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The 99% Versus Wall Street: Stephen Lerner on How We Can Mobilize To Be the Greedy 1%'s Worst Nightmare

Savvy organizer and big thinker Stephen Lerner talks to AlterNet about how to take power back from Wall Street.

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Students, I think there's three pieces to that. There's the current situation, with the general cutback of education funding, which is central to how we ended up with such massive debt.

I think what's really exciting on the student front, is that more and more students are tying the student activity directly to the 1 percent, to Wall Street, that is profiting off of their education.

“Move Your Money,” I think is a wonderful 99 percent piece. Moving money, individually is step one, the hundreds of thousands of people who've said “I don't want to get robbed by big banks anymore.” What's really exciting now is that in Minneapolis they've delivered 11,000 petitions to the school board saying that they need to divest from Wells Fargo. LA saw an ordinance proposed for responsible banking, getting people to move public monies, both to get them out of big banks but then also to put them in places that create jobs. It's a simple fact that if you invest your money locally, it turns over into the local economy, while if you give it to Wall Street then 40 percent of it goes into compensation for CEOs.

That work all ties into the bigger principal reduction campaign.What we need to do is reduce people's mortgages to the real value of the house, which would put an average of $400 a month in every homeowner's pocket. It would create a million jobs if banks had to reduce principal to current value and address the $700 billion in negative equity homeowners have.

One of the untold stories of the financial crisis is the disproportionate impact on communities of color. So the fight about foreclosures, Occupy our Homes, and principal reduction is really about how to return the wealth that's been sucked out of communities of color.

Then the final piece that we're seeing more energy around is “occupy the shareholder meetings.” Increasingly corporations control our government, but corporations in theory have these meetings where decisions are made about their governance and their investment. People should buy shares and we should be visiting key executives, we should have demands of these companies, we should show up at the shareholders' meetings and say we want a say in how the corporations that are running the country should be run.

So you add all those things together and they end up being the streams that when they flow together, they end up creating a mighty river which can win really fundamental and transformative change and in doing so set the stage for ultimately rebuilding the labor movement. Which is what we've done at other points in our history, to really confront corporate power—by occupying work sites.

SJ: Glenn Beck called you an economic terrorist for proposing debt strikes as a tactic, yet we're seeing campaigns launched around debt strikes this year. What role do they play in the coming fight?

SL: Right around a year ago, I argued that corporations have always had a way, whether it's through bankruptcy or walking away from deals or renegotiating, to get out of their debt. So what I said that got Glenn Beck so cranked up was, what if we as consumers, as workers, behaved in the same rational way corporations did? What if we said, 'we're not going to pay back debt, especially debt that we got tricked into having, we're not going to pay it back until we get to renegotiate the terms?'

I think what was so fascinating about why the right-wing went so berserk, is that I really nailed their biggest fear, which is if regular people join together and acted in the same way corporations do, we could challenge their power.