CHICAGO (Reuters) - A few hundred demonstrators protesting over unemployment woes targeted Bank of America on Thursday, with 30 protesters entering a bank building in Chicago and laying down in a “die-in” before heeding police orders to leave.
“Being arrested wasn’t part of the plan today,” said Elizabeth Parisian, a coordinator for Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of labor, religious and civil rights groups.
A contingent of police kept some 250 protesters from clogging sidewalks in Chicago’s busy financial district. One protester became embroiled in a vociferous argument with a group of traders but there was no violence or arrests.
Earlier this week, five women were arrested for trespassing at the same Bank of America branch after dumping trash collected from foreclosed homes.
Thursday’s protest was part of a growing number of rallies that have sprung up from Wall Street demonstrations that began last month to voice anger over against unemployment woes, disparities in wealth and government bailouts of major banks.
The demonstration also focused on the Chicago Board of Trade, home to Chicago’s futures markets, and on Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s plans to cut 30,000 jobs, or more than 10 percent of its total staff.
“Bank of America is killing America,” protesters chanted as they moved from in front of the Chicago Board of Trade building at the foot of LaSalle Street to the Bank of America branch. Later, the group milled around inside the Board of Trade building lobby.
The bank took the proactive step of temporarily shutting the facility, with the demonstrators laying on the floor in a public area inside the bank’s Chicago headquarters building.
“It’s our responsibility to ensure a safe environment for our customers and our employees. If individuals or groups are disrupting business activities, we may ask them to leave the banking center,” bank spokeswoman Diane Wood said.
“I‘m not getting into the specifics of what they’re protesting about,” she added.
The well-organized demonstrators wore matching red jackets to fend off a drizzle, in contrast to the rag-tag group of Occupy Chicago protesters maintaining their vigil near the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
“We have to save our communities, save our schools and bring good jobs back to Chicago,” said protester Samantha Williams, 34, a city worker and mother of six worried about having her hours reduced.
Another protester, Rev. C.J. Hawking of the Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church, said the issue at hand was one of morals.
“Scripture teaches us that we are not to take resources from the many to give to the few. This is a moral issue,” Hawking said. “Really it is a case of a few having luxuries, and the many going without their necessities.”
But trader Dan Gerstenmaier, 45, said the protest was “misguided, unfocused and badly directed.”
“They’re focusing on the wrong issue. I’d say their mantra should be ‘End the Fed’,” he said.
Amid the chanting protesters was a man dressed in a business suit, who complained: “Right now I just wish they’d move so I could get into the bank.”
Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Cynthia Johnston