Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began in September, protesters have taken to the streets in more than 100 cities worldwide and, in some cases, have targeted meetings to voice their anger over economic inequality and corporate influence in government.
On October 10, protesters demonstrated outside of Chicago venues where two financial industry associations—the Mortgage Bankers Association and the Futures Industry Association—were holding conferences. MBA was meeting at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and FIA was meeting at the Hilton Chicago, with a reception on October 10 at the Art Institute of Chicago. About 7,000 people from a local group called Take Back Chicago as well as Occupy Chicago demonstrated in front of the MBA meeting and the FIA reception. At the MBA meeting, some protesters paid the registration fee and got into the meeting, with one getting to a microphone during a panel discussion and asking, “How do you sleep at night?” according to Reuters.
Outside of those targeted protests, no other meeting disruptions have been reported in Chicago, and the demonstrations have been mostly reserved and peaceful, said Meghan Risch, director, public relations, Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau.
However, for its annual meeting October 23–26 in San Antonio, the American Bankers Association is taking extra precautions. The ABA has hired additional security to work with venue security and has switched to an ultraviolet identification system, which makes it more difficult to produce counterfeit attendee name badges.
Before the meeting, ABA communicated with attendees about the possibility of protesters and cautioned them not to wear their meeting badges outside of the convention center. It also developed key messages for officers in case they need to address issues with the media, protesters, or anyone else.
“We may not always agree with their positions, but we respect their right to voice them,” said Hall, who added that the vast majority of members are from community banks, not Wall Street. “Getting the economy growing again is what we should all be focusing on, and that takes the combined effort of banks, who provide capital; businesses, creating jobs; and government, providing an environment that supports all these efforts. So we’re trying to focus on solutions.”
Protests can happen at any time, so planners should be prepared, said Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist, Eisenstodt Associates, Washington, D.C. She recommends that meeting planners talk to their venues’ loss prevention or security personnel to find out if they are prepared for protests. “If a venue has no plan, sit down with them—and local police or other law enforcement personnel—to determine what to do.” It's also a good idea to talk with your transportation companies to ensure there’s a plan in place to travel around any protest and to keep passengers safe.
In New York City, hub of the Occupy Wall Street movement, destination marketing officials say the protests have not had an impact on meetings. “We have not heard of any instances of cancellations or shifts in business due to the protests,” said Chris Heywood, vice president, communications, New York City & Co. One major New York City–based investment bank contacted said the demonstrations haven’t affected their meetings.
Jaclyn Bernstein, president, Empire Force Events, New York City, concurs. The protests are mostly contained in Lower Manhattan in Zuccotti Park, except on weekends when they might march uptown, and are not near the convention center or midtown meeting hotels. In a city with so much happening on any given day—whether it’s the New York City Marathon, a U.N. General Assembly meeting, or a visit from the President—the protests are not a major inconvenience and are taken in stride, said Bernstein. “In true New York fashion, we just deal with it,” she said.