I consider myself a gonzo journalist — I participate, and I document, and I don’t necessarily try to separate the two or remain at a distance. Documenting through my smartphone certainly adds a level of remove to some situations, but less so to others. Last Friday was absolutely an example of the latter.
Lately we’ve been calling for many small actions at Occupy Austin. While the entire Occupy has targeted the big banks, Chase Bank has become a special target of ours. Earlier this year, our activists got the city council to unanimously pass a resolution agreeing to spend 60 days evaluating divestment from Bank of America. 20 days later, they voted unanimously to move all of the city’s money to Chase Bank. In addition, most of the victims of impending foreclosure who reach out to Bank Action seem to have leases owned by Chase.
The recent multibillion dollar trading loss by Chase, which CEO Jamie Dimon referred to as “just a mistake” in the mainstream media, was our latest call to action. When the news broke, this little mistake had cost the company $2 billion. By the time we rallied, the loss had grown to $4 billion. CNN thinks it may be as high as $7 billion now, even as Dimon continues to act dismissively.
Lainie from the Welcome Wagon wrote a parody of the Twelve Days of Christmas based on all the things which $4 billion could buy. Armed with lyrics in our pockets, myself and a couple other Occupiers arrived early, before the public start of the rally. A security guard and staff greeted me, and I pretended I needed a business account. I spent the next 20 minutes asking questions, making conversation with a banker, who told me about the hometown bank account she still has, but how Chase has a much better online banking interface. I also drank some of their bottled water, which was brought to me with all the excitement of an impending sale.
My seat faced away from the door, but I could see in reflection as the protesters arrived. I watched the faces of the staff grow nervous, maybe a little guilty or embarrassed. Would we notice? The next thing I noticed, however, was that the front windows of the bank were completely soundproof. We were supposed to wait to hear a mic check, then jump up and join in song. A member of Bank Action thought fast — he got up and began asking loud questions like “Hey, did you guys hear about the $4 billion dollar loss?”
“No, I haven’t heard a thing,” said my banker, then leaned over toward me conspiratorially. “At least that’s what I’ve been saying all day long.”
We weren’t on the same side of this situation, though. I pulled my camera out. “Please don’t do that!” she said. Soon, three of us were singing as security guards physically forced us from the bank. We held the doors, singing loud and proud, now supported by the voices of about 30 other occupiers with instruments, until police arrived and the guards pushed us out.
The officer who spoke to us was friendly and simply asked us not to touch any bank customers or to take photos of people at the ATM, then left us to our protest. After we mic checked the many things $4 billion could buy, we took off on a single file sidewalk march to another Chase Bank just blocks up the way. As we marched, we passed a Wells Fargo and visited them too.
My android phone was dying, and rebooting itself continuously for no apparent reason. I’m hard on my hardware as a citizen journalist. I’ve got a warranty, but I had a real scare. The Chase employees immediately locked down their bank, but we could still get into an atrium with an ATM, which echoed beautifully. A customer approached, and I tried to follow into the bank. Which is when my phone was jostled out of my hand and into the bank.
Suddenly there was chaos. Bank employees were screaming at me as I grabbed for my phone. Somehow I picked up all the pieces (the battery cover had popped off) and stumbled out of the bank. I was shook up, but met the approving cheers and fist bumps of my fellow occupiers. As I recovered my equilibrium, we chanted and mic checked to Chase Bank — we’ll be back.
Next time, maybe you’ll be making noise with us.