Occupy UC Davis students aim to shut down campus’ U.S. Bank

Protesters cite underhanded business partnership with UCD and student-loan profiteering as motivation.Occupy UC Davis protesters barricade campus U.S. Bank entrance, aim to shut down branch

Going on two weeks now, a cluster of Occupy UC Davis protesters have visited the campus’ U.S. Bank branch every day, sat down in front of its entrance and formed a blockade, which has disallowed customers and students to enter.

And, on most days, U.S. Bank has opted to close its doors instead of remaining open for business.

Occupy UCD, who favors a credit union on campus in lieu of a corporate bank and have denounced the university’s partnership with U.S. Bank, are hearing rumblings that if they continue the blockade, now entering its third week, the branch will shut down for good.

“That’s the rumor that’s been going around,” said Occupy protester and UCD student Artem Raskin of the branch’s possible closure.

UC Davis news services director Claudia Morain said that the university “entered into a 10-year agreement with U.S. Bank in 2009” and that it is “is legally obliged to honor this agreement.”

And U.S. Bank spokeswoman Teri Charest didn’t directly address word that the branch would close, stating only that the company respects “the protesters’ right to speak freely on public property” and that the bank “is private property and we seek to serve our customers safely and conveniently.”

The campus U.S. Bank—located inside UCD’s Memorial Union student center, just a few hundred yards from where campus Occupy activists were pepper sprayed last November—was first targeted on January 11.

Department of English professor Joshua Clover recalled that protesters entered the bank that Wednesday and first held a teach-in, which discussed among other things the $1 trillion in national student debt.

“I made a flow chart … we all talked a little bit, and we shut down the bank,” Clover said.

An estimated 40 protesters arrived to denounce what they say is U.S. Bank’s profiting off of student debt and the university’s underhanded business partnership.

The branch is rather tiny—by no means your neighborhood Wells Fargo or Chase bank—and campus police has continued its de-facto hands-off policy when it comes to student protesters after the pepper-spray-cop incident.

Third-year philosophy and psychology major Grant Weiss, part of Occupy UCD, says many fellow students have asked why the movement is targeting the branch. “I tell them that U.S. Bank is profiting off of one of the largest sectors in the economy right now, and that is student debt,” Weiss explained. “It makes absolutely no sense for them to be on a campus.”

Fellow Occupy activist Raskin argued that UCD’s unique partnership with the bank—it’s the only branch on campus, and student ID cards also double as U.S. Bank debit cards—is a conflict of interest.

“The banks have a financial incentive to pursue increases in tuition,” Raskin argued.

Weiss agreed. “They’re benefiting off of rising tuition costs, rising fees, rising costs of living,” he explained. “If the tuition keeps going up … you’re going to get to the point in society where only a special class will be allowed to get an education.”

The protest is also part of a larger solidarity movement with Occupy Wall Street, activists explained, and other actions on campus, such as those targeting UC Board of Regents member Monica Lozano, who is also on the board of Bank of America.

The UCD bank, however, is the first UC campus branch to close repeatedly due to student protests.

“Surprisingly, it doesn’t take that many people to shut it down,” Raskin noted.

Claudia Morain told SN&R that a mediation-type group has visited the activists to ensure that bank employees and students are safe during the blockade, just to avoid “minor injuries, even fingers in doors.” She did not know if U.S. Bank was considering shutting down its UCD location.

“Not that I’m aware of,” she said.

UCD first announced its exclusive partnership with U.S. Bank in 2005, when it first became the lone branch on campus. In 2009, the U.S. Bank logo first appeared on ID cards, which allowed students to check out books at the library and also withdraw cash from U.S. Bank ATMs. UC Davis estimated to earn some $3 million over 10 years from the ID card partnership.

Student protester Weiss says the blockade will continue. “We’re not moving until it does,” he said.