There is a difference between knowing a thing can occur and having the faith and belief that it is on its way. Occupy Wall Street has shown me a faith I didn’t remember I had, despite years of knowing. Not only years of knowing but also years of organizing. I was part of struggles in New York City with City University of New York students who fought to keep city and state money flowing toward educating young students of color rather than jailing them; and with Bronx residents fighting to learn and build new schools in one of the most overcrowded and neglected districts in the city. Over the last several years, I’ve been involved with organizing across the country. I’ve seen everyday Americans stand up against predatory bank practices, Wall Street’s greed, and corporate influence on our democracy. Through all of this I believed that we could change the world, but that we would need to build the necessary movement to do it.
Now, Occupy Wall Street has ushered in a new inspiration and a new wave of possibility. We need to support Occupy Wall Street, whether by sending supplies, being part of an “Occupy” in our town or city or supporting the “Occupy Wall Street Journal.” And we need to continue organizing in our buildings, on our blocks, in our churches and our work places. We must, each in our own way, match this moment and escalate our commitment and tactics. Our vision for immediate change must be broad, powerful and significant. And Wall Street must pay us back!
How We Got Here:
When I was part of fighting for a quality education in NYC, the fight was over how the city was allocating the money. And just like today, politicians claimed to not have enough to spend on education.
And my mother just lost her job a few months ago. She taught for the past 8 years at a community college in Ohio. Several teacher positions in her department were slashed by administration because of the state revenue crisis in Ohio. Some things never change.
But things are different now. Since Wall Street and the Big Banks crashed the economy in 2008, one thing has become crystal clear: It is Us versus Them. As Occupy Wall Street says so brilliantly, we are the 99%. Money, wealth and stability are flowing from our families and communities directly to the 1%, and they would be happy to drain us dry. Wall Street’s dangerous loan products targeted at African-American and low-income communities are at the core of what crashed our economy. In the aftermath, they continue to foreclose on families, sometimes without even being the mortgage holder. They leave tenants in foreclosed buildings in terrible conditions. There are over a million people who live in homes now that are worth less than what they owe the banks. The 1% continue to be on the winning side, no matter which side it is.
One in ten Americans cannot find a job. And the job crisis that already existed in rural and urban communities is only deepening. In September the national unemployment rate for African-Americans reached 16.7%. And we know the problem is deeper than these numbers show.
And then there are the cuts. Almost every state in this country is facing budget problems in part because of politician’s undying solidarity with corporations and the wealthy 1%; refusing to tax them and rather make us pay through cuts in services. And states that don’t have it so bad are using this political moment to push a political agenda of attacking unions and cutting much needed services.
Bank of America is introducing $5/month debit card fees. Big Banks finance predatory payday lenders. They borrow from the Federal Reserve at an interest rate of less than half a percent and then lend to corporations that charge us 400% or refuse to negotiate toxic swap deals with cities and institutions like the Chicago Public Schools, or State of Illinois. They don’t pay taxes or fees on properties they’ve foreclosed on and pass those costs on to the former owner or the city. And they can drop unregulated and unlimited cash in donations to elected officials and candidates. We’re in an era of “pay to play” politics, and it’s our money they’re using to continue to screw us.
No Party Can Save Us:
Republicans are unabashedly pulling for team Wall Street. Democrats are not doing anywhere near enough for us. Although bolder policy and legislation, like the Financial Speculation Tax, could go a long way toward helping our communities, we cannot legislate our way out of this crisis. Wall Street and corporations are absorbing nearly all of the profits and passing on nearly all of the costs and risks to the rest of us. And like we say at National People’s Action, ‘That ain’t right!” The crisis we’re facing today is a jobs crisis, a crisis of democracy, and a crisis in our economy. This system is only working for Wall Street, not the rest of us.
We Need to Get Our Money Back:
No really. We need to get our money back. We have got to take back what they took from us and what they continue to take from us. There are a number of critical ways we can do this together. First, we can take our money out of banks like Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells Fargo and move it to a local credit union or bank. Though this is an individual action, we can do it in a coordinated way and create a public narrative online about how we are doing this. New Bottom Line will be launching a website in the next week or two where you can go on and tell us what you did. So there will be a place to count and keep track. Share why you moved your money and how much you moved. We want to keep track of how much everyday people are taking back from these banks.
Many of us don’t actually have that much of our own money to move. Wouldn’t it be lovely to move bigger chunks of cash? What about where you work, worship, or go to school? Where do those institutions keep their money? What about your town, city or county? Where do you all keep your money? After pressure from People Improving Communities though Organizing in California, the City of San Jose California moved nearly 1 billion dollars from Bank of America because they weren’t doing enough to prevent foreclosures in San Jose. What if that happened in 100 cities? What if that happened in 100 cities before the end of the year?
Their damage to our communities continues to cost us. When a bank forecloses, that family loses their home and whatever savings they invested in their property. But taxpayers have to cover the cost of the foreclosure. After foreclosure, banks often let their foreclosed properties fall into terrible condition. These are dangerous eyesores and continue to drag down the property values of their neighbors. Like Springfield, Massachusetts and Cincinnati, Ohio, local governments can pass ordinances that force banks to file a cash bond to foreclose, prioritize mediation, and take responsibility for their foreclosed properties.
And last but not least, Wall Street can pay taxes just like we do. Smoke? Pay taxes. Eat out? Taxes. Drink? Taxes? Engage in speculative activity that drains our economy? Taxes – not really. A Financial Speculation Tax would be a less than one percent tax on short-term speculative activity – the kind of financial transactions that helped create the crisis – and it would generate billions of dollars of revenue. For ordinary investors the cost would barely be noticeable. Some estimate an FST could generate up to $150 billion a year in tax revenue a year off of Wall Street traders’ activities.
It’s Going to Take All of Us:
Whoever you are, whatever you do, you will be part of turning things around. The hundreds and thousands of people that are part of the growing movement to Occupy Wall Street, it’s up to you. The hundreds and thousands of people that are part of community organizations and organized labor who are working to move your churches’ money, for dignity at work, to fight big bank backing of payday lending, who are doing civil disobiences in bank lobbies with families facing foreclosure refusing to leave until they get their loan modified, it’s up to you. And it’s up to you, designers. You, photographers. You, writers. You, musicians. All of you who have been showing us the truth and telling us the story of this struggle. It’s up to you.
As the weather turns colder, we’ll see greed in the whites of Wall Streets eyes. They’ll award themselves another record year of bonuses and compensation around December as a reward for their profits and the harm they’re causing the rest of us. Our state and city budget fights will begin again with no relief in sight. Let this be a spring like we haven’t seen in years as all together we fight for our families, jobs, homes, educations, and democracy. Time to for Wall Street to pay us back.