A video from Occupy Wall Street surfaced on Saturday showing demonstrators being arrested at a Greenwich Village Citibank branch as they were trying to close their accounts. 23 were arrested, in all.
As a sort of the march from Zuccotti Park to Washington Square Park that Occupy Wall Street organized on Saturday, there was an 11am “March on the Banks” that took protestors to a Chase branch to close out their accounts. Nothing went wrong there. But when a group of protestors who happened to be Citibank customers did their own march to the closest Citibank (NYSE: C) branch to Washington Square Park, at 555 LaGuardia Place. According to initial reports, the protestors were locked inside the branch and then arrested, just for trying to close their accounts!
Naturally, the savvy protesters got most of the scene onto YouTube showing protestors locked into the bank branch, then being swarmed with NYPD, both blue- and white-collar, as well as a particularly rough undercover officer.
“The Police asked the branch staff to close the branch until the protestors could be removed. Only one person asked to close an account and was accommodated.”
Today, Gawker got one protester’s side of the story, which explains more than the video or Citi’s statement. In short, Citibank’s branch employees definitely overreacted, but protestors weren’t just shutting down their accounts: they were having a sort of protest in the middle of the bank.
From her version of the story: “We entered the building chanting. Inside, a man began by announcing that we were there to have a short teach-in regarding our student loan experiences…were were asked to leave by management, but chose to keep on talking. We were not shouting or moving about at all — we were in a loosely formed circle in the center of the bank lobby.”
After about 20 minutes of the teach-in, the doors were locked, and the cops arrived. According to her version of the story, a few people were there to actually close their accounts, and they did.
So the lessons for both protesters and bank branches are clear: protesters should stick to doing their protests in public places, and consider making their account closings more orderly, and not affiliated with disruptive protests; banks should accommodate their customers as much as they can, even if they are protesters, lest they face a PR nightmare due to NYPD’s aggressive tactics.
What this whole fiasco gets back to is Occupy Wall Street’s centerless organization, and the wide variety of complaints against corporate America that it this organizational structure entails. Should a move to pull money from corporate banks into credit unions be accompanied by a teach-in on student debt? Citibank does issue student loans, but cashing out your Citi checking account for a credit union account seems to be more of a protest against large corporate banks gouging customers after receiving massive bailouts from the federal government, not their lending practices.
Above all, Occupy Wall Street protesters should remember that bank branch employees are part of the 99% too, and don’t deserve to be treated like a bunch of little Vikram Pandits. And, even if OWS’ 60’s-inspired tactics are peaceful at heart, they are disruptive — that’s the point — and they should expect that corporate employees with innumerable superiors and liabilities will likely involve the authorities to wash their hands of responsibility for anything that may go wrong.