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Activists protest corporate greed in L.A.

Gregg Reese | 10/12/2011, 5 p.m.

The downtown area got a dose of 1960s activism last Thursday, when a coalition of protesters including members of the Alliance of Californians of Community Empowerment (ACCE), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), along with Occupy LA, descended upon a branch of Chase Bank.

After gathering at the California Plaza at 350 S. Grand Ave., a crowd of at least 2,000 people carrying placards and signs trekked through the skyscrapers dotting Bunker Hill, down the escalator to Flower Street and on to the Bank of America at Seventh and Figueroa Streets, where they presented a cashier with an oversized check for $673 billion.

The check, endorsed to "the People of California," was meant to be symbolic of the costs generated by the financial industry at the expense of the state's citizens, particularly homeowners.

After staging a sit-in, about 10 protesters were arrested for trespassing. The whole affair was planned by Refund California, a consortium of groups coordinated to address the economic hardships afflicting the masses.

Thursday's events were part of a series of protests aimed at highlighting the part banks have played in the decimation of the nation's communities, said Peggy Mears of ACCE. In the wake of the devastation they've caused, she added that these financial concerns are attempting to correct the problems they initiated by further victimizing those suffering the worst.

"The banks are trying to rebuild the economy on the backs of the '99ers' (the middle and working class)," she said.

Unlike similar demonstrations across the country, especially in New York's Wall Street financial district (where several hundred were arrested amid allegations of police abuse and the use of pepper spray and tear gas), the downtown L.A. demonstrations and detainments were conducted without incident, with no animosity reported by police or protesters.

The turnout of 2,000-2,500 people vastly exceeded organizers' expectations of perhaps several hundred protesters, and Mears expressed complete satisfaction with the protest results, noting that organizers successfully brought together people from every walk of life, representing "diversity at its finest."

The Thursday demonstration was one of a number of related events. The pervious Wednesday, activists gathered in front of the Westwood home of a prominent banking official, and on Monday, Occupy LA members established a "tent city" adjacent to City Hall.

In another action, Mears and her colleagues at ACCE applauded the decision by Attorney General Kamala Harris to shun the rest of the nation's multi-state effort to negotiate a relief settlement with mortgage servicers (the state of New York has since pulled out, as well).

In an excerpt from a press release explaining her choice to forego the settlement her fellow attorneys general were seeking, Harris wrote that "the relief contemplated would allow too few California homeowners to stay in their homes."

Mears concurs, saying that she and the rest of the ACCE staffers "felt that it (the settlement) would have gone too easy on the banks."

At the state level, the ACCE activist said, programs like "Keep Your Home California" are good ideas, but the banks don't participate effectively, and the eligibility requirements are too difficult. Consequently, very few homeowners are involved, which defeats the purpose of the program.

Reports of mass dissatisfaction and wide-scale economically based protests are coming from around the globe as well, demonstrated by the scores who marched across Spain to occupy Madrid in late July, in the wake of European Union's bailout of Greece. Rumblings of a planned takeover of the London Stock Exchange to be organized via Facebook saturated the media.

United Kingdom-based activists are manifesting their own backlash against what they consider the elites who oppress them by taking up the "99 percent" rhetoric from their Yankee counterparts. Political pundits have likened this to the "Arab Spring" movement that manifested itself throughout the Middle Eastern in the early part of this year.

In any event, a tidy solution to this strife is not yet on the horizon, as the disgruntled continue to mobilize, with Mears summing up their conviction thusly: "We're about the truth, and the truth stands on its own."