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About 50 take their frustration with bank fees, lack of jobs to the streets

Residents all over Kitsap County gathered outside Bank of America in Silverdale to protest bank fees and economic inequality. - Megan Stephenson / Herald
Residents all over Kitsap County gathered outside Bank of America in Silverdale to protest bank fees and economic inequality.
— image credit: Megan Stephenson / Herald

SILVERDALE — Martine Meyer hasn’t been able to use her degree in graphic design since she graduated in 2008. In fact, Meyer, 26 and living in Silverdale, hasn’t had a job in those three years.

She’s supplemented her job searches with freelancing projects, but without a job history, employers aren’t willing to take her on.

“All I want to do is get a job and work, even if it’s McDonald’s, but they're only hiring older people or workers [with job experience],” Meyer said. “It’s not fair — we’re American, we’re an honest people.”

Meyer’s frustration is similar to those being expressed in the nationwide movement known as Occupy Wall Street, which has branched into just about every major U.S. city and many surrounding communities. Occupiers are vocal about many issues, including a frustration that the top 1 percent of the country’s richest people control 99 percent of the wealth.

While housesitting in Poulsbo, Meyer heard about another organization, MoveOnKitsap, which has been organizing Occupy-type meetings, culminating in a protest Saturday in Silverdale. She was recruited to design the poster and fliers for the countywide protest.

“It’s better to actually design for something you actually believe in,” Meyer said.

MoveOnKitsap organized a protest outside Bank of America on Silverdale Way. Bank of America has bore the brunt of many protesters’ grievances since it announced a $5 a month fee on debit cards. The bank has since cancelled that fee, which MoveOn organizer Amanda Morgan credits to the pressure these kind of protests put on the bank.

“It’s all about symbolism today,” she said as about 50 protesters marched outside the bank, holding signs and shouting chants like “End the Bush tax cuts, they’ll still have enough.”

MoveOnKitsap chose Saturday, which had been designated Bank Transfer Day, a grassroots movement circulated by Occupy Wall Street-type organizers. Corporate bank customers showed their exasperation by closing their accounts and moving their money to community banks and credit unions.

Dissenters have left their mark. About 650,000 people transferred $4.5 billion into new credit union savings accounts in the month leading up to Bank Transfer Day, according to the Credit Union National Association. Locally, the handful of local banks and credit unions saw significant increases.

David Hughes, chief of marketing and public information officer at Peninsula Credit Union, said his credit union saw a 95 percent increase in new accounts in the first week of November, compared with the same week in 2010. Overall, the bank received a 47 percent increase in new members in October compared to the same month last year.

When the credit union asked new members why they were joining, the top answers of late were bank fees and “getting away from Bank of America [or] Chase,” he said.

“Fees start the conversation, but I think more of a local approach is probably the [reason]” for the switch, Hughes said.

Kitsap Bank in Poulsbo was one of the few banks open on Bank Transfer Day, as it was a Saturday, and operations officer Marilu Aganon said there was a line of customers out the door to open an account.

She said she had heard about the Occupy protests, but didn’t expect such a response Saturday. Some customers who came in already had an account, but had checks from recently closed Bank of America accounts to deposit.

Aganon said customers opened about 70 accounts in October, an increase from an average of 50 per month. Since Nov. 1, they’ve opened an additional 20 accounts.

Hughes said he didn’t think Bank Transfer Day would have caught on if it weren’t for the fees Bank of America and other larger institutions were tacking on to their services.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to have more members,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think this is the end of their growth.

An employee at the Bank of America in Silverdale said the branch had no comment.

One protester, D.L. Wright of Gig Harbor, said she chose this day to close her 20-year business account with Bank of America.

“The concept of credit unions is what I support,” she said, holding out her cut-up credit card so passersby could see. “It’s one small way people can let their wallets do the talking.”

Like the Occupy protests, the residents picketing Bank of America in Silverdale had other grumbles about the current state of the economy to share.

Harriet Wright of Poulsbo was holding a sign that said “For Sale America,” believing that the country is “for sale to the highest bidder.”

“It’s such a shame that kids are graduating and unable to find decent jobs,” she added.

Many of the protesters said they just want their fellow citizens to pay attention.

“Everybody's job and security is at risk,” said Mack Johnson, a teacher at North Mason High School in Belfair. But, as cars honked in support as they passed by, many of the protesters seemed pleased with the gathering.

“The is the most hopeful thing I’ve seen in decades,” Johnson said.

 

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