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Occupy Seattle swoops in around JPMorgan Chase executive

November 3, 2011 | 12:43 am

Occupy Seattle protesters targeted a speech by JPMorgan Chase executive Jamie Dimon
How to light a match under what has been a mainly low-key Occupy Seattle protest? Try bringing the guy protesters like to think of as Darth Vader to town.

Leaders of the University of Washington's Foster School of Business say it was a year ago that they booked JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon as the keynote speaker at their business leadership dinner, enthusiastic about his stated belief that "the constant creation of good leaders" is the key to companies passing "the true test of greatness."

But by Wednesday, when Dimon arrived, the story line had changed somewhat.

Activists camped out in cities across the country have for weeks singled out Chase and other big banks as enemies of good government and popular prosperity. In Seattle, Chase has been the target of particular ire as a result of its acquisition of former hometown bank Washington Mutual, a buyout that put 3,400 WaMu employees out of work and left much of the former bank's downtown real estate suddenly empty.

As it ended up, Dimon's speech was a big draw on all counts: It was a sellout to the MBA crowd inside, and Occupy Seattle activists outside moved in like X-wing starfighters to the Death Star.

Protesters marched through downtown to the hotel where Dimon was speaking, locking arms in an attempt to barricade hotel entrances and waving signs: "Prosecute the Real Thieves -- Chase CEO" and "What are profits if you lose your soul?"

In another part of town earlier in the day, activists surrounded a Chase bank branch and a few briefly got inside before police pulled them out, prompting running clashes between protesters and police and arrests on trespassing charges of five people who had been in the bank.

Police said in their report that at least 10 officers were physically assaulted while removing activists from the scene of the bank protest, with two suffering minor injuries.

Pepper spray was deployed to push back protesters at the bank and later when police cleared entrances to the hotel where Dimon was speaking.

"We are hoping that by our presence at an event where he is a keynote speaker, we will let him and the larger community know that the public is no longer tolerating the misdeeds of the big banks," an Occupy Seattle spokeswoman, who would identify herself only as Ellen, said in an interview.

The Seattle Times and other local reporters talked to the Chase CEO before his speech, and he said he understood protesters' frustration with Wall Street. "They're right. In general, these big institutions of America let them down. That's not the same thing as to say that every bank was bad, every politician was bad. That's where I would disagree," he said, according to the Times.

"America has become more inequitable in the last 10 or 20 years. That's a fact," he said. "I don't personally think that's a good thing. I've been a big supporter of progressive taxes."

But Dimon also predicted that the current economic downturn would eventually reverse, and that young people looking for jobs would eventually find them. "Keep the faith," he said. "I wish we hadn't put them in this position. Remember those fundamentals always when you wake up: You are in the best country, and it will come back."

On Thursday, Dimon is scheduled to head to Portland, Ore., for a Business Alliance lunch. Occupy Portland is ready: Activists there say on their "Occupy Jamie Dimon" Facebook page that they're planning "a little guerrilla theater."

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-- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: Protesters try to barricade the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle, where JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon was speaking. Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

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