In its second week, hundreds of people have taken over Liberty Square as part of Occupy Wall Street. What started as a loosely organized protest against the corrupting impact that Wall Street and big financial institutions have had on our democracy seems to be growing into something larger. The persistence and increasing organization of the mostly young protestors is tapping into the pain and disillusionment that millions of young Americans across the nation are feeling as they face bleak economic prospects that show little sign of improving.
As the Occupy Wall Street protestors lift up the pain that young Americans are experiencing and take it directly to the heart of our country’s corrupted financial system, other movements composed of homeowners, the jobless, faith leaders and the growing ranks of the poor are doing the same. And even better, these groups are demanding that the very banks that caused the economic mess in the first place take specific actions to clean it up and get the economy back on track.
Earlier this week in California, homeowners, community members, faith leaders and students protested and shut down an auction of foreclosed homes as part of a week-long series of actions to demand that the nation’s big banks stop the foreclosure crisis from wreaking any more havoc on their communities.
In Ohio, community leaders and union members sent a clear message to U.S. Bank to “clean up the mess they caused” by delivering trash they had collected from a bank-owned foreclosed property to a bank branch.
And in Boston, at least 1,000 people are expected to take to the streets on Friday for a march on Bank of America. They plan to hold a peaceful sit-in at the bank’s Massachusetts headquarters to demand that BofA reduce principal on inflated home mortgages in Boston.
Members and allies of The New Bottom Line —a new movement fueled by a coalition of grassroots organizing groups—are organizing these rolling weeks of action in cities across the country.
Across the nation, everyday people are fed up with the wealth-stripping and democracy-perverting practices of Wall Street and big banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase. But what’s most amazing about this growing movement is the diversity of the people who are stepping up to take action.
Three years ago, when the collapse of Wall Street banks pushed our economy to the brink, taxpayers bailed out the very banks that caused the crisis. Instead of demonstrating gratitude to the people who helped them survive, the banks continued to hand out big bonuses, lobbied against financial reform, actively avoided paying their fair share of taxes, and unfairly foreclosed on millions of families.
Now what do we have? Eleven million jobs lost, millions of foreclosed homes, billions in pensions wiped away and tens of thousands of vacant bank-owned properties littering neighborhoods from coast to coast. As of this summer, 51.1 percent of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 were unemployed, while debt from student loans has spiked. A reported 46.2 million people were in poverty in 2010, the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published. The wealth gap between whites and African-Americans and Hispanics has almost doubled—a direct result of the housing market collapse.
Young people, underwater homeowners, foreclosure fraud victims, the unemployed and more—the very people hurt most in this economic crisis—are the heart of this growing Wall Street accountability movement.
Many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters are young people, displaying their passion and concern not just for not their own future but also for the future of our country. They come from all over, hundreds of individuals who may not have known each other just a few weeks ago but who are now standing together for change.
Many of the people taking action with The New Bottom Line are struggling and middle-class workers; African Americans, Latinos, Asians, whites and more; homeowners, clergy members, and union members with deep roots in their communities. They include self-described progressives, moderates and conservatives who are united by the economic and social pain of the crisis and the desire to see Wall Street held accountable for the fraud they have committed. They are willing to take public action together, get arrested together and even sing together.
While they are going about their work in different ways, what binds everyone together is the vision of an economy and a democracy that work for all of us, and the feeling that to achieve this vision, we must start by placing a clear check on Wall Street’s power.
And the movement is only starting. Occupy Wall Street is spreading in cities across the country. Rolling weeks of protests in cities across the country organized by members and allies of The New Bottom Line have only just begun.
When more than 1,000 progressives gather in Washington next week for the Take Back the American Dream conference, they can celebrate that this is the spark that our country has long been waiting for. As people share strategies and ideas on how to rebuild our economy and reclaim our democracy, it is crucial to understand that nothing will change if we don’t challenge and change the ways of Wall Street. The creativity, the ideas and the power generated by the boots on the ground represents the most real opportunity we have to change the future of this country.
While we must focus on upcoming elections and fights in Congress, we must also put our energy into supporting the people on the streets—because they are fueling the energy and excitement that will create a groundswell.
We need everybody from all walks of life building this movement. Because it’s going to take all of us and all we have to build a new bottom line for America that puts the economic well-being of everyday people first.
Tracy Van Slyke is the co-director of The New Bottom Line, a new and growing movement fueled by a coalition of community organizations, congregations, labor unions, and individuals working together to challenge established big bank interests on behalf of struggling and middle-class communities. Members include National People’s Action, Alliance for a Just Society and PICO National Network. She will speaking on these issues at the Oct. 3-5 Take Back the American Dream conference.
Follow New Bottom Line on twitter @NBLcampaign or http://www.facebook.com/newbottomline. Follow Occupy Wall Street at https://occupywallst.org/, on twitter at #occupywallstreet or http://www.facebook.com/OccupyWallSt.