November 30, 2011

What do the Occupiers Want?

People are still asking me several times a week, "Exactly what is Occupy Wall Street protesting?" This video is one response.

But a much larger number of folks want to know what the Occupiers want. Do they want to replace capitalism with socialism? Some do. But, I think it would be better to tweek and reinvent capitalism so that it will help people rather than hurting them. Over the last 30 years, the richest amongst us have orchestrated the greatest redistribution of wealth this country has ever experienced. Do we need Robin Hood to take back from the wealthiest (the 1%) and redistribute to the rest (the 99%). Some think so. But, I'd rather remodel the system so that everyone can thrive. I could go on, but what I think is perhaps not so important.

And it's probably not so important that we all agree on everything or that we have one single demand. Some pieces of the solution have overwhelming support already, and, thus, may be easier to achieve. For example, almost everybody is dismayed by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. It doesn't matter what the Occupiers want, because you and I can immediately pitch in by supporting efforts to amend the Constitution, by signing a petition, getting involved locally, or joining the growing number of groups to get a local ballot initiative passed.

But from my perspective, creating regulations, providing incentives, and passing laws to safeguard the common good, to promote fairness, and to create more opportunity in our economy is hard. And, it's complicated. So, what we need to do is to get everybody moving on this. The folks down at the Occupation encampments can talk to each other, passers-by, and the police who are watching them. We can all talk to our neighbors and our family members and educate each other.

There are many opportunities for action within your spheres of influence. Do you order office supplies for your company? Consider buying from a small locally-owned store. Do you have a large Facebook following? Post videos to Facebook about the issues that you feel promote economic justice. Do you prepare the food you eat? You might not be able to end the government largesse toward large, environmentally-destructive Agribusiness in the next Farm Bill, but you may be able grow your own food organically or buy from local farmers. If you happen to have a high level job with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), make sure that large financial institutions that repeatedly commit fraud against investors are served up large punishments. Are you a research scientist? You can make sure that your research results are not co-opted by your funders. If you're eligible, get out and vote, especially if there is a candidate who will represent We-The-People. Do you have a lot of friends who watch Fox News and buy into the disinformation spread there? Ask them to consider another news source and explain why. They are your friends; they might listen.

Perhaps the Occupy Movement will get organized. Perhaps they will come up with a grand plan or even a single demand. But if that does not happen, Occupy Wall Street has engaged us in conversation. We can keep the conversation going. This is a teachable moment for all of us. An extremely teachable moment. And we can all help propel it to the next level. It is not a question of what the Occupiers want. Make your contribution. Now. And tomorrow. And then again, the next day.

November 26, 2011

Black Friday Range of Protests

Yesterday was Black Friday, when everybody is supposed to run to the store and buy Christmas presents. Since many of us have the day off, retailers often lure us into their stores with promotions and odd opening times. This year, the hours were even odder with Black Friday actually starting on Thursday for many of the largest retailers.

Two women from Occupy Sarasota wanted to protest that Walmart made their employees work on Thansgiving, a day they feel most employees want to spend celebrating with their family. Jeff Fox asks them to tell their story:

These two women took a stand, engaged shoppers on the issue, acted non-violently, and were told by Walmart security that if they did not leave they would be arrested.

Businesses since time immemorial have asked their employees to work when they don't want to. Certainly I would prefer it, if we could individually pick our work hours, but in many instances that would not work out too well. So, it's hard for me to rile up much indignation on this issue. And, in this case, where there is demand from consumers, who come out in droves during these supposed precious family occasions, I feel even less indignation. This is part of the beauty of the leaderless Occupy Movement. Each of us has the power to be a leader and act on those things important to us. Pilar and Leslie did just that and I commend them.

And there is a louder truth at play here. In the name of buying things, many times pointlessly buying things and buying pointless things, our society and our law enforcement turn a blind eye to injustices and illegalities. It's okay to pitch tents on the sidewalk, if you're waiting to buy consumer goods, but it's not okay to pitch tents on the sidewalk if you are part of Occupy Tampa and wish to speak out against income inequality and the corporate takeover of our democracy. Such distinctions have their roots in the outsized power captured by large corporate interests and are under intense scrutiny by the Occupy Movement.

In the wee hours of the morning, yesterday in Tampa, a larger protest organized around the buy-local ethic. During mic-check disruptions, Occupy Tampa repeats

...When you spend your dollar at a big chain store, only $.13 stays in the local economy. When you spend your dollar at a local, independent business, $.45 stays in the local economy...
Occupy Tampa held mic-check disruptions inside Walmart and Target stores and outside a Best Buy store.

Now this is an issue I can get behind. Think local first and buy local when you can. Why?

  • When you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned chains, more of your dollars percolate through local businesses, thus strengthening your community's economy.
  • Supporting local businesses helps preserve the unique character of your community.
  • The closer you shop to home, the less time, money, and energy you spend driving. You then contribute less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss, and pollution. (Or better yet, ride your bike and shop within bicycle distance)
  • Small local businesses create two out of every three new jobs.
  • There are additional reasons to buy and eat local food: keeps us in touch with our food seasons, protects us from bioterrorism, gives us more variety, tastier food, and fresher food

The Occupy Movement did not respond uniformly to Black Friday shopping. Due to differences of opinion, Occupy Sarasota did not come to a consensus on a response. Nonetheless, individuals acted individually and in small groups. Occupy Tampa staged mic-check disruptions. Other Occupy groups chose to condemn shopping itself and put their support behind Buy Nothing Day. This is the somewhat messy face of a grassroots movement. It represents a larger sharing of information, individual engagement around the issues, and newly self-empowered folks speaking out.

Sources: Occupy News, Open Letter News, Part 1, Open Letter News, Part 2, Occupy News, Occupy Marines, Big-Box Economic Impact Studies

November 25, 2011

Song, Collage, Film: Cultural Snaps from the Occupy Movement

There have been some fabulous cultural takes on the Occupy Movement. Today I came across a music video, occupying the song, "I Will Survive". The visuals are directed toward the police response to various Occupations, which to my mind is not where I want to direct most of my attention. However the voice is gorgeous.

I love the "We Are The 99%" tumblr archive page. It personally and beautifully documents the stories of many individuals. Each person shares their face and a written page on an everchanging mosaic. You can scroll back in time; you can zoom in on what interests you; you can comment on anything and everything. It is a wall of despair.

With all the video being generated by citizens on the ground, Occupy Wall Street documentaries are bound to follow. I had the privilege of seeing a pre-release of the Kevin Breslin film, #WhileWeWatch, and I enjoyed the prominent role played by citizen-journalists within Occupy Wall Street. The trailer makes a strong statement.

November 22, 2011

A Cornucopia of Constitutional Amendments

No sooner did I write about Jim McGovern's End Corporate Personhood Amendment, then another Congressperson introduced the OCCUPIED Amendment. Florida Representative Ted Deutch brings us the OCCUPIED Amendment in direct response to the Occupy Movement's grievances.

Here is a bit of history with respect to the Congressional response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizen's United case. On February 2, 2010, just days after the ruling, Maryland Representative Donna Edwards put forward a simple constitutional amendment to regulate the expenditure of funds that the Citizen's United case had just legalized. Michigan Representative John Conyers was a co-sponsor.

Section 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity.
Section 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.
The simplicity of this amendment is appealing. Although it makes clear that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals, it leaves untouched the offensive notion that corporations are people and thus might have other rights that people have. This bill was reintroduced in October of 2011.

On April 5, voters in Madison, Wisconsin and Dane County, Wisconsin passed a symbolic, non-binding measure calling for an amendment to the U.S. Consitution to make clear that corporations do not have constitutional rights and that political contributions may be regulated. On November 1, Boulder, Colorado passed an identical measure. Missoula, Montana voted identically one week later. These symbolic measures didn't just pass by a narrow margin. They passed 3 to 1. Evidently the primary reason it wasn't more of a landslide was due to concerns about adverse impacts on non-profits and unions.

During the first half of November, Ohio Representative Betty Sutton and New Mexico Senator Tom Udall introduced companion bills sponsoring another campaign finance amendment. These bills look almost the same as the one put forward by Representative Edwards. They all aim to give Congress and the States clear authority to regulate the campaign finance system. This bill does have a lot more cosponsors.

On November 16, Massachuesetts Representative Jim McGovern introduced an amendment to remove constitutional rights from corporations, LLCs, and other corporate entities. It does not speak directly to campaign spending, but it limits spending indirectly, since corporations would no longer have the right to free speech, which the recent Supreme Court rulings defined as including unlimited campaign contributions.

On November 18, Florida Representative Ted Deutch introduced the OCCUPIED amendment that both ends corporate personhood and prohibits corporate campaign contributions. There is also more language to avoid unintended consequences. Representative Deutch explains his amendment in common terms on his website and I embellish a bit.

Section 1. (Corporations are not people) This section expressly declares that the rights protected by the Constitution are those of natural persons and not of for-profit institutions. [I believe this is worded so as to protect some of the rights of public interest non-profits]
Section 2. (Corporations can be regulated by people) This section makes clear that as corporations are established by law, they are therefore able to be regulated by laws enacted by the people.
Section 3. (Corporate prohibition in electioneering) This would immeiately prohibit such corporations from using money or other resources to influence voting on candidates or ballot measures anywhere in the U.S. and at all levels - federal, state, and local.
Section 4. (Allowing for regulation of all electioneering, including individual and of other entities) This section gives Congress and the States power to regulate ALL election contributions and expenditures, including those rich enough to pay for their own campaigns. This is power Congress already has, but is under siege.
This amendment is far more detailed and nuanced than the previous ones. To my non-lawyerly eyes, it looks to be the best of the bunch. The full name is Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy, whose acronym is OCCUPIED. As it stands, the OCCUPIED amendment has a long and treacherous road to travel. In order for a constitutional amendment to become law, it must pass with a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and then be ratified by three-quarters of the states. The road is treacherous, because the corporate Super Pacs are already super-financed; they are probably already mapping out their attack strategies.

November 21, 2011

Super Committee Super Vigil

From my vantage point, the Occupy Movement seems largely secular. However, there are religious groups that do work in the same political sphere. Historically, religious forces in the U.S. have tugged at our national conscience to end slavery, reduce poverty, and fight for civil rights. More recently, the Faithful Budget Campaign formed an interfaith organization from Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. They sent a letter to members of the Congressional Super Committee requesting that programs serving the impoverished, hungry, homeless, disabled and elderly be exempted from budget cuts.

Yesterday, just hours after Republican and Democratic aides confirmed to CNN that the Congressional Debt Super Committee will probably fail to reach agreement, a national prayer vigil was held in Lafayette Park near the White House. Similar vigils were scheduled around the country. One was held in Sarasota outside the Federal Building downtown.

Local faith leaders spoke, including Reverend Albert L. Phillips of New Bethel Baptist Church in Sarasota, Rick Stein, President of the Sarasota Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, Reverend Roger Fritts of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, Lee Breyer, retired Catholic priest, and Reverend Brock Leach, Vice President at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. A common theme was that we are all called to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals -

November 20, 2011

Occupy Sarasota GA Discusses Participation in People's Convention of Florida

A couple of week's ago, Occupy Orlando announced its intention to hold a People's Convention of Florida with delegates from Occupations around the state. In keeping with the inclusivity and direct democracy of the Occupy Movement, members of the general public are also invited to participate. Occupy Sarasota reached consensus and decided to send a delegate. At yesterday's General Assembly, many topics were suggested to put forward at the Convention. One topic bandied about was the creation of a new political party. Individuals in the group were of different opinions on the subject.

November 19, 2011

OWS Conversation Possibly Influencing New Bills in Congress

"When CEOs are making more in ten minutes than the average worker earns in a year, and millions of families lose their homes due to unscrupulous lending, checked neither by a sense of corporate ethics or a vigilant government; when the dream of entering the middle class and staying there is fading for young people in our community, we have more work to do."
This could be a quote coming directly from the Occupy Movement. But in fact, Barack Obama made these statements when addressing the 99th NAACP Convention on July 12, 2008. In a huge disappointment for many of those who voted for him, President Obama has made no significant progress on these issues. So little has improved that a national conversation has emerged in the form of non-stop, coast to coast protest encampments.

I have been looking for signs that the discussion in the streets is impacting the discussion in political campaigns, or better yet, newly proposed legislation. I have found a few glimmers of hope.

In October, Elizabeth Warren entered the race for Massachusetts Senator. She reminded us all that “there’s nobody in this country who got rich on his own."

On November 14, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn released a 37 page report titled "Subsidies of the Rich and Famous". In this report he uses the language of Occupy Wall Street, noting that "the income of the wealthiest 1% has risen dramatically over the last decade." He goes on to decry the federal government largess that "lavishes these millionaires with billions of dollars in giveaways and tax breaks."

On November 15, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown filed the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge" bill, which would make it illegal for elected lawmakers and their staffs to use privileged inside government information in making personal investment decisions. Could it be that incumbent Scott Brown, who is running against Elizabeth Warren for Senate, is running scared? Does Elizabeth Warren and her support of Occupy Wall Street have him worried enough that he is suddenly standing up for consumer/investor protections? But it is not just Scott Brown. This bill has languished for years, and suddenly, there is one version in the House with two sponsors and two similar versions in the Senate.

On November 16, the House Financial Services Committee voted 52 to 4 to suspend current and future bonuses paid to executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Top earners at Fannie and Freddie had pay packages worth nearly $100 million in the period since the 2008 federal government bailout. The Senate is expected to consider similar legislation soon.

Also on November 16, in a much broader reach, Representative Jim McGovern introduced the 28th amendment, to put an end to the ridiculous nonsense that corporations are people. The People’s Rights Amendment goes beyond the scope of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. It puts a stake through the heart of corporate rights, rights which have been used by large corporations to evade public interest laws for decades. UPDATE 11/22/2011: A new OCCUPIED Amendment has now been introduced. More details on these amendments here.

This feels like an avalanche of good intentions. The OWS dialog now has echoes in Congress. You can help turn these intentions into law by calling your U.S. representatives and telling them of your support. You can also sign Jim McGover's petition to end corporate personhood. Then invite your friends and family to do the same.

November 15, 2011

Zuccotti Park Protesters Evicted During Media Blackout

In a previous post, I looked at citizen journalism and commented on what appeared to be censorship following the first Occupy Oakland eviction. At about 1am this morning, the police evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park in a surprise raid, using similar tactics.

Credentialed reporter after credentialed reporter tweeted about being barred from the scene, roughed up, or arrested. About an hour into it, Hunter Walker of the New York Observer tweeted that the New York Police Department was blocking press access to the immediate area. News blog from the Guardian reports that a number of journalists were arrested - Julie Walker with national Public Radio, Matthew Lysiak with the New York Daily News, and Karen Matthews with the Associated Press. And to tie a bow on it, Anthony De Rosa from Reuters tweeted that the NYPD told CBS News to remove their helicopter from Zuccotti Park airspace.

Media freedom is convenient when there is no dissent. When there is dissent, this freedom may be suspended. Occupier first amendment rights are reasonable, when they are out of sight and out of earshot. When Occupying in a public place, these rights may be curbed.

For health and safety reasons.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg cites health and safety concerns as the reason for eviction. Noise was kept down, crime was not up, the park was continually cleaned, and traffic flowed smoothly. What health and safety issues? Need I comment on the health and safety threats of police batons and pepper spray? Update: A New York State Supreme Court judge had the final say today. Although New Yorkers have the right to protest and assemble, this does not necessarily include the right to occupy a public area full time or to bring in tents and equipment. Rick Ellis writes for the Examiner that the FBI may be advising local governments concerning how to handle the press.

November 14, 2011

Protesters Outside Mitt Romney Fundraiser

The Awake The State Movement and Planned Parenthood called on a few supporters to protest at a Mitt Romney fundraiser in the Lido Shores neighborhood this evening. Mitt Romney said that he would have voted for the Mississippi personhood amendment had he lived there. That brought out the Planned Parenthood signs. But underneath the interest in women's health care simmers a broad discontent, the same discontent that is feeding the Occupy Movement. Just prior to the Iowa straw poll, Mitt Romney stated with some condescension that "Corporations are people, my friend ... of course they are". Most people see right through this bit of nonsense; they know that corporations come into existence as pieces of paper, documented by state governments. And most people feel corporations are not people and should not be treated as if they were.

About fifteen real people attended tonight's protest, and many of them were quite happy to share their displeasure with Mitt Romney, the corporatist sentiments that he espouses, and the resounding government inaction to the problems confronting the United States -

November 11, 2011

Occupy Sarasota Gathers for Veterans Day

For Veterans Day, a small Occupy Sarasota gathering assembled in Five Points Park. One member requested that we meditate together for the Most Epic Wish. For several minutes at 11:11 on 11-11-11, we closed our eyes and wished our deepest wish. Some of us shared our thoughts afterwards.

November 10, 2011

Occupation Around the Nation

OWS Occupiers have started a two week pilgrimage from Liberty Plaza in New York City to Washington DC. They plan to arrive in DC in time for the Super Committe deadline to reduce the federal deficit. Along the way, anyone can join in this soon-to-be-historic walk. And they are hoping that more folks in rural communities will get involved. This is the geographic enactment of the corporate buyout of the federal government - a walk that connects Wall Street and Washington DC.

Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren doesn't back down. Is it fair to link Elizabeth Warren with Occupy Wall Street? She says it's fair to say that she's been protesting Wall Street for years and years. She is not running and hiding from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS group television ads. Bravo!

An incomplete list of recent and upcoming evictions include Occupy Portland, Occupy Detroit, Occupy St. Louis, and Occupy Norfolk.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) polled local governments to monitor their sentiments vis-a-vis the Occupy Movement. Out of 4,100 local governments, 376 responded. The resulting report shows a range of reactions on a range of subjects. One chart shows how concerned local government managers are regarding health, safety, and property issues. Media portrayals to the contrary, most are not concerned.

I still don't see any official numbers out concerning bank transfers that occurred on Bank Transfer Day. But here is some anecdotal evidence of the response.

November 8, 2011

Targeted Voter Suppression

The Florida legislative session ending April 30 was crammed with attempts to curtail civil rights. I knew about these efforts as soon as they were introduced, because I was on the receiving end of email alerts from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. As a result of the 2011 legislative session, Florida is now one step closer to government funding of religion. The voters will have a chance to weigh in on this one. There were a total of eighteen separate bills filed to limit, discourage, or outlaw reproductive freedom, most of which did not pass. Many new restrictions on voting did pass. A Senate proposal criminalized a doctor asking a patient if they had a gun at home; it would have come with a $1 million fine. Thankfully this was scaled back. You get the picture. The ACLU provides a more detailed report.

Which of these issues might be of interest to the Occupy Movement? Here's a hint. In Florida, it is now harder to register to vote, harder to vote, and harder to have your vote counted. There are new restrictions on vote monitoring and election auditing. To be more specific, new Florida legislation reduces the number of days for early voting from fourteen to eight. Registering people to vote now comes with such a large fine for minor infractions that the League of Women Voters abandoned their 72 year tradition of voter registration drives in Florida. This comes on top of existing photo identification requirements. I worked as a precinct clerk at the polls through several election cycles. An out-of-state driver's license could not be used as a valid photo id; sorry out-of-state college students, we don't want you voting here. The list goes on.

Just this evening, I received a newsletter from my U.S. Senator, Bill Nelson, letting me know that "Many believe a handful of super-rich conservative activists are behind an orchestrated effort to keep millions of seniors, younger voters and minorities from casting ballots next year." Thank you Senator Nelson for not being fooled into thinking this is about clean elections. As it turns out, laws similar to those passed in Florida were also passed in many other states. According to Robert Greenwald and Brave New Foundation, this is part of a larger coordinated effort by the Koch Brothers and

the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. ALEC is a corporate sponsored group that lets large corporations help write legislation that is then provided to state legislators across the country. This power dynamic is exactly where the Occupy Movement is focusing its high beams. If you want to take action against voter suppression laws, sign this petition to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Sources: ACLU of Florida, Senator Bill Nelson's, Alec Watch

November 7, 2011

Spotlight Occupy

There have been oodles of news reports from Occupations across the nation. From the smallest hamlet to the largest cosmopolitan venues, protesters have taken up residence in public spaces to let their grievances be known and to look for solutions. Local government response has been decidedly variable. Both citizen media and mainstream media have focused the majority of their attention on hostility, destruction and violence. However there is more under the hood.

Some municipalities have responded positively. For instance, the powers that be in Miami, Florida have given Occupy Miami a permit to use the park by the Government Center rail station indefinitely. Occupy Miami calls their encampment Peace City. Open Letter News reports stories of local police bringing pizzas and a few even staying overnight in the camp. With a strong geographic foothold, they have set a goal of 99 actions in 99 places. So far I have been able to track down these actions: "Hip Hop & Rock Jam", "March on the Financial District", "Miami's 99% Take on Bank of America March", "Teach-In on U.S. War Policy and Profiteering", and an "Occupalooza" Concert.

I haven't seen any numbers reported concerning account closures and openings as a result of Bank Transfer Day. But, a dedicated community group in San Jose, California, decided to take it to the next level. They approached the City Council to have them steer their funds away from banks with a poor record of modifying loans to stop preventable foreclosures. On October 25, they announced that the City of San Jose had diverted nearly $1 billion from Bank of America over the last year.
This action predated Occupy Wall Street. As did the call for Bank Transfer Day. However, it is a wonderful example of the power we have within our local communities. It is also an innovative approach that delivers a strong punch. It is very much like Occupy Wall Street.

Many of the local Occupations must raise their own money, hire lawyers, make their own meals, make their own media, and handle internal security while trying to model an ideal society. In many locales, they are accomplishing this despite agents provocateurs, police harassment, and bad weather. Last week in New York City, the Fire and Police Departments confiscated Occupy Wall Street's generators, due to safety violations. Amazingly, within 48 hours, volunteers pedaling bicycles equipped with generators were providing electricity to the encampment. Their pedaling produces some of the electricity needed for their communications equipment, cell phones, lighting, and kitchen. Update November 8:The Atlantic Wire reports that the New York Fire Department gave the generators back last week because they had no basis to confiscate them. May the Occupiers continue to pedal for their environmentally friendly electricity.
Another great project is a greywater system, which filters dirty water from the kitchen through wood chips and other materials. The resulting water benefits the plants in Zuccotti Park. A Sustainability Group has recently been formalized. It is looking into addressing winter's cold weather by developing non-toxic, reusable, homemade heat packs.

As I hear about these innovations, I wonder why I haven't put together my own bicycle generator yet. Time to quick step my pedaling!

Sources: Open Letter News, PICO National Network, Campus Progress, Inhabitat New York City, Atlantic Wire

November 5, 2011

Sarasota Bank Transfer Day

The big banks thought they would start charging customers to use their debit cards. Wells Fargo and Chase were testing out a $3 monthly fee. SunTrust was charging $5. Bank of America was planning a $5 fee. Stephen Troutner from Citibank said “We have talked to customers and they have made it abundantly clear that ‘if you charge me to use my debit card, I would find that very irritating'". Mr. Troutner was right.

Customers were so irritated with this new wave of fees that many of them voted with their feet. For the month since September 29, when Bank of America made their announcement, over 650,000 joined a credit union. That's 50,000 more than joined in ALL of 2010. By November 1, all of the big banks had scrapped these planned fees. I thought this might put a crimp in plans for today's Bank Transfer Day. It did not. The same issues are still in play.

This morning following a General Assembly, Occupy Sarasota held a march around downtown. Most Sarasota downtown banks were closed today, so it comes as no surprise that nobody in the group chose to close their bank account today. For my part, I closed my Bank of America account yesterday. As we marched, I spoke with several protesters and bystanders to find out where they did their banking. Here are the answers in the order in which I received them:

  • no bank, uses money orders when necessary
  • Bank of the Ozarks (who knew there was a branch in Bradenton, FL),
  • will be switching to Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida,
  • BB&T (one of the banks that received bailout funds),
  • Ukrainian Federal Credit Union (internet banking),
  • as of today, will switch out of Bank of America, but not sure where
  • no bank, uses cash
The marchers made it back to Five Points for a discussion of possible future directions for Occupy Sarasota. Unfortunately, I had to leave early and cannot report on whether any decisions were made.

Sources: New York Times, Credit Union National Associaiton Press Release

November 3, 2011

Bank Customer Mishaps

This Saturday is Bank Transfer Day. I have detailed why this is a great idea and how you can participate. At this point, many folks have already closed their bank accounts with little fanfare. But a few have had trouble and uploaded videotapes documenting their problems. Watch what happened so that you can plan your bank transfer accordingly.

On October 7, two women in Santa Cruz attempted to close their Bank of America accounts. The manager said that they could not be protesters and customers at the same time. She refused to close their accounts.

A group in New York City held a Citibank account close-out on October 15. There were some reports via social media outlets that Citibank was having customers arrested for closing their bank accounts. It turns out, they were arrested for trespassing. That is to say, they would not leave the premises when asked. That was probably true. But what caused a heated outcry was that once the protesters did try to leave, the bank folks would not let them! They physically barred the way, until the police arrived. I suppose you could call that a counter-protest. Video shot from outside the bank. Video shot from inside the bank. Speakout/Protest inside the bank.

November 2, 2011

Saturday is Bank Transfer Day

This Saturday, November 5, 2011, is Bank Transfer Day. KTLA news reports that Kristen Christian "was tired of paying outrageous fees to banks for a severe lack of services." So she started the Bank Transfer Day Facebook page encouraging visitors to shift their accounts from banks to credit unions. Kristen sounds like an enthusiastic Occupier, but in fact her Facebook page denies that she was inspired by or organized by Occupy Wall Street. Conversely, Occupy Wall Street wholeheartedly backs Bank Transfer Day. As do I.

I see several reasons to participate in this event.

  1. The big banks have spent millions lobbying to gut bank reforms. It's bad policy to have banks with so much money that they can write laws, purchase politicians, and regulate the bank regulators. Here's some of the data collected by
    Moving your money out of these banks gives them less money to work with.
  2. The 2009 bank bailout brought many troubled banks back to profitability. But the primary goals of protecting home values, preserving homeownership, and increasing bank lending were not achieved. Foreclosures continue to mount. Lending did not increase but rather continued to decline well into the recovery. Banks had the ability to do something about this, but did as little as possible. When you close your bank account, let them know this is not acceptable.
  3. When the credit crisis struck in 2008, federal regulators poured tens of billions of dollars into the nation's leading financial institutions because the banks were so big that officials feared their failure would reverberate throughout the economy causing a disastrous wave of bankrupcies. Unfortunately, the biggest banks are now 20 percent larger than they were before the crisis and control a larger part of our economy than ever. When you move money out of these big banks, you make them smaller!
  4. The extravagant bonus system for bank executives probably contributed to the financial crisis by encouraging high risk strategies, with taxpayers paying for losing strategies. Big banks seem especially prone to the "Lake Wobegone" effect, where all of their executives are above average and should be paid accordingly. These bonuses shake my confidence in the ability of large banks to engage in relatively safe investments.
Notice that I did not include the main reason most people are so infuriated with their bank, namely the newly-proposed-and-already-terminated $5/month debit card fee. Even though this seems excessive, I don't think it's a particularly good reason. But I do agree that politicians and regulators have been completely paralyzed when it comes to taking necessary action. Consequently, it's up to you and me to do something about it.

Here's what you can do.

  1. Find out if your bank or credit card company was "too big to fail." In other words, did they receive bailout funds. If not, pat yourself on the back and stop here.
  2. Open a checking, savings, and/or credit card account with a small community bank or credit union. Look for one at
  3. Over the next month, transfer your funds and recurring payments to this new account.
  4. Once the new account is up and all your payments have cleared your old account, close that account and tell your bank why.

On Saturday, November 5, Occupy Sarasota is planning a Transfer Your Money March. All marchers welcome at 9:30am at Five Points Park, downtown.

Sources: KTLA news, The Washington Post, Move Your Money Project