RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Occupy protesters disrupted a speech Wednesday by the CEO of Wells Fargo, shouting that his leadership “has led to the death of the American dream.”
Protesters shouted for about five minutes, with new people standing up as security escorted their allies from the room. About 400 people attended the speech, and they began applauding Stumpf as the protesters yelled and were removed.
“John Stumpf. We won’t take your home. But we will take a minute of your time,” the protesters began. They got most of the way through their prepared protest before all were escorted out.
No one was arrested, but one female protester did yell at an N.C. State University employee to “get your hands off me,” then grabbed his jacket.
“I want to see your name,” she said as security took her away.
Stumpf, CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, was about 30 minutes into his speech when protesters interrupted him as he talked about the importance of small business.
Small businesses make up more than 90 percent of companies in the U.S. “so when you want to grow jobs, you have to focus on small business,” he said. People start small businesses or increase the size of one in times of inspiration and confidence, he said.
He continued his speech after the protest ended.
“We don’t take this lightly,” he said. “Our company is trying very hard to create opportunities to get this country moving again.”
Several Occupy movements organized the protests, including those at N.C. State, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Ryan Thomson, 22, a graduate student at N.C. State.
Raleigh police were out in full force, complementing the university’s police force with both officers and two prisoner transport vans. Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue declined to say how many officers were at the event.
Stumpf had spoken earlier at the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting, where Occupy Winston-Salem protested outside but didn’t interrupt his speech.
At N.C. State, Stumpf spoke as part of the school’s fall 2011 Wells Fargo Executive Lecture Series. The series, previously called the Wachovia Executive Lecture Series, was renamed following the merger of Wachovia and Wells Fargo.
Before the speech began, about 20 Occupy protesters held signs outside the School of Management. They said they were protesting the speech by Stumpf because they didn’t think he showed the leadership that others should emulate.
In July, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $85 million to settle civil charges that it falsified loan documents and pushed borrowers toward subprime mortgages with higher interest rates during the housing boom. It was the largest fine ever imposed by the Federal Reserve in a consumer-enforcement case.
Wells Fargo neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The bank agreed to compensate borrowers who were steered into higher-priced loans or whose income was exaggerated.
“We don’t agree that he should be the one telling us about leadership,” said Bryan Perlmutter, 20, a junior at N.C. State.
Vidya Sanker, 21, a senior at the university, said Stumpf was not someone students should be taught to admire.
“He has no place at a business school which is supposed to be talking about ethics,” she said.
The protesters in both Winston-Salem and Raleigh are part of the wider Occupy Wall Street movement, which has protested income inequality and the role that banks and big businesses have played in the global financial crisis.
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