Director of the Economic Justice and Empowerment Program at the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee. They are sponsoring one of the rallies taking place across the country on April 11th that is being coordinated "The Way Forward."
National demonstrations are scheduled in more than fifty cities across the country tomorrow to protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis. The demonstrations are organized by the recently launched group A New Way Forward. They are calling on the government to take three main actions on the country’s banks: nationalize, reorganize and decentralize. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: National demonstrations are scheduled in more than fifty cities around the country Saturday to protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis. In Phoenix, a demonstration is being held outside the headquarters of AIG. In Chicago, protesters will march in front of Bank of America. In Atlanta, people are demonstrating outside the Federal Reserve Bank. In New York, a rally is being held at Union Square. And many more actions are taking place across the country.
The demonstrations are organized by the recently launched group A New Way Forward. The group was formed to support alternative bailout than the ones already in place. They’re calling on the government to take three main actions on the country’s banks: nationalize, reorganize and decentralize.
Greg Coleridge is director of the Economic Justice and Empowerment Program at the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee. They are sponsoring the protest being held in Cleveland on Saturday. He joins me here in Athens, Ohio.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Greg. And thanks so much for taking the, what, four-hour drive from Cleveland to Athens.
GREG COLERIDGE: Just about. Good to be here with you. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about A New Way Forward. What is this decentralized action that’s happening around the country?
GREG COLERIDGE: Well, A New Way Forward is a relatively new organization, a grassroots citizen initiative, bottom-up, not affiliated with any existing formal, long-established organization, which gives it, I think, flexibility and mobility to respond to the needs and interests of people at the grassroots, who are increasingly concerned, angry, outraged at what has been going on since last fall, the blank check bailout of financial institutions from coast to coast, particularly the largest banks in this country that many people feel should not be helped in the way they have been but should be at least temporarily taken over, nationalized or democratized, depending on how people want to call it.
A New Way Forward, put together by a number of young activists who were very involved in the Howard Dean presidential campaign, decided they needed to organize this grassroots initiatives and serve as — I think it’s an arena where people from across the country can go and find information, inspiration and dedication of other people to organize grassroots, bottom-up protests that will be beginning this Saturday across the country at 2:00 in most cases, some communities elsewhere.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain your demands.
GREG COLERIDGE: Well, it’s as you pointed out in your introduction. It largely is based on the premise that we need profound structural reform and that that should include at least temporarily a takeover of some of the largest, most egregious and what many believe are fundamentally insolvent financial institutions. And some believe it’s like the big five or six — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo-Wachovia — that those five financial institutions alone house or are responsible for something like over 90 percent of the — what are considered to be the most toxic derivatives. And we should not be bailing out — people connected to A New Way Forward — those financial institutions. We need something else.
And what many people have called, including many Nobel Prize winners, is at least a temporary nationalization to take over these banks, get rid of their toxic assets, and put them back out on the market. And by doing so, it will save taxpayers billions, if not trillions, of dollars and move control back where I think it should be and was meant to be from day one in this country, under the realm of we the people, the public, that financial institutions, that the issuance of money and credit, are too important to be left exclusively to the hands of private business corporations.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s happening in Cleveland. For a time, wasn’t it ground zero for foreclosures? Whole neighborhoods closed?
GREG COLERIDGE: It sure was. To a certain extent, it still is, has been eclipsed to a certain extent by many of the Southern states now and Florida and Nevada and Arizona, California. But city of Cleveland and many inner cities in Ohio and elsewhere. Maybe Cleveland was the poster child, if you will, for the foreclosure crisis. In some communities in Cleveland alone, Slavic Village, in particular, was considered to be maybe among the worst and was seen coast-to-coast, if not around the world, people losing their homes, hard-working people, people who are solid salt of the earth who followed the rules, but who got caught up in the whole effort to — the lure, the temptation, that many banks put out there to get in over their heads to get a second mortgage, to become involved in these teaser early loan rates that may have been affordable in the first year or two, but then completely went out of control in years, you know, four, five and six, and so on.
And so, it’s communities like that that had been devastated, what some people have called an economic aftereffect of 9/11 or Katrina or the like, that we in the Cleveland area and across the country are trying respond to and feel that one of the principal causes for those conditions, economic conditions, were not the inappropriate actions or behaviors of those hard-working, follow-the-rules, salt-of-the-earth residents of Cleveland, Ohio, but the big banks.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how you’re linking in Cleveland the issue of corporate personhood, this whole movement that has been growing around this country, not just this year, but for years?
GREG COLERIDGE: Well, we think they’re inextricably connected, that giving business corporations not just economic powers but, if you will, political powers to define and shape public policies, which they have done for a very long time and largely because they have hidden behind or shielded themselves underneath the Bill of Rights, where over literally decades — well, actually maybe more than a century now, business corporations have, like a salami, gradually won personhood rights of First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Amendment rights, to be involved and engaged in the public policy arena. And certainly, the First Amendment rights to be involved, say, in being able to be involved in political campaigns has been part of the problem. By these financial corporations — well, all corporations, but most particularly, most recently, financial corporations contributing or investing in public policy and in campaigns and in candidates has resulted in the distortion of public policy and the mass shifting of regulations away from themselves to permit them to engage in these dangerous, bizarre and incredibly risky financial investments that have caused now this global — what’s called this global financial crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, how are you trying to make this real, in practice? How do you deal with this issue?
GREG COLERIDGE: Yeah. Well, we’re trying, number one, to make people aware that these realities exist, that these financial corporations have been party to contributing or investing $5 billion to public officials over the last number of years, that have resulted then in the deregulation through the reversal of Glass-Steagall and the Commodity Modification Act and the like. That’s an important first step, to make people aware of the distortion of public policy through campaign contributions, but also to call attention, that — right now, what should we do? Who really should have more rights to decide issues of credit or issues of the circulation of money in our communities? Should it be people, or should it be financial corporations and banks?
So what we’re trying to do is empower and energize, and thanks to A New Way Forward, it’s providing the forum or the arena where people can come together and try to offset financial power, money power, corporate power, that has been won over through the Constitution and laws and the like, and create a groundswell of people power, similar to what our forbearers a generation ago, several generations ago, did in the Populist Era, the 1870s and 1890s, where individuals came and realized that it was the banks and the railroad companies then that were controlling and ruling. And we’re trying to help people understand that the same kind of controlling and ruling by banking corporations are going on today, and that needs to be challenged fundamentally and profoundly.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, this Rasmussen poll that just came out that finds Americans are losing faith in capitalism?
GREG COLERIDGE: Well, I think if — unless you’ve been living under a rock or a tree for the last period of time, just putting all of our faith and eggs, if you will, financial and political, in the hands of these banking corporations to bring prosperity and tremendous global living standards to everyone and prosperity to people in this country has proven to be an enormous fraud. So people are, I think, responding appropriately. They’re saying that we need to have more of a role in the shaping of public policy, and that’s what these demonstrations — and actually, more than sixty communities, rather than fifty, are going to be doing this, A New Way Forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Coleridge, I want thank you very much for being with us. Greg Coleridge is director of the Economic Justice and Empowerment Program of the American Friends Service Committee of Northeast Ohio. We’re broadcasting here from Ohio University in Athens.