A small band of protesters took to the streets of Corvallis Wednesday, banging drums, chanting anti-corporate slogans and holding a mock trial in front of a downtown bank.
About two dozen people, including members of Occupy Corvallis, Occupy OSU and the local Move to Amend chapter, gathered at Central Park before setting off about noon for an hourlong march through downtown.
Walking through a cold, sloppy mix of rain and snow, the protesters kept up a stream of slogans such as “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”
The group paused in front of the Bank of America and U.S. Bank branches to hand out fliers and chant “This is what a greedy bank looks like,” but the day’s main target was Wells Fargo.
The protesters arrived in front of the Wells Fargo branch at 235 N.W. Monroe Ave. around 1 p.m. and launched into a bit of street theater.
Chris Legg, dressed in a suit to look like a Wells Fargo banker, played the part of “Mr. 1 Percent” while two of his fellow protesters stood in as prosecutor and judge and a Wells Fargo security guard looked on.
Reading from a script, protest leader Eric Coker accused the San Francisco-based bank of a host of crimes against the people, including illegal foreclosures, financing the private prison industry and backing the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.
Legg, reading from a script of his own, denied wrongdoing.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with obscene concentration of wealth while grandmothers are evicted from their homes,” he said. “Corporations are people, too.”
Coker rendered the verdict.
“The jury of the 99 percent finds Wells Fargo guilty on all counts,” he said, and Legg was led away in stage prop chains.
The procession finished with a final stop in front of City Hall.
Protester Stephanie Hampton, who played the part of the judge in the mock trial, said six anti-foreclosure bills had died in the Oregon House during the current legislative session, thanks in part to pressure from the American Legislative Exchange Council. She then named 14 Oregon legislators she claimed are members of ALEC.
Accompanied by more drumming, the protesters demanded that the city of Corvallis sever its banking relationship with Wells Fargo and bank with a local institution instead.
After a final chant of “Move our money,” the protest broke up about 1:15.
Corvallis finance director Nancy Brewer said the city is in the process of moving its money from Bank of America to Wells Fargo under a new three-year service contract and has no intention of pulling out of the deal.
The city regularly puts its banking contract out to bid and chooses a bank based on the best combination of low fees and high service levels. While local financial institutions can compete for the account, Brewer said, the only bidders this time around were the three large national banks targeted by the protesters on Wednesday.
“Nobody else submitted a bid,” she said.
Wells Fargo agreed last month to pay $4.3 billion as part of a multistate settlement agreement with the nation’s five largest home loan servicers over allegations of foreclosure abuse.
But Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Unger called the protesters’ accusations “inflammatory and inaccurate,” saying the bank has one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the industry and works with borrowers to avoid default if possible.
“We looked at all our processes and realized there were things we could do better or improve upon,” Unger said. “But the bottom line is: Did even one customer lose their home for unwarranted reasons? We don’t think so.”
He said the bank’s only connection to the private prison industry is some shares of prison operator GEO Group as part of a Wells Fargo mutual fund.
And while he acknowledged that Wells Fargo belongs to ALEC, he said Occupy protesters were blowing that connection out of proportion.
“They’re connecting ALEC to immigration issues and the prison industry,” Unger said. “We don’t lobby anybody on those issues.”
Contact Bennett Hall at 541-758-9529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.