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Sunday, January 10, 2010

198 More Sundays: Nice Bank, Be A Shame If Something Happened To It

As threatened promised, I'm following up on yesterday's epic crossposted blog entry by reviving Pax Americana's regular 198 Sundays feature.  Since I'm trying to get my seditious ideas more widely disseminated, I'm going to pull the same trick and publish this in several channels.

I had a little difficulty deciding what Method to look at.  In a sidebar chat with Lambert, we figured that what's important is not just saying "here's 198 ways we could maybe fight the power" but providing more concrete success stories with specific tactical suggestions. 

So should I go with a basic Method to illustrate where I would start and try to paint a picture of escalation in a strategic context, or choose a more dramatic example that might spark better discussion and lead to an organic strategic arc?  I considered looking at some things that have come up in yesterday's threads, like boycotts and strikes, and stuff like sedition, which would be right up most bloggers' alley.

In the end I thought something that's already getting some attention on a larger online platform and now in the mainstream media would be best.  So here's a reprise of Method: 86. Withdrawal of bank deposits.

Money deposited in private or government banks or government savings systems may be withdrawn either as an expression of protest against the government or as a means of noncooperation intended to help overthrow an unsteady government.

For example, the withdrawal of bank deposits was called for at least twice during the 1905 Revolution in Russia--first by the All-Russian Peasant Union at its founding conference in midsummer 1905, and second, by the St Petersburg Soviet on December 2, 1905.  This was designed to weaken foreign confidence in the Russian economy and government and thus prevent the government from obtaining a foreign loan to be used to combat the revolution.

Now the 1905 Russian Revolution--which I studied in the 80s and 90s as a Russian/Soviet Studies major--is probably remote to most Americans.  Regardless, the basic premise no matter where or when it's used is that withdrawing money from financial institutions can directly protest an opponent or be a sort of flanking maneuver to achieve a larger aim.

A current application comes from Arianna Huffington.

It has been two weeks since Arianna Huffington began imploring people to move their money to small institutions, and big banks do not appear any worse for the wear.

But whether Huffington's much-talked-about campaign proves to be anything more than a flash in the pan is beside the point. The point is that the pundit turned Web entrepreneur has tapped into an undeniable aspect of the consumer psyche — a festering resentment of big banks and a growing frustration with government officials seen as having donned kid gloves for a task that might have required brass knuckles.

At first blush, any problems presented by the Move Your Money project seem to be confined to the realm of optics. After all, Huffington appeals to a narrow slice of a fragmented society, and even her biggest fans might be stymied by inertia when contemplating the idea of moving their checking accounts — especially with so many other New Year's resolutions in need of follow-through.

But down the road, the suspicion and anger that has been building toward big banks could cause damage at the margins. That may sound minor, until one thinks about how much of a company's fate — particularly in industries becoming more and more commoditized — is decided at the margins.


[I]t would take an awful lot of dissatisfaction to persuade customers of Citigroup Inc. or Bank of America Corp. — or any company that has similarly engendered public angst over the course of this crisis — to actually yank deposits. But it also would be easy for those customers to look elsewhere when it comes to taking out mortgages, selecting wealth advisers or seeking any of the other products and services that banks would hope to cross-sell to clients.


In online postings, aggrieved bank customers inspired by Huffington's Move Your Money campaign describe their participation as an exercise in revenge, a way to take action against a system in which they otherwise feel profound helplessness. Dramatic — and yet these people will be a mere blip on the radar screen for big banks.

The real impact of the movement is in the education it provides people about their banking options — something that may not move them to close accounts, but could stick with them next time they need bankservices.

Since Move Your Money's Dec. 29 kickoff, daily Web traffic has more than tripled on the National Association of Federal Credit Unions' CULookUp.com, a credit union locator site. That's no proxy for new account openings, but NAFCU President Fred Becker said it is a good indication that bank customers are looking for alternatives.

Alternet puts it this way:

Reacquire your wealth. The easiest way for the Federal Reserve, led by Time Magazine's ludicrous Person of the Year Ben Bernanke, to pick your pocket is through your accounts and investments, which can be liquidated in the blink of a discount window's eye. Withdraw any extra cash you have, close whatever extra accounts you have, and take it somewhere besides Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase or another bailout addict. Better yet, keep it on the sidelines. The Fed hates that and so do the markets, which have nothing to do with you anyway. That game is above your head, and rigged outright. You either play with the house, or you play your conscience. Right now, your conscience should be worrying about another economic clusterfuck. Plus, the banks left standing after the financial crashes of the last few years are fatter than ever, and are still hoarding cash instead of lending it.  

“It’s insanity that the too-big-to-fail institutions are even bigger today than they were,” Vermont's independent Senator Bernie Sanders told Bloomberg. “God forbid we have another financial crisis.”  

God forbid? These banks have gotten bigger specifically to survive the next crisis they have already priced into the market. Thanks to Congress, the Fed and the last two administrations, they've got your cash sitting in their vaults, whistling while they wait. Take it out.

One might also take their other advice of eliminating credit as much as possible.  That's inflationary and part of what has created our unsustainable, consumerist economy.

Anyway, this Method isn't specifically about HCR, but indirectly related because we're talking about resisting entrenched monied interests, and the massive bank bailouts come at a time when we're told there's no money for single-payer or a public option.  It also is a form of economic intervention that can put those in power on notice that we can actually threaten the financial system's status quo.  And best of all, it's actually a fairly accessible, low-risk action anybody can take that could easily become a mass trend.

For a little inspiration, I like to turn to one of my heroes, Mario Savio:

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

He provides us with a great example of another Method, but right now just consider his overall message and passion: stop the economic machinery of power by refusing to be a cog in it!


(Post at Pax Americana, Dohiyi Mir, Green Mountain Code Pink, Corrente and Daily Kos.)

January 10, 2010 in Pax Americana, Why We Fight | Permalink


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