Thanks to MASSPIRG and Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), I'll be going to Washington next week to meet with my Congressmen. I'm hoping to have thousands of stories on shamethebanks.org from people who have suffered at the hands of banks and financial institutions. The same banks and institutions who have been allowed to run amok on Wall Street and nearly took the rest of us down with them less than two years ago.
When I get there I want to show Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown why this country needs financial reform and why we need their vote on the The Restoring American Financial Stability Act. Your letters and stories will serve as irrefutable evidence that Congress needs to reform the way Wall Street has been doing business.
I, along with others representing several states from across the country are there to send a message that a vote for financial reform is a vote for Main Street and that we still count.
If you've followed my posts here or on the shamethebanks.org website you know that my wife and I have been affected personally and financially by the lack of regulation and oversight of this country's financial industry.
While our homes, credit, and what little savings we've been able to hold on to is looted, we watch while companies like Goldman Sachs give out $5 billion in bonuses for three months of work in the wake of charges of fraud. Money they were able to make because people like us have been working all our lives to pay taxes.
Millions of people in this country have felt the effects of the utter disregard, hubris, and arrogance that nearly crippled this country and wiped out the chance for most of us to scratch out a living and maintain our dignity and self-respect.
In addition to my own story, radio interviews, and writing about it on Huffington Post and my own site, I've received and heard hundreds of stories from people whose lives have been impacted by this crisis. Through e-mails and conversations, I've heard numerous stories from people who have lost their job, seen their home lose 40-60 percent of its value over night, been scammed by loan mod companies, seen credit card interest rates shoot up to 29 percent and FICO scores plummet, watched their bank accounts be depleted, been insulted by ignorant anonymous commenters, told by government agency employees that this entire economic disaster was their fault. Been threatened with, in some cases, fraudulent foreclosure, had the Sheriff at their door, and been subjected to ridiculous requests for paperwork and documents only to find that at the end of it all they will inevitably be denied the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick after seemingly playing by the rules -- rules that change on a daily basis, on a whim, and without warning.
I also understand the apathy, fear, and lack of time people have to invest in a cause. Even one as important as this. But I have to remind myself of what a friend (a consumer protection attorney for over 30 years) said to me not too long ago when I was considering throwing in the towel.
"I have to believe that it takes a spark to start a prairie fire and that there's a chance I could be that spark."
The people who wrote and service these sloppy, unconscionable, and poorly written loans are heard by Congress every day. As are the credit card companies and banks that charge 29 percent interest rates and $65 overdraft fees. When was the last time any of us were heard? Most members of Congress are oblivious to what goes on in their own state. Nor do they make an effort to understand or listen to real stories.
In a recent post, "Why Homeowners aren't Being Heard", about Barney Frank's office soliciting homeowner stories for a hearing, I wrote, "The request for stories, allegedly from Frank's office, was made in much the same way a 5th grader might do a science project. The night before with practically no research."
Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, together with an unfortunately short list of advocacy groups and elected officials is working hard to protect us and put an end to what can only be described as the pillaging of American working families. They are working to get Congress to pass the financial regulatory reform bill. This trip has been organized to send people from different parts of the country to Congress in an attempt to have our voices heard by the people we put in charge and who hold our fate in their vote.
The bill, according to AFR and Warren, "would offer protections for regular people from things like credit card interest rates and fees that increase for no justifiable reason; incomprehensible, trick mortgages peddled to people who qualified for regular mortgages; and car dealers who get kickbacks for selling people high cost loans when they qualify for more affordable credit."
This bill addresses the precise key areas and would protect Main Street and American families from the irresponsible behavior that went unchecked and allowed the banks to wreak nearly unrecoverable havoc on American families. The residual damage has made it impossible for many of us to ever attain the now elusive American dream.
True to his intellectually dishonest form, Republican leader and Kentucky Republican, Mitch McConnell has been tossing out the word "bailout" in the hopes of killing the bill by putting his own spin on its actual wording. McConnell's claim that the financial reform bill "actually guarantees future bailouts of Wall Street banks" at the expense of taxpayers is false, according to Politifact.
While the bill definitely has the support of key decision-makers like President Obama, Timothy Geithner, Chris Dodd, and John Kerry to name a few, other Senators (all 41 of the GOP according to CBS News) are planning to filibuster the bill and have voiced their opposition despite the overwhelming evidence showing a desperate need for reform.
Scott Brown, from my own state, can't even describe the bill, but is confident that he will oppose it.
In an almost Palin-esque moment during a Boston Globe interview, when asked what areas he thought should be fixed, he replied: "Well, what areas do you think should be fixed? I mean, you know, tell me. And then I'll get a team and go fix it."
Why do we need Scott Brown, or anyone, to assemble a team to tell your stories, your letters, and your outrage? You are the team. Some of you have already written your story in the form of hardship letters, forum posts, and letters to the media or to your elected officials. Go to shamethebanks.org, register on the site, and post your story.
The years of lobbying to deregulate the financial industry is what caused the American dream to slip further away from us, our children, our family, and our friends in a short period of time. We must let Congress know that this bill is their chance to save that dream.
The people in Congress and on Wall Street who are opposing this bill count on our apathy and laziness. They Bank on it. Let's show them that they're wrong.
I'm encouraging you to share this post via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and any form of social media you know of. Post to forums and web sites if you're so inclined. I'd be willing to bet that you or someone you know has a story they'd like to share on shamethebanks.org of how they were mistreated, duped, taken advantage of, or generally screwed financially because we've simply let these guys run the show and make up the rules as they go along.
Follow Richard Zombeck on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zombeck