On Monday, the "Showdown in Chicago" once again started on a festive note. Activists from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition took up their electric guitars and broke into the Bailout Blues: "They hate regulation, it stifles their plans. So they pay the lawmakers, to free up their hands. We're coming together, our eyes on the prize. When they are held to account, don't be surprised."
The welcome and opening were by the Reverend Tony Pierce, Central Illinois Organizing Project, who noted: "We are not here to cause trouble; we are here because we are in trouble." Many speakers talked about different aspects of the crisis, including farmer Larry Huelskoetter, of Farmers Supporting Independent Agriculture, who recalled the day a Wall Street bank called to buy his family farm. He talked about the linkages between Wall Street and megafarmers. "Large loans are given to large-scale megafarmers, some of these loans reach $15 million dollars. These farms think they are too big to fail, they are extended credit that family farmers can only imagine and they are leveraged to the hilt." The result? Rural communities in shambles. "In the small town where I grew up, the only business left is the U.S. post office. Everything else is boarded up."
The keynote speaker of the morning was FDIC chairwoman, Sheila Bair, who arrived and was greeted like a rock star with a standing ovation. With a rather bemused expression on her face, she recounted the measures that FDIC had taken over the past few years to refinance mortgages and push regulators to address the snow-balling crisis. "As most of you know I have made it a priority at the FDIC to help more consumers enter the main-stream financial system, and to protect customers at insured depository institutions from deceptive practices. So we do stand together in our goals to bring more everyday Americans into the financial mainstream, to keep people in their homes and to help them save and invest for the future and to bring reforms to make the system more stable, transparent and safer for everyday Americans. I am angry and I know you are angry about the devastation wreaked on our nation by the explosion of destructive lending practices that have devastated so many of our communities. The FDIC has not stood idly by ... The tremendous gains we have seen in home ownership are threatened by foreclosures as they mount, driven by unaffordable mortgages. Many of the worst lending practices originated outside of the banking sector, a fact that should be acknowledged, in unregulated markets. But regulated banks and some of their affiliates began competing for mortgages and went along with some of these same practices. Too many went along in a race to the bottom and regulators did too little to prevent it. In March of 2007, FDIC was the first regulator to shut down some of these practices and call for national lending standards. This was then a radical idea, but we saw it as the best option and we didn't give up."
She then went on to recount many of the early warnings issued by the FDIC who saw a potential tidal wave of foreclosures. FDIC also commented publicly on problems with the weak loan-modification programs put in place by the banks.
In the audience were many families still facing foreclosure, who nodded when Bair noted that not enough was being done and that the Obama administration's much-touted Home Affordable Modification or HAMP program, which gives banks financial incentives to modify home loans, could be working better. Bair noted that the major roadblock was mortgage service firms which were "reluctant to deviate from the standard practice of foreclosure."
Trenda Kennedy, from Springfield, Illinois, has experienced the banker's recalcitrance first hand. She has been in foreclosure since the market crash of September 2008. Her mortgage is owned by Bank of America (BofA). She has researched every detail of the HAMP program and is convinced she qualifies, but keeps getting denied and shuffled from one "customer service rep to another. "At this moment she is staving off a Sheriff's sale by arguing daily with BofA. Trenda knows BofA received a $45 billion dollar bailout. How does that make her feel?" Pissed, really pissed. Our house is a $100,000 mortgage. It's a drop in the bucket. They have their $45 billion why should they care about average Americans?" Trenda keeps a detailed log of every call and knows she is being given the run around. "It's pure indifference. They are not looking at the information closely to see if you qualify or don't qualify. It's so above and beyond anything you could ever imagine. One customer service rep told me flat out 'I don't know why you are being denied.'" Unfortunately, Trenda was not able to talk to Sheila Bair before the FDIC chief left the room and may lose her home if something is not done soon.
After the keynote, activists were asked to stand, put a large "Sheriff's" badge on their arm and be sworn in as "Deputies for the American People."
Their pledge: "I (fill in name) accept my responsibility as a deputy for the American people, to show up for the Showdown in Chicago. We are going to the ABA to remind them that the only thing that is too big to fail is us the American people."
Once deputized, protesters loaded into a dozen school buses to confront the Banksters. First up, Goldman Sachs. The gleaming glass edifice towered over protesters whose chants included "Hey Goldman Sachs, we want our money back," "Hey Lloyd Blankfein, you should resign," " P-U what's that smell? It's the vampire squid from hell," and of course "Goldman Sucks."
The focus at Goldman was the $10 billion in taxpayer support that went to stabilize the institution which has translated into a bonus pool of some $16-23 billion this year. Activists thought they might find a good use for some the $23 billion, such as stopping every foreclosure in America. A Goldman representative took the activist's letter and promised to deliver it to appropriate parties.
Satisfied that their letter was received, about 500 activists walked around the corner and right into the lobby of Wells Fargo catching security flat-footed. The chant "Bailout? No thanks. Bust up big banks!" echoed in the cavernous lobby while security and police scrambled to secure the doors. Microphones in hand, organizers outlined their demands:
We have some ideas on how Wells Fargo can clean up the mess they made. Negotiate a comprehensive community reinvestment and foreclosure prevention agreement. The discriminatory and predatory lending practices that Wells Fargo has been engaging in has lead to a catastrophic number of home foreclosures. We want an immediate moratorium on foreclosures until we can agree upon a workable plan for assisting families. Wells Fargo must cease all foreclosure processes. Not one more family should be on the streets because Wells Fargo is unwilling to work for them. Wells Fargo must also stop supporting payday lenders and institute small dollar loan programs in all Wells Fargo markets.
Also present at the rally was Keith Springer, of United Electrical Local 1174 at Quad-City Die Casting in Moline, Illinois. "We are here because Wells Fargo shut us down September the 4th. In May, they took our health insurance and our vacation pay away from us [in violation of the union contract]. We want our money back." 100 workers lost their jobs, most of them represented by UE.
It was a busy day for the Showdowners, but they were not done. They stopped by the ABA convention to greet conventioneers as they left the building for lunch at the local Chop House. On a corner standing alone was a group of ghoulish-looking masked protestors dressed in black with white face masks and faux cleavers who whispered "give it back," to the bankers and their spouses as they passed by on the way to the Chop House.
All this was prelude to the big march tomorrow, Tuesday, at 10:00 a.m. For details, visit www.stopbankgreed.com.
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