With the newspapers full of talk about
"zombie" banks and parasitic "vampire squid" financial institutions, it
was particularly fitting that the "Showdown in Chicago" started with a
ghoulish group of zombies rocking out to Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
Chicago's own South Shore Drill Team opened the three days of banks
protests with a bang and had the crowd of thousands of activists
dancing in no time.
The Showdown promises to be the first major American protest against
the banks since the financial meltdown in September 2008. Thousands are
expected to join three days of educational activities and the large
march on Tuesday to the American Bankers Association (ABA) convention at the downtown Sheraton hotel.
The Reverend Eugene Barnes of the Central Illinois Organizing Project opened the evening's festivities, stating:
"Welcome to the Showdown in Chicago, we have come
together to reclaim America and hold Wall Street accountable. Imagine a
story as terrible as this, the same financial institutions that created
the crisis, sent the economy into a tailspin, handed out bonuses on top
of bonuses, and needed hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers
money, are back in business as usual. They are spending millions on
Capitol Hill trying to defeat legislation that would help ordinary
people and strengthen our economy. Each of us has traveled here to
Chicago today because we will not stand what is being done to our
families and communities. If we needed confirmation that we are all in
this together, the financial crisis caused by Wall Street is living
proof. Everyone has been impacted by the greed of the big banks.
Bank-owned properties are littering our communities, rising
unemployment, sky-high credit card interest rates, payday loans at
1,000% interest, and not to mention billions of dollars in lost
pensions. It is a sad fact when you are 65 years old and you realize
you have to go back to work. We have come here in Chicago because we
are sick and tired of being sick and tired, but we are also here
because we have hope because we know America can do better. It is time
to put people first."
Here is a smattering of the speakers who followed:
* Tom Balanoff, the President of Service Employees International
Union (SEIU) Illinois, noted that not a single person in this room
caused the economic crisis. He reminded the crowd that it was
appropriate that they were are starting this movement for reform of the
financial system in the same city where the push for an eight-hour
workday began and spread around the globe, referring to the 1886
* U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois demonstrated that he was in
touch by showing up and telling harrowing tales of hard-working
constituents who had been scammed by adjustable rate mortgage firms.
Even though the Senate failed to pass legislation that would have
allowed judges the discretion to modify mortgages to help keep people
in their homes, Senator Durbin said he had not giving up the fight. He
also hinted that he working on some new approaches, including an idea
that would allow families whose homes have been foreclosed on to rent
their own homes from the banks, keeping them off the streets and
keeping the homes occupied and cared for. He noted, "We are working on
this idea, and it would be helpful if one bank would step up to the
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* And, the audience heard from regular folks as well: people caught
in the payday loan trap, like Mitzi Rivers-Singleton of Witchita,
Kansas, who finally worked her way our of crippling debt with the help
of a credit union and a local community group. She said, "I stand with
you toe to toe up against big banks. I want to let the know that enough
is enough, so I tell my friends and family you don't go there. You have
But this was the warm up act. After the welcoming comments, the
activists took to the streets. Carrying signs featuring Dorothea
Lange's famous photo of a Depression Era mom with her two children. The
activists marched through the streets to the Sheraton where the ABA was
meeting, chanting: "ABA, you're the worst! It's time to put people
first!" And, "Bailout? No, thanks! Bust up big banks!" And, "Enough is
enough!" Huge posters portraying Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan and Citigroup's Vikram Pandit were part of the crowd.
The rambunctious, but peaceful, crowd gathered outside the hotel,
quickly attracting a large police presence. At least seven luxurious
limousines pulled up in front of the Sheraton, but their parties seemed
reluctant to appear and face the crowd. Soon a large group of
well-dressed people exited the Sheraton chanting. At first, this
reporter was confused. Could this be the bankers rushing their own
limos? But when I recognized Hugh Espey of Iowa Citizens for Community
Improvement, it became clear that these were protestors, too. They were
chanting: "We'll be back!" Later, "We laid low in the building all day
until we simultaneously converged on the lobby and burst into changes.
It was all very quiet and then all of a sudden it was very loud," Espey
said with a grin on his face.
Aretha Franklin was a theme of the evening as a singer performed
"Think" at the Showdown conference, and one activist sang "Shame,
shame, shame on you," to the tune of her song "Chain of Fools" in front
of the Sheraton. Oddly enough, none of the Banksters seemed to share
The protestors attempted to deliver a letter to ABA President Edward Yingling
listing their concerns and demands, but no representative of the ABA
would come out to accept the letter, guaranteeing that the protestors
would try again later.
Later today, a visit from the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Sheila Bair, then on to visit Goldman Sachs . . . . Stay tuned.