LIVE! From the Big Showdown in Chicago
by Mary Bottari
October 26, 2009
With the newspapers full of talk about “zombie” banks and parasitic “vampire squid” financial institutions, it was particularly fitting that the “Showdown in Chicago” started with a ghoulish group of zombies rocking out to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Chicago’s own South Shore Drill Team opened the three days of banks protests with a bang and had the crowd of thousands of activists dancing in no time.
The Showdown promises to be the first major American protest against the banks since the financial meltdown in September 2008. Thousands are expected to join three days of educational activities and the large march on Tuesday to the American Bankers Association (ABA) convention at the downtown Sheraton hotel.
The Reverend Eugene Barnes of the Central Illinois Organizing Project opened the evening’s festivities, stating:
“Welcome to the Showdown in Chicago, we have come together to reclaim America and hold Wall Street accountable. Imagine a story as terrible as this, the same financial institutions that created the crisis, sent the economy into a tailspin, handed out bonuses on top of bonuses, and needed hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers money, are back in business as usual. They are spending millions on Capitol Hill trying to defeat legislation that would help ordinary people and strengthen our economy. Each of us has traveled here to Chicago today because we will not stand what is being done to our families and communities. If we needed confirmation that we are all in this together, the financial crisis caused by Wall Street is living proof. Everyone has been impacted by the greed of the big banks. Bank-owned properties are littering our communities, rising unemployment, sky-high credit card interest rates, payday loans at 1,000% interest, and not to mention billions of dollars in lost pensions. It is a sad fact when you are 65 years old and you realize you have to go back to work. We have come here in Chicago because we are sick and tired of being sick and tired, but we are also here because we have hope because we know America can do better. It is time to put people first.”
Here is a smattering of the speakers who followed:
* Tom Balanoff, the President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Illinois, noted that not a single person in this room caused the economic crisis. He reminded the crowd that it was appropriate that they were are starting this movement for reform of the financial system in the same city where the push for an eight-hour workday began and spread around the globe, referring to the 1886 Haymarket massacre.
* U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois demonstrated that he was in touch by showing up and telling harrowing tales of hard-working constituents who had been scammed by adjustable rate mortgage firms. Even though the Senate failed to pass legislation that would have allowed judges the discretion to modify mortgages to help keep people in their homes, Senator Durbin said he had not giving up the fight. He also hinted that he working on some new approaches, including an idea that would allow families whose homes have been foreclosed on to rent their own homes from the banks, keeping them off the streets and keeping the homes occupied and cared for. He noted, “We are working on this idea, and it would be helpful if one bank would step up to the idea.”
* And, the audience heard from regular folks as well: people caught in the payday loan trap, like Mitzi Rivers-Singleton of Witchita, Kansas, who finally worked her way our of crippling debt with the help of a credit union and a local community group. She said, “I stand with you toe to toe up against big banks. I want to let the know that enough is enough, so I tell my friends and family you don’t go there. You have other options.”
But this was the warm up act. After the welcoming comments, the activists took to the streets. Carrying signs featuring Dorothea Lange’s famous photo of a Depression Era mom with her two children. The activists marched through the streets to the Sheraton where the ABA was meeting, chanting: “ABA, you’re the worst! It’s time to put people first!” And, “Bailout? No, thanks! Bust up big banks!” And, “Enough is enough!” Huge posters portraying Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan and Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit were part of the crowd.
The rambunctious, but peaceful, crowd gathered outside the hotel, quickly attracting a large police presence. At least seven luxurious limousines pulled up in front of the Sheraton, but their parties seemed reluctant to appear and face the crowd. Soon a large group of well-dressed people exited the Sheraton chanting. At first, this reporter was confused. Could this be the bankers rushing their own limos? But when I recognized Hugh Espey of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, it became clear that these were protestors, too. They were chanting: “We’ll be back!” Later, “We laid low in the building all day until we simultaneously converged on the lobby and burst into changes. It was all very quiet and then all of a sudden it was very loud,” Espey said with a grin on his face.
Aretha Franklin was a theme of the evening as a singer performed “Think” at the Showdown conference, and one activist sang “Shame, shame, shame on you,” to the tune of her song “Chain of Fools” in front of the Sheraton. Oddly enough, none of the Banksters seemed to share the sentiment.
The protestors attempted to deliver a letter to ABA President Edward Yingling listing their concerns and demands, but no representative of the ABA would come out to accept the letter, guaranteeing that the protestors would try again later.
Later today, a visit from the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Sheila Bair, then on to visit Goldman Sachs . . . . Stay tuned.
Fuente: Center for Media and Democracy
Protesters in Chicago March on Offices of Goldman, Wells Fargo
by Lauren Etter
October 26, 2009
CHICAGO – Hundreds of union members and organizers descended on the streets of downtown Chicago on Monday morning to picket the offices of Goldman Sachs Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co.
The group, which included supporters from community group National People’s Action and the Service Employees International Union, has organized the protests to coincide with the annual meeting of the American Bankers Association. The group is demanding that “banks end their over-reliance on greed and profits and commit to using their taxpayer bailouts and backstops to help America’s economy recover,” said a news release from the Service Employees International Union.
The protests, similar to ones that have flared up in other cities throughout the financial crisis, pick up on popular sentiment that big banks are partly to blame for the financial crisis. Last week, a government pay czar proposed slashing compensation for bank executives whose companies received government bailout money.
People inside the American Bankers Association meeting said the anger directed at that group was misplaced, since the association mostly represents community banks.
“You did not make any abusive subprime loans; you did not take big bonuses for products that later blew up,” ABA President Edward Yingling said during his opening remarks.
Most of the protesters on the Chicago streets Monday appeared to be with a union and many of them were brought in on yellow school buses from across the Midwest. The message was one of ire at bank executives’ large bonuses, bank foreclosures and predatory lending.
“I’m here basically for my grandchildren,” said Peggy Sower Knoepfle, a protester who traveled in on a bus from Springfield, Ill., with National People’s Action. “If we don’t stop these foreclosures we’re not going to have a country left.”
Another protester, Garry Klicker, who is with the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, took time away from harvesting his corn and soybeans in Bloomfield, Iowa, to voice his anger.
“This is not a financial system,” he said. “This is a financial disaster.”
Protesters carried effigies of bank executives, including John Stumpf, chief executive of Wells Fargo, and former Bank of America Chief Executive Ken Lewis. Some clutched “Wanted” signs bearing the faces of bank executives deemed “Wall Street Robber Banker[s].” They carried signs with slogans such as “No Bonuses for Big Banks” and chanted sayings like “Bust up big banks!”
The morning protests started at the Chicago offices of Goldman Sachs. A woman on a megaphone shouted, “We’re here to tell Goldman Sachs, shame on you! Shame on you for helping bring this country to the brink of a depression!” The crowd, in turn, chanted “Shame on you!” An organizer yelled a list of demands for Goldman Sachs, including that the bank support calls for a consumer-finance protection agency and that it donate the money set aside for bonuses to loan-modification programs.
The group also asked to meet with Goldman’s chairman and chief executive officer, Lloyd Blankfein “within the next 30 days.” At one point the group tried to enter the Goldman Sachs lobby to hand-deliver a letter to Mr. Blankfein but was held back by police and security. Instead, a representative was sent down to pick up the letter. That person shook hands with some of the protesters.
A spokeswoman at Goldman Sachs said the bank’s security office in Chicago had received a copy of the letter. She didn’t comment further.
The group then marched down the street to the Chicago offices of Wells Fargo. There they also attempted to hand-deliver a letter to Mr. Stumpf, the Wells Fargo CEO. Officials at Wells Fargo couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Around noon, the group boarded a fleet of yellow school buses that took them to the American Bankers Association convention.
At the convention, speeches by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair and Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan weren’t disrupted by the protests amid tight security.
Ms. Bair, who had earlier addressed protesters, told the audience of community bankers that there was still work to be done in assuaging public concerns over banks’ policies on fees.
She drew applause when she said lax regulation of nonbank financial entities had been a “key gap that was exploited,” pledging with Mr. Dugan to crack down on lenders that had cost traditional banks market share.
-Doug Cameron contributed to this article.
Fuente: Wall Street Journal
Showdown: Hundreds Gather to Talk About Foreclosures, Financial Struggles
by Mary Susan Littlepage
October 27, 2009
Chicago – Hundreds of people from around the country gathered in Chicago for three days of events dubbed “Showdown in Chicago,” intended to draw attention to the foreclosure crisis and related financial problems and to call for more regulation in the financial industry. While some protesters waved signs that read “Put people first” and “Wanted: Wall Street bankers,” others chanted, “Bust up big banks!” and “Bailout? No thanks!”
The showdown on Monday coincided with the American Bankers Association’s annual convention held downtown. Many showdown-goers came because they said big banks are spending billions to prevent reforms that would protect taxpayers from their future abuses.
“Big banks are part of the problem. People everywhere are facing home foreclosures, and the banks aren’t making the foreclosure situation any easier to handle,” said protester Robert Perez, 46, of Chicago. “They’re making it worse.”
Showdown-goers included retirees, farmers, workers, homeowners, renters, students, clergy and small business owners.
Sylvia Jones, 50, of Cleveland, said major banks have gotten much financial help from the federal government, “but they’re not looking out for or helping out all of us common folk who have lost our houses, our jobs. We want change from them because we don’t know who else to turn to.”
Danica Johnson, 38, of Chicago, said she read about the showdown and decided to come on her lunch break. “Hopefully people with the big banks will listen to the organizers and do some good,” she said.
People on Wall Street “spend so much on lobbying to push their own interests, so we need our officials to stop listening to Wall Street and listen to us,” said Bert Weiss, 44, of Chicago.
Earlier on Monday morning, event-goers asked Goldman Sachs to donate its projected $23 billion bonus pool to prevent foreclosures in America in 2010 and to help get families out of poverty and joblessness.
Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, expressed her support for President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which the Obama administration has proposed to create consistent consumer protection standards, to the American Bankers Association.
“Looking at indecipherable credit card statement and documents and mortgages you can’t understand and APRs from Payday Loans and high overdraft fees-I don’t see how anybody can say that we’ve done a good job protecting consumers and financial services,” Bair said.
The absence of a national standard was a contributing factor to our current economic turmoil, she said.
“This new agency would eliminate regulatory gaps between insured institutions and nonbanks, consistent with the need for consumer protection standards across the board,” she said. “And it would address another gap with authority – to examine for the first time nonbank financial providers. We need an examination and enforcement, not just rules, but examination and enforcement as well.
“By regulating the nonbank shadow sector for the first time, this new agency CAN help future abuses. I hope to see other measures being taken that will create a more resilient, transparent and better regulated financial system.”
The showdown, which aims to “put people first,” offered various solutions to the foreclosure and financial crises: For instance, showdown representatives called for modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to increase transparency and accountability in the financial system by ensuring that banks and mortgage companies provide responsible lending and financial services around the country. They said that loans that have performed the best were those made by institutions regulated by the CRA.
Also, reps noted that new laws should be made to minimize the harm done by the five largest credit card lenders, which they said control 74 percent of the market. So, they recommended that the banking system be made up of thousands of small- and medium-sized banks instead of just a few big banks.
In addition, reps contended that since Federal Reserve officials currently answer to only banks, Federal Reserve officials should be appointed by the president and be held directly accountable to Congress and the community, not the financial industry.
Groups participating in the three-day showdown included the AFL-CIO, Americans for Fairness in Lending, Americans for Financial Reform, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, MoveOn, Right to the City Alliance, Rights for All People, UCLA Undergraduate Students Association, Workers United, and many more.
Fuente: t r u t h o u t
Thousands March in 3-Day Showdown with Banking Industry
Tired of bailouts and fat paychecks for those that created the economic catastrophe, marchers made clear demands to tame an out-of-control financial system.
by Kari Lydersen
October 28, 2009
Workers gave pink slips to the country’s top bankers Tuesday morning to culminate three days of protests, billed as the Showdown in Chicago, during the American Bankers’ Association’s annual meeting.
Before a jeering and cheering crowd of 5,000 union members and activists, Armando Robles, president of UE Local 1110 and a leader of the Republic Windows factory occupation last year, attached big, fluorescent pink slips to larger-than-life cutouts of retiring Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and JP Morgan Chase CEO James Dimon.
The three CEOs were probably among the bank officials meeting in the Sheraton behind the stage that featured speeches by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Change to Win Chairwoman Anna Burger, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and workers and community leaders.
After “firing” the bank CEOs, Adam Kader of the workers group Arise Chicago presented a notice that the banks’ $17.8 trillion “loan” in taxpayer-bailout funds is due since, he said, banks have not complied with the conditions placed on the handout by the people.
Tuesday’s march and rally, like the previous two days of protest, featured individual stories of families and communities impacted by foreclosures, high interest rates and frozen credit markets sparked by the economic crisis and unrelieved by the various bank bailouts.
Along with decrying the financial deregulation that facilitated the economic crisis and the “corporate greed” exhibited in exorbitant bonuses and salaries for industry executives even after the bailout, protesters made several concrete demands.
They want a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), as proposed by the Obama administration, which would cover bank and non-bank financial services. They want financial industry regulation — especially of the “shadow markets” largely blamed for causing the economic crisis — and limits on executive compensation.
They want a moratorium on foreclosures and the loosening of credit at low interest rates to help pay student loans, let people stay in their homes and protect small businesses and the jobs they offer. And they want banks to extend credit and lower interest rates to help ease the crunches in state budgets that have led to social programs being slashed and jobs gutted nationwide.
On Monday, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila Bair addressed protesters and voiced support for the CFPA.
“I strongly support this agency, yes I do; we need it,” she said. “Looking at indecipherable credit card statements and documents and mortgages you can’t understand and APRs and payday loans and high overdraft fees, I don’t see how anybody can say we’ve done a good job of protecting consumers of financial services … we need this new agency.
“The absence of a national standard was a contributing factor to our current economic turmoil,” she said and promised the CFPA would for the first time examine the non-bank “shadow sector” of the financial services industry. She also called for doing away with the “too-big-to-fail doctrine,” saying “no more bailouts, no more bailouts.”
The ABA’s Web site says that since the fall of 2008 it has also supported stepped-up financial regulation, including the regulation of non-banks, the revision of “too-big-to-fail” policies and the development of a systemic risk regulator. But regardless of its promises for the future, protesters said the banking industry needs to take action now to help solve the problems they have created.
Child care provider Angenita Tanner told the crowd how she’s in danger of losing her business and her livelihood, and her clients losing their child care, because of state budget cuts endangering the subsidized program.
“Families have asked me to barter, and now they pay me in food instead of money,” she said.
An SEIU janitor, Maria Guerra, told the crowd how she has felt squeezed from both ends by JP Morgan Chase bank — blaming it for helping cause the economic crisis, then refusing to help her family even after it received $45 billion in bailout funds.
“My job is not the best, but I used to feel lucky because I could save enough to buy a house,” she said.
Guerra cosigned her brother-in-law’s mortgage with Chase, and after he lost his job, and then his unemployment benefits ran out, his house went into foreclosure.
“Chase didn’t want to help us,” she said. “They always had an excuse. After months of paperwork, they told us we didn’t qualify for help. How could we not qualify? My brother (in law) lost his job because of the bad economy caused by the banks.”
They tried to sell the home, but couldn’t find a buyer. “Now we have filled out paperwork to voluntarily give the house to Chase,” she said.
Now her own credit is shot, and she worries about losing her home, which she bought with a $50,000 down-payment but has now plummeted in value.
“I don’t know what will happen to my family,” she said.
Denise Dixon, executive director of the group Action Now, noted that the crisis has disproportionately affected urban communities of color already stressed by violence, poverty and disinvestment. She said the crisis has “caused the largest transfer of wealth the African American community has ever seen,” and described families all over the country sitting on eggshells knowing any knock at the door could be an eviction notice.
She read off a “roll call” of Chicago neighborhoods slammed by foreclosures, with nearly a thousand since 2007 in even upscale neighborhoods like Near North and 1,500 to more than 2,000 in largely African American south and west side neighborhoods. In all, Chicago has suffered 44,091 foreclosures and the nation more than 5 million since the economic crisis began.
Protest leaders also noted that every 13 seconds a home goes into foreclosure; that 6 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the crisis; that homeowners have lost $6 trillion in home value and local governments up to $58 billion in property taxes, thanks to plummeting home values. Not to mention “skyrocketing bank and credit card fees” and “vanishing pensions and 401(k)s
Trumka called for “cleaning up Wall Street’s reeking garbage that is contaminating Main Street,” in part by reforming the Federal Reserve or “asking the Federal Reserve to step aside to have a real public agency to protect the public from the banks and the bankers.”
“We didn’t put you back in business so you could pay billions in bonuses to the suits,” said Trumka. “Or to lobby on Capitol Hill to fight the financial reforms we so badly need … you treated the money we worked so hard to earn like Monopoly money.”
Marchers seemed to all have personal stories of foreclosure, job loss or struggling to pay for health care. Helen Scott Owens, an 80-year-old home-care worker and SEIU member, said she fears for her job because of state budget cuts and her clients have trouble affording medical co-payments.
Pastor John Kyles said his south side parishioners live in constant fear of foreclosure.
Joe Losbaker, chief steward for the SEIU local at the University of Illinois at Chicago, placed the blame on the government more than banks.
“The bankers can’t really do anything,” he said. “I want to see the government stop bailing them out. They’ve given trillions to the banks and the war in Iraq. How about a trillion for jobs, food, schools and a moratorium on foreclosures.”
Protesters hung banners off bridges and out a window of the Sheraton hotel. They crashed a “Roaring ’20s” cocktail party and the ABA ball, calling the Roaring ’20s theme especially ironic. Speakers and marchers decried the luxurious food and accommodations they are sure the bankers were enjoying during the conference.
“Before they got here, they spent $35 million lobbying Congress to protect life the way it is, where they take everything and we get the crumbs,” said Change to Win Chairwoman Anna Burger. “Then they come to Chicago to celebrate what a good job they did.”
Marchers had mixed opinions on whether the bankers inside the conference were actually listening to the demands outside. Owens, the home-care worker, thought so.
“They don’t want to listen to us, but they have to,” she said. “We’re too loud.”
Kari Lydersen, a regular contributor to AlterNet, also writes for the Washington Post and is an instructor for the Urban Youth International Journalism Program in Chicago.