Occupy Wall Street inspires petition for local credit union

David Briggs
Alex Fradkin (above) and his wife, Marina Sitrin, have been organizing and documenting the movement.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has emerged with force in West Marin, where over the past two weeks roughly 60 local activists have protested outside the Wells Fargo branch in Point Reyes Station and held strategic meetings about closing their bank accounts and asking Redwood Credit Union or another banking institution to establish an ATM or branch in town.

In the two weeks since their first Occupy Point Reyes “general assembly” Sunday meeting, activists have amassed 130 signatures on a petition to leave Wells Fargo, an international banking institution complicit in the subprime mortgage crisis, and deposit their money into an institution with a more local focus.

Inverness Park resident Bing Gong, a central player in the Occupy Point Reyes bank “working group,” said the activists are exploring many options, including an invitation to Bank of Marin, and hope to use the list of signatures, which they aim to grow to 300, as leverage in their negotiations. “That’s the big thing we can do right now to make a statement,” Gong said. “We want to keep our power local. And once it gets into the big national banks, we don’t have control over it. We want to bring it back to invest in the community to be more sustainable and resilient.”

Occupy Point Reyes is not only concerned with changing the banking arrangement in Point Reyes but also with sponsoring open and democratic discussions in which people can express their discontentment with the current system and talk about what types of change they would like to pursue.

“We really wanna hear from more people to hear about what’s important to them,” said Jennifer Shulzitski, one of the main organizers of the local movement. “We’re asking, ‘What do you want?’ No one small group [is] telling people what to do.” The group has discussed how Point Reyes residents can move away from more formal outside financial fixtures and instead implement gift circles, local currencies like the Coastal Marin Fund $3 token, and exchange systems.  

Lead activist Peter Higbee believes the free-form nature of the occupy movement, which has been criticized in the mainstream press for being unfocused and lacking precise demands, is what attracts people locally and nationally. “I think that’s what makes this movement unique in that there’s this indefinite aspect to it,” he said. “The unifying force [is] that we’re all pissed. We’ve been sold so many messages over the years and not being sold anything is kind of refreshing.”

The activists also want to stand in solidarity with the larger movement. In that vein, it has worked on setting up carpools to the larger protests in San Francisco and also recently hosted Occupy Wall Street activist and photographer Alex Fradkin to share his photos and anecdotes at a meeting in Gong’s home. Fradkin, who is originally from Point Reyes, is married to one of the lead organizers of the national movement, Marina Sitrin. He said he has only recently had a chance to consider how powerful the movement that he and his wife had a hand in starting has become.

“When I come here to Point Reyes, I can look out and start seeing what’s happening around the world,” he said. “Because we’re really kind of at the center of this whole thing and it can seem really insular, but when I step away from it for a few days, it’s like, ‘Woah! Whoops, look at what we started!’”  Fradkin projected dramatic and humorous photos, which have been published in Mother Jones, Good and elsewhere, of protesters holding pizza box signs, police officers guarding the Wall Street bull, and a group of 700 activists waiting to be arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Just after Fradkin had shouted to the group about how they inspired him, a police officer had pulled him off the ledge on which he had stood. “The crescendo of boos from 700 people were absolutely deafening,” he said.

Fradkin fielded questions about the experience, and most of the activists seemed pleased to pick his brain. Higbee thought his insights about how the democratic “working groups” and “general assembly” operated would help Occupy Point Reyes move forward. “To have somebody that’s been there is something [that] really helps spread the message and make the local movement more tied to or more part of what’s happening in New York,” he said. Shulzitski said that hearing about how the national movement grew in numbers and became more diverse after it welcomed Troy Davis’ execution protestors revealed the importance of building relationships with other community interests. “I think that’s a great example about figuring out how to build bridges between the community,” she said.

While Fradkin believes that the New York movement provides an inspirational blueprint for local communities, he thinks Point Reyes should do its best to define its own needs. “I would love to see this continue to spread into these small little towns across the country and for these discussions to happen on the local level,” he said. “Since it is so local, people [need] to come up with their own ideas and not necessarily look to New York for the answers. [They need] to really identify what their issues are here and then act on those ideas.”

To get involved, visit occupypointreyes.org or attend the protest this Sunday, October 23, at 11 a.m. in front of Wells Fargo in Point Reyes Station. Art Rogers will be taking a photo of the group at West Marin School at 10 a.m.