What Congress Should Learn from OWS

This post written by me was orginally posted on Policymic and No Labels


Occupy Wall Street has taken off. The movement is quickly spreading across the world, with new Occupy movement surfacing seemingly daily. The movement is not without its critics, who point to the vast number of messages coming out of the protests as a sign the movement does not have a singular voice.

While there may be many messages out there from the participants, it is not hard to find some central themes from the movement. Not just Wall Street needs to be listening. Congress can and should learn a lot from the Occupy movement, using the protests as a motivation to end our partisan gridlock and do what is best for the country.

Neither Congress nor Wall Street is innocent when it comes to causes of the current crisis, and because of this, neither has been good at finding solutions. The OWS movement has come clear asks, listed on their website as a series of complaints against the industry.

Here are a couple that Congress should pay particular attention to: stop illegal foreclosures; no more bank bailouts; and create jobs.

All of these have direct links to actions that Congress can take. People are angry that despite the robo-signing scandal, big banks are still trying to foreclose on homes with fraudulent paperwork and/or without being able to produce the note. Congress can pass legislation making this illegal, which would force banks to clean up their paperwork. The robo-signing scandal has banks like Bank of America facing lawsuits that could cripple them.

This leads to another ask of the movement, no more bank bailouts. Congress should listen, stop fighting the provisions in the Dodd/Frank Act that stop too big to fail, and provide a path to winding a bank down instead of bailing banks out.

The biggest grievance of the movement and every other American is creating jobs. Neither side can agree on how to create jobs, but everyone in Congress should take the growing anger as a sign to put aside partisanship and get some legislation passed. Getting people back to work is the single most important demand. Jobs can help homeowners pay their mortgage and avoid foreclosure, help recent grads pay their student loans, can get people spending money to boost the economy, and can create a bigger tax base to generate more tax revenue.

To me, the message is pretty clear: People are clearly angry by the direction of this country. Even though the brunt of the anger is being directed at Wall Street, Congress is not shielded. The messages should not only be heard by the big banks on Wall Street, but also through the halls of Congress. There are specific asks that Congress can act on, and they should listen carefully to the occupiers. Both Congress and OWS are made up of varying people with different mindsets, yet OWS protesters have managed to find a way to work together.

Here is to hoping that Congress is not only listening, but learning from OWS on how to work together, so they can end the gridlock and do what is best for the country.


Bank Protests can lead to results

The #occupywallstreet fever is spreading the nation with rallies happening in cities all over the country.  While it is good to see the masses, the coverage they get has turned away from bank actions and protests that were happening before the ows movement.  On the west coast groups have been doing targeted actions against banks and in New York a coalition of groups turned out 20,000 people On May 12th to shut down Wall Street after a week of smaller build up actions.

What I want to showcase is that people have been organizing against the banks well before the recent tidal wave. Many of these other marches, rallies, and acts of civil disobedience all have had clear messages and demands unlike the much critiqued ows movement.  Because of this they are seeing results.  Over on the west coast groups like Alliance of Californians of Community Empowerment (ACCE) have joined others in a coalition: Make Banks Pay California.

This week their efforts were able to save a family’s home in L.A., and I would anticipate their success will grow.  This shows that bank protests can lead to results and people should not so quickly write off the #occupywallstreet movement as a phase.  Even though victories like the one in L.A. seem to get lost in the press, they are happening.  As as groups like the ones in California link into the ows movement, their focused messaging and demands will only make the movement stronger.

Bank of America still not listening

There has been a huge public outcry since BofA announced their latest fee for debit card users.  The fee of $5/month does not seem like a  lot, but $60/year can add up.  Their website experienced problems for days after the announcement and customers have been expressing their disappointment and willingness to switch banks.  Even a online petition is going and has over 100,000 signatures.  So people are clearly making an issue out of the increase in fees, but BofA still isn’t listening.

Their CEO Brian Moynihan has defended the new fees, by saying that customers understood the bank right to make a profit.  The bank wants people to believe that all the new regulations have hurt the bank’s ability to make a profit and new fees are in order.  Raising fees and losing customers could do a lot more damage to that bottom line than the regulations are, if enough people begin moving their money.  But if BofA will step back and examine themselves, they will see that the purchase of countrywide and their lack of interest in saving homes has probably taken a bigger chunk out of their bottom line than anything.  The mortgage-backed securities crisis caused by the robo signings and lack of ability to prove ownership in homes has put BofA in the crosshairs of lawsuits and not just from the government.  Investors can come calling as well, and BofA would not have the capital to survive.  Solving this housing issue could go a long way to making that profit that BofA wants everyone to believe is the point of the new fees.

This following video highlights some of the issues with the new fees.  For example, the new debit card fee will produce 15% more debit card fees for them than they made before increased regulation.  This doesn’t include the $9/month fee that is being added to some checking accounts.

Bank of America is simply not listening, and they aren’t the only ones.  Other big banks either have or will increase fees on accounts.  So despite the #occupywallstreet anger that is out there, big banks still aren’t listening.

Is simply being angry enough

Unless you live under a rock you know about the Occupy Wall Street movement that is spreading from Manhattan to cities across the country.  This weekend there were events in Raleigh and Charlotte this weekend.  What is clear from these events is that people are angry.  Not just about banks, but many other issues facing our country.  But is simply being angry enough?

As a former organizer and still an activist, it fires me up to see so many people fired up and hitting the streets.  I worry though is being angry and hitting the streets enough? I’ve always believed in organizing with a purpose and not just organizing to organize.  I fear that some of what is driving this Occupy Wall Street is organizing to organize.  Every serious organizing movement in this country was about more than just being angry, it was being angry with a purpose.

I am not sure if this current movement is going to go anywhere or gain any victories without a purpose to the marches. As more groups and people join the movement, I hope that some organization comes to the movement. I would hate to see the masses of people who are hitting the street to go to waste. Let’s be angry with a purpose and not just angry to be angry.