Strike, Take Over, Occupy Everything! The Story of the Bank of America 95

Get­ting arrest­ed, at least in my case, was slow and phys­i­cal­ly drain­ing. Before con­tin­u­ing, I should note that I draw no anal­o­gy between my expe­ri­ence of polit­i­cal arrest and the con­stant harass­ment and deten­tion that accom­pa­ny life on the mar­gins. I am not one of the men­tal­ly ill who are removed from pub­lic sight to make com­merce safe; one of the drug addicts who some­times pound their heads again­st the pad­dy wag­on walls until blood flows; one of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants who now pop­u­late bank-owned, for-prof­it pris­ons; or one of those who attract the police because of the col­or of their skin. I was also not beat­en by the police or held with­out charges. Arrest for polit­i­cal offense, in my case, meant sit­ting for a long time in Bank of Amer­i­ca on Novem­ber 16, hav­ing ABC Live lit­er­al­ly watch my back, and wait­ing in a cold seat in an impro­vised pen for two hours. That day-after sore­ness from hav­ing my hands cuffed behind my back was my biggest phys­i­cal or emo­tion­al com­plaint tes­ti­fies to this dif­fer­ence.

Why a bank, and why Novem­ber 16? It’s no secret that over the last four years, the Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans in Con­gress and the White House have poured hun­dreds of bil­lions of US tax­pay­er mon­ey to bail­ing out the finan­cial firms that preyed on the poor, minori­ties and stu­dents. At the same time, the US unem­ploy­ment rate is over 9%, though if we still used the def­i­n­i­tion of unem­ploy­ment from pre-Clin­ton times, that num­ber would be around 22%. With so many par­ents out of work, 33% of US chil­dren now live in pover­ty. Around 10 mil­lion homes have been fore­closed on since 2006 and, unsur­pris­ing­ly, home­less­ness con­tin­ues to rise. The vast divide between the wealthy and every­one else is obvi­ous­ly grow­ing. Even many in the finan­cial sec­tor real­ize this: the invest­ment analy­sis web­site SeekingAlpha.com notes that wealth polar­iza­tion is at its high­est rate since imme­di­ate­ly before the Great Depres­sion.

The fact that bankers have played a cen­tral role in cre­at­ing this cri­sis and have prof­it­ed immense­ly from it is not news. The man­agers and boards that run our econ­o­my, and there­fore have enor­mous impact on all of our lives, have been able to build and craft the organs that are sup­posed to reg­u­late them. The bankers that ruined the econ­o­my are the ones that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma tasked with fix­ing it. No doubt we shall all soon be saved. The bankers who mort­gaged their own busi­ness­es have vora­cious­ly fore­closed on thou­sands of home­own­ers’ mort­gages. The bankers who craft­ed stu­dent loan leg­is­la­tion are the same bankers who helped orig­i­nate near­ly a tril­lion dol­lars of stu­dent and fam­i­ly edu­ca­tion debt.

Many of the­se finan­cial wiz­ards, called “regents” or “trustees,” are allowed to deter­mine the costs, pri­or­i­ties and future direc­tion of pub­lic and pri­vate edu­ca­tion. The major­i­ty of the UC Regents and Cal State Trustees are busi­ness ‘lead­ers’ appoint­ed by the Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor to reward loy­al ser­vice or finan­cial con­tri­bu­tions. Over the last decade, they have active­ly dis­cour­aged state and fed­er­al sup­port for pub­lic high­er edu­ca­tion – that mon­ey requires a mod­icum of account­abil­i­ty, after all – while vig­or­ous­ly pur­su­ing a mod­el where stu­dents and their fam­i­lies pri­vate­ly pay for what was once a pub­lic good. (You can learn more about this process in my piece on stu­dent debt in Recla­ma­tions.)

For months, stu­dent activists have had Novem­ber 16 cir­cled on our cal­en­dars. On this day, the UC Regents were sup­posed to meet to rat­i­fy a stag­ger­ing 81% tuition hike. How­ev­er, the keen intel­lects and der­ring-do that no doubt helped them achieve their own suc­cess alert­ed them to the obvi­ous fact that the num­ber 81 was like­ly to cause more than just a few wrin­kled brows. In their benef­i­cence, they had decid­ed that 16% increas­es over each of the next four years would suf­fice. But stu­dents were not grate­ful for this benev­o­lence. Rather than face the stu­dent rogue ele­ment that was plan­ning to dis­rupt their meet­ing, the UC Regents made the pru­dent deci­sion to can­cel. Vic­to­ry for the stu­dents!

Since activists from through­out North­ern Cal­i­for­nia were already pre­pared to board bus­es to meet the regents – we’d already had plans to join with Occu­py San Fran­cis­co – many felt it would be rude to back out, so we decid­ed to take a tour of the finan­cial dis­trict. After a ral­ly at Justin Her­man Plaza, we began march­ing and chant­i­ng through the streets of SF, accom­pa­nied by a bel­liger­ent SFPD motor­cy­cle brigade. I passed out fly­ers with infor­ma­tion about some of the 1% who rule not just the city but also the coun­try. Like the sports cards I used to col­lect in my youth, the­se quar­ter sheets had a pic­ture of a Regent and some facts about them – com­rade Katie Woolsey and I encour­aged onlook­ers to “col­lect the whole set!” Most peo­ple were nice, though some of the 1% told Katie to “fuck off,” to “get a job, dyke,” and oth­er such pleas­antries. The fact that I, a 6’2” white male, was met with avert­ed eyes rather than aggres­sion, tes­ti­fies to the cow­ardice of the 1%.

As the march pro­gressed, with around 400 peo­ple, we vis­it­ed the offices of Regents Richard Blum and George Mar­cus. We let them know that we did not appre­ci­ate their invest­ments in for-prof­it schools, their despi­ca­ble use of stu­dent tuition and CalPERS pen­sions to enrich them­selves, and the anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic nature of their busi­ness prac­tices. The fes­tive and bal­loon­ing march – I’d esti­mate over a thou­sand by then – next arrived at 50 Cal­i­for­nia Street, the site of Bank of Amer­i­ca and Mon­i­ca Lozano’s office. Lozano has been a regent since 2001, and a direc­tor at Bank of Amer­i­ca Cor­po­ra­tion since 2006. A large num­ber of most­ly stu­dent activists had already entered the lob­by of the build­ing by the time Katie and I arrived; we decid­ed to join the pro­test­ers inside.

With­in moments word began to trick­le in that the cops were mass­ing. Announce­ments were made:

We’re here to deliv­er a peti­tion to Mon­i­ca Lozano ask­ing her to help refund high­er edu­ca­tion.

If you do not want to be arrest­ed, it would be a good idea to leave the build­ing now.

Those stay­ing are mak­ing a state­ment that we will leave only when either Lozano signs the pledge or the police remove us.

No word from Lozano. We take seats on the floor and on var­i­ous desks. At around 2:45PM a num­ber of cops in riot gear troop in. Josh Brahin­sky, a com­rade from UCSC, calm­ly reminds the group, many of us also from UCSC, of the pro­ce­dure for deal­ing with cops. He tells us to stay calm and stead­fast until Lozano signed or the police took us out. Fif­teen min­utes pass. Anoth­er 20 min­utes. As cops saun­ter around, we joke and won­der what’s tak­ing so long. The adren­a­line that the occu­pa­tion and the cops had shot through me is wan­ing.

“Mic check!” “MIC CHECK!” We have a teach-in: 670,000 com­mu­ni­ty col­lege stu­dents turned away; a 10% tax on the wealth­i­est 1% would solve the bud­get prob­lems; the mon­ey we use for mur­der­ous drones in Pakistan/Afghanistan could keep edu­ca­tion free for years. We chant; some play drums. We sing the clas­sics: Sol­i­dar­i­ty Forever; This Land is Your Land (includ­ing the Woody Guthrie “No Tres­pass­ing” verse); and some also sing The Star Span­gled Ban­ner. (Did you know that three of four sen­tences in the last stan­za are actu­al­ly ques­tions?) Oh, and, the tent.

An hour pass­es. “Mic check!” “MIC CHECK!” We decide to call Ms. Lozano, and we’re put on hold for a long time. Ms. Lozano’s sec­re­tary tells us that we can leave a mes­sage:

Mic check!

MIC CHECK!

Join us in refund­ing Cal­i­for­nia!

JOIN US IN-

She hangs up. More time pass­es. ABC Live films us. Livestream films us. A mic check announces that more than 2,000 peo­ple around the world are watch­ing us on livestream.com/globalrevolution. Cheers. Chant­i­ng. Drums. (There are always drums.)

We invite the cops to take off their gear and join us: “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off that riot suit”. Smiles… scowls… indif­fer­ence.

Action! The first arrests final­ly begin. Con­crete is not the most com­fort­able sur­face, so some of us near the back joke that we should have sat closer to the front. Offi­cers try to close a heavy cur­tain to wall off the out­side spec­ta­tors: we pre­vent this with chairs. It takes a long time to arrest 95 peo­ple. Chants: “This is what democ­ra­cy looks like!” UCSC com­rade Ian Stein­man as he is tak­en away: “This is what the dic­ta­tor­ship of the 1% looks like.” More are tak­en away, with cheers:  “we love you” – “all pow­er to the slugs” – “Long live the Oak­land Com­mune.”

I receive texts from com­rades from all over: offers of sup­port, encour­age­ment, joy and news (Bran­don Dar­by is in the Bay Area). Gabi Kirk goes limp and has to be dragged away. A young black stu­dent is rough­ly arrest­ed. “I’m not resist­ing!” Cops push him down on a desk. A cho­rus: “Whoa, hey, why does it take six cops to arrest a black man?” Gloved hands caress their batons, and he is led away.

We chant:

The bailout

was bull­shit

you broke it

you bought it!

Adren­a­line returns. They’re head­ing for me – have to fin­ish my twe… – and I’m gone. “Pow­er to the peo­ple!” That’s greet­ed by a cop in full riot gear: “pow­er to police.” “We’ve seen a lot of that late­ly,” I reply, and the grip on my arm tight­ens.

Cops use Polaroids to iden­ti­fy us and to match our prop­er­ty with our report. “They should spend less on tasers and tear gas and more on mod­ern cam­eras.” Smiles and scowls. “We don’t use tasers, ass­hole.” I’m escort­ed out of the build­ing and am met by cheers from com­rades I’ve nev­er met.

The two police­men who put me and sev­en oth­ers in the pad­dy wag­on are per­son­able and seem like decent peo­ple. We joke about detours to In-and-Out, going to Alca­traz, and a num­ber of oth­er things. One of them has a son who is a high-school teacher; he half expect­ed to see him in the bank. We wend through the city and final­ly end up at the SF Sheriff’s com­pound. Like every­where else in the city, it takes a lit­tle while to find a place to park. I’m the last one out. The offi­cer and I talk about why we protest. He under­stands, he just doesn’t like the black bloc. One of his friends was hit in the head with a ham­mer, he explains, and they make it hard for any­one he knows to have sym­pa­thy for the move­ment. Some cops, he says, love to see the black bloc, because that means they get to fight – some cops rel­ish that. I have thir­ty sec­onds to give a sweep­ing his­to­ry of the black bloc to con­tex­tu­al­ize his under­stand­ing – I sus­pect it made lit­tle dif­fer­ence, but who knows.

I’m told to sit cross-legged on the ground. Wear­ing just pants and a but­ton-up shirt, the 50 degree tem­per­a­tures are vex­ing, though cer­tain­ly not intol­er­a­ble. We’re told not to talk loud­ly, so chant­i­ng and cheer­ing are out. I am able to loosen up one of more surly cops by shar­ing that I am huge fan of the Sea­hawks. He smiles and pro­ceeds to talk about how he used to play foot­ball and had just vis­it­ed Bain­bridge Island – he loved it, of course. Before we can con­tin­ue he is replaced by a new surly cop. Slow­ly we’re all processed, filed out of the deten­tion area, and met by a jubi­lant but exhaust­ed crowd. A big thanks to the poor NLG lawyer who has to get all of our infor­ma­tion. More than 50 of us get back to UCSC at around 11PM.

A glow of ela­tion sur­rounds us all: we shut down a mas­sive branch of Bank of Amer­i­ca for half the day! As Home­land Secu­ri­ty, the FBI, may­ors and police from all over the coun­try coor­di­nat­ed to the bid­ding of Wall Street, we shut down Bank of Amer­i­ca; and as Occu­py Wall Street camps were ter­ror­ized by thugs in blue, we pro­claimed with hun­dreds of thou­sands of oth­ers that there are final­ly con­se­quences. None of us are fool­ish enough to believe that we affect­ed the bot­tom line of Bank of Amer­i­ca on Wednes­day. That will come in time. But the mes­sage we sent is unmis­tak­able: there are con­se­quences for oli­garchs.

STRIKE! The con­se­quence of roust­ing Oak­land was a gen­er­al strike that shut down the fifth largest port in the US.

TAKE OVER! Through­out the coun­try, peo­ple in the move­ment have begun to take over the cast-off build­ings and struc­tures that cap­i­tal can no longer use – we claim the scraps that fall from capital’s table to build a new world from the husk of the old.

OCCUPY EVERYTHING! We occu­py for shel­ter. We occu­py to serve. We occu­py to make pub­lic what cap­i­tal has made pri­vate. We occu­py to retal­i­ate.


Mark Paschal is a grad­u­ate stu­dent at UC-San­ta Cruz, a mem­ber of UAW 2865, and an orga­niz­er with­in the UCSC Gen­er­al Assem­bly.

 

Author of the article

has written for Reclamations Journal, and is a member of University Research Group Experiment (URGE). He is also a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz.

5 Responses

  1. Katie
    Katie at |

    This is such a won­der­ful account, Mark.

  2. Todd
    Todd at |

    I sure wish those of you in the OWS would point some blame at the Fed­er­al Gov. Fan­nie Mae just received their 5th or 6th bailout. They have received more than all the oth­er bank­ing insti­tu­tions com­bined. This thing is far big­ger than a few greedy bankers, this was forced upon us by the very peo­ple who write the laws of the land. Look at how many of the­se career politi­cians are mul­ti­mil­lion­aires; that’s not what the founders intend­ed. They are get­ting rich, tak­ing our mon­ey, and writ­ing laws to keep them­selves in pow­er.

    Thanks for link­ing to my site.

    1. Trevor Owen Jones
      Trevor Owen Jones at |

      Your con­fla­tion of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment with the exclu­sive locus of blame for the finan­cial cri­sis is a one-dimen­sion­al argu­ment that falls prey to clas­si­cal liberalism’s sep­a­ra­tion of gov­ern­ments and mar­kets, a posi­tion that is in utter intel­lec­tu­al bank­rupt­cy fol­low­ing 2008.

      Per­haps the ‘End the Fed’ Ron Paul types might do well to ask them­selves the ques­tion why is it no one else is demand­ing the same, given that you are unique­ly epis­te­mo­log­i­cal­ly privy to a glob­al solu­tion to all of today’s prob­lems? Oh right, every­one else is ‘sheeple’. Ahem.

      This will­ful autism is every­thing that the OWS types are right­eous­ly dis­man­tling with their actions. Expect fur­ther dis­missals in the­o­ry and prac­tice as this decade unfolds.

      If none of this makes sense to you, please look up C. Wright Mills and get back to me with what you find out.

      1. hecetv
        hecetv at |

        GOT DAMN SHOTS FIRED

  3. WiseFather
    WiseFather at |

    You might like this. I called my cred­it card’s cus­tomer ser­vice line to do some nego­ti­at­ing. Hav­ing a bit of lever­age, I thought it pre­sent­ed a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to mess with them a lit­tle and make a few points about the unfair­ness of the cred­it card lend­ing sys­tem. I made video of the call and post­ed it on my blog and Youtube. It is quite fun­ny even if you are pro-mega­bank. Since it’s a protest at home, I called it my kitchen coun­ter­strike again­st Bank of Amer­i­ca. http://www.ragingwisdom.com/?p=508

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