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Activists protest income inequality outside executives' homes

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment organizes demonstrations across California in front of the residences of leaders from some of the state's largest corporations.

April 11, 2012|By Walter Hamilton, Los Angeles Times
  • Members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment protest against income inequality and other issues outside of the home of Wells Fargo board member Enrique Hernandez on Tuesday. The group gave speeches and chanted: “Hey Wells Fargo you can’t hide. We see your greedy side.”
Members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment protest… (Katie Falkenberg, For The…)

Their Occupy-like grievances were familiar as activists staged a day of protests throughout California to oppose income inequality and other issues.

Their choice of locations was not.

Rather than parks or other public venues, these protesters demonstrated outside the well-tended homes of executives from some of California's largest corporations.

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, an offshoot of the embattled national group ACORN, organized the protests outside the homes of the well-known, such as Hewlett-Packard chief Meg Whitman in Northern California.

Locally, the group targeted the far-less-known Wells Fargo board member Enrique Hernandez.

"The only way we can normally get up here is to do domestic work for them," said Peggy Mears, an ACCE community organizer, as she stood outside Hernandez's gated driveway Tuesday on a stately street in Pasadena. "Now we're going to name you and shame you."

About two dozen demonstrators wearing bright yellow ACCE T-shirts gathered outside Hernandez's home, barely visible behind a tall brick wall and high shrubbery. The group gave speeches and chanted: "Hey, Wells Fargo, you can't hide. We see your greedy side."

Hernandez was nowhere in sight.

Demonstrating at people's homes struck some outsiders — and neighbors — as going too far.

"Taking it to the homes and getting close to the boundaries of people's personal lives seems to me to be pushing the ethical boundaries a little bit," said David Smith, a labor economist at Pepperdine University. "It's important that all sides have their voices heard, but this strikes me as a venue that is too personalized."

ACCE was seeking attention for a report titled "Meet California's 1%," which argues that some large companies and their executives benefit from low taxes or other advantages that ACCE says have unfairly hamstrung the economic recovery and exacerbated the gap between rich and poor.

The group alleged that Wells Fargo received excessive tax breaks despite big profits, and that its executives pocketed millions of dollars in bonuses while laying off employees and foreclosing on scores of homes.

Hernandez did not return a phone call seeking comment, but Wells Fargo released a statement.

"Wells Fargo will always respect the rights of Americans to peacefully assemble, and we welcome open and collaborative dialogue with our stakeholders," the statement said.

"The leaders of Wells Fargo and the members of their family should be afforded the right to feel safe in their private residence and we encourage all organizations choosing to demonstrate at private residences to abide by the law for the safety of the general public."

Some of Hernandez's neighbors expressed dismay at the protesters.

"Don't they have anything better to do with their lives?" said one woman as she drove by in a brown Audi. "This is pathetic."

The woman, who refused to give her name, said many people have suffered financial setbacks, including her brother, who had to move in with her family after losing his job and home, she said.

"We all have our stories," she said.

walter.hamilton@latimes.com

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