THE BLOG

The Enemy of My Banker Is My Friend

02/21/2013 11:18 am ET | Updated Apr 23, 2013

Is that true for Occupy?

From the look of things, entering its "terrible twos," OWS is still working through a learning curve on this. If it doesn't manage to find common ground with other activists, this may be a cautionary tale for protests groups in the U.S. and throughout the world.

A case in point

In October, 2011, one of the largest consumer migrations in American was instigated in a most simple fashion and in a most spontaneous way. A young lady, offended by her bank's decision to institute a $5 monthly fee on all checking and debit accounts, responded by starting a Facebook protest page.

Kristen Christian offered a simple solution to bank customers who shared her distaste for predatory banking practices -- take your money to either a friendlier bank or, better yet, to a local credit union.

Thus was born Bank Transfer Day

On November 5, 2011, 700,000 consumers shifted their banking business from for-profit banking institutions to not-for-profit credit unions. And in the many months since, so have an additional 5,000,000 Americans... along with $4.5 Billion dollars of their deposits. That is the power of the Internet and posting a grievance that resonates.

Coincidentally, Occupy was attacking that industry from a different quarter -- by illuminating the role of Wall Street as predatory backers and creators of debt. Occupy's intention was not to move money -- it was to take down the greedy source behind the money.

Enter another activist group, PANYS (Peace Action New York State), which enthusiastically supported BTD -- but with a different agenda in mind. An interview I had with Alicia Godsberg, PANYS' executive director in NYC for an earlier HuffPost blog revealed that her group also wanted to move money -- from building weapons of war to public works projects.

That slight difference didn't deter them from being a formidable and enthusiastic ally for Kristen's cause. BTD was helped by Occupiers at large and PANYS affiliates at offices in other cities across the U.S.

Carl Jung would have loved the synchronicity. Protest actions appeared spontaneously within days of each other. One was social media-spurred out of California, and the others by seasoned allies in other movements such as PANYS and the fresh faces of Occupy in NYC who knew how to put "feet on the street."

So, what could go wrong?

Not having a "shared outcome" for starters.

As Alicia Godsberg points out, OWS' strength was that of focusing America's attention on Wall Street ills and to attract a number of quite disparate organizations to join in -- everything from LGBT and anti-fracking on through to disaffected Ron Paul'rs and anarchists. A good start, but only a beginning, as the real challenge is to get people to agree on an agenda.

"The skill is always in coordinating and focusing the energies of these activists under one banner," she opined, adding that PANYS has this experience as the largest grassroots peace organization in the United States. Ever.

PANYS was itself the outgrowth of earlier social protest movements -- starting with the "Ban the Bomb" activists of the '50s, then adding their counterparts in the Nuclear Freeze Movement in the '60s and eventually embracing the Anti-Vietnam War protests. (You can find a more complete history here.)

And BTD's experience? In a thoughtful interview on WGRNradio.com, Kristen puzzles over the mixed-reception given her by Occupy, which ranged from total acceptance to militant rejection. She explores the initial separation that was created between some elements in Occupy and supporters of Bank Transfer Day, but is clearly disappointed, but hopeful. (The full interview can be found here.)

So, what could make it right?

Consistent with the famous IMHO, I suggest: know who your friends are, and don't confuse them with your enemy. If someone is clearly a part of the 99% (on balance, aren't we all?), OWS is almost obligated, philosophically, to treat others with respect.

If you cannot handle disagreements as to tactics or approaches? Park any "idiot-ology" at the door. Appreciate differences and find synergies. As they said in (my) good 'ol days, "You hit 'em high; I'll hit 'em low."

If you are curious about BTD and its current activities, you can find Kristen at her own website, www.kristenchristian.com, on Tumblr as KristenChristian, on Twitter as @TheMsChristian and on Facebook.

I am advised that she doesn't demand an exclusive relationship with you -- just be on the same wavelength and be nice.