When the American Bankers Association scheduled their annual meeting in Chicago for this week, they probably weren’t expecting the reception they’ve received. Instead of a quiet convention in a downtown hotel, the ABA has been greeted by a parallel gathering of thousands of people in what organizers call the "Showdown in Chicago." Spearheaded by the group National People’s Action, organizers have tried to bring together a cross-section of Americans affected by the financial meltdown, including homeowners, renters, farmers, workers and retirees. The Showdown kicked off Sunday when protesters entered the lobby of the hotel where the ABA delegates are gathering. [includes rush transcript]
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: When the American Bankers Association scheduled their annual meeting in Chicago for this week, they probably weren’t expecting the reception they’ve received. Instead of a quiet convention in a downtown hotel, the ABA has been greeted by a parallel gathering of thousands of people in what organizers call the "Showdown in Chicago." Spearheaded by the group National People’s Action, organizers have tried to bring together a cross-section of Americans affected by the financial meltdown, including homeowners, renters, farmers, workers and retirees. The Showdown kicked off Sunday when protesters entered the lobby of the hotel where the ABA delegates are gathering.
PROTESTER: We are not here to cause trouble. We are here because we are in trouble.
PROTESTER: That’s right!
CROWD: Bust up big banks! Bust up big banks! Bust up big banks! Bust up big banks! Bust up big banks! Bust up big banks!
PROTESTER: The American Bankers Association has helped loosen the rules that protect us, allowing the unfettered greed that has brought us to the brink of a recession. And to those bankers who are members and support the ABA’s war against the working and middle class, shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!
CROWD: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! [inaudible] We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back!...
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: For more on the Showdown in Chicago, we’re joined by George Goehl. He’s executive director of National People’s Action, the lead organizer of the Showdown in Chicago.
George Goehl, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you first explain why the protest and why the ABA in Chicago?
GEORGE GOEHL: Yeah, I mean, if you really think about it, this is an incredible situation. I mean, who would have figured that the same banks that created the foreclosure crisis, sent the economy into a tailspin, needed billions in bailout dollars, would then lead the charge to kill any real financial reform that would protect consumers and make sure something like this didn’t happen again? So the ABA is the top lobby for the banks, and they decided to have their convention in Chicago, and we felt we had to be there to greet them.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what are some of the main things that you’re calling for?
GEORGE GOEHL: Well, one, we think their ideas have failed. Their focus on deregulation paved the road that we walk today. So it’s time that they stop spending tens of millions of dollars up on Capitol Hill each month trying to defeat financial reform and sit out on the sidelines, particularly around consumer protection, around policies, around “too big to fail,” and around community reinvestment. There’s a Consumer Protection Agency that’s been proposed by President Obama that would actually protect people from predatory consumer products, but the bankers are trying to kill that program.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what exactly are some of the policies and regulations that the lobbying groups are fighting against? We’ve seen the Consumer Protection Agency that the Obama administration is trying to put forward, as well as regulation of over-the-counter credit derivatives. Talk about some of the specific legislation that the lobbying groups are fighting.
GEORGE GOEHL: Well, on the CFPA, the Consumer Protection Agency, which really would be like an FDA for consumer products, who are able to regulate and ensure that we have safe milk and safe toys for kids. But currently we aren’t able to make sure we have safe financial products for everyday people. And as we’ve seen over the last year, bad financial products don’t only hurt individuals, but they have the potential to hurt entire communities and the entire economy. So this is a really commonsense, long-overdue idea that the bankers are trying to kill.
The bill got out of the House Financial Services Committee, but it was bruised and battered by the time it got out, and the ABA and their cronies are leading the charge against it. The ABA is really spearheaded by some of the biggest banks in the country, and they’re up on the Hill with their forty-five lobbyists, the American Bankers Association, and this is one of their number one targets.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what are some of the events that the Showdown in Chicago is holding? You had — you have a march planned, and there was also testimony heard from various people. Can you describe what you’re doing in Chicago right now?
GEORGE GOEHL: Yeah. Yesterday, folks from twenty states came into Chicago, around a thousand people, and had a People’s Commission, where the actual — the commission was made up of everyday Americans who formed a jury and then heard testimony from their peers. So they heard from family farmers, from retirees, from students, from people who had gotten predatory loans or got caught up in a payday lending cycle, and they heard their testimony. And then they also heard accounts of how the big banks, the Wells Fargos, Bank of Americans and the JPMorgan Chases, have actually benefited through this crisis. And then they indicted the banks and then decided it was time to head over to the bankers’ convention.
So our hotel is here at the Hyatt, right across the river from the Sheraton, where the bankers are having their convention. And they thought it was appropriate to have a ’20s swing band kick off their convention, as if it was the Roaring ’20s for the bankers, while the rest of the country is suffering. And so, over a thousand people marched over to the bankers’ convention. Around a hundred folks got into the convention and sent a clear message. It’s: Your ideas have failed; it’s time for a new set of ideas; and sit out on the sidelines, in terms of financial reform over the next six months.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And the Showdown in Chicago also held a People’s Commission Sunday, gathering testimony from those affected by the financial meltdown, as you just described. Larry Ginter of the group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement addressed the crowd. This is a clip.
LARRY GINTER: I’ve got some questions I want to ask you, and I’d like to see you stand up when I ask these questions. If you have seen your pensions or retirement take a hit, stand up. If you are tired of sky-high credit card rates, stand up. If you are tired of outrageous overdraft fees, stand up. If you’re tired of more people being forced out of work, stand up. If you’re tired of people losing their homes, stand up. If you’re tired of payday lenders exploiting people in tough situations, stand up. If you are from rural America and you’re tired of bank greed, stand up. If you are from the urban — if you’re from urban America and you’re tired of bank greed, stand up. If you think it’s time to put people first and hold banks accountable, stand up.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That was Larry Ginter speaking in Chicago on Sunday. George Goehl, you’re the executive director of National People’s Action. What is your background in organizing and dealing with financial institutions?
GEORGE GOEHL: Sure. I’ve been organizing for over fifteen years, and most of that time has been spent around banking policy. So our organization was founded by a woman named Gail Cincotta, who was a mother of six from the West Side of Chicago who saw banks redlining her neighborhood, and she led a charge here in Chicago to take on the banks and actually then spearheaded a movement that led to passage of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977. So, for over thirty-seven years, our organization has been one of the leaders on the fight on the ground in everyday communities to make sure banks are held accountable.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And finally, George Goehl, the issue of compensation? We saw President Obama come down on Friday talking about curbing executive compensation this year. We see that Goldman Sachs, the lead financial institution, is on track for each of its employees to make something like $700,000 in compensation this year. Your thoughts on that issue?
GEORGE GOEHL: Isn’t that incredible? I mean, we bailed Goldman Sachs out. I mean, just in TARP money alone, they got $10 billion from the American taxpayers. And now they’re ready to hand out $23 billion in bonuses in 2009. If you took $1 billion of those bonuses, you could prevent 200,000 foreclosures and lift 100,000 families out of poverty. Goldman had a key role in creating this crisis. And now they have a chance to — they don’t have to be the goat the rest of their life. They could actually step up, and Lloyd Blankfein could be a hero and actually donate Goldman bonuses to help everyday Americans. We’re going to take well over a thousand people to his office here in Chicago at 10:30 a.m. this morning. And then, from there, at 12:00 noon, a bigger crowd will gather at the American Bankers Association to really address the “too big to fail” issue. Our folks feel the only thing that’s too big to fail is the American people, and it’s time to bust up the big banks.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: George Goehl is executive director of National People’s Action, the lead organizer of Showdown in Chicago. We will link to their website at democracynow.org. I want to thank you very much for being with us.