far, it seems like the unprecedented measure adopted by the city manager has done little to ebb the tide of protester enthusiasm.
A dozen members of the Rainforest Action Network, Action NC, Greenpeace and the NC Coalition Against Corporate Power, among others, gathered in front of an unfurled banner that read, “Duke Energy/ Quit Coal Quit Nukes/Clean, Safe Energy Now” to speak with reporters. (all photos courtesy of RAN)
Hours earlier, members of Rainforest Action Network scaled the side of the Bank of America Stadium with climbing equipment and hung a 70-foot by 25-foot banner that read “Bank of Coal Stadium.”
Activists plan to protest against what they call “unjustified rate hikes” from Duke Energy and Bank of America’s reliance on coal at the upcoming shareholder meetings, they said.
“We will not be intimidated by these restrictions on our rights,” Todd Zimmer, an organizer for RAN who helped document the hanging of the banner earlier in the morning, told CLCLT.
UNC Charlotte student Elisa Benitez expressed similar frustrations to reporter Ryan Pitkin over the extraordinary events designation at the rally. “Why have these meetings been called extraordinary events, when all of our events are peaceful? Police should be protecting us instead of protecting them.”
The meeting itself should prove to be interesting. Trillium Asset Management, a firm that manages $1 billion in environmentally friendly investments, will present a resolution that would bar BoA from making contributions to politically oriented groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the US Chamber of Commerce.
“For the better part of the last decade, we’ve seen consistent and increasingly strong shareholder votes on political spending proposals,” said Shelley Alpern, Vice President of Shareholder Advocacy for Trillium. “A growing number of investors consider this area to be a material factor in evaluating the financial worth a company and the strength of its governance mechanisms. Investors will be better off when the SEC requires disclosure from all publicly traded companies. Companies deserve a level playing field and investors need the information.”
A record-breaking 178,000 Americans agreed with Trillium’s assessment when they recently called on the SEC to regulate corporate political spending.
While the protesters outside and the shareholders attending the meeting have different concerns, they do overlap in one area: weariness over BoA’s toxic books and those pesky bad mortgages that refuse to go away.
“This year there is a very clear overlap between the two groups, though they may not see eye to eye,” said Jessica Clarke of Moxy Vote, an organization that helps individual investors and customers get involved in shareholder voting. “They’re coming from different angles, but it’s the same target.”