Jason Miczek / Reuters
Demonstrators march on the Bank of America headquarters in in Charlotte, N.C. during a protest timed to coincide with the company's annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday.
Hundreds of protesters converged on the Bank of America shareholder meeting in Charlotte, N.C. on Wednesday, dozens of them entering the proceedings to criticize the behemoth financial institution’s policies on mortgages, worker rights, tax avoidance, banking fees, foreclosures and energy financing.
Organizers said there were so many reasons to dislike the bank that it was relatively easy to pull together a large group, some from as far away as Portland, San Francisco and New York.
"It was a convergence," said Jen Soriano, a member of UNITY Alliance, a group under the umbrella protest organizer called 99 Percent Power.
"Whether it is workers who have been laid off, homeowners and also tenants who have been evicted from foreclosed homes … or people who live in coal country in the Appalachia whose home in a broader sense are being destroyed by mountain top removal mining …," Soriano said. "Bank of America is pretty much the worst of the worst in terms of banks."
About 750 people marched from three directions to the Bank of American corporate headquarters, and six people had been arrested by 3 p.m. ET, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Some of the protesters — organizers estimated more than 100, but there was no way to confirm that — had purchased one share of Bank of America stock so they could enter the meeting and make their complaints directly before the bank’s CEO Brian Moynihan.
Thirty 99 Percent Power activists spoke during the 90 minute meeting, according to the group.
Unlike similar proceedings at a Wells Fargo shareholders meeting a few weeks earlier, the protesting shareholders were not forced to leave, but instead allowed to voice their objections to the bank’s policy — many related to its financing of coal related projects.
The Bank of America is the top financier of the U.S. coal industry "from cradle to grave," according to Kerul Dyer, communications manager for the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network. According to the group, in the past two years, Bank of America has poured $6.7 billion into funding companies engaged in a range of coal-related activities, including mountain-top removal to access coal in the Appalachian Mountains, energy generation and building coal export terminals.
"As the leading financier of coal, Bank of America funds birth defects, disease and death when it lends money to coal companies,” Bob Kincaid, president of the Appalachian Health Community Emergency. "I intend to see that Bank of America and its shareholders confront these brutal realities and demand that the bank stop financing this assault on our communities."
A Bank of America spokesperson said the bank finances a broad range of energy projects, including a renewable energy initiative launched in 2007, through which it has invested $17.9 billion, including money spent on two of the world’s largest solar power projects.
"In 2011 alone we invested $3.65 billion in renewable energy, energy efficiency and other forms of low-carbon energy," said Brittany Shehan, a spokesperson on the company's environmental policies. "Environmental groups would have it be a bank issue; it’s really a national issue."
Coal — which has adverse environmental impacts but is relatively inexpensive — is used to generate about half of the electricity consumed in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
"Any way you slice the numbers there are so many other companies that have a stake in this value chain. Coal is a part of our economy and a big part of our energy supply," Shehan said. She did not confirm the coal-investment number provided by environmental critics.
The environmental groups also protested Bank of America’s funding of companies that extract coal by mountain-top removal using explosives.
Shehan said that the bank in 2008 adopted a new policy on mountain-top removal. But the policy to "phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal" does not rule out all finance of the companies engaged in the practice.
The bank was also under attack over its lending and foreclosure practices, as it has been since the start of the mortgage crisis. The protesters from 99 Percent Power called on the bank to halt foreclosures and offer principal reduction for homeowners whose properties are underwater.
Bank of America is the second largest U.S. bank holding company as measured by assets.
The bank on Tuesday announced that it had sent letters to more than 200,000 customers "who may be eligible for forgiveness of a portion of the principal balance on their mortgage" under the terms of a recent settlement among five major banks, 49 state attorneys general and the federal government.
In a news release, it said that customers who qualify for the program will save an estimated 30 percent on their mortgage payments.
Event organizers said they would have 1,000 protesters, but Estes said Wednesday's crowd in Charlotte was closer to 750, the Charlotte Observerreported, citing Charlotte-Mecklenberg police Maj. Jeff Estes.
"There's been no property damage, and nobody was injured," Estes told the Observer. "We're pleased with the outcome."
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