Community responds to big banks

By SpencerRoush

Protesters from all over the Midwest filled the South Loop last week to rally against the American Bankers Association, which was meeting in Chicago. It was the largest expression of public anger over economic policy since the recession began.

For three days during the American Bankers Association’s annual conference, thousands of taxpayers traveled to Chicago to express their distaste for how the association is handling the wavering economy and financial reform issues.

Many protesters came from large organizations such as the National People’s Action and the Service Employees International Union, which had notified affiliate groups and other organizations about the protest. Demonstrators saw the conference as a way to reach a large number of influential bank executives gathered for annual meetings.

“This was a culmination of three days of action,” said Jordan Estevao, director of Save the American Dream Campaign, a group that helped organize the rally. “The first day Sen. Dick Durbin attended and spoke in favor of our proposals, and on Monday morning Sheila Bair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation came out and did the same. They’re clearly paying attention and if they are, then I suspect a lot of others are as well.”

Rev.  Jesse Jackson spoke the last day of the conference. Protesters rallied in front of big financial institutions, including Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs. Protesters also rallied in front of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, 301 E. North Water St.  where the conference was held.

Estevao said it wasn’t difficult to find people who were willing to travel across the country to join the protest and claimed that it shows how much Americans disapprove of how the banking system works. He said banks are not lending enough money to small businesses to create jobs and a sustainable economy.

“What we are all hoping to do is bust up big banks and we want some regulation,” said Brenda Procter, a Missouri resident who traveled 10 hours to attend the rally. “We’re seeing communities in Missouri and other places suffer and many of the big banks are not required to reinvest in our community.”

Estevao said he hopes not only that the bankers take the demonstrators’ position on regulatory financial issues into consideration, but that Congress is paying attention as well.

David Derosa, who lives in Maryland and attended the rally as a member of the SEIU, said that while members of the American Bankers Association were at the Sheraton, a group of approximately 100 protesters entered the hotel to hand deliver a letter addressed to Edward Yingling, president and the CEO of the American Bankers Association.  However, the bankers refused to accept it and the protesters were escorted out of the building.

Derosa said other reports and letters have also been sent to the American Bankers Association by the same organizations outlining the similar issues such as regulating banks, stopping bank’s bonuses to executives and lending more money to students and small businesses.

“Banks aren’t worried about [letters and reports], banks are worried about people on the streets,” Derosa said. “If we could, we would be carrying pitchforks and torches.”

According to the letter drafted to the American Bankers Association from the demonstrators, the American Bankers Association has been trying for decades to deregulate the banking and mortgage industries by lessening government watchdogging, which has led to the removal of banking firewalls, and relaxed mortgage standards and regulatory oversight. The letter  said these actions taken by the bankers and their constant lobbying against financial reform have directly led to the financial collapse of the economy and the home foreclosure crisis.

Estevao said demonstrators wanted the American Bankers Association to take action on several things, including the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the modernization of the Community Reinvestment Act and rules that would allow government to dismantle big banks that would negatively impact the economy if they fail.

The American Bankers Association released a statement regarding the protests and accusations that said, “Everyone in this country has the right to protest, and these are difficult economic times.  While we may not agree with the protesters’ views, we respect their right to express those views.”

The statement argued that protesters were directing their anger toward the wrong group of people.

According to the statement, the American Bankers Association is going to ignore the protesters on the sidewalks and continue its meeting.

Procter, co-founder of Grass Roots Organizing in Missouri, a group that gives Missourians a voice to help with human rights and economic justice, said their efforts will force the American Bankers Association to listen and lead the government to dismantle big banks.

“What we are all hoping to do is bust up big banks and we want some regulation,” Procter said. “We’re seeing communities in Missouri and other places suffer and many of the big banks are not required to reinvest in our community. We’re just tired of it and we think we need to strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act.”

Derosa said he noticed protesters of all ages and demographics. He also met many people from Chicago and surrounding areas who were directly affected by the economic and foreclosure crisis, who had lost their jobs or homes.

“I think they would just like for us to go away, but that’s probably not something we’re going to do,” Procter said.

Derosa said people have been angry at the banks for awhile, but haven’t been able to direct their anger toward something productive that could help their cause, until these series of protests in Chicago.

“Frankly, we think it’s time to bust up some of the big investment banks,” Procter said. “If they’re too big to fail, then they’re too big to exist. If a financial institution gets so big that it can bring down the whole economy, then that’s a problem.”