"Banks get bailed out, schools get sold out!" Though Occupy Philly had been active during the winter, today's May Day event to shut down Wells Fargo felt like the spring rebirth of the movement. The actions drew attention to the many negative impacts the bank has had on our city.
Starting at the Wells Fargo on Market and 17th and winding around Rittenhouse Square, the march stopped in front of the branch between 17th and 18th on Walnut St, blocking the bank's entrance and cash machine. Occupy Philly demanded that Wells Fargo be shut down for the crimes it has committed and the damage it has caused to the city of Philadelphia:
- Many in Philadelphia have lost their homes in the foreclosure crisis while banks like Wells Fargo got bailed out.
- The Philadelphia School District has lost more than $332 million in shady "interest rate swap" deals with Wells Fargo and other banks. While Wells Fargo rakes in the profits, the School District announced last week it would dissolve, due in part to inability to close its $218 million budget deficit for the next year.
- Wells Fargo has engaged in racist predatory lending practices, charging people of color higher rates for loans.
- Wells Fargo has funded private immigrant dentention centers and prisons.
For over half an hour, traffic through the busy city block was shut down, as passersby gathered to watch, listen, and even join in.
At one point, a man in a suit tried to use the ATM but was prevented from doing so by two Occupy Philly participants. When he tried to shove his bank card into the mouth of the young woman in his way, police responded not by holding the man for the near-assault, but instead forcefully removing protestors from the ATM area, arresting two people. In the process, one of them alleged loudly that an officer was planting a switchblade on his body as they held him in a corner where no one could see what was happening. Other cops nervously stood guard shielding them.
(CORRECTION: Shawn, the person arrested, wants to clarify the above: "Sgt. Smith said "don't forget my switchblade" in response to Solomon [a protester, who was] pointing out the obvious power dynamic to bike cops, "you have guns, pepper spray, shields, bikes, etc". i just said it out loud because [Smith] wasn't ballsy enough to let everyone know himself. and i thought it was fucked up that he was joking about having a weapon in the context."
In other words, Shawn did NOT intend to insinuate that a switchblade was being planted on him, although it sounded that way to me in the moment. You can watch a video of the incident here.)
This police aggression comes just a week after a judge had dismissed charges against the Occupy Philly protesters arrested in the November eviction from City Hall, ruling that the actions of the peaceful, unarmed protesters did not constitute disorderly conduct. A victory for free speech, it is hard not to think that today's police behavior was a form of retaliation for the ruling.
Police presence grew quickly as the march left Walnut St in search of other banks to shut down. At one point, a dispersal order was announced on JFK Boulevard and more than 15 police vans with sirens blaring closed off the street. To my knowledge, no one was held or arrested there.
Regrouping at the starting location, the march ended with a rally to an interested audience of office workers and other people on the street as bike cops formed a blockade on 17th.
As he stood behind his bike, one cop listened with a skeptical expression to a teacher addressing the crowd. The kids in his Northeast Philly school, he said, were forced to eat crackers and milk for lunch, while banks were profiting off the crumbling School District. Hearing this, the bike cop turned to the officer next to him and said, "you know, he's got a point."