Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Banking accountability, people-style

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Lunch time in downtown San Francisco was more than usually congested yesterday. Unions, community and tenant organizations rallied on California Street outside the Wells Fargo Bank shareholders meeting. Both the Alameda and San Francisco Labor Councils were there. Purple t-shirts and jackets from SEIU mixed with nurses from the California Nurses Association in red ponchos and their "Queen Meg" blond wigs mocking the Republican candidate for governor. Grassroots agitators from Just Causa/Causa Justa and POWER also were out in force.

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There came a moment when the San Francisco Police Department felt it had to get a Wells Fargo stage coach off the street.

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People do make demands. They know something very wrong has happened to the circumstances in which they (try to) work. They know some people somewhere just seem to get richer, while people they know are scared at best, out of jobs and homes at worst. This is serious stuff; not something to be put out of mind. They want something done about it. Someone ought to pay for doing this to them and their communities ...

Yes, this is a little unfocused. Organizers try to give those feelings meaning, turn them into a force, by holding events like these. Wells Fargo makes a good target: it played big in the subprime mortgage ponzi scheme that brought down the financial system -- and it still runs a payday lending business through its ATM network that can hit needy borrowers with interest up to 240 percent per year! Wells Fargo's business may be legal, but, like other big investment banks, it acts without any accountability for the health of the society that enables it to operate.

Does getting aggrieved people out in the streets do any good?

Little demonstrations like this -- probably 300, peaceful, well-behaved people shouting slogans and listening to short exhortations -- don't get press coverage these days. Teabaggers are novel, newsworthy, "talking dogs"; union members and poor people are an old, tired story. They'd probably have to throw a pie in a banker's face to attract media.

But attracting media is not the only reason organizers put on these events. For one thing, it is important for each constituency within this kind of group to see that there are others with the same concerns and frustrations. And it is good for each groups' leaders to work with the other members of the coalition.

There's a social aspect to these things. I saw people from several of the many local communities I relate to -- and so did most everyone else. That's not a small thing, in a society where many of us easily come to feel socially isolated.

And though this was all amiably choreographed today, it never hurts to remind our local representatives off in Washington that their folks do expect action on financial reform. Barbara (Boxer), Diane (Feinstein), and even lofty Nancy (Pelosi) will have a happier time with this crowd on their side. Reminding them what we expect of them doesn't hurt and just might help.

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