“Bank of America, bad for America!” shouted 14 protesters from Occupy Our Homes DC at the Bank of America on the corner of Wisconsin and Dumbarton last Saturday. The bank was forced to close operations for its entire business day. At about 8:45 a.m., the protesters struck, putting “foreclosed” signs on the bank’s doors and caution tape on the bank’s ATMs. The protest was one of eleven Bank of America Occupy protests, each targeting a different branch in the district.
“This has been a mobilization to shut down all the Banks of America that will be open today,” Ben Johnson, a sophomore at American University and a member of the Occupy Our Homes team, said. The protest is for Michael Vanzant, a reverend who formed Faith Temple, the first LGBTQ church in DC for people of color. Vanzant is allegedly being evicted.
Vanzant’s house served as more than just a house. It was a community center, a shelter for the homeless, and a hospice for HIV AIDS patients. Vanzant started having trouble with the Bank of America a year ago, when he fell behind in payments due to a disability.
“He tried to call ahead and was like, yo I’m going to on disability pay because I hurt myself, so I’d like to negotiate with you guys now before I fall behind,” Johnson said. “They were like nope, we can’t help you until you fall behind. After missing one or two payments and refusing to negotiate with him, despite the fact that he was good on all the money, they started to try to kick him out of his house.”
“It’s bullshit, get off it, our lives are not for profit.”
By 9:00 a.m., one police officer arrived at the bank, quickly followed by two more. They asked the protesters to remove the signs and tape from the building, to which the protesters complied without argument. From the chatter over the police officers’ radios it was clear Metropolitan Police Department dispatch knew protesters were targeting Bank of America branches. The bank remained closed. By 10:00 a.m. a sign on the door stated: “Due to protest activity we will be delaying opening.”
“The police response has been good. We’re not doing anything illegal right now, so they’re just sort of hanging out.” Ethan Miller, a senior at American University, said. “The bank seems to be really scared, but we’re not doing anything illegal.”
The group was constantly in touch with other groups across the district through conference calls. “Most of the banks are closed,” Chris Golembeski, a sophomore at American University and the group’s radioman, said around 9:30 a.m. “All but three, so it’s been a pretty successful action so far.”
“They say cut back, we say fight back!”
Many people came to the bank and pulled on the doors, looking to get into the bank. The ATMs were still available but several people needed to enter the bank and were frustrated with the protest. When asked about how the forced closing of the bank may affect other people, Johnson said, “We have to take some steps that may be inconvenient to change the system.” He cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. “In it, he said the point of direct action is to create the necessary societal tension to resolve the issue, and so part of creating that necessary tension is creating inconvenience to get people fired up and angry.”
“Hey hey B-O-A, how many homes did you take today?”
A police officer returned to monitor the situation around 10:00 a.m., but never said anything to the protesters. Around 11:00 a.m., a group was using part of the bank for a meditation session and the protestors took the opportunity to grab lunch and stage a silent protest. Throughout the day, cabs, cars, and trucks honked their horns in support, and several passerby stopped and asked about what was going on.
The protest was ultimately successful in its goal of shutting down the bank. The protest ended around 12:00 p.m., and even after the protest was over the bank stayed closed.
“It’s a pretty successful day. I didn’t think that it would close but I think it sends a message to a lot of people,” Miller said. “That Bank of America isn’t acting in a way that is good for people in the city, people in America; they’re just acting out of greed.”
When asked if he had reached out to GU Occupy, Johnson said he was not sure who to contact. “Everyone I knew there graduated, and we just didn’t really have any good contacts.” Johnson said.
“Hey Hey, Hey Ho, corporate greed has got to go!”
The group took off for a branch in Columbia Heights, where groups from the other actions would be converging for a mass protest. Before leaving the group made one final call and response of why they were there, declaring “housing is a right”, “Michael Vanzant needs a home,” and ending with the promise: “We’ll be back.”