The New Bottom Line
Fighting organized money takes organized people.
By Stephen Lerner and George Goehl Posted on December 14, 2011
Spring is shareholder meeting season for the big banks. These meetings are usually carefully scripted events, ignoring a handful of dissenters and quickly voting down shareholder resolutions that challenge unfair bank policies. But this year was different. For two weeks, from coast to coast and north to south a growing coalition of community groups and labor unions confronted and challenged Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase, demanding they pay to help fix the economy they crashed.
In Seattle, a weather balloon held up a banner that read “Wells Fargo, pay your taxes” as Judith Runstad, a local Wells Fargo board member, departed for the bank’s annual shareholder meeting in San Francisco.
Runstad and other board members and shareholders were met by hundreds of us: homeowners, clergy members, and union leaders. We surprised them by attending the meeting with shareholder proxies. Twelve community leaders were arrested when they openly challenged Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf to stop foreclosing on families.
We knelt and prayed for justice in Charlotte with religious leaders at the Bank of America meeting, calling on the bank to follow the words of Micah and not “defraud people of their home.”
We marched 20,000 strong in New York City, shutting down much of Wall Street as part of a week of actions demanding that banks and millionaires pay their fair share so that there is money to fund critical public services.
We crossed a “moat” using a portable drawbridge in Columbus, Ohio, at the JPMorgan Chase shareholder meeting where people dressed as Robin Hood outwitted an army of security to march on the meeting. Despite the use of mace, police horses, and dogs, hundreds of protesters held their ground while others who had shareholder proxies confronted CEO Jamie Dimon directly.
“As a person of faith, my God believes you shouldn’t take advantage of people when they are down,” said Dawn Dannenbring of the community group Illinois People’s Action while addressing Dimon. “Do you believe in the same God I believe in?”
Dimon’s response: “That’s a hard one to answer.”
There were also dozens of similar demonstrations against the bad behavior of banks and Wall Street going on around the country from Florida to Illinois, Iowa, Maine, and Missouri. They were all connected together with a common message about “making Wall Street and big banks pay” to fix the economy they wrecked. There was widespread local and national media coverage, and we used Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, websites, and Internet ads to spread our message about both who caused the economic crisis and the role banks should play in getting people back to work, keeping people in their homes, and raising the revenue to fund local and state governments.
All of this, of course, didn’t happen by accident.
Stephen Lerner is the architect of the SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, serves on the SEIU’s International Executive Board, and is a senior advisor to SEIU president Mary Kay Henry.
George Goehl is executive director of National People’s Action.