In downtown Portland, protesters laugh at rain to chant at Wells Fargo #Jan24DIVEST

By Anne Saker | The Oregonian | Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In Tuesday’s steady rain, about 40 people held the sidewalk in front of the Standard Insurance Center to protest Wells Fargo‘s investment in private companies that build prisons and the institution’s lending and foreclosure practices.

Unlike the massive Occupy Portland demonstration at the same site Nov. 17, when riot-geared police officers ringed the building and later pepper-sprayed protesters, Tuesday’s event was peaceful and mace-free with no arrests. As the rain picked up, the protest ended 12 minutes early. 

Jamie Patridge  and Sean Staub  wore prison-striped jumpsuits and held a cardboard recreation of the red Wells Fargo stagecoach to connect the bank with the private-prison companies. Partridge, of Northeast Portland, also had a personal stake in the bank’s lending practices.

“I’m concerned about the people in my neighborhood,” he said. “I’m seeing the devastation caused by the recession and foreclosures.”

Three groups organized Tuesday’s protest: We Are Oregon, a grassroots organization aimed at helping people facing foreclosure; Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, a 32-year-old social justice advocate, and ENLACE, an organizer of low-wage workers.

Katy Riker of ENLACE said Tuesday’s protest in downtown Portland was one of at least 15 going on around the country to push for Wells Fargo and other stockholders to divest stock in Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group, which build and run prisons.

“The United Methodist Church divested its holdings this month,” Riker said. “It’s one group at a time.”

John Nicol of North Portland was dressed in the Full Portland, yellow rain suit and hat with black rain boots. He said he joined Tuesday’s protest because “my faith practice tells me that the best beloved of all things is justice.”

Tom Unger, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, stood inside the lobby of the Standard Insurance Center to watch the protest. He said later that protesters misunderstand Wells Fargo’s involvement with the private-prison builders.

“It’s based upon a false premise. We don’t own shared of the comapnies they’re upset about. We have some mutual funds that we manage and they currently hold a small position in one of the companies. The owners of the mutual funds own the shared. We manage the funds.”

Anne Saker: asaker@oregonian.com, 503-709-3146, Twitter @dwtnPDXreporter

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