They're gathered near the BoA branch building, and are easy to spot with their stacks of neon orange signs and fliers. About two dozen people mingle and discuss the day's offensive. Organizers say it should go down like recent operations in Grove Hall and Fields Corner, where MassUniting paraded around BoA branches shouting taglines like "BIG BANKS, YOU CAN'T HIDE — WE CAN SEE YOUR GREEDY SIDE" — before occupying the lobby.
Once inside, the swarm attracts both ire and attention. A few queued customers ignore the activists — fiddling with their smart phones and avoiding eye contact — but most people are receptive and take the literature. As DeLeo and others chant MassUniting's slogan du jour — "BANK OF AMERICA — BAD FOR AMERICA" — a manager finally notices them and heads in their direction. Nobody puts up a fight, and they all vacate after just five minutes, but not before taping their demands on bank windows and littering the counters with fact sheets listing BoA's most abhorrent practices.
These are old lefty tactics from the '60s: civil disobedience, public disruption, mass rallies. Recently, though, you're more likely to see Tea Partiers utilizing these strategies.
"The Tea Party is kind of the right-wing version of us, or at least we're a counterweight to what they're doing," says Stephany. A former Wisconsin Democratic Party leader, the 28-year-old Stephany became a target for conservatives after MassUniting's "Bobblehead Brown" campaign, in which the group exposed gaps between the senator's labor rhetoric and his Wall Street-friendly voting record.
"The Tea Party went door to door, they went to churches, they went to NRA meetings, and they told people how to get things done," says Stephany. "We learned from that."
So it's ironic that, in stealing back liberal stunts, MassUniting has won the scorn of Tea Party poster boys like Brown, whose campaign tagged them as a "far-left front group for the Service Employees International Union." (That's part right; MassUniting is backed by the SEIU, among others.) They've also been painted with the same brush that libs often apply to the Tea Party. Rob Eno, a conservative blogger for Red Mass Group, has attacked MassUniting efforts as "astroturfing" — insinuating that it's a fake grass-roots movement actually fueled by out-of-state funding and directed by national progressive entities. MassUniting says the only truth in that allegation is that Stephany recently moved from Wisconsin — but not as a national Democratic operative; he came to live with his girlfriend.
Over a span of two months this past spring, about 70 MassUniting workers and volunteers knocked on 70,000 doors across the commonwealth. By June, they'd signed up more than 14,000 potential soldiers. Which is how this posse wound up here, in South Bay Plaza, getting shooed away from the drive-thru teller area by bank management.
As they disperse into the parking lot, sliding their remaining fliers under windshield wipers, they chorus with conviction: "WE'LL BE BACK."