WHITTIER, CA—Shortly before noon on Saturday morning, a parade of families in “Occupy Fights Foreclosures” and “No to Housing Crime” t-shirts marched down Whittier Blvd.
As the first few homeowner advocates entered the busy East Los Angeles branch of Wells Fargo, security blocked the path of the procession. Livestreamer Patti Beers (@PMBeers) deftly stepped to the side of the first person blocked by security and entered the lobby to film the occupation.
Carlos Marroquin of Occupy Fights Foreclosures entered the lobby with a polite request, “May we speak to the manager, please? We need to speak to the manager.”
To the branch manager, he explained, “We have some homeowners that are being foreclosed by you guys. We are here to demand that the bank full open up a full investigation into their cases. We have a couple of letters we would like you to forward to headquarters, is that ok?”
“Yes, of course,” responded the branch manager.
Security locked the front doors of the bank as the noise of tribal drumming completely overwhelmed the acoustics of the bank lobby. The native dancers of Danza Azteca could be heard on the sidewalk outside, along with dozens of other families and homeowner advocates chanting, “Stop foreclosures in East L.A.!”
While waiting for the manager to forward the letters to headquarters, homeowner advocate Carlos Marroquin announced, “We are asking for fairness. We are asking for Wells Fargo to deal with homeowners in good faith, not to tell you one thing and then do something different behind their backs.”
“Some of these families are facing foreclosure because Wells Fargo tricked them into a loan modification, promised they would work with them, and then they sold off their homes behind their backs,” he continued.
“Second, Wells Fargo foreclosures continue to hurt the community. Here in LA., we have more foreclosures and more people going homeless than we ever have had before. We have people out there in the streets sleeping in their cars because Wells Fargo’s practices have added to the problem that already exists here in L.A. with homelessness.”
Next, Carlos introduced a woman currently suffering the abusive practices of this big bank. “We have a homeowner here. She’s facing eviction because Wells Fargo led her to believe that they were going to give her a loan modification. When she found out Wells Fargo was going to sell her home, she gathered all the money, she borrowed money, she did whatever she could, to be able to satisfy the late penalties and the payments that Wells Fargo had instructed her to do. Wells Fargo refused to take the money from the homeowner and went ahead and foreclosed on her. That is a great violation of the Homeowners Bill of Rights because she was under the loan modification process. Now she’s facing eviction.”
California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights, effective as of January 2013, prohibits mortgage lenders from negotiating loan modifications while pursuing foreclosure proceedings (otherwise known as “dual-track foreclosures"). The law also guarantees that borrowers have a single point of contact for loan modification negotiation.
Signs carried by the several activists in the lobby bore messages such as “Hell Fargo,” “Bank of Thieves,” “End the Fraud,” and “Wells Fargo Embargos.”
“Wells Fargo is known for their abuses,” declared Carlos. “This message is for John Stumpf. I hope that he understands that he’s hurting families, he’s hurting our children, he’s hurting seniors. He needs to stand up and do the right thing. Wells Fargo has made record profits on the backs of the American people.”
The National Mortgage Settlement of 2012 benefited the banks and the government, not the people. Banks received immunity from prosecution, and the government received a cash infusion for neglecting to pursue justice against the banksters who gambled with the national economy. As Carlos explained in the lobby of Wells Fargo, “Settling with the banks and the Department of Justice is not enough, because those settlements never reached the people. We want to make sure any settlements go directly to the victims, not to benefit the banks against short sales, or any other way they say they are helping the families. The fact is they are not helping the families.”
Outside the Whittier Wells Fargo, Danza Azteca energized the crowd with their rhythmic music and dance. Nowhere Man, stalwart supporter of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Los Angeles, and Occupy Fights Foreclosures, silently encouraged the crowd to “Imagine Fairness” as he walked the sidewalk along Whittier Blvd. A gigantic banner satirized the red, black, and yellow Wells Fargo logo with the message “We’re Felons.”
The locations of Saturday’s actions were not publicly disclosed in advance. Only a morning meet-up location in downtown L.A. was provided to participants and media. Regardless, security in Whittier appeared to be on high alert Saturday morning. Half a dozen security guards on bicycles circled the shopping center parking lot outside the Wells Fargo branch in advance of the protest. However, twenty minutes elapsed between the start of the lobby protest and the arrival of representatives of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department (LASD).
Parking two squad cars on the side of the branch, three sheriff deputies entered the Wells Fargo lobby. Upon exiting, they briefly set up a perimeter in front of the doors. One asked a man carrying a “Wells Fargo: King of Foreclosures” sign a question, and received such a passionate response that the deputy nodded and stepped back in deference to the man’s right to express his grievances against Wells Fargo.
Sheriff Deputy Fonseca demonstrated a hostile attitude, intimidating videographer Patti Beers into stepping back from one portion of the sidewalk. He then retreated to corner of the sidewalk with the other law enforcement officers and private security. Multiple private security guards recorded Saturday’s action on phone cameras, once they had the protection of the LASD.
After several homeowners pleaded with the bank over the public address system, the crowd of protestors marched down the sidewalk to the corner of Whittier & Goodrich, chanting, “Hey Wells Fargo, what do you say? How many homes did you steal today?" Appearing to consider their job protecting the bank to be finished, LASD left the scene.
Simultaneous to the action in East Los Angeles, members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) occupied a Wells Fargo branch in Studio City, CA to bring attention to the plight of an 80-year-old woman who has lived in her home for five decades. Wells Fargo would rather evict her than work out a loan modification.
One foreclosure fighter reported that Studio City branch management were red-faced at the intrusion. A security guard accused the group of “intimidating” the tellers (who were smiling at the families standing up for their rights). She responded, "They are behind bullet proof glass. Try fighting the bank for your house."
Occupy Fights Foreclosures (Inside Wells Fargo Lobby) by @PMBeers [42:49 video length] http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/61539125
Occupy Fights Foreclosures (Corner of Whittier Blvd) by @PMBeers [14:30 video length] http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/61540880
Occupy Wells Fargo for Abusive Foreclosure Practices (April 25, 2015) [9:30 video length] https://youtu.be/8YuCEZDLR9Y
Danza Azteca Occupy Wells Fargo (April 25, 2015) [00:59 video length] https://youtu.be/a1U1oyNAVQ0
Sheriffs Arrive at Occupy Wells Fargo Protest of Abusive Foreclosures (April 25, 2015) [10:47 video length] https://youtu.be/huXylQL4Cn0
Occupy Wells Fargo, April 25 2015 by Carlos Themailman https://www.facebook.com/carlosthemailman/media_set?set=a.936860196365997.1073741911.100001260766273
Occupy Wells Fargo to Protest Abusive Foreclosures by @OccupyLAOWS https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.730535273729997.1073741884.405414422908752