Protesters Launch Showdown With Monster Banks, Demand Wells Fargo End Predatory Lending
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"We are many and they are few -- and today they have to deal with us!" yelled an organizer at a San Francisco march and rally on Tuesday afternoon aimed at calling out Wells Fargo for its predatory lending practices. A crowd of a few hundred pissed-off consumers responded boisterously by repeating a catchy chant: "Hey, big banks, where's our dough? Working families have a right to know!"
The San Francisco showdown at Wells Fargo was the first of a series of events to be held throughout the country this week, bearing down at the big banks' annual shareholder meetings to demand action on everything from foreclosure prevention, job creation and an end to predatory consumer practices. Added together, these protests will bring together the largest number of people yet in the fight against the too-big-to-fail banks that foisted the recession on consumers while reaping bailout money and facing little to no consequences for their misdeeds.
The big banks are on the ropes these days. Despite the near-collusion of the Treasury Department and Goldman Sachs, last week the SEC indicted the previously untouchable investment bank with fraud. The hearings began on Tuesday. There's no telling yet which way things will go but it's obvious the financial industry feels fire beneath its feet.
As it should. Financial reform is the next big thing on the congressional agenda, and while the industry's political enablers managed to filibuster the first version of the financial regulation bill on Monday, suits both in Congress and on Wall Street are finally starting to realize just how angry the people are. Two-thirds of Americans support more strict financial reform, which means, among other things, much more stringent regulation of the so-called "complex financial instruments" the biggest banks employed as they crashed our economy in 2008.
Wall Street is so worried about the prospect of real reform that for over a year now, it's handily spent $1.4 million daily in lobbying and campaign contributions, attempting to buy out policy-makers and prevent substantive financial reform from passing.
The financiers who've captured the American economy are about to get more worried, however, as a broad coalition of community and labor groups have launched a series of rallies and marches calling for bank accountability.
"The big banks and Wall Street got what they paid for [Monday]" -- with the filibuster -- "but this week of actions and the ones that follow will show Congress that the American people are paying attention, have had enough, and will not allow their democracy to be hijacked," says Liz Ryan Murray, senior policy analyst at National People's Action, which together with SEIU, AFL-CIO, PICO National Network, and others is coordinating the demonstrations, which will culminate with the " Showdown on Wall Street!" protest in New York on Thursday.
Zephyr Teachout, activist and professor at Fordham Law School, believes the mobilizations can have a huge impact on how strong the financial reform bill will be. "These are the greenshoots of public anger, and they probably don't even represent the much steeper depth of public anger," she told AlterNet. "The financial industry had been counting on the public -- and Congress -- being intimidated by the complex nature of the reforms we need, but if the public gets involved there's the opportunity for extraordinary New Deal-level reordering of our system that makes it much more fair, reliable and stable."
In other words, people power can make the difference between a financial reform bill that is symbolic and ineffective, and one that really changes the system for the better.