At least 300 Occupy Santa Rosa supporters and local Latino activists marched from west Santa Rosa to Old Courthouse Square on Friday to protest financial ties between Wells Fargo Bank and two large companies that operate correctional facilities and immigration detention centers.
The march, which began around noon in Roseland, one of the city's largest Latino neighborhoods, was the first event to bring together Occupy supporters and local immigrant rights activists.
"It's really a wonderful thing to see the Occupy movement reaching out and embracing the immigrant rights movement," said Richard Coshnear, a Santa Rosa immigration attorney and a member of the Committee for Immigrant Rights.
Jesus Guzman, one of the main organizers of the march, said the event marked a "defining moment" for both movements and "it's about time."
Friday's rally was slow in gaining momentum. At first only a few dozen people showed up and the march didn't get under way until about an hour and a half after the rally had started. By that time the rally had attracted about 300 people, though participants said they counted about 400.
During the rally, organizers performed political theater pieces on the back of a large flatbed tow truck. The performances blasted Wells Fargo for its business relationship with both the GEO Group and Corrections Corp. of America, which operate correctional facilities and detention centers where illegal immigrants are kept.
Activists also criticized the bank for home foreclosures they said have devastated families.
A Wells Fargo representative said Friday that the bank's relationship with those two companies is being unfairly characterized.
Holly Rockwood, a bank spokeswoman, said the bank does not invest money in those companies but rather serves as an adviser and administrator to mutual funds that include the companies.
Rockwood said Wells Fargo "respects" the seriousness of the ongoing debate on immigration reform. She also said the bank does not discriminate against minority communities.
She also said the company does not "take positions on public policy that don't directly affect our ability to serve our customers or support our team members, our employees."
The march and rally were peaceful with only a handful of apprehensions at local Wells Fargo Bank branches.
At about the time the procession was arriving at Old Courthouse Square, two apparent demonstrators were able to enter the bank before it closed at about 2:30 p.m. Bank security told police that the demonstrators, a man and a woman, were refusing to leave and they were later taken into custody.
A group of about two dozen Occupy and immigrant rights advocates picketed in front of the Wells Fargo Bank on Third and B streets. Some of the demonstrators wore bright orange jump suits representing immigration detainees.
Some Wells Fargo customers were turned away because of the protest.
Roberto Lopez of Santa Rosa said, somewhat annoyed, that he didn't know why people were "striking" in front of the bank. "It's a good bank," he said.
Even those customers that showed up to withdraw or deposit cash from Wells Fargo ATMs got an earful.
"Just take it out one day," Justin Smith, an Occupy Santa Rosa participant, said to a man leaving an ATM. "Right behind you is Circle Bank."
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or email@example.com.