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Grinnell students participate in Wells Fargo protests


Protesters gathered at a Wells Fargo shareholders’ meeting on Tuesday. Contributed Photo

This past Tuesday, approximately 20 Grinnell students participated in a protest of Wells Fargo, which occurred during a shareholders’ meeting at the Wells Fargo office and the Marriott Hotel in Des Moines. The protest was aimed at taking a stand against a host of issues, including Wells Fargo’s alleged predatory loan practices, the company’s support of the NRA, a recent pay raise for its CEO and the company’s support of the Dakota Access pipeline.

Most Grinnell students participating in the protest did so under the banner of Student Action, an organization dedicated to social change. The protesters were divided into several different groups. The smaller groups created a distraction, diverting attention away from the main group of protestors.

“I was part of a distraction team that blocked the doors so that eventually I could let in hundreds of protesters into this hotel lobby,” said Paige Oamek ’20, who took part in the protest. “I had a police liaison, which was another student at Grinnell, who helped physically stand in front of me so any security or police could not toss me … so we were prepared for stuff like that.”

Another distraction team attempted to infiltrate the Marriott Hotel via the skywalks on the second floor.

“There was basically a ‘fake protest,’ which Wells Fargo basically thought [of as] the main thing,” said Dylan Bremner ’20, another student protestor. “And there were other people, mainly Grinnell students, some other young people, who were trying to infiltrate the Marriott Hotel, where the shareholders’ meeting was being held, so that we could bring the protest into the Marriott.”

This group, though, encountered opposition. They were confronted by security and eventually shoved out.

“Somebody opened the door for us on the inside, one of the other activists who had been able to infiltrate, basically,” Bremner said. “… So we all just swarm in, and there’s a bunch of police that try to block off the door and pull this guy away, and I’m pretty sure I was one of the first people through the door, because I was right next to it and pretty much the only thing I remember was it was a really small door so I couldn’t see anything beyond it. So I just ran through the door and there’s police everywhere in front of me.”

Their distraction, however, provided the opportunity for the main group to enter the hotel.

“[Police] just kept shoving me, and other people who were on the edge [of the crowd] more and more until, they just kept shoving us towards the door,” Bremner said. “They were threatening arrest and stuff, and so finally we left, but I think by the time that happened, it was a good enough distraction that it helped people kind of get through on the ground floor. So by the time we left, and I went back out down the street, I got a call from Sayles [Kasten ’19] from Student Action, and he’s just like ‘Oh we’re in the Marriot so just come in,’ so we just walked in the front door.”

Notably, one Grinnell student who participated in the protest, Nate Williams ’20, brought along a plastic trombone. The Des Moines Register reported on it and, in the article, Williams said, “I think it added some volume and some energy. It was generally a really fun, empowering time. And I think the noise of a trombone just added another piece to it.”

Oamek agreed, saying, “We are angry, but [the protest] was also a place of extreme joy, a place that deserves celebration of everyone being out there, coming together and being able to say what they have to say and take up space. Music adds a lot of energy and a lot of power and a lot of fun … the shareholders could hear us in the meeting so I’m sure they could hear the trombone as well.”

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