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.