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Occupy protesters close bank accounts

Seven Bank of America customers closed accounts at the Kennedy Plaza branch yesterday as part of an action organized by Occupy Providence, according to Trish Phelan, an Occupy Providence protester who has been living in Burnside Park since Saturday.

Phelan, who canceled her account, said the action came partly in response to new fees announced by the bank, which she pointed to as part of a pattern of corporate greed.

Though the movement has no formal leadership, Phelan said she was involved in organizing the account cancellations through a working-group structure. Occupy Providence is organized around these working groups, informal committees that help manage various aspects of the movement including media relations, logistics and direct action.

The cancellations occurred in three waves, at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. About 20 to 25 people showed up to each morning event to support the cancellations, she said, and just over a dozen protested at 3:45 p.m.

At the bank's Fulton Street entrance — closest to the movement's camp in Burnside Park — doors were closed due to the protest. While the bank's doors were open at the Westminster Street entrance, police positioned outside allowed in Bank of America customers only, telling protesters they had to remain outside.

Beneath the bank's vaulted ceilings, business went on as usual, with only a quiet murmur of activity. Protesters stood outside handing out fliers and taking videos.

Several former customers said they planned to turn to local credit unions and banks, including Bank of Newport and Pawtucket Credit Union.

Cranston resident Renae Chaves closed her personal Bank of America account as part of the protest, but still retains a joint Bank of America account with her husband. The couple has been researching credit unions and hopes to close their account over the next month, though there are various complications tied to the account, she said.

When Mick Lefort walked out of the branch brandishing cancellation papers, he was met with applause and cheers from the protesters. "Very efficient," he said jokingly of the cancellation process.

Lefort said he closed his checking and savings accounts out of a desire to stop supporting corporate America. "I'm not a protester in the sense that a lot of these people are," he said.

Lefort is not directly involved in Occupy Providence but made the decision to withdraw his accounts after speaking with protesters Sunday. He said he appreciated the "good, old-fashioned direct democracy" he saw on display at Burnside Park.

Soon after Lefort's exit, the group marched back to Burnside Park. Afternoon commuters at Kennedy Plaza looked on as the group chanted "Bank of America, Bad for America."

"We're a peaceful group," said protester Dennis Farias, pointing to one group member who carried a broom and dustpan and swept the sidewalk as he marched.

Phelan said many people she has spoken with have expressed interest in closing accounts at Bank of America and other large corporate banks. But she said some are waiting to sort out direct depositing and other concerns. The group may organize further bank account closings and hopes more people will switch to local banks and credit unions over the next month, she said.

Nov. 5 is Bank Transfer Day, an event distinct from the Occupy movement, though many in the movement support it. The event, which urges participants to switch over from major financial institutions to non-profit credit unions, currently has over 44,000 attendees on Facebook.

Mass account closings at Bank of America made headlines across the country today. The Occupy Providence action was organized independently, Phelan said.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan '81 P'14 is a trustee of the Corporation, the University's highest governing body. Representatives of the bank could not be reached for comment after business hours yesterday.


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