Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project and editor of the www.BanksterUSA.org site for bank busting activists.
While the Occupy Wall Street movement is sweeping the country and peaceful arrests are mounting, Chicagoans took to the streets this week to hold the big banks accountable for crashing the economy and to demand city, state and federal policies that work for working families.
For many, the goal was stopping the foreclosure mill and telling the big banks it was time to Pay US Back! for the $4.7 trillion bailout. For others, the demands focused on the fallout from the financial crisis including contentious contract negotiations with the administration of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.
For most, the range of issues were inextricably linked.
At the height of the financial crisis in March of 2009, a new president was grappling with an unprecedented meltdown. Huddled with his closest advisers, his instincts were sound.
As described Ron Suskind's riveting new book, Confidence Men, Obama wanted to restructure the largest insolvent banks to "strike a blow for prudence" and "change the reckless behavior of Wall Street to show accountability flows in both directions."
His economic advisers chewed it over, discussing the pros (Larry Summers and Christina Romer) and cons (Tim Geithner) of breaking up a big bank, but when the President left the room for moment, his chief of staff spoke up.
"Listen, its not going to fucking happen. We have no fuckin' credibility. So give it up. The job of everyone in this room is to move the President, when he gets back, to a solution that works," said Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel's last foray into the global economy was as President Clinton's point man on NAFTA, a trade agreement that cost the United States some 700,000 manufacturing jobs.
After this display of tough love and a subsequent trillion dollar bailout, Wall Street bonuses are bouncing back. The U.S. economy, however, remains in a in a dead stall with zero job creation, massive foreclosures and rapidly rising poverty.
Now Rahm Emanuel is Mayor of Chicago his team is working hard to balance budget deficits on the back of public workers. Rahm and his CEO of Chicago Public Schools (really, that's his title) want the teachers union to forgo a contractual raise and do 30 percent more time for the same salary.
Why create sweatshops abroad when you can do it at home?
On Monday, 10,000 Chicagoans marched in the streets to tell Emanuel and his friends on Wall Street that enough is enough. Under the rubric of "Take back Chicago," community, labor and faith groups rallied for jobs, homes and schools. Occupy Chicago voted to endorse the march and were smart to target the big money at a futures trading conference.
While a banner fluttered off the Michigan Bridge declaring "Wall Street: Steals from the 99% to Give to the Rich. Let's Take it Back!" a merry band of protesters from National People's Action dressed as Robin Hood kayaked up the Chicago River chanting "We are the 99%!" within earshot of the annual meeting Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The MBA represents the big banks that created the housing bubble, crashed the economy and are now working hard to speed every foreclosure.
While some media pundits have complained that the protests breaking out across the nation lack a unified theme, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold hears the protesters loud and clear.
"The crimes against the working people of this country have mounted up. ... This is not a time for cautious politics. This is a time to fundamentally identify the crooked way this country is being run, the corruption of Wall Street, the ridiculous notion that very wealthy people are saying that they shouldn't have to help solve our problems. Its time to take it up a few notches," Feingold told Keith Olbermann.
Feingold and the 99ers know all these issues are interrelated. Wall Street crashed the economy, killing jobs, tanking state and local tax revenues. Congressional leaders, weighing huge cuts in Social Security, Medicare and other important programs, and mayor's like Emanuel should be taking it out of the hide of the 1% before asking the 99% to make more sacrifices.
The folks in Chicago are kicking it up a notch. But they are not just complaining, they are also laying down some concrete plans on how to create jobs and rebuild our economy.
The Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG) released a plan to create 40,000 jobs in the Chicago area. The jobs plan is funded by a tiny $.25 speculation fee, to be paid by every buyer and seller of derivatives contracts on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The group estimates that the tiny tax will generate nearly $1.4 billion per year in direct funding for jobs.
Similarly, a growing list of groups is campaigning for the United States reinstate a financial transaction tax on Wall Street trading. A diverse array of groups including, the Rebuild the American Dream Movement, Americans for Financial Reform, AFL-CIO, SEIU, the National Nurses Union, and the New Bottom Line Coalition (over 1,000 faith and housing groups) are throwing their weight behind the idea of a federal financial transaction tax to force Wall Street to help pay for the damage it has done to the economy. Such a tax would raise an estimated $176 billion in revenue.
Internationally the issue is rapidly gaining traction, with the EU proposing a 10 cent per $100 dollars in stock trades and the G-20 set to take up the issue in November.
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