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Protesters Launch Showdown With Monster Banks, Demand Wells Fargo End Predatory Lending

Crowds in San Francisco chant, 'Hey, big banks, where's our dough? Working families have a right to know!'

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Meanwhile, Wells Fargo customers continued to speak of the misery they'd experienced at the bank's hands. There was consensus that it was impossible to get straight answers around loan modifications -- they were given false names, directed to phone numbers that were never answered, and, of course, were outright lied to. "Close your account! Close your account!" became a rousing cry, as Wells Fargo employees looked out the windows of their corporate fort.

Preschool teacher Marilyn Reynolds had been a 30-year customer of Wachovia, which merged with Wells Fargo during the financial meltdown. Reynolds had successfully paid off a mortgage on a home, and used Wachovia again in 2007 when she bought a home for her daughter. The house, then valued at $225,000, is now worth $95,000. For the past year, Reynolds has been asking for a loan modification.

"There's always a different answer for why I can't get a loan modification," Reynolds said. "I had perfect credit and they took good customers and made us bad ones. So many people in our community, especially African Americans and Hispanic people, are victims of this. We thought if we didn't buy now we'd never get the American dream. Now millions of us are ruined, foreclosed on, or on the street."

Though her situation is unfair, Reynolds is relatively lucky. She owes monthly payments than are much higher than is reasonable, given the value of the home, but she and her daughter's family can actually pay them. She said she was at the rally not only to protest her unfair payments but to fight for all those who can barely make ends meet. "Right is right and wrong is wrong -- and Wells Fargo is wrong," Reynolds said. She has removed all money from her Wells accounts, and keeps the account open only because she is tied to the mortgage.

Edelmira Chavez, a housecleaner in Oakland, said she had stopped buying clothes and other basic necessities in order to make the $2,200 monthly mortgage payments to Wells Fargo. She only makes $2,500 per month now -- she used to make more before the economy crashed -- leaving only $300 to feed and care for herself and her 12-year-old daughter, Bianca. She's been asking for a loan modification for seven months. "They keep asking for paperwork to pass time," Chavez said in Spanish. Somehow, she's not yet been late making a payment on the house that is now worth half of what it was a few years ago -- but she doesn't know how much longer she can last.

Late into the rally, as the rain started coming down, news came that the coalition's representatives had been shut down on every demand made to Wells' board. The bankers had rejected the request for a moratorium on foreclosures and said they did enough to help keep families in their homes. They denied that they engaged in predatory lending, and the CEO said he would not resign from the Business Roundtable, the pro-business lobbying group that has been spending so much money to fight financial reform.

Adding insult to injury, Stumpf said he would not meet with coalition members to hear consumers' concerns.

Perhaps the best news came from a text message sent to rally organizers from within the shareholder meeting. It let everyone know that despite the rejection of all of the coalition's demands, the shouts and anger on the street could be heard quite well, even 15 stories up. The people want to forgo Wells Fargo, and now the bank knows it.

Read more:  Six Critical Elements of Financial Reform (pdf)

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