Day two of the Showdown in Chicago, a three-day-long protest against big banks, began a bit dismally for The Nation. An email from American Bankers Association spokesman John Hall informed us that our press credentials had been revoked. The reason? Because we’d arrived early to cover a protest outside the ABA’s annual meeting at the Sheraton Hotel the night before, he told us, ABA officials believed us to be "moles for the protesters."
Alas. That meant I wouldn’t have the chance to hear how there’s a silver lining to every recession — I’m sorry, recovery — through such workshops as "Strategies for Acquiring Troubled Banks" (this is, after all, the first year since 1992 when more than a hundred have failed in a single year) and "NonInterest Income," no doubt rich with tips on how to increase revenue through hiking fees on checking accounts, credit cards, and overdraft protection. Nor could I learn how to roll back socialism in "Unwinding Government Intervention," or sort through the puzzling link between record unemployment and depressed spending in "The Impact of the Recession on Consumer Preferences and Behavior." Worst of all, I’d miss Newt Gingrich’s keynote speech in which, it was promised, he would "strike an optimistic tone."
It turns out Newt didn’t exactly have his finger on the pulse, anyway.
At 10:30 a.m., hundreds of protesters from across the Midwest and the East Coast clambered down from buses in front of the Chicago headquarters of Goldman Sachs, one of the Wall Street firms that profited most from the complex derivatives that crashed the economy, and their mood was a shade darker than Newt’s. "[Goldman] helped create the market for the subprime mortgages in creating mortgage-backed securities," economist Dean Baker, who came to Chicago for the protests, explained to me. "No one is knowingly going to issue a bad mortgage, or a mortgage that they have good reasons to think will go bad, unless they could dump it on someone else." The crowd was peppered with people who’d experienced the blowback of all that packaging and dumping, whether in lost homes, lost jobs, or collapsed pensions.
Take Trenda Kennedy, of Springfield, Illinois, and her partner, Brandy Hensley. Between them, they have six kids, and their home, Kennedy said, "has been a haven for teenage boys." But last year Kennedy lost her job as an office worker; soon, Hensley, a fire fighter for ten years, was laid off too. Suddenly, they desperately needed a mortgage modification to save their home. They saw two different HUD-certified counselors; Kennedy spent hours being lectured by a Hope Now representative about how to manage her finances. But no one actually helped them get a modification. On their own, the couple submitted paperwork three times to their lender, Bank of America, and battled to get Hensley’s income from her new job in food services included in the math. (The bank had insisted that only spousal income counted, not that of domestic partners.) Last Friday, Kennedy called BofA one more time, only to get an automated message. "Your modification has been canceled," Kennedy recalls hearing. "Your financials do not support a workout. Your house is currently in foreclosure." That same day they left for Chicago for the first protest of their lives.
As the marchers rounded the corner to Wells Fargo, I met Leah Fried, the UE organizer at the center of the Republic Doors and Windows occupation. That company had shut its doors because bailout recipient BofA had refused to extend it credit. Now it was happening again. At her side was Keith Scribner, president of UE Local 1174, who until last month had worked for 19 years at Quad City Die Casting, a factory in Moline, Illinois, which made metal parts for such manufacturers as John Deere and Kawasaki. Just as with Republic, this basically profitable company needed additional credit, and its bailout recipient creditor, Wells Fargo, refused, throwing the company into foreclosure. Potential buyers couldn’t even get calls to Wells Fargo returned in order to make a bid. Efforts by Illinois state officials to broker a deal were met with silence. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo kept on Quad City’s a hundred workers to churn out parts for four months as the company was "unwound," but canceled their health insurance and vacation days. The workers wracked up $45,000 in out-of-pocket health care expenses and ended up jobless on September 4, stiffed for more than $100,000 in unpaid vacation time. With unemployment now at 10 percent in Moline, not one of them has found a new job yet.
It was a morning of stories like these: congregants in foreclosure, daughters and sisters who lost jobs, and anger. Lots of it. Anger at Wells Fargo. Anger at Bank of America. Anger at Goldman Sachs.
The billions of dollars in bonuses announced by Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein on October 15 rankled bitterly.
"One of the main culprits behind the collapse of our financial system last year is Goldman Sachs," Charlotte Dott, of Bloomington, Indiana, shouted into a megaphone to the security guards blocking their office doors. "They’re planning to give $20 billion in bonuses to some of its employees. No!"
Fortuitously, "Blankfein" rhymes with "resign." The protesters made the most of it.