Cross-posted at OpenLeft.com
You can feel it starting to grow, a momentum around doing something real to take on the big banks on Wall Street. People are taking to the streets. The SEC is finally beginning to do its job. Democratic politicians are getting more aggressive, and Republicans are getting more nervous. And as John Paul Jones might have put it, we have not yet begun to fight.
Let me stipulate right away that we haven't won anything yet, and that no matter what happens with the financial reform bill currently in front of Congress, this is going to be a very long, very hard fight. Companies as powerful as these Wall Street monsters will not be reined in anytime soon. Even if the best of the House bill gets combined with the best of the Senate bill (and that is a very big if), we won't be even close to where we need to be in terms of breaking up the big banks and bringing them to a reasonable size and a reasonable amount of power. We won't be done with Wall Street cozying up to and capturing regulators or politicians. We won't be done with Wall Street financiers trying to talk corrupt or naïve local officials into doing deals that are terrible for their communities. And even with the best intentions of legislators, we can expect that the price of passage for any bill will be loopholes inserted by Wall Street lobbyists that the clever lawyers and financiers on Wall Street will immediately start worming through.
This will be a long battle, not unlike health care reform in my view. Working to pass the best possible bill is just the first step for progressives, but we need to keep organizing to open up multiple fronts in a long-term battle. Just like with health care, we have to continue to expose Wall Street/insurance company abuses of power, push regulators to do the right things and expose them when they don't, fight battles at the state and local levels, and fight for stronger reforms year after year in Congress.
We have to keep the pressure on these bank behemoths in many different ways. The SEC action against Goldman Sachs is very encouraging, but we have to keep pushing both the SEC and the Department of Justice to be very aggressive In taking on what prosecutors call control fraud: fraud that emanates from the top executives who control these companies. There were over 1,000 different control fraud prosecutors in the Savings and Loan scandal in the 1980s, but very few so far now, and we need to find out what is going on. The government hasn't even released the e-mails generated by AIG executives in their meltdown so that they can be examined, and we own that company outright.
I'm also pleased that politicians are starting to get more aggressive about this issue. Bill Halter called over the weekend for Blanche Lincoln to give back all of her money from Goldman Sachs executives, and that's a great political tactic. We all ought to be asking our politicians to stop raising money from these big banks that have wrecked out economy and been bailed out. The more we can get politicians to unhook from the big banks' money, the better off we will be.
Finally, we have to keep putting our feet in the streets. I am very excited about a series of demonstrations that SEIU, the AFL-CIO, National People's Action, PICO, and other groups have been organizing. They will be in:
• April 27th : San Francisco, CA - PICO National Network, SEIU, AFL, Just Cause and other organizations are sponsoring a large public event focused on demanding a broad set of corporate policy changes at the Wells Fargo annual Shareholders Meeting. The event will include a march by 1,000+ people through the heart of the San Francisco Financial District.
• April 27th: Kansas City, KS - Family farmers, retireers, workers, and students from throughout the Heartland of America will gather in the financial district of Kansas City designed to engage people from the Plain states in this campaign. The focus of the action will be to pressure Bank of America to divest in payday lending and do more to keep families in their homes and spur community-led economic development.
• April 28th : Charlotte, NC - Southeast IAF, Community Reinvestment Alliance of North Carolina, NAACP of North Carolina and PICO will hold a large public demonstration at the Bank of America annual Shareholders Meeting. Homeowners facing foreclosure accompanied by veterans and clergy will participate in the Shareholder meeting to speak publicly about Bank of America's foreclosure and lending record, while a much larger group will gather outside.
• April 29th: Wall Street, New York City - National People's Action, along with the AFL-CIO, SEIU, PICO affiliates in New York City and local community groups are organizing a"Showdown on Wall Street," with more than 10,000 people expected to attend.
• May 15-17: Washington, DC -- "Showdown on K-Street" actions to highlight the money that banks and Wall Street are pouring into Congress, and demand that politicians stop taking Wall Street money. Actions of varying sizes and tactics will take place over several days, drawing participants from a large cross section of community groups and unions.
These events will be one more chance to push back on the big banks and make our voices heard.
Big change does not come from legislative fights alone. As important as passing a good financial reform bill is, we are going to have to keep organizing and keep the heat on Wall Street. This is a battle that will play out on a lot of different fronts over the next few years- from mass demonstrations to the Move Your Money campaign, from divestiture campaigns in universities to legal actions from consumer groups, from ballot initiatives to online organizing. The momentum is building, but it will take years to tame the power of the big banks.
You can read more of my work on financial reform, health care and other topics at my home blog, OpenLeft.com.