Like a bank officer turning down a loan, Doug Stachura sat behind his desk late last week in his office at Bank of America’s main local branch, at 68 Patton Ave., with arms crossed resolutely. His gaze, while not unfriendly, spoke volumes. With two acts of protest against the Charlotte-based bank’s financing of coal companies in as many months, Stachura had the look of a man who had had enough.
“I’m not willing to talk about it—at all,” said Stachura, whose branch was the epicenter of last week’s environmental protest.
“It only adds fuel to the fire,” he explained before clamming up. In June, the bank was targeted by an environmental protester who locked the bank’s doors with a bike lock during the Friday afternoon check-cashing crunch, also bringing business to a halt.
The only comments so far from the bank have been from corporate spokesperson Eloise Hale in Charlotte, but she declined to address the protest directly. Instead, she touted Bank of America’s environmental commitment as “one of the strongest in the industry.”
“We’re the only bank that is reducing greenhouse-gas emissions within our energy-and-utility-loan portfolio,” she added. “We have committed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in that portfolio by 7 percent by 2008, and we’re on track to meeting that goal.”
While the bank remains closed-lipped about the protest, other business owners and managers in the affected area have plenty to say. Despite the mass police presence that shut down several blocks of Patton for more than two hours, many merchants said they and their patrons were mostly bemused by the spectacle, and didn’t notice much effect on their commerce. Aside from a couple other banks and a few stores, most businesses in the area are bars and restaurants, and owners of such establishments said the mid-afternoon protest hit the area during a slack business period.
“It didn’t seem to make any impact,” said Jack of the Wood owner Joe Eckert. “I think the customers here were just curious [about] what was happening.” However, bar manager Andrew Beekman did note that one customer got away without paying his tab in all the canary- and polar bear-costumed hubbub.
Downtown Asheville is no stranger to protests, whether planned or impromptu, said Eckert: So long as residents or businesses are not unduly harassed or inconvenienced, let ‘em march and wave their signs. “I think everyone has the right and responsibility to be able to speak their minds in a free society,” he said, “as long as they’re not damaging or hurting other people.” In this instance, Eckert added, the protesters probably went a bit too far, and would have been better served by drawing attention to their cause in a more civil and intelligent manner.
Otherwise, a politically colorful and active citizenry “is part of the flavor of Asheville,” Eckert observed.
As for the business impacts of the protest, employees at establishments such as the Weinhaus and Jerusalem Garden Café—who had a team of riot police stationed just outside their doors for a time—echoed Eckert. “Good thing it didn’t happen at a peak hour,” said a server at Jerusalem Garden. A waiter at another restaurant said some protesters came in for water and that “they were nice, really nice.”
At least one downtown-business owner took the protesters to task for their alleged hypocrisy. Nursing a beer last Thursday afternoon, College Street Pub owner Mitch Fouts asked, rhetorically: “How did they get here to protest? Was their carbon footprint larger to get here to protest? Do they heat their homes? Do they cool them? Do they use an air-conditioner? Do they even know how it works?
“I think they are ridiculous for protesting, to tell you the truth,” added Fouts. “They don’t do anything; all they do is yell and scream. They don’t come up with anything, any alternatives. All they do is go in there and tie themselves up. I don’t think it’s positive in any way. I think they’re spoiled brats.”
Editor’s note: The main author of each article in this series is noted in its byline, but all of the articles drew on reporting from Xpress staffers Rebecca Bowe, Jon Elliston, David Forbes and Brian Postelle.
Climate change culture clash:
The inside story of last week’s fracas in downtown Asheville, from multiple perspectives
by Jon Elliston
Sticking their necks out:
The activists’ story
by Rebecca Bowe
Policing the protest:
Riot team, K-9 units—but no Tasers—deployed
by David Forbes