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Protests Overwhelm Wells Fargo Annual Meeting, Shareholders Shut Out

Han Shan on April 24, 2012

As I write this, downtown San Francisco is filled with community activists and members of the 99% who have surrounded Wells Fargo's annual shareholders meeting in protest. The Merchant's Exchange Building in the city's Financial District, where the meeting is taking place, is effectively shut down, according to news reports and tweets from participants in the march and protest. San Francisco police have shut out dozens—maybe hundreds—of shareholders, who are displaying their share certificates and demanding to be allowed into the meeting.

From an AP report just filed:

Shareholder Mark Richmond, a 59-year-old Portland member of the group We Are Oregon, said he hoped he could voice his concerns specifically about predatory lending and home foreclosures. He said he expected some raucousness inside and outside the meeting.

"Oh, there's going to be some action all right. We're very dissatisfied with Wells Fargo," said Richmond, who works as a janitor at the Portland International Airport. "This should be very interesting."

The report continues:

Hundreds of union members, activists and clergy members blocked the street in front of the building beforehand waving signs and chanting, "We are the 99 percent! Let us in!"

The livestream and photos posted on twitter show a scene at once raucous, inspiring, and frustrating, as a massive and colorful crowd defiantly brings business as usual to a halt in the Financial District, but police stop legitimate shareholders from entering, and giving voice to the concerns of millions of people across the country about Wells Fargo's criminal practices.

But the actions against Wells Fargo didn't start today in SF. In fact, yesterday in Des Moines, Iowa, a family farmer, a Methodist Minister, a Vietnam vet, and the director of National People's Action George Goehl were among 10 people arrested during a sit-in at the Wells Fargo office there. Des Moines is the national headquarters of Wells Fargo’s Home Mortgage division.

“Wells Fargo’s mortgage office here in Iowa is making billions in profits every year by kicking hardworking families out of their homes and they aren’t even paying taxes on their ill-gotten wealth,” said Kenn Bowen, a Vietnam veteran and retired communications worker from Winterset, Iowa who was arrested.

According to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), the primary coordinators of yesterday's protest:

As the leading mortgage servicer in the country, last year alone, Wells Fargo earned $3.3 billion in profits from its mortgage servicing business, or about 20 percent of the bank’s total net income. 

And there are countless stories of Wells Fargo's shocking disregard for working families and the nearly quarter of all Americans currently facing underwater mortgages.

Yesterday, The New Bottom Line coalition sent its members a message from Ana Casas Wilson, a community leader and advocate for the disabled from South Gate, a working class suburb of Los Angeles. 

She writes:

I was born with cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair for mobility. In 2009, I was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. After my breast cancer diagnosis, my husband James had to take time off of work to care for me. We decided to ask Wells Fargo for a loan modification on the home I grew up and have lived for over thirty years to help ease the burden of losing a paycheck.

Wells Fargo denied my request for a loan modification and decided to foreclose on us. Even though my husband is back to work and we are able to make our full payments, the bank won’t budge.

Ana was one of the courageous homeowners who joined the Dec. 6th Occupy Homes National Day of Action, with support from Occupy LA, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), and other groups, vowing to stay in her home and fight foreclosure. In her message, Ana invited all to join her at Wells Fargo's shareholders meeting in San Francisco today where she vowed to confront CEO John Stumpf.

And there is another shocking case of Wells Fargo foreclosing on a family struggling with illness, that highlighted with an email today.

Kathy Sontag has lived in her home in Inola, Oklahoma with her three daughters for more than 20 years, and has launched a petition to Wells fargo CEO John Stumpf to ask for the bank to modify her mortgage loan and save their home. 

She writes:

Recently, my home was renovated by volunteers from my community so that two of my daughters, Brittany and Casse, who were both diagnosed with a rare immune disorder and had to receive bone marrow transplants would have a home to return to that is fit for their recovery, for example, with special ventilation systems, etc. It was almost like an episode of Extreme Home Makeover. Now Wells Fargo is foreclosing on my home and my daughters and I could be evicted as soon as May.

For years, Wells Fargo has lost my paperwork and given me the run-around, but I never missed a mortgage payment. I’m a single mom and my family has been through a lot in the last few years. I had to take off months of work to care for my daughters while they received surgeries out of state and medical bills piled up. I’m not asking for a handout. I just want to be able to live in the home I’ve lived in for years with my daughters and to continue to make mortgage payments at a reasonable level.

[CLICK HERE to sign her petition to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf]

In 2011, Mr. Stumpf earned just shy of $18 million. Not bad for the top dog at a bank that needed billions of dollars of taxpayer money to bail out his business only a couple years before. And what does Wells Fargo do to repay the favor? The bank continues to kick working families out of their homes—people still suffering in a housing and economic crisis the bank helped create.

Here's hoping the raucous protests in San Francisco today are a wake-up call.

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