Thousands March in 3-Day Showdown with Banking Industry
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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."