Coordinated protests thwart business as usual at Bank of America branches in DC

Photo by John Zangas

Simultaneous protests targeting Bank of America branches throughout the District of Columbia delayed openings and drew attention to the financial giant’s foreclosure practices. Occupy Our Homes DC coordinated the “reverse foreclosure” at eleven Bank of America locations on Saturday morning. They’ve taken up the case of Rev. Michael Vanzant, whom Bank of America is threatening to evict.

While customers were inconvenienced, they also learned about how Bank of America leads the pack in wrongful foreclosures. Unfair practices even extend to empty homes–the National Fair Housing Alliance recently accused Bank of America of maintaining foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods in better condition than in Latino or African-American ones. One woman reportedly closed her account on the spot when she heard how Bank of America is treating Rev. Vanzant.

UPDATE: Bank of America yesterday sealed its place in infamy when it announced the “largest securities class-action lawsuit settlement yet to arise from the financial crisis.” It will pay out $2.4 billion to avoid admitting that it misled shareholders when acquiring investment firm Merrill Lynch.

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Reverend Nuge dares you to “Occupy This!”

Reverend Nuge performs “Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist”

I love first-person Occupier stories. Everyone who gravitates to Occupy and eventually–almost inevitably–gets sucked in by definition has a unique story. Tommy Nugent, aka the Reverend Nuge, tells us his Occupy story–and he’s a very good storyteller.

Part of the Capital Fringe Festival, Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist is a one-man show. Just a guy and a stool. Dressed in ripped jeans and a faded Buddha t-shirt, Reverend Nuge for a full hour simply tells a story, mostly his own story with Occupy Detroit. It’s one hour of well-paced, high energy storytelling–funny, personal, and honest.

Showing up in New York the day after the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge in October, he gravitated to Zuccotti Park. As “an old Burning Man guy,” he found drum circles appealing. So he headed home to Detroit to check out Occupy at Grand Circus Park and make some signs, with the goal of getting the word “asshole” on TV.

If you guessed that a conversion story is coming, you might be right. Yet however much the Reverend Nuge is the accidental activist, he reveals an affection for his Occupy comrades and a command of the issues driving the cause. He weaves his personal experience of clusterfuckery by Bank of America with insight into the dynamics of Occupy camp life. It’s a narrative that entertains and informs at the same time.

Occupy This! tells us a little about a neglected subject–the difficulties of integrating large numbers of homeless people into Occupy camps. He also reminds us that Occupy didn’t end with eviction. Police evicted Occupy in Detroit the same day in November as Occupy camps in twelve other cities–after the mayors of those cities colluded to get rid of them.

In post-camp Occupy, the shift from “fighting against to fighting for” is an important one. Nuge goes on to relate his participation in Occupy Our Homes, an off-shoot that takes up the cause of families “where the banks are just wrong.” When it comes to the greedy and illicit foreclosure practices of the Big Banks, this is one issue “we can all agree on.”

With his first-person account, Nuge reminds us that there’s more than one way to Occupy. As he says, each of us has to divine our own gifts and use them to the best of our abilities. His gift is storytelling with a commitment to being totally present with his audience. If you weren’t an Occupier going in to this performance, you might find yourself one going out.

Occupy This! Tales of an Accidental Activist is playing at the Capital Fringe Festival. Remaining performances are July 27 at 6:15pm and July 28 at 1:00pm.

Sleepful Protest charges dismissed when prosecution fails to present case

Sleepful Protest defendants Rudy Roberts and Harris Nicholas

Judge Elizabeth Wingo dismissed the case brought against two activists who participated in ongoing Occupy DC demonstrations in front of several Bank of America branches. At the outset of the trial, government counsel told the judge that they were not ready to proceed with the case. The judge then dismissed the charges against Rudy Roberts and Harris Nicholas, who were arrested for blocking passage and failure to obey.

Roberts and Nicholas had been active participants in the Sleepful Protest, overnight occupations at Bank of America branches intended to draw attention to the bank’s foreclosure practices and taking taxpayer bailout money. Police arrested many protestors for blocking sidewalks during the first weeks of the Sleepful Protest in April.

Attorney Jeff Light advises Rudy Roberts, Harris Nicholas and Georgia Pearce on their rights at the Sleepful Protest

UPDATE: So why did the prosecution drop the ball in the Sleepful Protest case? It made “representations” to the judge that it was not ready for trial, but it seems unlikely that lack of preparedness would be the reason that it would let a case slide–especially an Occupy DC case.

The District has been consistently pursuing even trivial charges against protestors affiliated with Occupy DC, and sometimes expends great effort to do so. For example, even though the Assistant AG’s office was abysmally late in filing motions for the OccuBarn trial, to the point that Judge Wingo called it a “gross dereliction of duty,” it got its act together in a hurry when she demanded that a motion be turned in overnight. And Assistant AG Sean Farrelly was well-prepared for trial, parrying each motion and challenge brought by defense counsel Light. And after all this effort, the case was in fact successfully prosecuted; the defendants were found guilty. Trials related to Occupy DC tend to be more high profile than most. That could be one reason the AG’s office pursues these to the bitter end.

Defense counsel Jeff Light said that in the Sleepful Protest case the government had failed to even give him video evidence owed to them. He also said that Peter Saba from DC Attorney General’s Office sent him an email the previous day that the government wasn’t proceeding with the case.

Maybe the AG’s office knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on. That it could be shown, as the defense alleged in its motion, that the police arrested the defendants in retaliation for First Amendment activity and their constitutional rights were violated. That it could be demonstrated that the offenses the defendants were accused of were not in violation of the blocking passage statute as the Metropolitan Police itself defined it when they testified at a City Council meeting last February.

Failure to prepare is not quite the same as dropping charges, so we’re left to ask why. If defendants choose to pursue a civil lawsuit in the coming weeks, maybe the reasons will become more clear.

Occupy Caravan joins Occupy DC in day-long protests

Occupy Caravan, stopping by the District on its way to an Occupy gathering in Philadelphia, set up symbolic camp in McPherson Park along with Occupy DC. In a marathon day of protest activities, they demonstrated against Metro fare hikes, turned out in solidarity for hunger striking postal workers, and held a vigil at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to stop the practice of “stop and frisk.”

Last night they joined the Sleepful Protest at Bank of America and delivered a Notice of Foreclosure to the financial institution Friday morning.


It lives!

Bear keeps vigil on Vermont Ave.

The District’s Sleepful Protest is roaming these days–from the original site at the Bank of America branch on Vermont Ave. to branches on Pennsylvania Ave. and 18th and K. It’s also targeted Cargill–an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products–on 15th St.

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DC Sleepful Protest relocates

The new Sleepful Protest on 11th and Pennsylvania
A vendor set up shop in front of the Bank of America on Vermont Ave.

Occupy DC’s Sleepful Protest relocated to a different Bank of America branch. After persistent arrests for “blocking passage” at the Bank of America on Vermont Ave., they abandoned the storefront after a vendor named Anthony set up shop at the same site. Ironically, he also has political signs and says he has a cause (domestic violence against women). So far police haven’t bothered him.

The new occupied Bank of America branch is on 11th and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the hoax website “Your Bank of America” has BoA CEO Brian Moynihan apologizing for…everything. His faux letter ‘fesses up to climate-destroying coal investments, plummeting stock prices which may require more taxpayer bailouts, and continuing the same practices that nearly caused economic collapse. It directs the reader to a forum where they can submit their comments and suggestions for making Bank of America the “Bank for America.”

Pajama Protest

The new tactic: #sleepfulprotest. Taking it to the banks.


Two members of Occupy D.C. were arrested Thursday morning outside a Bank of America branch not far from McPherson square after the latest overnight protest outside the bank’s doors. The protesters were the sixth and seventh to be arrested this week after taking part in what Occupy is calling a “sleepful protest”—slumbering overnight outside the door of a bank branch.

The Nation says it’s bringing Occupy and OWS back to its roots:

The concept of sleepful protests combines Occupy’s two most powerful elements: physical occupations and the targeting of Wall Street, thereby alleviating one of the major criticisms of OWS, which was that the occupations of parks and squares is too far removed from the movement’s actual targets.

When people see Occupiers sleeping outside a bank, the natural question for them to ask is “Why this bank?” And that allows the protesters to segue into an explanation of what Occupy is and what they stand for. In fact, that exact interaction happened with an Occupier and Colin Moynihan:

“Why Citibank?” said Rich Carollan, 23, who was reclining near Broadway. “Because they received a large portion of the bailout funds.”

And we’re still debating–or some Metropolitan Police are confused about–the meaning of “blocking passage.” DC protestors were arrested early Tuesday for sitting against the Bank of America building holding signs. They are contesting the charges.

Why Bank of America? Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone will tell you why:

It’s been four years since the government, in the name of preventing a depression, saved this megabank from ruin by pumping $45 billion of taxpayer money into its arm. Since then, the Obama administration has looked the other way as the bank committed an astonishing variety of crimes – some elaborate and brilliant in their conception, some so crude that they’d be beneath your average street thug. Bank of America has systematically ripped off almost everyone with whom it has a significant business relationship, cheating investors, insurers, depositors, homeowners, shareholders, pensioners and taxpayers. It brought tens of thousands of Americans to foreclosure court using bogus, “robo-signed” evidence – a type of mass perjury that it helped pioneer. It hawked worthless mortgages to dozens of unions and state pension funds, draining them of hundreds of millions in value. And when it wasn’t ripping off workers and pensioners, it was helping to push insurance giants like AMBAC into bankruptcy by fraudulently inducing them to spend hundreds of millions insuring those same worthless mortgages.

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“We need a home of our own!”: Foreclosing on Bank of America

This is great activist theater! Occupy Our Homes and F(oreclose) the Banks held coordinated bank-related actions throughout the country March 13-16 to protest the lack of accountability for their greed.

Occupy Our Homes gains foreclosure negotiation with Freddie Mac

A tall, gray-haired African-American man bangs on the plexiglass doors of 325 7th Street. When officers approach him, I wait for an angry confrontation, an arrest. But following some chilly stares, there are only friendly handshakes.

The tall man was Rev. Graylan Hagler, a participant in a protest in front of the DC offices of Freddie Mac. Occupy Our Homes, which focuses on the foreclosures resulting from the 2008 mortgage-securities malfeasance, organized the protest. In conjunction with Occupy DC, Occupy Our Homes is fighting to save the home of Bertina Jones, a resident of Bowie, MD, from foreclosure.

Locked out of a banking institution’s marbled lobby. It seems appropriate. While Occupy Our Homes protestors circle the sidewalk, I ask Rev. Hagler why he was knocking on the door and what brought him here. He begins to answer, then suddenly darts off without explanation.

He follows a trench-coated man up 7th Street, who stops in a doorway to check his smartphone, then returns to the Freddie Mac office building. A few minutes later, the protest moves around to the side of the building to the entrance of the parking garage. Rev. Hagler explains that the police engaged in a little diversion to allow building occupants to enter and exit while the front doors were locked.

Bertina Jones

At the parking garage entrance, Bertina Jones speaks to the crowd, admitting to nerves in front of so many people. I admire her moxie. It can’t be easy to take your troubles out in the open and step into the limelight for a cause. The Fox News line is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the mortgage crisis with affordable housing policies–in other words, high-risk loans to minorities. In contrast, Occupy Our Homes points to Jones as someone who “did everything right.” In spite of falling behind in payments because of losing her job, she tried to work with Bank of America, the original mortgage-holder, and didn’t try to shirk her obligation.

“I cried a lot,” she said. She told Occupy DC, “Thank you for coming to fight for my house, but I’m just one of hundreds” of homeowners being foreclosed on, and added, “I’m so glad I stood up and fought, and I hope more homeowners will join us.”

At first denied entry, Jones was allowed in to deliver a letter to Freddie Mac, although officials wouldn’t meet with her today. On Tuesday, Occupy Our Homes plans to protest in front of Freddie Mac’s headquarters in Tyson’s Corner. They can claim a victory, however–what was a guaranteed foreclosure is at least now at the negotiating table. Following the protest, Freddie Mac says they have contacted Bertina Jones and are “working with her and Bank of America toward a positive resolution.”

Rev. Graylan Hagler

Meanwhile, counter-protestors on Freedom Plaza calling themselves Occupy Occupy DC objected to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for different reasons today–the taxpayer bailout of the GSE mortgage-holders. David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research said, “Through the quasi-governmental Fannie and Freddie, the federal government now has a virtual monopoly on home loans. As a result, those who made prudent lending decisions must now take on additional debt that they would have never sought on their own. That is not fair.”

UPDATE: OccupyOurHomes has won a victory for Bertina Jones! Freddie Mac says it will rescind her foreclosure and allow her to stay in her home.

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