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The Occupy movement protested outside the San Francisco home of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf yesterday, in an attempt to stop bank foreclosures on people who can’t make their mortgage payments. The protesters held up oversize Stumpf cutouts, identifying him as a “Robber Banker.” Four burly men, presumably private security guards, stood in the doorway of the upscale apartment building where Stumpf lives, keeping the protesters out on the sidewalk.


The building is in a picturesque spot on San Francisco’s Russian Hill, overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz. Nice!


The protest had a gimmick: The protesters were there to “foreclose” on Stumpf himself, for the crime of being an evil robber banker.


(Photo courtesy of Larry in SF.)
The reverse-foreclosure was actually the brainchild of Occupy Bernal Heights, a small neighborhood Occupy group, in conjunction with the “OccupySF Housing Council.” After some speechifying by Bernal Heights residents who can’t repay their mortgages because they were foolish enough to try to buy or refinance homes they couldn’t afford…

…they then tried to serve the mock foreclosure notice on Stumpf. This video records the glorious moment.

Needless to say, the four burly guys stood there unmoved, stoic.

The street theater was rather ill-conceived, or at least ill-staged, because only a few people in the very front could even see what was going on; the rest of the 99% could only squint at the action from a distance.

In this video, an “archbishop” from the John Coltrane African Orthodox Church demands that Stumpf stop “stumpfing on the poor.”

Afterwards, they also held an auction of Stumpf’s home; again, the street theater was not particularly audible, but from what I could tell, the winning bid was “one peanut.”

“Larry in SF” has more details about the purported “victims” of Wells Fargo. In each case, the foreclosure seems perfectly justified: One homeowner neglected to have fire insurance on his home (who even does that?), so when it caught fire and nearly burned down, he couldn’t repay the huge loan he took out to make the expensive repairs. Another homeowner used her house like an unlimited credit card, running up a gigantic “equity line loan” which she could not repay. And another homeowner overextended on housing speculation in a downward-trending market, eventually going “underwater” on her mortgages.

Rather than upending the capitalist system, as Occupy recommends, here’s a simpler solution to this foreclosure problem: Always have home insurance; don’t treat your house’s equity like a credit card; don’t engage in real estate speculation when you have no clue what you’re doing. Deal? Deal.


About 100 Occupiers showed up for the “direct action.” While Occupy Wall Street last year was at first a bit vague as to its main message, this group at least has now focused in on a specific complaint: foreclosures.


One Occupier positioned herself in front of the spectacular view, to get her message of resentment and class-envy into every tourist snapshot.


One of the protesters handed out foreclosure notices on Wells Fargo itself, rather than John Stumpf personally.


But that went against the Alinskyite theme of the event, which was to “Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” according to Alinsky’s revolutionary handbook Rules for Radicals. In this case, instead of protesting against a faceless bank, they “personalize” the concept by attacking an individual person, even though he himself did not invent the concept of mortgage loans, nor is he responsible for the government’s decision to bail out banks, nor does he make regulatory laws, nor does he have any power to change them. But Alinsky’s theory demands that a scapegoat be villainized, and so Occupy followed his playbook.


The usual suspects were on hand, comprising a substantial proportion of the crowd. I saw members of the SEIU…


…ANSWER Coalition…


…The Party for Socialism and Liberation…


…Code Pink…


…and some guy who was a member of both a socialist group and Occupy Wall Street.

No really, we’re mainstream! “We Are the 99%!” etc., and so forth.


(Photo courtesy of Larry in SF.)
I say that there were about a hundred “protesters” there, but in fact about 75 of them, including me, “Larry in SF,” and the folks you see here, were photographers or reporters covering the event. Just about everybody had a camera.


A lame attempt to fashion a modern foreclosure-themed remake of “War is not healthy for children and other living things,” a famous anti-war poster from the ’60s. That’s Edvard Munch’s “Frown” as the illustration.


So, let me get this straight: Wells Fargo allows immigrants to live in big homes that they otherwise could not afford, by offering mortgage loans with no credit checks, and simultaneously imprisons immigrants in detention centers. Dastardly!

(As you can tell, I’m highly cynical about this entire narrative. The phrase “predatory lending” is the most Orwellian doubletalk euphemism of the last ten years. Here’s a rule of thumb for ya: Don’t buy things you can’t afford, and don’t take out loans you can’t pay back. Is that so hard to remember?)


(Photo courtesy of Larry in SF.)
We don’t tax the rich? At all?

In reality, of course, the rich pay the highest tax rate of any income group. And it is the poor, not the rich, who pay no income taxes. But hey, that wouldn’t make a snappy button, would it?


Not everybody was on-message. Some anti-Smart Meter conspiracy theorists tried to tie in their message to the protest’s overall theme by pointing out that Wells Fargo invests in PG&E. Naturally, these off-topic hangers-on had the biggest and most visible sign, muddying the thrust of the event.


Whatever happened to the Truthers? Why, they became the Occupiers. As I walked away, I encountered one of the protesters’ Priuses parked nearby, plastered with both “Occupy” and “9/11 Truth” stickers.

And then the protest petered out, and nothing had changed. The end.

Also see:

Occupy Bernal Heights has posted their own photos of the event.
SFGate’s John King has a short news report about it.
And “Larry in SF” has posted his own photo essay about the event on his blog, with lots of more pictures not included here.

For the real story of how the housing crisis started, see my earlier post:

The Greenlining Institute: Does the financial crisis have its origins in Berkeley?

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