Church Groups Make Statement By Closing Their BOFA Accounts

By Lark Turner
Seattle Times

Two Seattle-area church groups held a protest outside a University District Bank of America branch on Friday to announce the transfer of their organizations’ funds to local financial institutions.

The Church Council of Greater Seattle (CCGS), which represents more than 340 local churches, and the Faith Action Network (FAN), an interfaith organization, said they were promoting local investment and helping those most affected by the economic downturn.

The two groups called Bank of America’s corporate actions sinful and aligned themselves with the Occupy movement’s 99 percent, encouraging other faith organizations and churches to move their money, too. The Occupy movement argues that corporate greed and government inaction helped cause the U.S. financial crisis, and it claims the richest 1 percent makes economic decisions harming the rest of society.

“I’m so excited about today, I woke up jumping up and down,” said Beth Amsbary, a CCGS staffer. “It’s getting on the right side of history. Small choices add up.”

Alice Woldt, co-director of FAN, emerged from the branch after about 20 minutes holding the last of the organization’s account: a check for more than $20,000. The rest of the money already had been moved.

Cheering, the group of about 12 walked a block and a half south on University Way Northeast to a branch of BECU, Washington’s largest credit union. As passers-by looked on, they shouted — with the aid of a megaphone — “corporate greed has got to go,” “people not profits” and “economic justice for all.”

Though Seattle police were on site, they did not interact with the protesters, who had called Thursday to inform them about the protest.

Bank of America said in a statement the company was “sorry and surprised” the two organizations were closing their accounts; it also said the company has modified 19,000 mortgages in the state and is working with housing nonprofits on foreclosure prevention. A company spokeswoman chose to respond to questions in a statement rather than an interview.

CCGS, which has an annual budget of about $2 million, voted in December to move its money into Home-Street Bank, a community bank in the Northwest and Hawaii. That transfer was made before Friday. Michael Ramos, the executive director of CCGS, said the decision to move the funds wasn’t made lightly, though the board unanimously approved it.

Todd Pietzsch, a BECU spokesman, said the credit union is happy to have FAN’s business. The co-op is owned by its members. “People helping people is what we’re founded on,” he said. “Everything we bring in goes back to our members and our community.”

Doug Johnson, a 47-year-old member of the Occupy movement, said he joined the group to support taking business away from corporate banks. “We need to show the corporate banks that we really don’t need them,” the Rainier Beach resident said.

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