There are questions we ask of ourselves after every direct action we stage against powerful institutions. Institutions that seem to operate with impunity and hurt working families, often keeping families locked in debilitating cycles of poverty. Yesterday’s actions against US Bank raised the same questions: did we make a difference? Are they going to listen?
Community voices from Minnesota, Oregon and Idaho spoke to the press about the ongoing predatory and unfair practices of US Bank. And with proxies in hand others in our coalition addressed US Bank’s annual shareholders meeting. The meeting last year was in Minnesota, but after other community voices holding proxies to the meeting held the bank’s CEO Richard Davis to task for over an hour, the bank changed the location. Perhaps they thought they could meet in peace, but that was not the case. Our actions yesterday began early in the morning.
I woke up yesterday and gathered a team together to flyer the Grove Hotel in Boise. The Hotel is nice, very nice, with executive suites housing the shareholders of US Bank. Along with their morning edition of USA Today, we thought it best they receive a wake up call to what their bank is doing, where their bonuses are really coming from. In my van, as part of the team were two siblings—kids. They, along with their older sister, have seen things children shouldn’t see. They’ve had life experiences in their young lives, that no one should have to experience.
For our kids, living here in Idaho where the minimum wage is the worst in the region and the lack of living wage jobs is even scarcer; it seems to me at least, that there is resilience in these siblings. A drive to open the eyes of the people around them to what is really going on in this time of Big Banks and their growing profits.
We arrive at the Grove Hotel shortly before 7am. The air was cool and the sky was overcast. The first team was inside for all of ten minutes when I hear a shout of joy coming from the younger of the siblings. The youngsters came back to the van to report they had successfully accomplished their mission and delivered wake up calls to 130 executive suites. The shareholders were just waking up and getting ready count their annual dividends at an annual meeting where they would sit together and support US Bank’s policies and practices that are stripping wealth from communities across the country.
In Idaho last year we saw over 4,000 foreclosures. The use of payday lending by people trying to make ends meet, are sending them into a financial tailspin and US Bank is supplying nearly $400 million in financing to predatory lenders in Idaho who then charge 400% interest on their loans. It almost makes you wonder if there is a numerical pattern. How can you not stand up and say something about that level of profit and inflicted pain gone wild?
In the car as we left the Grove Hotel, with huge smiles and a conversation about who was getting the king size candy bar, the young siblings eagerly awaited the second of three actions they would take part in on a day that had just gone from overcast to bright sunshine. It’s true. The clouds were pulling back.
Two hours later, we did a little dance in front of the US Bank on Capitol Blvd. where we met our guests from Oregon and Minnesota. The groups now came together and formed a circle. With hardly an introduction, both groups knew what they came to do and on the count of three, broke out in song and dance. One of the Cosner kids said, “Look! Up there! They are watching us.” I looked up to one of Boise’s tallest buildings and could see workers on every floor watching us. Together we sang the hokey pokey with, “…they are doing the hokey pokey and stripping all our wealth, that’s what they’re all about!” It was a quick hit, and after 5 or 6 rounds of our song, we left to meet the press and welcome the shareholders as they entered the meeting for our final destination of the morning, the shareholders meeting.
Occupy Boise members joined us, the group felt their power, shouting louder as more shareholders arrived. A small team with proxies prepared to enter the shareholders meeting to deliver our message. “Stop financing payday lenders and start loaning money the right way!” yelled one of the siblings, simplifying the message that the adults around them were chanting.
Idaho CAN is thankful for the efforts of our guests from Oregon and Minnesota, speaking to the press and having the courage to enter the shareholder’s meeting and address that room. Someone told me later, we didn’t do any good, that we didn’t make a difference.
We came together from different parts of our country to do what others have done year after year—speak out against the practices of Big Banks who tanked our economy and continue to strip wealth from our communities in the name of profit. If we made a difference in the lives of those young kids, to have them understand that the power of community organizing is bringing many voices to speak out against unjust laws and unjust actions by corporations and Big Banks, then yes, we did make a difference.
See our version of the Hokey Pokey here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGr2PopfGkI
See our story in the Idaho Statesman here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/04/16/2537078/protesters-gather-for-us-bancorp.html
See our story in The Nation here: http://www.thenation.com/blog/173795/week-poverty-banks-got-nowhere-run-baby