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BK Blog Post
Posted by Wade Rathke.
Wade Rathke is the founder of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) – a nationwide activist network engaged in community organizing.
Montreal 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.