Wells Fargo Protesters Arrested, Face Day in Court

9-23-09, 10:22 am

Original source: The Atlanta Progressive News

(APN) EAST POINT -- Four Atlanta activists and a State Senator were arrested during a demonstration which took place on August 31, 2009, at the office of Wells Fargo bank in East Point, Georgia, at 11:00 AM.

Wells Fargo, the new owners of Wachovia, called the East Point police on the five people, who were demanding a face-to-face meeting with those who decide on mortgage policies affecting working families in the area.

Twenty five people participated in the demonstration. Those arrested include State Sen. Vincent Fort; Former Fire and Police Commissioner A. Reginald Eaves; Charlie Flemming, President of the AFL-CIO North Georgia Labor Council; Milton Tambor, President of the Democratic Socialists of America, Atlanta Chapter; and Dianne Mathiowetz of the International Action Center, Atlanta. All were members of the Atlanta Fighting Foreclosure Coalition of 40 organizations.

The five arrestees were charged with violation of State law and Criminal Trespass. They will be represented by Brian Spears, Attorney at Law, on October 14, 2009 at 9:00 am at the Fulton County Municipal Court.

'I’m sick and tired of foreclosures and the people can’t afford it. We wanted to get them to talk to us about foreclosure practices. We want them to modify their procedures and take into consideration the people,' A. Reginald Eaves, one of those arrested, told Atlanta Progressive News.

The five entered the office of Wells Fargo without disrupting daily business, but demanded to speak to a regional manager with authority over the mortgages. They were told a Vice President from Marietta, Georgia, would speak to them, according to Tambor, so they waited in the chairs provided for customers.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, State Sen. Fort and others had previously sent a letter to Wachovia--now owned by Wells Fargo--asking them to meet concerning foreclosures, predatory lending practices, and reasonable loan restructuring. At a protest previously held at Wachovia in Midtown on April 21, 2009, bank officials refused to accept the letter on behalf of Wachovia's President, Mr. John Stumpf. However, Atlanta Progressive News faxed a copy of the letter to Wachovia's spokesperson, who promised to forward it to Stumpf. During that previous protest, Wachovia said there was no one to speak with the protest leaders and also called security.

From the initial letter, the advocates got back a letter telling them to contact a web site or call a public relations company, which was considered insulting, Fort said. They followed the suggestions in the letter, according to Mathiowetz, but were unable to effect a meeting.

Fort said his constituents want to know why the taxpayers bailed the lending organization out to the tune of $25 billion, and in return they were being given no restructuring of loans.

In addition, many Georgians have been victimized by predatory lending and are being turned out in the street, Fort said. They want to know why there is no help for the people who have borrowed from Wachovia.

'There is no bailout for the people,' Fort said.

Wells Fargo accepted federal funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) according to Mathiowetz. Those who were financed by Wachovia for mortgages included elderly and mentally disabled people, and even illiterate people unable to read their contracts. They were often approved for loans leaving them no more than $100 to $300 left over each month to run their households.

Because the federal government recommends that no more than 30% of one's income go towards housing costs, Mathiowetz believes these people should have had their mortgages restructured and reduced. Instead, foreclosure rates in some parts of Atlanta are setting new records, and families are being thrown out of their homes.

Sen. Fort said they decided to use civil disobedience. After waiting a period of time for the meeting with the Vice President from Marietta to materialize, the bank representatives suddenly told the activists that no one would meet with them.

The demonstrators were offered the same website and contact number as in the letter, which according to Mathiowetz had led nowhere.

Sen. Fort then told bank representatives that the demonstrators were not interested in the phone number or website.

The bank manager then told them that if they refused to leave, they would be considered trespassing and the police would be called; the demonstrators remained.

The police were called and they were warned again that they would be arrested for trespassing. The five said in good conscience they could not leave.

They were then arrested, according to Fort. A. Reginald Eaves, the former fire and police commissioner, who said the officers were simply doing their job.

Mathiowetz told APN the police seemed as if they really did not want to arrest the protesters, and that they were let go almost as soon as they arrived at the police station.

On September 1, 2009, Wells Fargo officials attempted to defend their practices during a luncheon held at 1pm by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at the Antioch Baptist Church. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who founded the national organization, had been in Atlanta to address the issue of foreclosures. Rainbow PUSH had held a prayer vigil at the Federal Reserve Bank in Midtown on the same day, calling on Wells Fargo and other banks to withdraw their foreclosures on a total of 30,000 households whose homes they said were up for auction that day in Georgia alone.

While the Wells Fargo officials made a presentation at the meeting, advocates challenged them to meet face-to-face with the coalition, Tambor said. They promised to meet to discuss their policies but thus far have not contacted the Atlanta Fighting Foreclosure Coalition, Tambor said.

After the previous Wachovia protest occuring in April of this year, APN did contact Wachovia's public relations office for comment. While a mortgage specialist did speak with APN regarding their mortgage assistance programs, which were still being developed at the time, the bank refused to discuss the protest. It is thus likely the bank will not speak on the more recent protest either.

--Alice Gordon is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at alice@atlantaprogressivenews.com.