On April 15th, a concert and protest against Bank of America was held in Union Square Park. This was the first event organized by Its Our Economy, and it was co-sponsored by 16 other groups concerned about hunger, health care, housing, economic justice and ending war. Big finance and giant corporate banks are a root cause of the collapse of the U.S. economy and the decay of our political system.
See video of protest here.
The crowd heard from people facing foreclosure and bank harassment, Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Chris Hedges and Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program, Gary Null from WBAI and Debra Sweet from World Can't Wait. They heard music from political hip-hop/rock powerhouse Junkyard Empire with special guests Broadcast Live and Sketch the Cataclysm. The music was hot, the speakers were solid and the hundreds in the crowd were excited and ready to make it OUR ECONOMY.
When the picket protest of the Bank of America across the street was announced people immediately lined up and marched over. The crowded picket covered both sides of the corner of the bank. When five of us went inside to continue the protest, at least 50 others joined us. The 8-10 security guards at the bank, obviously prepared for our arrival, could do nothing to stop us. There were chants of "BANK OF AMERICA SHAME ON YOU - WE PAY OUR TAXES WHY DON'T YOU," "PEOPLE NOT PROFITS, STOP FORECLOSURES NOW" and "FEED THE POOR, NOT THE WAR." Tarak Kauff from Veterans For Peace spoke connecting the big money banks with the wars, both inside America on the poor and shrinking middle class, and overseas. Nellie Bailly from Harlem Fight Back spoke on the devastation caused by foreclosures, Dr. Margaret Flowers spoke on the connection between corporate power and their tax avoidance schemes on basic human services, noting that Medicare and Medicaid were now on the chopping block, she said "Medicare is not the problem, it's the solution." I pointed to the type of economy we want one where everyone has more control over their economic lives, has influence on the direction of the economy and where peoples necessities come before corporate profits.
Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize winning author spoke about how a culture of resistance is all we have left:
Life is not only about us. We can never have justice until our neighbor has justice. And we can never recover our freedom until we are willing to sacrifice our comfort for open rebellion. The president has failed us. The Congress has failed us. The courts have failed us. The press has failed us. The universities have failed us. Our process of electoral democracy has failed us. There are no structures or institutions left that have not been contaminated or destroyed by corporations. And this means it is up to us. Civil disobedience, which will entail hardship and suffering, which will be long and difficult, which at its core means self-sacrifice, is the only mechanism left.
Our first demand was Bank of America: Pay Your Taxes!!
We started off the tax day weekend with this demand for the largest bank in America: a bank with 2.3 trillion in assets and billions in profits that has paid ZERO taxes each of the last two years despite high profits, huge executive salaries and big bonuses. For 2010 they will receive a tax refund of $666 million and in 2009 they received a tax refund of $3.5 billion despite receiving $50 billion in the Wall Street bailout and continuing to reap multi-billion dollar annual profits.
They avoid paying taxes by sending money overseas into tax havens which removes it from and thereby weakens the U.S. economy and the lost tax revenue weakens city, state and federal budgets. Of the 2,000 Bank of America subsidiaries, 371 are in tax havens out of the country, indeed they have 204 tax havens in the Cayman Islands alone where the corporate tax rate is 0%. Bank of America compounds the problem by also advising its wealthy clients on how to avoid taxes by sending money to tax havens.
If Bank of America paid the current corporate tax rate it would have paid $1.7 Billion in taxes instead of getting hundreds of millions in refund.
Our second demand - Stop Foreclosures
Bank of America is the biggest owner of mortgages in the United States - owning up to 25% of the mortgages in the United States. The last two years saw nearly 7 million foreclosures, each year produced record foreclosures and 2011 is likely to break that record with one out of seven houses in the U.S. currently behind in their mortgage payments. Foreclosures ensure a downward spiral in the economy, destroy neighborhoods and put families on the street. Foreclosures continue to increase, pushing housing prices down, ensuring no real economic recovery. One out of four houses in the United States is underwater - the mortgage is more than the value of the house. The housing market is so bad now that not only are people walking away from their houses, but there are reports of banks walking away from houses in foreclosure, leaving problems in communities. Bank of America needs to:
1. Refinance houses so they are consistent with their post housing bubble values. Why should Bank of America, whose practices helped to create the housing bubble continue to profit from phony housing values?
2. Modify loans when people get behind on their mortgage so they can stay in their homes and stop the avalanche of foreclosures now.
Bank of America may have red, white and blue in their sign, with a mock American flag insignia but they show that is a veil for their lack of patriotism.
Our final demand is Break Up the Big Corporate Banks
If banks are "too big to fail" then they are too big. They dominate the economy and the political system. Ten huge banks now control 60% of the economy. They ensure concentration of capital and concentration of political power. Because of the federal government's protection of the big banks, small and moderate sized banks cannot compete. Failure to break up big corporate banks ensures their dominance of the economy and the government. It is time for the people to take back ownership of government and politics and it begins with breaking up the big banks.
We cannot count on the Congress or president to do this for us. It is our job to organize and mobilize for ourselves to make this OUR ECONOMY. The Sound of Resistance was part of the U.S. Uncut tax weekend protests challenging the banks for avoiding paying taxes. The Sound of Resistance will be the first of many that ItsOurEconomy.US will sponsor and we will be providing people with tools to build their own power to challenge the banks and other big business interests that pay no taxes but have the political power.
We can have the power. The people need to organize to take the economy and make it our own. We need to shift the power of government from big banks and big corporations and demand that the necessities of the people come before corporate profits. Join us - sign up at www.ItsOurEconomy.US - get involved and make a difference.
Kevin Zeese is the executive director of Its Our Economy.