Although national polls show Occupy Wall Street losing the public’s favor, the Richmond City Council re-affirmed its support for the movement on Tuesday, then targeted Chevron, Wells Fargo, and PG&E on its agenda.
The council passed a resolution to ask Chevron to withdraw its pending tax appeal – a complaint that seeks up to $60 million in tax refunds from Contra Costa County.
The council also voted to withdraw city funds from corporations it says dodged property taxes, including Wells Fargo and PG&E.
“We can stand up as a city and say, ‘Hey, Wells Fargo, guess what? We can move our money … to Mechanics bank, a local business, and next time, next year, maybe think about paying income tax,’” Councilmember Jeff Ritterman said.
He added that he thought federal and state governments were not taking the lead to fight wealth inequality.
“I think this movement is terribly important to the nation,” Ritterman said. “If every city council in Northern California, or in the state, or in the country moved their money that would make a difference. That’s how movements get started.”
Councilmember Nat Bates abstained from voting on the divestment item, and Corky Booze was the lone vote against. Both councilmembers said they supported a fight against Wall Street – just not in Richmond.
Bates questioned the effectiveness of spending city money to research property tax payments for multinational corporations.
“You are proposing our staff invest a lot of time in this?” he asked. “Don’t we have better things to do than research things that we have little control over?”
Booze said the City Council’s stance against corporations slights the real problems facing Richmond residents.
“Let’s not be fake,” Booze said. “You got to take care of home first before you take care of other people.”
Anti-Chevron feeling ran high in the public comment session.
Michael Beer, a Richmond resident and activist, approached the podium with a large sign comparing Chevron’s charitable giving to the county and the amount it wanted back from it. He held up the sign and pointed out that the tax refunds would amount to 25 years of charitable giving.
“This is the moment of truth,” Beer said. “The Chevron corporation is going to respect Richmond and Contra Costa county, or it’s not.”
Tarnel Abbott, a Richmond activist and retired librarian, lamented what she called corporations’ lack of commitment to public interest. She said it’s hard for her to pay taxes too, but she does it.
“Too bad Wells Fargo and PG&E couldn’t afford it,” Abbott said.
Jessica Tovar said divesting in Chevron and in all big corporations that seek tax loopholes or avoid taking social responsibility, is equivalent to investing in a better future for Richmond.
“Chevron has one of the dirtiest track records in the world,” Tovar said. “We all know Chevron owes more – in terms of money and especially in terms of life — than we will ever see.”
Most who approached the bench backed the council’s stand on the Occupy movement.
“You are making history tonight by even bringing these items forward,” Abbott said. “I am so proud to be part of this. It’s a great feeling.”
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin shared the crowd’s enthusiasm. She compared Occupy with the Vietnam movement, when she said a collective mind-shift occurred as people stood up for themselves and others.
“This movement is asking something of us as elected officials,” she said. “It is asking us, ‘Who do you represent … the many? Or the few?”
Councilmember Jovanka Beckles recalled the Civil Rights movement.
“This Occupy movement is bringing about a resurgence of ‘All power to the people!…’” she said. “We have got to stick together in thought and in deed…We actually do have the power to do something.”
But the talk of empowerment did not sit well with Booze, who said that as a former Black Panther himself, people not of color could not understand the struggle of African Americans in the civil rights era.
“I am so tired of sitting here on this council hearing people who are not of color try to talk about Martin Luther King and what he stood for,” Booze said. “I’m tired of people trying to talk about the Black Panthers without knowing its history.”
Ritterman responded, “In order to have a very unequal distribution of income and for people to accept it, you have to fool some of the people all of the time. And that’s the way that’s done — by dividing us in all different ways.”
The audience of more than 20 cheered as Ritterman spoke. On person shouted, “Don’t let them divide and conquer!”