BofA protesters more subdued at shareholders meeting

deroberts@charlotteobserver.comMay 8, 2013 

Protesters gathered in uptown Charlotte Wednesday as Bank of America held its annual shareholders meeting, staging demonstrations that had much lower attendance and were much more subdued compared with last year’s meeting.

Maj. Jeff Estes, of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, on Wednesday estimated that the event drew, at most, 40 protesters.

“And that’s generous,” he said.

It’s also substantially lower than the 600 protesters who police estimate were in Charlotte for last year’s shareholders meeting, during which six people were arrested and uptown streets were blocked. Estes said early Wednesday afternoon that no protesters had been arrested in connection with the meeting for the Charlotte-based bank.

Despite the low attendance, the city issued an “extraordinary event” declaration, affecting a roughly 72-block area, ahead of the meeting. The declarations ban people from bringing items that can be used as weapons into the declaration zone.

This year’s shareholders meeting, in the Charlotte Marriott City Center hotel, 100 W. Trade St., was scheduled for a 10 a.m. start. Earlier Wednesday, except for police officers and barricades stationed around the Marriott, it looked like a normal morning in uptown until about 8:30, when protesters began arriving.

Wednesday’s protesting appeared to be isolated to a small group of people gathered by Polk Park, at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets and diagonally across from the bank’s headquarters.

Ryan Halas, Charlotte-area campaigner for Rainforest Action Network, who was part of the group, said RAN was expressing its concerns about Bank of America’s funding of the coal industry.

When asked Wednesday what she thought of the lower protester attendance for this year’s shareholders meeting, Amanda Starbuck, director of energy and finance for the Rainforest group, pointed instead to the number of people in the shareholders meeting.

“There were very few seats inside the room, so I’d say, just like last year, the shareholders meeting was full,” said Starbuck, who traveled from San Francisco to attend the meeting. Starbuck also was at last year’s shareholders meeting.

After Wednesday’s meeting, which ran for more than two hours, ended, the protesters at Polk Park appeared to have increased to perhaps 30.

Estes, the CMPD major, said police were prepared for hundreds of people to descend on uptown.

He said last year’s shareholders meeting was held during the “waning days of the Occupy movement, so there was some Occupy people kind of mixed in.”

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts

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