Public Action Needs Its Leaders

On February 5, 2010, in Background and Research, The Public, by Tiffiniy Cheng

Alternet catches up with ANWF in their article about the Move Your Money Campaign. It’s a good article and lays out what the movement against the banks has looked like. In many ways, ANWF has been waiting for someone famous to help bring greater attention to the kinds of actions that we think we should do to fight back, the ones we think are most strategic.

Truth be told, Jan Frel and our local Bay Area group have been helping to devise a bank divestment campaign for some time. And breakupthebigbanks.com and ourselves have been crafting that campaign and were going to release it in January. Now, we have plans for applying more pressure to Congress — local government divestment, grassroots protests in the name of breaking up with your bank, all coming out next week. More on this soon.If you want to help with the campaign, email or leave comments : tyc at anewwayforward dot org.

To be fair, the move to switch bank accounts started happening last year, credit unions and community banks have seen a huge rise in new accounts. This happened simply because people are angry at Wall St and realized big banks were going out of their way to rip them off.

“Fury at Wall St. Banks Fuels Public Action for Move Your Money Campaign”:

But despite ANWF’s nationwide rallies — which remained relatively small, though attended by voters of all political stripes — breaking up the banks has never been on the legislative table. That may be one reason why Move Your Money has garnered so much excitement. It does not seek to force people on the Hill or in the White House, many of whom are indebted to banking interests, to act. Instead, Move Your Money calls for direct action by regular people who are irate at the overly cautious pace of financial reform…

Of course, the growth of national banks has increased some conveniences, such as ATMs you can access anywhere in the country, but who cares about saving two dollars on your withdrawals when your bank is perfectly willing to up your credit card rate from 4.99 to 40.99 percent in one fell swoop (as Citi did to one man with good credit) for no fathomable reason? You’re just as faceless to them as they are to you.

With examples such as these, Move Your Money hopes to dispel longstanding myths that big banks are cheaper — and nicer — than smaller ones.

A growing movement

As of this week, 23,000 — or about 50 percent — of all U.S. zip codes have been searched for through Move Your Money’s “Find a Bank” feature, says Dennis Santiago, whose influential bank-rating firm Institutional Risk Analytics donated the tool.

One community bank with five branches in Northern California recently called Santiago to report it had a $1 million increase in deposits per branch since the start of the campaign, which the bank had not yet caught wind of.

While Move Your Money’s search tool only includes community banks, the Credit Union Times reports that since the start of the campaign, two of the largest credit union associations have reported 300 percent search increases in their credit union databases since Move Your Money launched….

Even ANWF, which had based its organizing around breaking up the banks last year, will be waging a similar campaign that launches in a week, says Tiffiniy Cheng, ANWF’s national coordinator. Called Break Up With Your Bank, it will ask people to stop using their credit cards and use cash as much as possible. If you must have a credit card, switch to a low-interest card from a local bank, Cheng says.

Breaking the Barrier

On January 11, 2010, in The Public, by Joe Costello

Breaking the Barrier

Last week, the Move Your Money campaign was launched by a coalition of folks including the Roosevelt Institute and Institutional Risk Analytics. It’s an important step in creating a coalition capable of standing up to the money interests that run DC. Thus it’s expected to hear people questioning its value, as most people in this country feel completely politically disenfranchised. However, other opposition clearly comes from defenders of the status quo and listening to their arguments against, can provide some lessons on how to move an effort for reforming our political economy to the next level.

Case and point was the Post piece yesterday arguing for citizen futility. It comes out of the Post’s internet magazine Slate. Now, if you know the history of Slate, you can understand from where the piece comes. Slate represents a warning to all who value the Internet as a democratic revitalizing tool. It can be used just as well to continue the status quo. Founded by Microsoft and then sold to the Washington Post, Slate is the political class on-line. Cleverness, cynicism, and effete elitism pass for astute political analysis, the piece entitled “Ordinary Citizens Lack the Power to Hurt Big Banks” drips with all three.

The second paragraph brings our political class’ favorite belittlement of all economic reform — it’s populist. It then goes through a bunch of circular arguments that the banking system runs one way, and you can’t change it, because, well, it wouldn’t run that way anymore.

I worked in the energy world for many years and this was a favorite argument of the utilities. “Well you can’t do that, this is how the system operates.” Umm yeah, that’s why it’s called changed. It seems an obvious point, but I’ve found it needs repeating endlessly, the only way you get change is by changing.

But the highlight of the piece is referencing Bloomberg’s Felix Salmon that changing your bank is just too hard. It’s downright inconvenient. Which reminds of that great story from World War II, where General Bradley walks into Ike’s office a couple days before D-Day and says, “Well General, I’ve been talking to the men about this plan, and well they think this storming the beach thing, well…it’s just damn inconvenient. Better, they think, staying here in England, throwing back a few beers, and getting that new Betty Grable movie.”

Oh America! When did it become, “Give me convenience or give me death?”

Now the real insidiousness of this piece, call it propaganda, is it feeds the general feeling of dis-empowerment and disenfranchisement drowning the American body politic. I can’t more highly recommend Lawrence Goodwyn’s “Breaking the Barrier” about Poland’s Solidarity movement, for an understanding of the difficulties for political action when general disenfranchisement pervades a society. It becomes the greatest barrier to enacting political change. That is where we stand, or more appropriately sit, in America today.

Move Your Money is one example of a campaign that can start breaking the barrier. Chris Whalen of IRA will tell you the big banks remain very weak, and thus much more susceptible to pressure from actions of this sort. Move your money and get five friends to move theirs, it will be the first step to standing up and reclaiming your citizen power. It will provide the organizational impetus for a movement that can then demand reform. Understand one point, despite the propaganda of the political class, change will be gained no other way.

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