SAN FRANCISCO - A mass of protesters surrounded Wells Fargo's headquarters here Oct. 12, turning the oft-chanted slogan "Shut it Down!" into reality for several morning hours. It was the biggest demonstration to date in the growing surge of "Make Banks Pay!" and "Occupy Together" actions in the Bay Area.
As the sun was rising over the city, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos told the crowd gathered at 101 Market Street - the site of Occupy San Francisco, "We need a bailout for our communities. Let's talk about Third Street, Mission Street, the Fillmore. That bailout is going to come because we are fighting back to make it happen!"
The crowd roared back, "The banks got bailed out, we got sold out!"
As they surged into the financial district, banners and signs aloft, their chant, "We are the 99 percent," echoing off neighboring buildings, the marchers passed the nearby Embarcadero Hyatt hotel, where they were joined by workers fighting a long drawn-out contract struggle.
On they pressed, past Bank of America, where they called out, "Bank of America: bad for America, bad for the world!"
A favorite chant, "Black, brown, yellow, white, same struggle, same fight!" captured the breadth of the crowd. Union banners mingled with the bright red tee shirts of Just Cause/Causa Justa and the Chinese Progressive Association. Signs and chants carried the message in Chinese, Spanish and English. A Native American elder blessed the crowd.
The youngest demonstrators were infants in their parents' arms; the California Alliance for Retired Americans was there in strength. Joining the protest were many participants in Occupy San Francisco and other nearby Occupy movements.
As the crowd wound around the Wells Fargo headquarters and settled in for morning-long rallies, picket lines and street theater at the bank's two main entrances, the word came: "Wells Fargo is surrounded!" And indeed it was.
The streets rang with demands including a moratorium on foreclosures, an end to private prisons, incarceration of immigrants, predatory and payday loans, and for the banks to pay their share of taxes.
As 50 people blocked the main entrances, the bank was forced to close for the morning. Demonstrators were at side doors, too, including a group across from the employees' entrance, greeting bank workers as they walked in. Eleven were arrested; they were charged with trespassing and later released.
Among many speakers was ILWU Local 21 Vice President Jake Whiteside, who said his union and its supporters would love to have an Occupy Longview movement helping the union in its struggle with EGT grain terminal in Longview, Wash.
"Wells Fargo doesn't seem to have a problem over people losing their homes," said a young African American woman in the crowd. "Their CEOs get huge salaries, they could be more thoughtful of ordinary people."
She herself is currently unemployed as are several family members, she said.
Her companion, who said she is a former single mom, added, "All the people marching and occupying are waking us up. People have been unhappy for a long time. This is a great time to come out and express our frustration and our hopes; we need our government to take leadership and fight for our rights."
Occupy San Francisco, which began soon after Occupy Wall Street, has bounced back after police seized its tents and equipment last week. It continues to flourish on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve headquarters on Market Street, the city's main thoroughfare.
On Oct. 10, Occupy Oakland set up its tent encampment in the plaza by City Hall. By midweek it had grown to 50 tents.
The Occupy Together movement has now spread to nearby San Jose, San Rafael, Walnut Creek, Palo Alto and other Bay Area cities.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW