Update: Banks Got Nowhere to Run to, Baby

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We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following is an excerpt from Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty,” an update on a story we posted last week

You can’t really talk about poverty and rebuilding wealth without talking about the practices of the big banks — from predatory payday lending, to unnecessary or even illegal foreclosures, to borrowing money at zero percent interest from the Federal Reserve and then lending it to state and local governments at much higher rates, all while lobbying to avoid paying taxes.

That’s why I thought the alliance between activists from Idaho, Minnesota and Oregon — all coming together to challenge U.S. Bank at its shareholder meeting in Boise this week — was so important. On Tuesday, they called on U.S. Bank to pay its fair share in taxes; write-down mortgages to help stem the foreclosure and underwater mortgage crisis; and end payday loans with exorbitant interest rates.

“We’re standing with the people of Idaho and folks across America who want U.S. Bank to do the right thing,” said Rob Sisk, president of SEIU 503 and a groundskeeper at the Oregon State Capitol. “We want U.S. Bank to stop predatory lending, whether it be to individuals or our state and local governments. U.S. Bank needs to pay its fair share in taxes to fund critical services.”

Some of the activists who came from Oregon, Minnesota and Idaho to take action at the U.S. Bank Shareholders Meeting in Boise. (Credit: SEIU 503)

Inside the shareholders meeting, a case was made for comprehensive foreclosure legislation that would: require banks to assign struggling homeowners a single point of contact; ban the practice of “dual tracking” where the bank is working with the homeowner on a solution while also pursuing a foreclosure; and create a mediation program to bring banks and homeowners together to discuss alternatives to foreclosure.

“A U.S. Bank customer shouldn’t have to buy a share and drop everything to go to a shareholders meeting and demand to be treated fairly,” said Eric Fought, communications director of Minnesotans for a Fair Economy. “These banks hope that no one will fight back and for too long that was the case. In Minnesota and throughout the country, we’re making sure those days are over.”

U.S. Bank had moved its shareholders meeting from Minneapolis — home of its corporate headquarters — to Boise, because activists dominated the meeting in Minnesota last year, too. This Tuesday, Wells Fargo will attempt to hide out in Salt Lake City after thousands of protesters descended upon its shareholders meeting in San Francisco last year.

The courageous people participating in these actions aren’t waiting on change to come from Washington — they’re leading change and calling on us to join them.

Greg Kaufmann is a Nation contributor covering poverty in America. His work has also appeared on Common DreamsAlternet, Tikkun.org, NPR.org, CBSNews.com and MichaelMoore.com. He serves as an adviser for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
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