News & Politics

99% Delivers Letters to Bank CEOs, Egyptians March in Solidarity

Unions, students, foreclosure victims and a special Egyptian envoy protest bank CEOs in letter form.

Shannon Bell, Citigroup’s head of corporate communications, may not have counted on her day being so packed with visitors. But when an enthusiastic, cheerful group of about 400 Occupy Wall Street protesters showed up at her front door, she was obliged to emerge from her company’s corporate headquarters in midtown Manhattan to hear them out.

The protesters delivered letters printed out from Occupy the Boardroom—personal tales of hardship left on the Web site by everyday Americans who just want to make their voices heard—and Bell gave organizers her Twitter handle, @shannonbellciti. Within moments, Bell had left a public statement: “We are committed to maintaining an open dialogue with our customers and the communities we serve. We will carefully review the letters and follow up with our customers as needed.”

Before she could tweet, however, protesters folded copies of some of the letters into paper airplanes and floated them up toward the Citibank sign. Next, the group would deliver letters to Wells Fargo, flanked by pirates on bikes (“Banks walk the plank!”) and a stream of cops on motorcycles. But Citibank, in particular, held a lot of symbolism for the protesters. The group chanted passionately, “Keep us in our homes, and modify our loans,” while one woman simply yelled, “Give my dad his home!” (Citi concealed $40 billion in subprime loans from its shareholders in 2007; those responsible have yet to be prosecuted.)


But the crowd was diverse in its desires, the protesters all ages and ethnicities, carrying signs that read “We Are Many, They Are Few” and “Prosecute Wall Street.” At least two separate United Steelworkers union groups from Pennsylvania were represented, both of which had been locked out for months. Joe, a USW worker for Armstrong Ceiling Plant in Marietta, PA, said his union had been locked out since July. “[I’m protesting] corporate greed, and the elimination of the middle class, and the ability to make a decent living," he said. “We had no income at all for six weeks and we finally got some unemployment. Everybody’s just barely getting by. They cut off our insurance. There are people who need medicine, and we instantly had no insurance.”

Mark McNeal, of Redding, Pennsylvania, has been locked out of his steel job at Hofmann Industries for nearly seven months. “They hire scabs, they want to get rid of the unions, so they hire other people and lock us out. They say we can’t get get back unless we cut our pay in half, and they want us to pay a lot of other things like health insurance,” he said. “There are people who support a family of four who are getting $100 a week, they want us to work for that and scabs are making more money than they want to pay us. And they’re getting away with it because the laws protect them instead of us. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We came here to voice our opinion.”

As the march headed toward JPMorgan Chase, on East 48th and Park Avenue, the crowd chanted, “They got bailed out, we got sold out!” Some marchers carrying union signs substituted “sold out” with “locked out.”

At Chase, a general assembly commenced. Mimi Pierre Johnson offered to personally give Chase CEO Jamie Dimon a tour of her ravaged Queens neighborhood, to show him how foreclosure had turned it into a ghost town. Maria Maisonet of East New York, Brooklyn, spoke about her nephews’ inability to get jobs, despite their persistent searches. “They’re not the problem,” she said. “You are the problem.” The assembly pointed upward at the Chase windows, where employees in suits and ties smiled and pointed back. Who knows what they were thinking—but when the human mic asked if everyone could hear, an employee high up in the building wiggled his fingers, the Occupy Wall Street gesture signifying yes.

One of the most compelling speakers of the day was Shimaa Helmy, a young woman from Egypt who marched with the protesters to show solidarity. “You are so inspiring, and what you are doing is history in the making,” she said. “It’s gonna affect the whole world, including Egypt itself.” We filmed her speech:

Helmy, an activist and biotechnologist who has been in the United States for about two weeks giving speeches to universities, is currently being filmed for a documentary about her experiences in the Egyptian revolution, and came to Occupy Wall Street to better understand the proceedings. “I’ve actually been following it for months before it started, when people were trying to just think of doing something...this is so inspiring to me and I feel very connected to it,” she told AlterNet.

Helmy remained in Tahrir Square for the duration of the revolution, but now feels obligated to educate Westerners on what’s actually happening in Egypt. “It’s still an uprising, and it’s still at its very early stage. I want people to be aware of what is going on in Egypt, because we’re all connected. If you are fighting the corruption of your country, I’m actually involved with this in Egypt as well. Because the Egyptian army receives $2 billion annually from the US. And most of that is spent on weapons that are used on us. They have been attacking protesters and peaceful marches, killing civilians without doing anything. I don’t think that an army could actually help Egypt with a transition period. We need some solution. The US is still supporting the military dictatorship in Egypt. Americans should be aware of this.”

Today in Cairo, Egyptians marched in solidarity with the victims of brutality at Occupy Oakland. A photograph of Egyptian marchers linked from Helmy’s Facebook page shows a man carrying a sign reading, “The same goal.”

Said Helmy, “I want Americans to feel connected with us and focus on the situations around them, not just in America. It’s the same systems, the same industrialists, the same complex. If you’re fighting, we should just fight together.”


Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.