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Thou Cannot Protest Too Much
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I must admit I enjoy a good riot.

Not the violence, of course. Or the property damage.

But there’s something tremendously exciting about people passionate enough to take to the streets to express disapproval of the way corporations are screwing us while the government stands around picking its proverbial nose.

So it’s a teeny bit disappointing that only four people were arrested out of the thousands of well–behaved protestors at last Wednesday’s Bank of America shareholders’ meeting in Charlotte, NC.

Understandably, most people wanted to avoid pepper spray showers and a billyclub to the head. But for all the vitriol spat online about the egregious crimes of our nations’ banks—including foreclosing on robo–signed mortgages, partying like frat boys with our tax dollars and a host of other sociopathic shenanigans—the impact of last week’s dissent–in–person had all the whomp of a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Dozens of parallel protests echoed throughout the country at other BofA branches, for the most part adhering to a similar code of manners appropriate for dinner at grandma’s. The small but mighty company of Occupy Savannah was no exception as it marched from Emmet Park headquarters to the BofA on Johnson Square, carrying signs and waving in the direction of sympathetic honks from truckers and trolley drivers.

Leading the pack was Brett T. Dykes, drumming out a jolly beat on a plastic bucket, long locks flying behind him. He wasn’t expecting any trouble since he and the group, made up mostly of sparky retirees, had already picketed the bank plenty of times since last October.

“Nothing we’re doing today is illegal. We have a permit,” he explained, dashing my hopes for any revolutionary drama. He did admit that the previous evening, someone might have wrapped the front entrance of the bank with crime scene tape and written some disparaging comments on the sidewalk—in chalk. Any evidence of it was long gone as the protestors arrived, washed away at dawn by the city’s powerwashers.

Careful not to cross into bank property, Vietnam vet Albert Strickland led the chant “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” with retired teacher Sandra Crewe and Theresa Wiegand, dressed in prison stripes for the occasion. Union activist and blind bagpiper Alexandria Davis joined in, and displaced New Yorker Phillip “Philly” Myers handed out leaflets that implored folks to move their money to credit unions.

The lunch hour was nigh, and the square began to fill with employees who occupy the big buildings surrounding it, all oxford shirts and khakis and sensible heels slowly chewing their sandwiches. Would you like that apathy in a to–go cup?
Two police officers appeared at the edge of the sidewalk. Finally, some action! Turns out they were just on their lunch break. Sipping their sodas, they gave quiet approval to the cause.

“Heck, they’re right,” shrugged one officer. “The banks have been ripping us all off and they’re using our money to do it.”

Nodded the other: “I’m not going to get out there, but I’m glad someone is.”

How many of us feel the same way? Who else empathizes with the foreclosed upon, the laid–off, the drowning–in–debt, but can’t quite justify the risk of shouting it out in public? What threshold needs to be crossed before we take it to the streets?

Obviously, gainful employment is one. As Dykes put it, “even the anarchists have to show up for work.”

In his 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau admonished that “if we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations.”

As BofA and JP Morgan and the rest of ‘em continue their unfettered slamdance with the economy, we must remember that we all have skin in this game. I can’t begin to know what it’s going to take to affect actual bank reform in this country, but it sure seems like things are going to have to get less civil and more disobedient to capture the attention of our legislators, who can’t seem to regulate their way out of a paper bag.

Reading that BofA CEO Brian Moynihan was voted a $7 million pay package at the Charlotte shareholders’ meeting, I can’t help but think the socioeconomic upheaval of these times would be more effective if protestors quit being so darn polite. Or perhaps take a cue from the poet Rumi, who wrote, “Everyone who is kind and sensible is insane.”

As things happened in Savannah, I got my drama after all. But it brought no satisfaction:

While Philly, Albert and the gang practiced their legal right to free speech in front of the bank, Dykes pulled a fat piece of chalk out of his jeans pocket and began writing on the brick sidewalk. Suddenly, he was in handcuffs, charged for criminal trespassing.

As determined as he was to follow the letter of the law, Dykes was arrested for writing in playground chalk on the tiny unmarked section of sidewalk considered private BofA property.

As the patrol car pulled away to take him to the county jail, the rain began to fall, washing every trace of it away.