San Jose, Calif. -- Last Friday, when the Bank of America opened a new
branch on King Road in East San Jose, protestors holding white flowers
in their hands gathered outside the building. The flowers, organizers
said, symbolized the community's loss of faith with the bank.
East San Jose is at the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in the Bay Area.
Acting in Community Together (PACT), an affiliate of the People
Improving Communities through Organizing- (PICO) National Network,
organized the event, and brought about a dozen people together who
planned to divest from the Bank of America. While PACT is focusing on
San Jose, PICO, a national network of faith-based community
organizations, is taking initiatives in other parts of the country.
Vice Mayor Judy Chirco and candidates running for district 5 City
Council attended the event.
District 5 candidate J. Manuel
Herrera said he has had an account with the bank for almost 40 years,
"I declare my intent to divest from Bank of America within 30 days," he
said. "It is no longer acceptable for banks to solely focus on their
profits with no consideration for community and environment."
action in San Jose stemmed from a survey PACT did last year in their
congregations to assess how the foreclosure crisis had affected them.
The survey revealed that when it comes to loan modifications, Bank of
America had the worst record in the community. The protestors claimed
that Bank of America was not using the money available through Obama's
Home Affordable Program (HAMP) to keep families in their homes.
said that the money they moved out of Bank of America would be invested
into more socially responsible institutions. "We realize bank
accountability is a larger issue, so we are encouraging congregations,
individuals, cities and counties to look at how banks are serving their
communities," said Lucy Kolin, national spokesperson for PICO. "If we
can get more and more money out of these big banks then we can catch
According to Adam Kruggel, executive director
of Contra Costa Interfaith (CCISCO), which is a member of PICO National
Network, "The initial plan for this strategy stemmed from the fact that
families and congregations were tired of banks using (their customers')
money to exploit our communities.
"Our idea is that the
congregations and large institutions -- unions, schools, universities,
pension funds, local and state governments - should start moving their
deposits and investments out of banks that are not working to keep
families in their homes."
The network is working to identify banks and credit unions that are committed to ending predatory lending.
Gates and Mercy Martinez, both PACT leaders, had moved their money out
of the Bank of America and put it into credit unions in their
communities. "This was the same bank that is giving huge bonuses to its
executives but wouldn't do my loan modification," Martinez said. "You
feel struck as they keep making you go back and forth without doing
She said that interest on her loan had skyrocketed, making it difficult to make payments.
of America is coming in and not doing loan modifications. Neither are
they lending to our small businesses so why should they be here," said
Gates. "We think banks only understand dollars. So, we are voting with
But Richard Simon, spokesperson for the bank's home
loans division defended the bank: "Providing solutions to distressed
homeowners has been, and remains, a central focus for Bank of America,
and we have been at the forefront of industry efforts."
to Simon, "Bank of America has been quite responsive to PICO and its
affiliates." Bank officials had multiple face-to-face meetings with
PICO leaders, he said.
Protestors however, claimed that despite
their interactions with Bank of America executives, nothing had
changed. They hoped that by divesting their accounts, it would force
the bank to clean up its act.
Recently, the Los Angeles city
council unanimously passed the Banking Responsibility Ordinance
introduced by councilmember Richard Alarcón a year-and-a-half ago. The
ordinance directs the treasury to prepare a scorecard and grade banks
based on their performance and their service to the community. The
evaluations would then be sent to the city council.
notion behind this initiative is that the governments need to use
public dollars wisely," Kruggel explained. "We could have great
leverage if more municipalities call for bank responsibility within
Protestors said that if more cities and
counties adopted similar measures, big banks would be more likely to
change their corporate policies.
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