“I thought it better to try and get these banks to be accountable for their actions. To me, the best way to do that was to inform the public and their customers of their part in the whole mess.”
That’s just what he did. On October 3, 2011, Olson took residence on the sidewalk outside Bank of America’s North Park branch and began a crash course in activism.
He handed out leaflets and held signs urging customers and anyone within earshot to take their business elsewhere. He rallied against a proposal from the bank to charge customers fees to use their debit cards.
On October 11, Olson and his partner of seven years, Stephen Daniels, stood at the corner of University Avenue yelling slogans and sticking up signs informing customers of the bank’s desire to start charging fees for debit cards.
Daniels’s sign read, “$45,000,000,000.00 – Taxpayer Bailout only $300,000,000 paid in fines.”
Olson’s read, “Get you debit card here for only $60.00 a year.”
“The sign was meant as a joke, but at the same time making people aware that this huge bank, the third-biggest non-oil company in the world, wanted to add new fees just a few months after the federal government — the taxpayers, really — bailed them out from the brinks of insolvency.”
Safe to say bank employees didn’t consider it very funny. Vice president of global corporate security Darrell Freeman, visiting from his office in Laguna Hills, hopped from his spot inside the bank and approached the two protesters.
Freeman accused them of running a racket to collect finder’s fees paid by a local credit union for each new customer. He threatened to call Olson’s credit union and have them close his account.
David Batterson, a contributor to the San Diego Reader, happened to be at the scene to cover the protest.
“Freeman was very hostile,” remembers Batterson. “I’d say he was trying to bully Olson by threatening to call his credit union and demanding his identification. I have to say that at the same time, Freeman was unprofessional for not showing his credentials. I felt like he was there just to scare [Olson]. I’m fairly certain he did just that.”
According to a Costa Mesa gun store’s website, the security executive is a former member of the Costa Mesa SWAT team. He taught sniper courses for Orange County police cadets and currently volunteers as a firearms instructor for the Royal Rangers Scouts, an evangelical mentoring program tasked with the mission to “evangelize, equip, and empower the next generation of Christlike men and lifelong servant leaders.”
“At first I was scared shitless,” Olson says. “I really thought he could do that. So, after our little confrontation, I called California Coastal Credit Union to see if he could have my account closed. They laughed and basically said it was total nonsense.”
On October 17, five days after the altercation with Freeman, Olson again stationed himself on the corner of 31st and University Avenue. He and his friend JP Conly held signs and handed customers anti-bank leaflets.
Bank employees called 911. Police officers showed up a few minutes later. He posted the incident on YouTube.
He told the officers that he made sure not to yell at bank patrons and promised not to bother anyone using the ATM.
The officers left shortly after without issuing any citations.
While the police officers were willing to forget about the incident, Freeman was not so forgetful.
Olson continued protesting at the bank three days a week for a couple hours a day. He took weeks off during the holidays. His homemade signs and leaflets were not having the impact he desired.
Then one day in February 2012, Olson came across the box of sidewalk chalk.
The following day, Olson, an early riser, showed up to the bank just after dawn armed with a box of Creatology chalk and began to write the popular slogans at the time:
“Shame on BofA.”
“Banks got bailed out and we got sold.”
“No thanks, big banks”
On February 21, Olson became more creative with his message. He drew long octopus arms stretching from the walls of the bank. Stuck on its tentacles were wads of cash.
The chalking incidents became less frequent as Olson became more involved with the June elections.
What Olson did not know was activists around the country were using similar tactics. It was a temporary way to get their point across, far better than using spray paint, or for that matter lighting dumpsters on fire and pushing them into banks, like anti-war protesters had done in the ’60s.
On July 23, Los Angeles police officers arrested artist and Occupy activist Alex Schaeffer for writing “crooks” — using the Chase logo and colors — on the sidewalk outside of a branch bank in downtown Los Angeles. Schaeffer recorded his arrest and posted the video on YouTube.
“If you’re re going to get arrested, why not do it at the scene of the crime, where it all started, that being the banks,” Schaeffer said during a phone interview.
Jeff Olson chalks the sidewalk outside of a Bank of America
“I knew the city was going to be all arrest-y; that’s exactly why I did it. I wanted to show them put[ting] me in jail for writing something in chalk while at the same time these institutions bring the country to its knees and get paid billions of dollars.
“I spent 12 hours in jail that day, got the face and eye scan, the whole deal. It was all a show, to scare me.”
Just two days before Schaeffer’s arrest, Olson was at the Pride festival with his box of chalk. Olson, while focused on writing anti–Carl DeMaio slogans along the parade route, stopped by the Bank of America on University and Eighth Avenue with a stick of chalk.
“I wrote something about the banks and about DeMaio near the bank. It was funny because just after I finished, mayor — or, rather, then–congressman Bob Filner — walked by with [then-councilmembers] Toni Atkins and Donna Frye. I pointed to the message and he gave me thumbs up,” says Olson.