ACORN Demands the Bank of Montreal Stop Predatory Practices

DSCN0088Montreal       As the ACORN members lined up in Victoria Square in the downtown business district of historic Montreal, you could hear their chants for blocks as they cried: “predatory lender, criminal offender.” First, they stopped briefly to deliver a letter demanding that the telcom, Videotron, owned by Quebecor, provide “internet for all” through a low cost plan similar to an agreement that ACORN has with Rogers in Toronto. The members were just getting warmed up though, as they turned and began marching and chanting along Rue Saint-Jacques, daring passerbys with the chant, “Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, and we tell them, we are ACORN, mighty, mighty, ACORN.”

The march took a short jog to the right going to Rue Notre Dame and moved within a block of the Place d’Armes and suddenly the march quieted as they entered the plaza in front of the Basilica de Notre Dame. Slowly we strolled across the plaza, meandering right and left, as if we were a 250 person tourist group on a first time visit. A delegation of leaders had already proceeded the march and were now in the lobby of the Bank of Montreal.  Another delegation of more than a score had split off from the ranks of the marchers and were moving unseen behind another bank that fronted the Place d’Armes.

When the march line reached the street in from of BMO, as the light changed, the members followed the banner quickly across the street up the front steps and through the doors being held by designated members and organizers to ease their entry. Simultaneously, another group went through the other door so that could pass the bank’s own museum and meet the leaders and other marches entering the lobby.

We had observed the security several days earlier and though in evidence, the BMO security team was both lighter and older than we expected on each door. We had hoped to get perhaps fifty of the members inside and rally with the rest outside. If we were quick, well-organized, and executed perfectly, perhaps we could get half of the crowd in. This was the 21st century after all, no one could do better than that. The days of being able to get more than 1000 in the Citibank headquarters on Park Avenue in New York City as we had done in a memorable convention years before were long gone.

Security met the first protestors with waves of “No, no, no” and then moved out of the way as ACORN members passed by them without hesitation, now taking up their chants with fervor and carrying a dozen sharks over their heads, symbolizing predatory lending at BMO. The police outside came bounding up the steps but were left standing helplessly behind members crowding through the circular door. Other marchers were rerouted to the second door around the police, and when the police entered the building the rest of the marchers were hustled through the main door behind them. Within minutes all the members found themselves chanting as they looked at the marble counters and columns, so shiny they could be used as mirrors, and the forests of dark work soaring to almost forty feet to what appeared to be a gold leaf ceiling throughout.

Once the police were inside with us and officers from the bank agreed to take the letter from the leaders to stop their predatory lending and their extensive investments in payday lenders, long a target of ACORN Canada, the ACORN members found themselves back in the plaza chanting and smiling, high-fiving and hugging, knowing they had delivered their message powerfully, and they had all been part of an action they would never forget.

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ACORN Canada Kicks Off Convention in Montreal

DSCN0012Montreal       Close to 250 people from all over Canada had rolled into McGill University on the rise of Mount Royal overlooking the city. Three school buses came from Ottawa, vans and cars from Nova Scotia 14 hours away, a coach bus from Toronto, and flyers from British Columbia. There was even a delegation from ACORN International in the USA and a team from Local 100 that drove up from Dallas and Little Rock. Members were camped out in the lobby in their red t-shirts and on the sidewalks outside of the residence hall like it was a summer action camp.

They were all ready and chanting their local slogans as they entered the ballroom on Sunday morning ready to roar. They were met with welcome and exhortations by one speaker after another, beginning with Adrian Profitos, an ACORN member from Ottawa now living in Montreal and helping organize ACORN’s newest chapter there. A delegation from our longtime allies, the Immigrant Workers Center, brought cries of “shame, shame” from the members as they detailed the exploitation of workers by temporary employment agencies that now number 5000 in the Montreal area. A machinist leader from the FTQ, the Quebec labor union council,  had the crowd laughing when he told the members that he had apologized to his young children when he had left this morning that he would not be watching cartoons with them because he had to give greetings to some “corporate crowd.” The punch line was that “I could not have been more wrong,” as the ACORN members hooted and hollered.

Aside from ACORN Canada leaders, the most riveting speaker, setting the tone for the convention was Mike Palecek, the National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers or CUP-W, as it is called. The union has been our staunchest ally on the remittance justice campaign and has joined us enthusiastically in fighting predatory lending by banks and payday lenders. The postal union envisions an expansion of the post office capacity as a postal bank, common in some other countries as well as adding the ability to handle money transfers as not only good for low and moderate income families as ACORN does, but a way to protect and keep postal members working by offering more services. There is a lot of excitement in Canada now about the startling upset by the New Democratic Party in the western province of Alberta after 40 years of rule by the Conservative Party and whether or not that signals change in the election coming in four months nationally. Palecek sensed that this was a crowd hungry for change and he stoked the fires.

In the afternoon, buses of members fanned out across the city to a huge response in neighborhoods regardless of our faltering French to talk to people about supporting ACORN’s “Internet for All” campaign to bridge the digital divide. Members reported enthusiastic support and real anger over cost, quality, and access. With hearings pending in Ottawa on this issue, the support in Montreal opens up an important front.

ACORN’s convention is not about parties and parades, but outreach and action, and it is moving and inspiring to see the members join together to get the job done.

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Bell Flaunts Corporate Commitment to Monopoly Profits and Damn the Divide

Toronto   The initiIMG_5558al response from Rogers, one of the big three telecommunications giants in Canada controlling internet and cable, was not all we needed or wanted, but it showed progress and a path forward for future discussions.  ACORN’s similar letters to Bell Canada and Telus were met with opposing corporate strategies.  Telus dug its head in the sand, didn’t answer at all, and has obviously adopted a strategy of pretending this is not happening, and praying that it will all go away.  Bell Canada elected to go on the offensive and strike a pose both arrogant and hostile, replying that if we thought internet access was unaffordable to lower income families, then we should get the government to make them do something.  Meet with ACORN, oh, hell, no, they seemed to be saying.

            After marching from Ryerson University to the Bell headquarters in downtown Toronto across from City Hall, and asking for a meeting with the company on the issue of internet access and reasonable pricing, no ACORN members who were part of the delegation now have any doubt about Bell’s response, since they adamantly refused all requests we made to meet with 150 people in their atrium.   A separate ACORN leadership delegation entered the building and sought to make the request for a meeting to CEO Cope, but found the elevators turned off to the 9th floor executive suites and all stairway entrances blocked by burly security guards.  Seeking to have a letter delivered concerning the meeting, one guard outside replied only that they would be with us all day and night until the police came.

            Bell has a reputation for this kind of robber baron mentality, ignoring the softer profiles that many huge companies, especially publicly regulated monopolies have tended to endorse.  The ACORN crowd found themselves outside with the elevator constructors union who had been on the streets on strike for 8 weeks, not trying for a raise, but simply trying to retain seniority in the face of Bell union busting.   Calls to several television stations before the action, led one of the stations to remind the ACORN organizer that they were actually owned by Bell Canada, so what did she think were the chances of them covering the rally and action?

            In campaigns like this ACORN doesn’t pick the issues, since they are so large we stumble over them every time we are talking to our members and hearing their endless complaints about these company rip-offs, nor do we really get to pick the targets.  Sometime companies like Bell are just itching for a fight, no matter how hard we try to be reasonable.  We’re in it to win it though, and the first round with Bell makes it obvious that this is going to be another one of those campaigns for our members where they have to win in order to have access to jobs, education, and the communications required by modern society, but it’s going to be a long, hard struggle to victory.

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