In a brightly lit basement room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago tonight, Angel Seda was leading seven hundred people in a chant. "Tell me what you want, what you really want," he called. Hundreds of voices shouted back, "Our homes back!" "Tell me what you need, what you really need." "CFPA!"
Yep, you heard right, hundreds of people were chanting for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, a new oversight body Barack Obama has proposed that could ban such disastrous practices as no-doc mortgages, payday loans, and no-warning overdraft fees on checking accounts. (A bill to create the agency made it through the House Financial Services Committee last week). Wonky, sure, but vital, too, and it was both hilarious and inspiring to see a roomful of Iowa farmers and Kansas retirees and preachers and teachers and utility workers jumping to their feet at the sound of those magic letters. One woman from Wichita, Arnetta Jefferson, told me she herself was facing the loss of her home and described "house after house after house empty" in her community, all from foreclosures. "I’m tired of it," she said. CFPA! CFPA! CFPA!
It’s been a year since the stock market crashed and Congress approved a $700 billion bailout for the very banks that made it happen, but populist anger has finally found its expression this week in Chicago.
"We had this image of big bankers sipping martinis and saying, ‘Did we really get away with this?’" said lead organizer George Goehl, director of National People’s Action. "Then two months ago we found out the American Bankers Association was having its annual meeting here in Chicago." The ABA, not so incidentally, has fiercely fought against new regulations on the banking industry, and is lobbying hard now against the CFPA. But National People’s Action has been fighting predatory lending for decades, mostly recently busing in 400 people to ABA headquarters in Washington. Once NPA called the protest, dubbed The Showdown in Chicago, the labor movement quickly got on board, including rival factions Change to Win and the AFL-CIO. For the centerpiece action, a Tuesday march, Goehl says he’s expecting at least 5,000. (Monday the protesters have planned a visit to Goldman Sachs.)