An hour before closing Saturday, the city’s local Bank of America branch closed its front entrance, urging its customers to use the back door.
Protestors affiliated with Occupy Saratoga and the local chapter of advocacy group MoveOn said the move was typical of the major multi-national bank. They were gathered outside the bank’s Division Street entrance Saturday morning to ask residents to close their savings and checking accounts at that bank and others and transfer them to local credit unions.
“The banks are trying to hide, they’re trying to keep their customers away from us,” said MoveOn organizer Joe Seeman. “The banks are hiding out pretending that they didn’t do anything, that the economy went into the toilet by some kind of coincidence. It’s just a mere coincidence that during this time bank executives made a lot of money, too.”
Although Bank of America recently backed down from the $5 monthly debit fee that drew so much fire, Occupy groups were still on board to participate in Bank Transfer Day, a separate but similar-minded movement.
“We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,” said David Darnell, co-chief operating officer of Bank of America, in a statement earlier. “As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”
The link between bank CEOs and the current political system is quite simple to members of the Occupy movement nationwide, and certainly to the about 40 Saratoga-area residents who stood outside the Division Street branch at Saturday’s local Move Your Money rally with signs, chants, fervent discussions and peaceful marching.
Right across the street from the protestors was one of 10 local credit unions.
Although other large banks, like Chase, Citibank and Wells-Fargo, were the subject of rage, the protestors used Bank of America as the focal point of the rally, contending it paid no taxes in 2009 or 2010 and showed a profit of more than $6 billion.
MoveOn handed out sheets that portrayed the ways in which Bank of America has contributed to the recession and the ways that taxpayer money was used to bail it out. Seeman said they wanted to spread the word that people don’t need to keep their money in banks that helped to destroy the economy.
“Right across the street there’s a credit union,” he said, “so we can do something, and moving our money is just a start. What we really need to do is move our political power. Take back America from Bank of America. Take back America from the bankers, the corporations, the CEOs, from the 1 percent, and create real democracy in America.”
Adorned in a “99 percent” pin and layers for a cold Saturday morning, Greenwich resident Kathleen Bartholomay said she is tired of being ignored, along with the rest of the 99 percent.
The longer people occupy and the more people who get involved, she said, the more difficult it will be for the 1 percent to ignore them.
“There’s a lot of us, and there’s not very many of them,” Bartholomay said. “They have all the money and all the power, but they don’t have all the power once we say, ‘No, we’re taking our power back.’ And that’s one reason we want people to take money out of that bank. Their power is based in money. So take your money out, and they may very well start listening.”
Bartholomay stood among a group that included Saratoga Springs police. A few officers dotted the area, keeping an eye on traffic and the protesters. Protestors were asked not to stand on bank property and to make sure people could get through the sidewalk where they had set up camp.
Passing cars honked, inciting enthusiasm among the protestors who marched, spoke out, chanted or played drums.
The nonviolence that demonstrators across the nation have shown makes Al Ormsey proud. He has occupied Wall Street, marched to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and grew up in the midst of the 1960s and 1970s peace movements.
Despite mockery by a good portion of right wing and even some left wing pundits and media figures, Ormsey said the Occupy movement has remained upbeat.
“There’s a lot of hope,” he said, “and that’s what people have to have right now, is hope. This political system is taking away all hope. It’s saying that basically you don’t have any voice, and so the only thing that we can do now to guarantee some semblance of democracy in this country is to go outside the system and take to the streets. We have no other choice.”
He credits the peacekeeping by occupiers as what will keep the movement alive and successful. Both local groups secured a permit to demonstrate on the Division Street sidewalk in front of the bank Saturday, Ormsey said.
“I know that that’s how we’re going to win this,” Ormsey said. “The side that has the higher moral ground is going to win, and that’s always been the case in the long run of history.”
With her dog, Chili Pepper, in tow, Malta resident Sandy Shein was in attendance Saturday to support awareness. She wasn’t there for big banks or small banks, just to make people aware, she said.
“It’s an awareness issue for me, and then you can make your own choice,” said the retired schoolteacher. “I think people should make their own choices in life, but I think you should be aware of the issues. I don’t support the Bank of America or the small bank. I support people knowing.”
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Categories: Schenectady County