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In the early afternoon of Monday, Oct. 24, about 50 enraged protesters paraded outside the entrance of a Chase bank in downtown Dallas.
They held up fists and colorful signs that read, "Our world has been high-jacked by greed." And with the backing of a megaphone, they shouted to a growing number of police officers and citizens who were watching, “Show me what a revolution looks like! This is what a revolution looks like!” and "We. Are. The 99%. You. Are. The 99%!"
By mid-afternoon, about 20 of the Occupy Dallas protesters were sitting down with locked arms in front of the bank's door, blocking Chase employees and customers from entering. Soon, police had handcuffed and forcibly hauled the protesters into paddy wagons for refusing to get up.
The next day, in Oakland, Calif., police used tear gas, firecrackers and rubber bullets to disperse Occupy protesters from City Hall after they failed to adhere repeated warnings. More than 100 people were arrested, with two protesters and two officers reportedly hurt. Since then, Oakland has been the source of other run-ins with police.
And on that same day, Atlanta police, arriving on foot, motorcycle and horseback, arrested 53 Occupy protesters after they ignored warnings by police to vacate a city park.
Most of the Occupy protests end peacefully, but disorderly scenes like these are increasingly common. The first protest, Occupy Wall Street, began Sept. 17 in lower Manhattan.
The Occupy protesters are receiving attention from the media, police and some politicians, but aren’t receiving active attention from the people they view as the cause of the country’s increased rate of wealth inequality: The Wall Street bankers, brokers and traders. The so-called "1%."
David Stevens, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association, says Occupy Wall Street is a reflection of the frustration with the current economic environment in the country, and he acknowledges the role that the mortgage finance industry played in it.
"In my view, I think it's healthy because it elevates the debate, and it makes us all realize that this isn't a silent concern. These are people who are angry," he says.
The Congressional Budget Office in November released a study showing that over the past three decades the income of the highest-paid Americans has soared while the income of others has grown much more modestly.
The study found that the average income of the top 1% of households grew from $339,200 in 1980 to $1.32 million in 2007, a 289% increase. During the same period, the income of the middle one-fifth grew from $42,600 to $55,300, an increase of only 23%. And the income of the poorest one-fifth rose only 16% to $17,700.
The picture that emerges at the movements across the nation and abroad is a kaleidoscope of people with varying goals, including some with no goals at all other than to denounce corporate greed. Some feel they don't need to unify their goals just yet, believing that just growing in numbers and creating awareness of problems is an end unto itself.
"There's no pure clarity of message necessarily," according to Stevens. "Not quite sure precisely what the ask is, but we do know it reflects the pain that many are feeling in our industry — in housing."
Reagan Clark, a member of Occupy Dallas, says the group's purpose is to bring attention to the greater movement: The folks who are struggling to pay their mortgages.
"We’re here to give them a voice," he said.
Clark said the 125 members of Occupy Dallas have received no direct response from the city’s business community.
"There has been no movement on their side, and it's frankly sickening," he says.
Banking industry people said they understand the protesters' frustration and they have a right to be heard. But the industry is sticking to a strategy of non-engagement. So while financial professionals are stressing a common ground, they've yet to embrace the movement.
"We are watching what's happening out there," said Veronica Clemons, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, the nation's largest mortgage lender. "We recognize that it's a tough economic time, and we do know that Americans are demanding more from their financial institutions right now."
Some of the other large financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and HSBC, declined to comment on the protests.
"If you're one of the many (the protesters) are targeting, then why would you want to become the one?" is how one bank representative explained it to HousingWire. "There's not much value for the lightning rod in being a lightning rod."
In October, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, in a speech at the Mortgage Bankers Association's annual convention in Chicago, told attendees that businesses had become "way too timid."
"The problem that got us into this mess was the real estate problem, but there is very little going on to solve the real estate problem," Bush told the audience. "Who better to advocate a policy to get us out of this mess? Why not defend your positions in the marketplace of ideas? The natural inclination is to cower. I would encourage you to stand up."
The convention was the epicenter for the thousands of Stand Up Chicago protesters, some of whom were arrested. Several protesters paid to gain admission to the MBA event, according to Reuters, which said one of the protesters approached a microphone during a panel discussion and asked Mike Heid, head of Wells Fargo mortgage banking, "How do you sleep at night?"
In a interview with HousingWire, Stevens said protesters asked "thoughtful" questions during a Q&A with industry leaders at the conference, asking about what the executives intended to do about certain foreclosure cases. Stevens said he couldn't recall exactly what was asked, but that Heid answered in a "balanced way."
"This is free speech," he said. "The protesters have every right to be frustrated. I have no interest in arguing with the protesters, and I think we should consider those that have rational views and concerns, and that's the best we can do."
Dustin Hobbs, spokesman for the of California Mortgage Bankers Association, agrees with Bush in that the mortgage industry should stand behind the efforts it makes to help borrowers.
"If you're not willing stand up for what you sell and what you believe in, how can you expect anyone else to buy it?" he says.
Because of the heightened violence and volatility of the Oakland protests, Hobbs said CMBA members were reluctant to go on the record with HousingWire.
Stevens says whether the protestors remain in the parks and streets won't be a litmus test as to whether they will cause change. "I think they'll ultimately participate with their voices in other ways in how they vote and how they organize back in their communities and homes," he said.
Linda Koch, chief executive of the Illinois Bankers Association, said the economy and regulatory scrutiny will determine how banks ultimately react to the financial crisis, not the Occupy protesters. As of early November, she said nothing had changed in the banking industry as a result of the movement.
She does, however, see it enduring.
"When people see a change, when people start to see the economy improve, when people start to see their homes increase in value, when employment rises, I think people will start to feel more confident in our economy, and until that happens, we don't see the protesters stopping until they see real change," Koch said.
If that’s the case, the Occupy movement will be around for a while.
From 2000 to 2010, median income in the U.S. declined 7% after adjusting for inflation, according to Census Bureau data, marking the worst 10-year performance going back to 1967. An October survey of 50 economists by The Wall Street Journal found they don't expect income to reach pre-recession levels until 2021.
The economists expect economic growth for 2011 to be a meager 1.5%, with 2.3% growth next year and 2.7% in 2013, which is not enough to reduce the unemployment rate rapidly. On average, the economists expect the economy to add just 1.5 million jobs over the next 12 months, barely enough to keep up with population growth. They forecast a jobless rate of 8.2% at the end of 2013, a decline of less than one percentage point over two years. The unemployment rate reached 9.8% in November 2010 and has hovered around 9% for all of 2011.
Richard Fisher, chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, in a speech to the Dallas Friday business group, said the problem afflicting the nation is primarily job creation.
"We have too many people out of work and for too long," he said. "This is why people have taken to the streets in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere in those demonstrations so widely reported in the media. When people are out of work, they get desperate; when masses of people are out of work, you have the recipe for social unrest."
"As I said earlier, the Federal Reserve has filled the tanks with the liquidity, or fuel, needed to create jobs," Fisher continued. "But only the fiscal authorities — the Congress and the executive branch — can provide the tax, spending and regulatory incentives to induce the private sector to step on the accelerator and engage the transmission of job creation."
On the day of the Occupy Dallas protest at Chase bank, Clark said the protesters were actively reaching out to veterans who, he said, are suffering more than the average citizenry. The veteran unemployment rate was 13.3% in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hobbs, at the California Mortgage Bankers group, says that because the movement is still young and its members' opinions are so diverse, coalescing around specific policy goals will be difficult for them.
"I don't think anyone can ignore it at this point," he said. "Now, whether or not you engage in it is a difficult question. You see that with the political leaders in Washington. They're having a hard time figuring out whether or not to engage in part because there's no defined leadership."
USING PROTESTS TO THEIR ADVANTAGE
And while most of Wall Street and Washington choose to refrain from initiating a dialogue with the Occupy protesters, some former bankers are taking advantage of their outrage.
Jon Stein and Jason Henrichs, chief executives of Betterment.com and PerkStreet Financial, respectively, left their high-profile banking jobs because there were "sick of trying to change the banking industry from the inside." The toxic products they pushed onto severely indebted customers through marketing and fine print compelled them to start their own financial service companies.
"We left long ago because we saw how deceptive practices were really creating a toxic environment for the customers," according to Heinrich.
Heinrich and Stein created finance companies they say are more customer focused and broadly accessible in that there are no minimum balances or transaction fees.
Betterment is an online investment adviser and PerkStreet is an FDIC-insured checking account. Heinrich and Stein created companies they say are more customer focused and broadly accessible in that there are no minimum balances or transaction fees.
"When we saw the OWS movement, we said, 'Well, this is great. Finally a lot of people are standing up and saying they're frustrated with the same things that we are frustrated with,'" Stein said.
"It gave us this opportunity to come out and say, 'Well here's some things we've been thinking about for a while that if enacted, would help to make Wall Street more productive for people, make it more fair,'" he adds.
He says consumers will only see a difference by changing their own behavior in addition to getting support from Washington and the media.
"We need a nationwide movement to get things to really happen, and the rules have to change a little bit. Wall Street isn't going to do this on its own."
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