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Activists Push(ed) Against Bailout, Offer(ed) Alternatives

Haider Rizvi

CODEPINK activists outside Barack Obama's Senate office. (Credit: CODEPINK)

(CD Editor's note: Shortly after this story was filed the US House of Representatives voted to pass Resolution H.R. 1424, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.  However, this reporting should still stand to note that there were those voices declaring their opposition right until the end, and we remain committed to covering their brave activism despite today's outcome.)

NEW YORK - As lawmakers prepare to vote Friday on a
renegotiated plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to protect Wall Street
from financial disaster, activists are ramping up protests against the
bill and some independent analysts have offered alternatives focusing
on financial relief for regular Americans.

In Thursday, tens of thousands of people sent letters to members of the House of Representatives urging them to make drastic changes in the Senate version of the bill authorizing the Wall Street bailout at the cost of $700 billion.

Despite nationwide protests, the Senate approved the plan Wednesday to
buy bad debts of financial institutions. The bill is now under
consideration in the House of Representatives.

At press time, it remained unclear whether the bill would muster
enough support to pass the House on Friday, though reports from
Washington indicated that the bill's passage was looking increasingly

Ahead of the Senate vote on Wednesday, labor and consumer rights groups
across the nation held dozens of rallies and demonstrations in protest
against the bill, which they consider to be unjust because it offers
relatively few protections for homeowners and taxpayers.

"People are up in arms about this," said Matt Holland of, an advocacy group comprising 70,000 members that played a major role in organizing the nationwide protests.

Due to increased public pressure, the Senate made several changes in
the original bill. Many of those changes were aimed at enticing
individual lawmakers to support the bill through financial incentives
for specific projects, but few addressed rising concerns about the
millions of Americans on the verge of losing their homes.

"While many are focused on providing relief to Wall Street, millions of homeowners are at risk of being left behind," said Janet Murgula, president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization.

To her, it is "irresponsible public policy to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a Wall Street rescue
package while simultaneously denying them a sustainable response to the
devastation rising foreclosure rates are having throughout the

The activist networks engaged in protest organizing say they want
Congress to pass a better bill, with tough restrictions on executive
pay, protections for homeowners and taxpayers, and a sensible plan to
pay for recovery.

"Americans recognize the need to act on our current crisis but
detest the idea that ordinary taxpayers should bear the brunt of
bailing out the kingpins of Wall Street," said the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a Washington, DC-based think tank focusing on issues of peace, justice, and the environment.

A Plan to Rescue Main Street Too

In its "Sensible Plan for Recovery" released Wednesday, IPS suggests
adding four key elements to the $700 billion plan, beginning with a
$200 billion "Main Street Stimulus Package" that would create jobs in the renewable energy sector, help people remain in foreclosed homes, and support state and local government services that are threatened by declining tax revenues.

It also identifies $900 billion in potential revenue streams that could "make Wall Street speculators pay for the bailout" -- the original $700 billion plus the additional $200 billion of its proposed stimulus package.

The IPS plan would also limit CEO pay for any bailed-out company to 25
times the pay of the company's lowest-paid worker -- the same ratio of
the president of the United States' pay to that of the lowest-paid federal government worker.
It would add oversight to the companies hired to manage the bailout
process to prevent "bailout profiteering," and it would "shut down the
casino" by asserting new oversight measures on financial markets.

"The House did the right thing on Monday by rejecting a bailout bill
that did too much for Wall Street and too little for Main Street," the
group said in a letter it's asking supporters to send to their
Congressional representatives today, adding: "Don't cave in to White House pressure to ram through similarly flawed legislation again."

Pressure Remains High on Lawmakers

Activist groups have been organizing demonstrations throughout the week in the halls of Congress, throughout Washington, DC, and across the nation. Capitol Hill switchboards have been jammed with constituents calling their members of Congress to express their opinions about the upcoming vote.

Activist groups and lawmakers are crediting the outpouring of public
dissent for Monday's defeat of the first version of the bailout

"We joined together, in a wonderful, resolute outpouring of democracy.
We stood toe-to-toe with Wall Street and their lackeys in Congress, and
defeated them. Amazing what can happen when the people stand up!" said
the peace group CODEPINK in a message to its activists Tuesday.

"It's thanks to you that the bill is better than it was, and it's
thanks to you that the next bill will be better than this one," added
Michigan Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick.

On Friday, several groups announced plans to stage sit-ins and
rallies in Washington and other cities to amplify their concerns to the
House of Representatives.

"Congress is indeed very generous, giving extravagant gifts to all its
friends," said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK. "Of course, it's
easy to be generous with other people's money."

In the face of the second House vote on the bailout bill, Benjamin's group set up a Christmas tree
outside Capitol Hill, with ornaments and gifts representing the initial
$700 billion the bill would pledge, plus $150 billion in giveaways that
have been added in the version passed by the Senate this week -- for
everything from sheep and arrows to bicycles and sludge.

"Members of Congress will be on hand to trim the tree. President Bush
will make an appearance to light the lights," Benjamin said. "And a
very merry Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will be there to receive the
people's money."

With additional reporting by Jeffrey Allen


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