A couple of dozen people gather on a busy downtown street with signs and bullhorns, and the question that bystanders and reporters alike want to ask is always the same: “What do you want to accomplish?”
It was no different today in Denver except that the accomplishment was immediate and to the point.
One of the protesters, Jim Erlsten, came to the sidewalk outside Wells Fargo armed with a sheaf of papers documenting his efforts to stave off foreclosure. After the usual angry and impassioned speeches, Erlsten marched into the bank.
Immediately security officers met him and one of the protest organizers at the door and first said no protesters would be allowed inside the bank, then upon learning that Erlsten was a client, allowed him in alone.
Nearly an hour later he emerged, and said he was happy with the results of his meeting with several bank executives.
Erlsten explained prior to going into the bank that he has received numerous letters from the bank, some saying the bank is beginning foreclosure and others saying the bank would like to work with him on a loan modification. He said he had made numerous recent payments but wasn’t sure the money had been properly credited to his account.
“I showed them the contradictory letters I’ve gotten and asked ‘What does this mean?’ They shook their heads and they apologized,” he said after his meeting.
He said bank executives made no promises, but that at least now he feels he knows who to call and that someone in a position to help him knows who he is and what his situation is. “I have the cell phone number of a senior loan officer. At least now I feel like we’ve cut through 90 percent of the red tape and I can start to get answers. I was not in a positive spot when I went in there but at least now I feel they are listening and I have a fair shot.”
Prior to today’s meeting, Erlsten said his calls to a loan officer at the bank were often met with a recording that the man’s voicemail was full.
Erlsten credited the protest and the efforts of Corrine Fowler, economic justice campaign director for the Colorado Progressive Coalition, for getting him in the door at the bank.
“If it wasn’t for Corrine and the folks standing outside the bank and chanting and all of that publicity, there is no way they (Wells Fargo) would have given me the time of day,” he said.
Of course, for most of the protesters, while Erlsten might put a face on the problem of foreclosures, their issues with Wells Fargo run much deeper.
“His (Erlsten) story is horrendous, but it is not new or unique,” said Fowler. “We receive calls from homeowners in similar situations weekly, almost daily, and it is always the same two banks–Wells Fargo and Bank of America.”
Some complained that Wells Fargo has in recent years paid little or no federal taxes, a situation documented in a study by Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Wells Fargo, of course, maintains it pays its fair share of taxes.
“I don’t know what effect a protest like this has,” said retired postal worker Don Ferry. “Maybe it will make people think. Maybe it will inspire someone to move their money into a credit union.”
Other protesters pointed to Wells Fargo’s major ownership interest in private prison company The GEO Group, which owns and operates one private prison in Colorado, as being indicative of a company that puts profits above people.