You Are Stealing Our Future, CEO John Stumpf!
by Sara Fitouri, Colorado Student Power Alliance
Wells Fargo Shareholder Meeting: Salt Lake City, UT
April 23rd, 201
“You are stealing our future”… the prospect of saying that phrase to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf inside a Share Holder Meeting had made me anxious throughout my classes the week leading up to our action. Could I, a University of Denver student, actually confront the highest paid banker in the United States?
After 9 hours in a van with other members of the Colorado Student Power Alliance, we arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah to protest at the Wells Fargo Shareholder meeting. We joined members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) who, through their fight against home foreclosures in California, had sent Wells Fargo on the run. Past protests had convinced John Stumpf to break a 16 year tradition and move the meeting from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. So, while ACCE pursued the fleeing stage coach and horse from the west, we flanked from the east. The morning of the shareholder meeting, we were there to make sure that unlike any scene from the Music Man, the Wells Fargo wagon arrived in its destination, not to the joy of the town, but to vivid reminders of its violent foreclosure and debt policies.
Four of us dressed in business attire with proxies in hand walked toward the Grand America Hotel to go inside to the meeting to speak directly to John Stumpf as part of a generation of youth enslaved by unbearable debt. A generation that is mobilizing in our communities and on our campuses to fight back. As the second largest private profiteer from student debt, the key to the debt shackles on thousands of my peers was possessed by the multimillionaire corporate banker who stood behind the podium in front of the ballroom where the meeting was being held.
During the meeting shareholders used the discussion periods and their speeches on shareholder resolutions to bring critiques of racial discrimination, unjust housing forclosures, and John Stumpf’s obscene salary, all of which were quickly dismissed by an unphased Stumpf who cast off the concerns with rhetorically empty sound bites of corporate policy. Finally, our action began. When the first member of ACCE stood up, John Stumpf tried to quiet her down, but we were done raising our hands to be heard. We would not ask his permission to resist. One after another we began standing up to John Stumpf and demanding that he hear our concerns. After two women went, it was my turn.
“You are stealing our future!” I did yell at the highest paid banker in the nation. I was surprised, myself, by the power in my voice. John Stumpf’s head jolted away from the person who spoke previously and shot in my direction. For about the next 15 seconds the floor was mine. I told John Stumpf that Wells Fargo was participating in the destruction of Higher Education, condemning our generation to a lifetime of debt, and that we demand a process for loan modification. As I was escorted out of the room, I heard my friend and fellow COSPA member Kaitlyn’s voice ringing out reiterating our message to Stumpf, who had temporarily given up trying to silence the voices he ignores on a daily basis. He was silent now. For the time being, he had lost control of the meeting.
Moments after I was led out the doors, members of our team still in the meeting began chanting “Racist Lending is a crime, John Stumpf should be doing time!” They, too, were escorted out, and we were all reunited by the security guards who were anxious to get us all the way out of the building. We complied and headed slowly to the doors but continued our chant. The words echoed off of the marble walls, crystal chandeliers, and back into the shareholder meeting, where an exposed John Stumpf was trying to regain control of the meeting.
Once outside, we joined the people out front protesting. We continued to march to three different Wells Fargo locations to deliver letters that outlined demands from our groups.
The opportunity to see a corporate giant shake- be it by silencing John Stumpf at his own shareholder meeting or the dropping of shutters and locking of doors as a march arrives- is a direct reminder of the power we have. Wells Fargo knows that they cannot hide. That they cannot run. And that, while they can escort us out of meetings, they cannot stop a student movement set to expose and end their violent lending practices.