Beat back the banks: a call to community action

By Sarah Knispel

In the past year, I have become obsessed with banks and the different relationships I have with them. I talk about banks more than I talk about who’s hooking up with whom or whether Beyoncé has ever done anything imperfect. Essentially, banks run our shit. They were big-time contributors to the tanking of the economy, and they own everything. I could not believe a news story about debt collectors hounding the parents of a recent college grad who was killed in an accident. I was deeply saddened when, landing in LaGuardia airport for winter break last year, the person sitting behind me looked out the window and asked “who plays in CitiField?” I told her the Mets, and she said, “I thought the Mets played in Shea Stadium?” The Mets did play in Shea Stadium, a place full of history that got leveled for a parking lot, just like the Gophers played in a stadium dedicated to slain veterans, and now play in a stadium dedicated to TCF Bank. Last year, a group of us in OccupyMac and MPIRG were thinking about this bank takeover, and we were like okay…but banks get their power from money, and they get their money from us. We decided to join local organizations, other colleges and universities, and municipal governments across the country in taking advantage of this relationship and holding banks accountable for their actions. Working with local and national organizers and other schools through United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), we developed a plan. We can’t take on every bank at once. But we can take on one big bank at a time. Through USAS, we’ve formed a campaign called Kick Wall Street Off Campus (KWOC) to do just that. Although Big Banks are responsible for many atrocities, we are focusing on the issue of foreclosures. Foreclosures are devastating our communities and are flat-out unjust. Big Banks targeted people of color and low-income people with predatory loans and then threw them out of their homes when they couldn’t afford the unreasonable rates. They are especially infamous for Robo-Signing – automated systems that foreclose on homeowners without an actual person ever reviewing individual cases – and dual-tracking, where a bank will tell someone they’ll work with them and give them a loan modification while simultaneously putting them through the foreclosure process. Foreclosures are also a very visible, concrete issue and we can work with community organizations that are already fighting foreclosures. We are asking our administration to take our money out of Wells Fargo, the bank foreclosing on the most homes in Minnesota, unless Wells Fargo creates a foreclosure moratorium in the Twin Cities. With other schools in Minnesota, as well as community organizations and the Minneapolis Public School System putting pressure on Wells Fargo, we can actually make them change their practices. And once a huge power like Wells Fargo changes their practices, it will only be a matter of time before other banks start paying attention to community demands as well. But changing Wells Fargo is not the only objective of our campaign. Macalester is an institution with a lot of power, and it is our responsibility as a member of a larger community to make sure that we are not contributing to its destruction. We need to continually evaluate our banking and business relationships, which is why we want to put the money from Wells Fargo through a Request for Proposals process, the same process the Minneapolis School Board used to divest from Wells Fargo. This means a committee of students, alums, staff, and community members will create a set of standards that any institution that banks with us must follow. That includes ethical practices in our community. Any bank that wants the money can apply, and the bank that best fits our needs as a community member and an institution will receive the money. We’ll need the support of the entire Macalester community, which is why I’m asking you to come to Beat Back the Bank Attack in the Chapel at 7:00 on December 4. It’ll feature inspiring local performers and speakers as well as ways for all of us to get involved. Join us in reminding the administration we won’t be complicit in letting Wells Fargo run our community down. refresh –>