A protest outside the New York Stock Exchange. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
Last year, US Bank held its annual shareholders meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, home of its corporate headquarters. The event was dominated by shareholders and proxies who are members of Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, an alliance of community, faith and labor organizations working for a more equitable economy.
“Our members asked CEO Richard Davis direct questions about issues like principal reductions and foreclosures, and payday lending,” said Eric Fought, communications director of the organization. “We were really effective in holding them accountable, so this year they looked for another solution—to hide from us.”
On Tuesday, April 16, US Bank officers will jet from their hometown to hold this year’s meeting in Boise, Idaho. If the bankers are hoping for a better reception in this reddest of states, or that activists will take a pass on the long distance travel required to get there, then Martha and the Vandellas have a word of advice: Got nowhere to run to, baby. Nowhere to hide.
More than 100 members of the Idaho Community Action Network (ICAN)—who are mostly rural, working poor and seniors—will travel to take direct, non-violent action both inside and outside of the meeting. More than half of these individuals will be driving 3 to 7 hours to reach the venue. Their allies from Minnesotans for a Fair Economy will be there to greet them, along with workers from SEIU Local 503—the largest union in Oregon with 54,000 members.
“People are so excited that Minneapolis and Oregon are coming to support this effort,” said ICAN executive director Terri Sterling. “It helps our membership, it helps motivate them.”
Among the issues on the agenda: a call for US Bank to pay its fair share in taxes; write-down mortgages to help stem the foreclosure and underwater mortgage crisis; and end payday loans with exorbitant interest rates. These issues are of concern, of course, not only to the activists from these three states, but also to people across the country.
“Almost anywhere the banks go in the country—they will find out as they try to hide away at their meetings—there will be a set of groups agreeing that the role of banks in the economy and politics of the country is damaging,” said labor organizer Stephen Lerner, who created the Justice for Janitors campaign and is now working on Wall Street accountability campaigns.
Sterling says that even in a state like Idaho she hasn’t “found one person—red, blue, or tea party—that likes big banks.”
Idaho has the highest share of minimum wage workers in the country, and for every job opening that pays a living wage for a family of three, there are 32 job seekers. According to LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national coalition of eight state-based community organizations (including ICAN), 4,400 families lost their homes to foreclosure in 2012. Today, 22 percent of all mortgage holders in the state are “underwater,” owning more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. In Canyon County, where approximately 12 percent of Idaho’s population resides, 66 percent of homeowners are underwater—one of the highest rates in the nation.