Protesters in Chicago March on Offices of Goldman, Wells Fargo

Published on
by
The Wall Street Journal

Protesters in Chicago March on Offices of Goldman, Wells Fargo

by
Lauren Etter

A large crowd of protesters march outside the American Bankers Association annual convention in Chicago, Illinois October 26, 2009. (REUTERS/Frank Polich)

CHICAGO - Hundreds of union members and organizers descended on the streets of
downtown Chicago on Monday morning to picket the offices of Goldman Sachs Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co.

The
group, which included supporters from community group National People's
Action and the Service Employees International Union, has organized the
protests to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Bankers
Association. The group is demanding that "banks end their over-reliance
on greed and profits and commit to using their taxpayer bailouts and
backstops to help America's economy recover," said a news release from
the Service Employees International Union.

The protests, similar to ones that have flared up in other cities
throughout the financial crisis, pick up on popular sentiment that big
banks are partly to blame for the financial crisis. Last week, a
government pay czar proposed slashing compensation for bank executives
whose companies received government bailout money.

People inside the American Bankers Association meeting said the
anger directed at that group was misplaced, since the association
mostly represents community banks.

"You did not make any abusive subprime loans; you did not take big
bonuses for products that later blew up," ABA President Edward Yingling
said during his opening remarks.

Most of the protesters on the Chicago streets Monday appeared to be
with a union and many of them were brought in on yellow school buses
from across the Midwest.  The message was one of ire at bank
executives' large bonuses, bank foreclosures and predatory lending.

"I'm here basically for my grandchildren," said Peggy Sower
Knoepfle, a protester who traveled in on a bus from Springfield, Ill.,
with National People's Action.  "If we don't stop these foreclosures
we're not going to have a country left."

Another protester, Garry Klicker, who is with the Iowa Citizens for
Community Improvement, took time away from harvesting his corn and
soybeans in Bloomfield, Iowa, to voice his anger.

"This is not a financial system," he said.  "This is a financial disaster." 

Protesters carried effigies of bank executives, including John
Stumpf, chief executive of Wells Fargo, and former Bank of America
Chief Executive Ken Lewis.  Some clutched "Wanted" signs bearing the
faces of bank executives deemed "Wall Street Robber Banker[s]."  They
carried signs with slogans such as "No Bonuses for Big Banks" and
chanted sayings like "Bust up big banks!"

The morning protests started at the Chicago offices of Goldman
Sachs.  A woman on a megaphone shouted, "We're here to tell Goldman
Sachs, shame on you! Shame on you for helping bring this country to the
brink of a depression!"  The crowd, in turn, chanted "Shame on you!" 
An organizer yelled a list of demands for Goldman Sachs, including that
the bank support calls for a consumer-finance protection agency and
that it donate the money set aside for bonuses to loan-modification
programs. 

The group also asked to meet with Goldman's chairman and chief
executive officer, Lloyd Blankfein "within the next 30 days."  At one
point the group tried to enter the Goldman Sachs lobby to hand-deliver
a letter to Mr. Blankfein but was held back by police and security. 
Instead, a representative was sent down to pick up the letter.  That
person shook hands with some of the protesters.

A spokeswoman at Goldman Sachs said the bank's security office in
Chicago had received a copy of the letter.  She didn't comment further.

The group then marched down the street to the Chicago offices of
Wells Fargo.  There they also attempted to hand-deliver a letter to Mr.
Stumpf, the Wells Fargo CEO. Officials at Wells Fargo couldn't
immediately be reached for comment.

Around noon, the group boarded a fleet of yellow school buses that took them to the American Bankers Association convention.

At the convention, speeches by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Chairman Sheila Bair and Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan weren't
disrupted by the protests amid tight security.

Ms. Bair, who had earlier addressed protesters, told the audience of
community bankers that there was still work to be done in assuaging
public concerns over banks' policies on fees.

She drew applause when she said lax regulation of nonbank financial
entities had been a "key gap that was exploited," pledging with Mr.
Dugan to crack down on lenders that had cost traditional banks market
share.

-Doug Cameron contributed to this article.

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