On Wednesday, February 27, Mac students will join communities around the Twin Cities to advocate for better banking practices. The day’s events are part of a Cities-wide Week of Action campaign organized by Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, but the Macalester campaign focuses specifically on the college’s relationship with Wells Fargo.
The activities on campus reflect ongoing negotiations between the bank and Kick Wall Street Off Campus (KWOC), a coalition of student organizations organizing around the issue. On Tuesday, February 26, representatives from KWOC will meet with officials at the bank to discuss their demands for more ethical banking practices. The demands were formally issued on February 14 as part of KWOC’s Valentine’s Day event, and they include a request that the bank adopt principal reduction strategies for homeowners currently underwater on their mortgages. If the talks go well, Wednesday’s events will be a celebration.
However, if KWOC’s demands aren’t met the day will feature a march to the Wells Fargo branch on Grand Avenue. There, participating students, staff and faculty will close their accounts with the bank and transfer their money to other institutions. These events will be followed by a rally on Bateman Plaza, and KWOC will encourage the school to seek out a more responsive bank to partner with.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Week of Action events will move into the cities. Demonstrators from Macalester and citywide communities and organizations will lobby at the capitol for a bill that addresses the foreclosure crisis. There will also be a rally at the foreclosed home of Gayle Lindsey in South Minneapolis and a march to the Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Headquarters. These events unite Occupy Homes Minnesota, Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, MPIRG and other economic and social justice organizations.
“The Week of Action is a turning point, where all groups stop what they’re doing individually and come together for big actions to pressure banks,” said Rebecca Hornstein ‘13, an active member of KWOC and an organizer of Wednesday’s events, “Oftentimes, we feel really powerless, but when we come together we have collective power to change things.”
Besides targeting issues of foreclosure, wealth inequality and banking practices, the Week of Action will highlight the local Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU 26) current contract negotiations. The union, which represents over 6,000 local janitors and security workers, has approved a strike if the contract companies they work for fail to meet demands for higher wages. Wells Fargo Center, Target Corp., Medtronic, the U.S. Bank Corp. Plaza, and Macalester are among the organizations who work with these contract companies to hire some of their security officers. If negotiations fail, the workers are prepared to strike starting on Sunday.
“Macalester treats workers really well, so if there was a strike, they wouldn’t be striking against the school,” said Hornstein, “Their company, on the other hand, has not been negotiating in good faith and has used lots of intimidation tactics to keep workers from fair wages and working conditions.”
“We aren’t in this fight alone and no one else should feel that way either,” said Luke Mielke, a member of MPIRG’s economic justice task force and KWOC organizer. “If you’re a student crushed under debt, a homeowner dragged from your house or a worker denied a living wage, or any other oppressed group, we’re willing to stand up and fight back alongside you.”
According to Mielke, KWOC hopes to have 100 Macalester students participate in the rally and in other Week of Action activities. Several events have been created on Facebook and the organization is currently working on advertising.
“We haven’t had our big publicity push yet, so I think not a ton of people are aware of what’s going on,” said Sarah Knispel ’15, a member of MPIRG and a KWOC organizer. “I think very few people know that the homes and banks day is part of a much larger Week of Action, but we are working to amend all that.”
Though Macalester KWOC organizers are optimistic about the impact of the events, they recognize the importance of widespread participation and visibility.
“We talk a lot in our classes and amongst ourselves about these issues and we feel like we have no power, but when people take action together it shows we don’t have to just talk,” said Hornstein. “As students we have a lot of power.”
“I often get overwhelmed by the scales and complexities of domination in our lives, but there are a lot of tangible changes we can make right now that will reduce suffering and dispossession,” said Maya Pisel ’13, a KWOC organizer. “This is one of them. It’s not everything, but it’s a lot.”