This week, I was given the opportunity to travel to Charlotte, NC for Bank of America’s annual shareholders meeting. In the last month or so, activism has moved to another level by utilizing corporate rules in order to gain entry into the once a year affair with people buying a single share or standing in as proxies for another party.
Inside, CEOs must face the frustrated shareholders and at least attempt to answer their questions. Many probably have not been so close to the growing contempt from the 99 percent. These shareholder meetings offer a unique opportunity, despite the limited time for questions and the manner in which the meetings take place.
CEO Brian Moynihan heard from foreclosure victims, environmentalists and advocates against the payday loan industry. Moynihan offered assistance and a meeting with bank representatives after a couple people stressed the difficulty of obtaining a loan modification. In which an organizer with the National People’s Action spoke up:
“So what we have to do to get loan modifications is to buy a stock, stand in line for two hours, get shook down by the police, get intimidated by other security just so we can get a loan modification.”
Outside nearly 1,000 people gathered around an enormous ball and chain emblazoned with the word “DEBT.” A few people spoke of the pain and suffering Bank of America’s business practices have caused them. Maria Reyes spoke with me (through a translator) about why she traveled from California to be there.
While Maria’s family suffers the consequences of BofA’s recklessness with our economy, the bank continues to profit. From 2008 to the early part of 2012, Bank of America has spent more than $25 million in lobbying and political campaign contributions. In return, the bank received $5 billion in tax refunds over the three year span of 2009-2011.
Ugh. Just that right there should be enough reason for anyone of us to take to the streets or try to press a Fortune 500 CEO during a public shareholders meeting.
Photo by Aaron Krager