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Showdown in Chicago: Protesters Rally Against Big Banks' Anti-Reform Lobbying

As businesspeople wandered by, protesters young and old aired their disgust with financial institutions.

Though the stretch of South Wacker Drive is more Wall Street than it is Wild West, this week it is the scene of what is billed as a " Showdown in Chicago." Monday morning, a large group of protesters crowded the block surrounding the downtown Chicago headquarters of Goldman Sachs.

"Bust up big banks! Bailout? No thanks!" they screamed in unison. Their target was the American Bankers Association (ABA), the largest lobby group for financial institutions, holding their annual convention in Chicago this week.

The protest was organized by National People's Action, a Chicago-based network of metropolitan, regional, and statewide organizations working to "build grassroots power." Despite their recruitment of local heavy-hitters including the Service Employees International Union and Action Now, with cross-promotion from national groups such as to the  Center for Economic and Policy Research, there was a genuine grassroots feel to the event.

As businessmen and women in suits skirting the crowd had to walk in front of a cordon of Chicago cops in the street in order to get by, protesters young and old held a combination of signs registering their disgust with financial institutions. One grandmotherly-looking woman held a sign that said "Kidz say Goldman sux." Another sign reached back to the language of Reaganomics, complaining of being "pissed" after "being trickled down on" for so long.

Not that the mass-produced signs didn't have flair to them as well. Oversized "warrants" called for the arrest offormer  Bank of America Chair Ken Lewis as well as  Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and others. The "superhero" known as  Downsized Man was there with a sign that shouted "Reclaim America!"

Other protesters had personal stories to tell.

Keith Scribner, president of UE local 1174, was in Chicago representing his fellow union members from  Quad City Die Casting in Moline, IL. Back in May, the factory owners told the workers there that they were going to have to close down, not because they were out of money, but because Wells Fargo wouldn't lend the 60-year-old company the money it needed to continue doing business. When they finally closed the doors Sept. 4, all 100 employees became unemployed, and none were compensated for their lost vacation time, nor their health benefits, which the bank had stopped paying out way back in May. Scribner said the total owed to the union members is $220,000.

"That's why were here. We're protesting because they owe us money," he said.

Now Scribner is fighting two banks, because as Wells Fargo denies his benefits, Bank of America is foreclosing on his house.

"This guy got a double whammy. His business closed even though it could have stayed open another 50 years. And he's losing his house and the bank won't even talk to him about how to stay in it. They just don't care," said Leah Fried, an organizer with UE. "They don't care about rising unemployment, they don't care about people losing their homes, they don't care about homelessness. They don't care. So unless we force the issue, it will not change."

Organizers of Monday's protest picked Goldman at least partially because of their profit margins. They called protesters to come out and stand in the drizzle to " ask Goldman Sachs to donate its entire projected $23 billion dollar bonus pool to prevent every foreclosure in America in 2010 and lift one million families out of the poverty and joblessness that was caused by Goldman Sachs' gambling with our economy."

But it's more than simple payback motivating protesters; the heavy resistance being put up by banks to new regulatory reforms designed to keep the country from getting into this mess again plays a significant role, too. In fact, the annual ABA meeting that protesters are attempting to disrupt specifically focuses on teaching bankers how to help derail progress in the arena.

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