Banking is Now a Political and Social Issue

Jefferson Smith offered some bold and concrete proposals to weaken the grip big Wall Street banks have over our democratic institutions, and our ability to achieve real economic equity.

By Todd Olson of Portland. Todd is coordinator of Move Our Money Oregon.

The Occupy and Move Your Money movements have, at long last, focused the country's attention on the obscenely unequal amount of wealth and political power owned by a handful of Wall Street banks. A few days ago, while addressing the Portland City Council, I looked Mayor Sam Adams squarely in the eye and asserted that banking is now a political issue. And I could have sworn I saw his eyebrows move slightly upward, in surprise, before he looked down and shuffled papers.

Banking is a political (and social) issue because our local governments have few options in meeting their banking needs. Because of the large amounts of money involved, Oregon’s cities and towns are essentially forced to bank with Wall Street banks. The very same banks whose arrogance and avarice wrecked the economy, caused immeasurable human suffering across the country and here in Oregon. And after Wall Street got bailed out by the 99%, they stunningly resumed their predation upon human civilization, enabled by government policies that they helped write.

That was until about two months ago, when the rarest of human events, a social movement, began. The 99% rose up and began marching, occupying, and moving their money en mass, telling Wall Street and our elected officials that things must change—really change. And after last week's nationwide N17 Day of Action, any progressives who still do not realize that we are in the midst of a real social movement are either in denial, or have not been paying attention.

Most progressive elected officials, as far as I can tell, have remained conspicuously and maddeningly silent about this real social movement for equity and Wall Street accountability. With the exception of only one candidate in Portland's mayoral race, State Rep. Jefferson Smith, progressive elected officials and candidates appear unwilling or uncertain about how to respond to this movement. Americans and Oregonians believe that the 1% control too much wealth and political influence, and the 99% no longer believe our elected representatives and democratic institutions can or will do anything to remedy this inequity.

Jefferson Smith was the first and only Portland mayoral candidate who, in my opinion, has shown an understanding of the political and social significance of what’s happening in Portland and throughout the country. He offered some bold and concrete proposals to weaken the grip big Wall Street banks have over our democratic institutions, and our ability to achieve real economic equity.

The place to begin to address the morally justified grievances of the Occupy movement that’s happening and growing, is with Wall Street banks, locally. We really can’t expect Congress to take action, can we? We must begin the change at city hall. Our local governments have the power and the ability to stop doing business with Wall Street banks, through divestment, Responsible Banking Ordinances, and even through public banking.

So far Jefferson Smith is the only candidate for Portland mayor, or any office, who understands the true nature and causes of the social, political, and economic inequity driving the Occupy and Move Your Money movements. Wall Street banks have too much unchecked power over almost every aspect of our lives, and the people, the 99%, have reached the breaking point. Really.

Our country, our cities, and our neighborhoods need courageous and wise leadership. Where are you progressives?

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    The Occupy Movement is NECESSARY for our citizens to expose the corruption which Big Business has infected our Government with. Every single person occupying the streets and protesting Corporations is a hero and a patriot. I was compelled to lend a hand and create some new posters for the movement which you can download for free on my artist’s blog at

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    I'm glad to see a post here about the real issue at hand, class and economic justice. Progressives win those arguments when they focus on them. When they focus on making the police their enemy, with street clashes and illegal camping, and with social and cultural conflict, they lose every time. Holding signs supporting local economies, local banks and credit unions, and local businesses. That is what is going to be a powerful message and a powerful movement.

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    ..."now"? It's been for quite a while.

    That said, the formation of a state bank (or perhaps a state 'credit union'?) has been discussed for years now. It's a fantastic idea, but until we get some movement from Salem, it's only going to be discussed.

    Letting local credit unions in on some of the government pie is another good idea. More, instead of sending all that money out of state (out of country, even), credit unions will use that money to hire more local people who will spend that money on local businesses. It is simply sane financial policy.

    ...which is why, the cynic in me says, it will never happen.

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    that's a pretty brash & uninformed claim for Jefferson. i agree: he gets it. but the basis for saying Eileen Brady doesn't? because she isn't making public statements of which you can approve? working part-time on her campaign & having her heard speak about our economic problems in Pdx, i do think she gets it. unlike Smith, she's actually lived it: a single mom with 2 small children working for minimum wage — yea, i think she gets it pretty damn well.

    it never helps any cause to put down allies just because they aren't singing from your songbook.

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      doh. by "brash & uninformed claim for Jefferson" i actually meant uninformed about Brady.

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        Thanks for your comment, T.A. Jefferson Smith is the only candidate for mayor who has thus far taken a stand on divestment of city funds from Wall Street banks; he's the only candidate who wants to invest city funds with local banks, which creates jobs and benefits the local economy. I looked at the websites of all mayoral candidates and found nothing about moving city money or local banking on any of them. Eileen Brady does list some great ideas for rebuilding the local economy on her site, but there's no mention of moving city money out of Wall Street banks or of the virtues of local banking. Please let me know if I missed it.

        I would be very interested to know where all the candidates for Portland mayor stand on this issue. Indeed, this should be a key issue in all local races. City Commissioner Fritz recently expressed her support for moving city money and for adopting Responsible Banking Policies. To my knowledge, no other candidate or office holder has.

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    I've been watching the whole OWS Portland thing from up on the porch here, and it strikes me that NYC, Oakland, and a few others suffered from the fact that authoritarians within the city power structures, when given free rein, tend to overreact. Cops are taught that when they give an order, civilians should both comply and show deference. In Portland, our mayor, about whom I've said more than a few naughty words, has at least a hazy memory of the activist culture that helped him attain office. He and his top rotweiller understood the need to dialogue first before taking action. And yes, as soon as they decided to put the police department into paramilitary mode last week, bad things did indeed happen, like the now famous picture of the cop spraying capsicum into the open mouth of a young woman. Nonetheless it points to the fact that it's absolutely critical that the next mayor be in touch with the actual citizens of Portland. As the article asserts, right now that seems to be Jefferson Smith.

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      Pat, i invite you to meet Eileen. as i said, she's lived the life that is at the heart of Occupy. she's also worked as Vice-Chair of the OR Health Fund Board to provide near-universal health care to Oregon's children & to 85k low-income adults. meet her, learn more about her, and you'll discover she's every bit as "in touch" as any other candidate — and maybe more.

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    The 99% movement needs to do more of this, to engage in direct political action to bring change. Sitting in tents in the cold and having fights with the police are not going to change anything:,-because-theyre-losingthem?via=blog_1

    "The nation's 10 biggest banks could stand to lose as much as $185 billion in deposits in the next year due to customer defections, according to cg42, a Wilton, Conn.-based management consulting firm that has conducted research for several of the nation's top banks. The top 10 banks hold a total of $2.04 trillion retail deposits (deposits made by consumers and small businesses), according to data from cg42, which is based on each bank's annual report [...]

    Out of all the big banks, Bank of America is the most vulnerable and could lose up to 10% of its customers and $42 billion in consumer deposits in the next year, the survey found. The bank's total retail deposits stand at $407 billion (while total deposits, including corporate deposits and deposits from other financial institutions, amount to nearly $1 trillion, according to FDIC data)."

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    The most effective way to combat "too big to fail" is use the market itself to make them cease being too big via customers investing their money in local credit unions and banks.

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    Again, it takes individual action. It is not difficult to close out accounts at MacBank from megalopilis and move said dollars to a local credit union or regional banking institution.

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    "Most progressive elected officials, as far as I can tell, have remained conspicuously and maddeningly silent about this real social movement for equity and Wall Street accountability"

    Yes, well, if big financial institutions did not have undue influence over government, we would be in this mess, would we?

    Kudos to Jefferson.

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