Student Protestors Work to Hold Banks Accountable
Two Occidental students, juniors Alex Acuna and Noah Donnell-Kilmer, were arrested on Thursday Oct. 7 at the “Make Banks Pay” rally for protesting in a Bank of America in Los Angeles’ financial district and refusing to leave. Unions Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Refund California campaign organized the protests in conjunction with “Occupy L.A.”
“Some of us are going to get arrested,” Acuna said before arriving at the protest. “It’s going to be non-violent, but we’re going to go into a bank and refuse to leave. We’ve been planning this protest for a long time. It’s going to be beautiful, a massive group of people coming together.”
Acuna, Donnell-Kilmer and others entered the Bank of America and tried to cash a symbolic $673 billion dollar check made out to the people of California. Police blocked off the bank and a team in riot gear responded. Donnel-Kilmer and Acuna were the first people led out in handcuffs. The two were shouting as they were loaded into a windowless police van. The two students were released later that evening.
Bank of America declined to comment on the protest and subsequent arrests.
Acuna and Donnel-Kilmer attended the protest for the UEP department’s Community Organizing and Leadership course. Students from this class ended up being one of the most visible groups at the event. Many of those in the Community Organizing Class have internships with Los Angeles activist groups. Acuna is an intern with SEIU and Donnell-Kilmer is an intern with ACCE.
The day began when the Community Organizing and Leadership class gathered with Professors Martha Matsuoka and Professor Peter Dreier in Johnson to watch Youtube videos of the Occupy L.A. and Occupy Wall Street protesters. Professor Dreier, the chair of the UEP department, spoke about one of the leaders of the Make Banks Pay movement, Rose Guidel. Guidel was two weeks late on a home loan payment when Fannie Mae allegedly slated her house for foreclosure. Guidel challenged the eviction notice by refusing to leave her property. On Oct. 4, Guidel made headlines for protesting in front of the CEO of OneWest’s house in BelAir. “She’s become the figurehead, the Rosa Parks of this movement,” Dreier said to his students.
The intent of Thursday’s march was to demand accountability from banks that accepted government bailouts while continuing to foreclose and evict homeowners. The protest coincided but was unrelated to the worldwide Occupy Movement, whose goals can be roughly defined as “anti-greed.”
“Occupy Wall Street didn’t start today’s protest. The Occupy movement is sort of tangential to what we’re doing, although we hoped that Occupy L.A. would come out to support us,” said UEP major Roxanne Butler (junior).
Thursday’s protest marched in front of the L.A. branches of major banks. The protest route began at California Plaza and went by Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, Chase and City National banks, through the center of Los Angeles’ Financial District. A flatbed truck, swarming with members of Refund California, played Jackson Five and Black Eyed Peas songs while directing the march down the streets of downtown.
The protest ended at the intersection of 7th Street and Figueroa, when 11 of the protesters, including Acuna and Donnell-Kilmer, entered the Bank of America. The rest of the protesters remained outside and sat in the middle of the intersection, chanting. UEP majors Shylana Roman (junior) and Jack Moreau (junior) climbed onto the Refund California truck and waved signs at the cheering protesters. Guidel joined them and gave a speech to the crowd.
“It is time to make banks pay,” Guidel said in her speech. “The people are speaking up. I hope the Feds are starting to hear us. I received a call from the Bank of the West and Fannie Mae. They’re willing to come to the table. It is confirmed that the eviction of my family is stopped. But this is not just about me, there is a long fight ahead. Stop foreclosing on poor homeowners, stop ripping off our communities!”
Students were eager to apply what they learned in class to the protests.
“Honestly, this class could be a whole semester by itself. It’s really intense and takes a lot of time. Everyone here has so much to do for their other courses, but it’s great that we’re doing this as a class,” UEP major Alyssa Scheyer (junior) said. Acuna agreed.
“Because of UEP and the internship that I’m required to do, I’m involved and interested,” he said.
“It’s given me the drive. I can’t stop protesting. Occidental students are too interested in their grades and their futures. It’s important, but there’s more to an education than getting a career right out of school, Acuna said.