On Monday, May 17, hundreds of demonstrators from unions and community groups marched down Washington, DC’s K Street to demand financial reform. Organizers estimated nearly 3,000 people marched that day—nowhere near the crowd estimates for the financial reform rally on April 29.
That day, nearly 10,000 people descended on New York’s financial district. The "Wall Street Rally" was hailed as the largest anti–Wall Street demonstration since the financial crisis began. Protesters held signs that read "Hold Banks Accountable" and "Make Wall Street Pay," while parading Goldman Sachs effigies—cardboard pigs donning suits and ascots, clenching money they made from "shitty" deals.
The rally—and earlier rallies held across the nation—made a unified call for Wall Street reform. Still, some in the media called the rally misguided. Andrea Peyser of the New York Post mocked the complaints, writing, "Some hated their jobs. Others hated school, the cold, living up in frigid Buffalo. The prospects of the Yankees. Their complaints had no common theme."
CNBC‘s Erin Burnett made a similar implication when interviewing AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "I understand that you’re making a point, and that you want to make a clear line in the sand here," she said. "But isn’t it fair or at least would you acknowledge, that it was more than just bankers that caused the problems in America? A lot of big union-run, and union-dealt-with institutions, like the car companies also failed. And that wasn’t just the fault of Wall Street, was it?"
Trumka shot her down. "No, a lot of them didn’t fail," he said. "None of those car companies or anyplace else, any manufacturer, took our economy to the brink of disaster. This did. Wall Street did."
The protests haven’t convinced banking lobbyists to hold their fire. In the first three months of the year, securities and investments firms spent $27.5 million lobbying on financial legislation; commercial firms spent $13 million and finance and credit card companies spent $10.3 million, according to OpenSecrets. As OpenSecrets reported in November 2009, "Even with a number of large financial institutions folding or merging since last fall, the sector has still given more to federal candidates and party committees than any other sector this year at $78.2 million."
"[There] is not quite two [banking and financial industry] lobbyists for every member of Congress," said Dave Levinthal, communication director for Open Secrets and editor of the OpenSecrets blog.
With banks mobilizing millions against financial reform, James Mumm, director of organizing at National People’s Action, said these rallies really did not need much planning to gather participants, and that they were absolutely correct in targeting Wall Street. It only took about two months to organize the April 29 Wall Street rally. "We’re not pulling teeth," he said. "People are angry and they’re looking for a place to voice that anger."
Many of those marching said they observed that unemployment was still widespread, foreclosures continue, and most important, Wall Street bankers continue to dodge blame for the financial crisis.