Standing Up For Democracy: How Activists Are Fighting Injustice in America Today
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I think we have to look at two things. Which banks are too big to fail? Because we cannot have another bailout. Banks that are too big to fail are too big to exist.
But we also got to look at what banks and what corporations are too big to be held accountable. Because if they're too big to be held accountable, how are we going to have a functioning economy that allows workers and everyday people to get their fair share. But also a democracy that flourishes and allows people to engage and have real power and decision making.
BILL MOYERS: But in the spirit of Milton Friedman, one of your former Chicago residents, the only accountability corporations have in the free-market system is to make as much profit as they can for their shareholders.
GEORGE GOEHL: And we have to change that.
BILL MOYERS: How would you change it?
GEORGE GOEHL: I think there's two things. One, you know, when corporations were originally created in America, they actually had to demonstrate a public purpose that you were going to serve. And you could make profits. But you also had to say, "We're going to do this good thing for the public." So how do we move back towards that?
But there's also an interesting movement that really started out of Maryland. Jamie Raskin, who's a professor and also a State Senator moved a policy called B Corporation. Benefit corporations. And so it's a law. It's been passed in seven states. And it's going to be passed in more. That basically gives these corporations a protection against that clause that says, "Your number-one mission is to produce for your shareholders."
And in that case, you often do things that are bad for the public. I think this is a movement towards corporations having to meet a more thoughtful bottom line. That not only includes profits, but also includes their impact on communities and on the environment.
BILL MOYERS: You're making demands at the shareholder meetings. What are you demanding?
GEORGE GOEHL: A number of things. But, I think, like, we'll take, let's stick with Bank of America, for instance, 'cause there'll be thousands of people at the Bank of America shareholder meeting. One, write down the mortgages in your portfolio that are underwater to fair market value. Secondly, we need corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Bank of America has 371 tax shelters. A number of them on the Cayman Islands.
And have done everything they can to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. If you're going to get some of the benefits that come with being in a corporation in America, you need to have some responsibilities too. And third, Bank of America and a lot of the banks invest in a lot of things that are bad for our country.
Bank of America is one of the lead financiers of predatory payday lending. These payday lenders charge 455% interest rates, largely target communities of color.
The average $250 payday loan cost the borrower $750. So essentially, stripping wealth out of some of the poorest communities of our country. We need them out of that business. So those are three demands that we'll take to them at the shareholder meetings among others.
BILL MOYERS: So you're calling this shareholder spring?
GEORGE GOEHL: The larger effort this spring is called 99% Spring. And within that, there are two key components. One is actually training a 100,000 people in a new vision of what the economy could look like. And engaging people across the country in that conversation. Not only are-- this is not a predetermined vision that a bunch of us have figured out. But it is a challenge for us all to think big about what might be possible.