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Why an 81-Year-Old Widow from Iowa is Marching to Bring the Banks Under Heel

Ferol Wegner wasn’t the type of person who would normally protest against the banking industry. But that was before she lost 30 percent of her pension in the economic downturn.

An 81-year-old widow from Des Moines, Iowa, Ferol Wegner wasn’t the type of person who would normally go to a protest against the banking industry. But that was before she lost 30 percent of her pension in the economic downturn. Without mincing her words, Ms. Wegner blames the big banks. “Fraud, corruption and greed,” she says. “These folks must be held accountable.”

In the great American tradition of populist anger, Ms. Wegner and millions of Americans like her are mad as hell and not taking it anymore. This week, from Kansas City to Charlotte to New York, thousands of Americans who have lost their savings, their homes and their jobs because of Wall Street’s reckless irresponsibility will show up at the doors of big banks across the country. They won’t be knocking lightly. According to Ms. Wegner, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the other titans of finance did not tread lightly on her financial security. She does not plan to be polite in return.

In a coordinated, nationwide week of actions, the grassroots organization National People’s Action is demanding that big banks stop using customers’ money to lobby against financial reform, stop unnecessary and unjust foreclosures, end the abusive practices of payday lending and other predatory loans, and start making good investments in small businesses and local cities and towns, rather than gambling our economy down the drain. What might seem like common sense proposals to stop putting profits before people and rebuild our economy for all of us are suddenly radical in a climate where Republicans are clamoring to block any meaningful financial reform and stand on the side of Wall Street criminals who destroyed our economy rather than ordinary Americans struggling to recover.

“This is not the America I remember,” says Ms. Wegner. “These banks crashed our economy and gave themselves lavish bonuses as a reward. There must be stricter rules and regulations.”

It is not surprising that the Tea Party, with overwhelmingly wealthier members, is getting so much visibility. Ms. Wegner captures the daily insecurity of ordinary Americans—angry at the big banks but often too busy treading water to make a cup of tea. But it got to the point where Ms. Wegner, couldn’t afford not to act. “My mother lived to 101. If I live that long, my savings will have run out long before. I’ll have social security but that won’t cover all the bills. If I need to go to a nursing facility, I don’t know where the money will come from.” Now, her anger like millions of Americans, is boiling over.

It was one thing for struggling Americans to swallow the bank bailout as an economic necessity. But now that Wall Street firms are reporting record profits and bonuses, even amidst fraud indictments, the injustice is just too much to take. “I’m demanding that justice be served to those of us who are being asked to rescue them,” Ms. Wegner said of the banks. “Who is going to be held responsible and accountable for these crimes against the American people? Who is going to rescue us when our savings are gone?”

Ms. Wegner is not terribly optimistic that the big banks will listen. She knows that they are furiously at work spending her money to lobby Congress to kill financial reform, so that they can keep unraveling her economic security to increase their own bottom line. But Ferol Wegner knows she is not alone. Millions of Americans are as fed up as she is and Ms. Wegner hopes that, by raising her voice, others will join her. “We the people still have the power,” she says. “Why not exercise it?”

Join the Showdown in America!! Learn more here.

Sally Kohn is the director of the Movement Vision Project of the Center for Community Change, which is interviewing hundreds of activists across the country to determine the progressive vision for the future of the United States.
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