Protesters Occupy Bank of America in Morristown
Nearly two dozen demonstrators camped out in front of the South Street branch for a couple hours on Wednesday.
It wasn't a force the size of some of those crowds in New York City. But, then again, the group of 20 or so demonstrators weren't occupying Wall Street on Wednesday but, rather, a branch of Bank of America in Morristown.
The demonstration, organized by members of the small Occupy Morristown group and Move-On.org, was part of a larger wave of protests planned throughout the day nationwide, as Bank of America held its shareholder meetings in Charlotte, N.C.
"We want to educate, we don't want to cause trouble," said Lew Schwartz, organizer of the Morristown event outside Bank of America's South Street location.
That education, according to organizers, includes letting people know about what they call "socially and environmentally destructive politices of national Bank of America that include foreclosures, dirty coal financing, federal income tax exclusion and political lobbying."
The nearly two-dozen demonstrators, many of them older, some retired, and at least one member in his 20s, waved American flags and homemade billboards with slogans like, "I am 99%" and "Bank of Audacity."
One of the protestors, Tom Bias of Sparta, has received a letter of intent to foreclose on the house he has lived in for almost 34 years. He said he has offered to speak with Bank of America on multiple occasions, in an attempt to discuss a principal reduction on his mortgage. With that going nowhere, he has since gotten a lawyer.
"I was laid off from the the printing industry in November 2010, after 40 freaking years," Bias, 62, said. "I am not looking for free housing, but the bank has to work with me."
Joan Belz, of Morristown, said, "banks operate under the rules Congress makes. They're elected under the industry of Big Pharma, Big Finance and Big Oil.
"Nothing's going to change if the banks are regulated by those they support," she said. "What's needed is campaign finance reform."
The Rev. Allen Wells, a "community minister affiliated with Morristown Unitarian Fellowship," was scheduled to meet with the South Street branch manager during the demonstration, but said they would meet "only to discuss a personal account.
"I don't have a personal account with Bank of America," he said. "They're not inclined to speak."
Meanwhile, inside the branch office, manager Rasidah Billups said the meeting had been scheduled by protest organizers online, then echoed Wells' statement that only personal accounts could be discussed at such a meeting. Billups was then handed a contact information sheet by another employee, and said any additional press inquiries would have to be done through the media relations team.
Outside, most drivers passing the protest didn't pay any mind. Some, however, honked their horns, gave a thumbs up, or both. One cherub-faced boy driving a Ford Explorer shouted, "get a job."
"Most of them have been very supportive," said Thea Lintern, of Morristown.
Given the small number of people participating, though, does something like Wednesday's demonstration outside the South Street branch make much of a difference? Several in attendance thought so.
"It keeps it visible, it keeps it under their nose," said Karen VanBlarcum, of High Bridge.
"This is the definition of grassroots, isn't it," said Joanna Winquist, of Springfield. "It's about starting small and working up."