Chicago protests slam bankers to beat of brass band

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 10, 2011 9:48 PM
Chicago protests slam bankers to beat of brass band

By Jonathan Spicer and Margaret Chadbourn

CHICAGO (Reuters) - With a brass band to amplify their demands, Chicago protesters marched and lambasted financiers on Monday who they said saved corporations while leaving ordinary Americans jobless and disillusioned.

Chanting "We are the 99 percent," a slogan that has become a rallying cry for the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last month, at least 3,000 people gathered outside landmarks like the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank to vent their anger.

"We bailed out the banks and they turned around and gave themselves bonuses," said protester Ted Parks, 37, an unemployed former manager at a Bank of America branch in Chicago who said he had camped out overnight outside the Fed building.

The marches came amid growing protests over the economy around the country. In Chicago, the protesters had two financial industry events in their sights, including a meeting of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

One protester, dressed in a suit, who had paid $2,245 for entrance to that meeting, got to a microphone during a panel discussion and asked Michael Heid, president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, a top national mortgage lender: "How do you sleep at night?"

Heid said he felt like he was at a Congressional grilling.

"Like it or not, we're in for a period of time here that is just going to be a very difficult environment, and developing thicker skin is about one of the more practical responses for the here and now," Heid said. "I wish there were an answer to all the market woes, but there's not."

Mortgage Bankers Association CEO David Stevens had advised conference attendees in the morning not to "engage or confront" the protesters -- and to use pedestrian tunnels and other means to leave the building if needed.

"We all recognize that our industry faces a trust deficit with policymakers and the public, and that people in our industry contributed to the events that led to the financial crisis," the Association said in a statement.

"The mortgage professionals who have gathered in Chicago this week are about sustainable home ownership and ensuring access to affordable mortgage credit for qualified homeowners," the statement said.

The protesters wanted to hear none of it.

Pat Hill, 60, a retired police officer living in Chicago, said she had been working with her bank since 2007 on renegotiating her mortgage terms.

"We're going on the offensive with the banks and we're finding we can help prevent a foreclosure or even help a person win a new mortgage," said Hill, an Anti Eviction Campaign volunteer. "There's a lot going on that's unscrupulous."

Another protester, an electrician beset by mortgage problems after being laid off and seeing her income cut in half, said her bank was not cooperating with modification efforts.

"You don't see any cranes around downtown Chicago anymore. There's no work for me. What am I supposed to do?" said Cary Bunnett, 52. "I've stopped making my house payment because I just can't do it anymore, but they won't give me the modification they say I qualify for."

"Shame on you!" chanted a crowd of protesters to members of the Futures Industry Association who peered at them from a balcony of the Chicago Art Institute, where they attended a party.

(Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Peter Bohan)