Un-Occupy-ing the Big Banks

People are breaking up with the big banks! Tuesday’s protest against Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and yesterday’s National Bank Transfer Day were truly inspiring. According to the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), at least 650,000 people have joined credit unions within the last month as of Friday, the day before the official National Bank Transfer Day (further inspiring – a movement started by one woman’s Facebook post!).

A number of people went into and closed their accounts Saturday at both the Chase branch across the street, then the Bank of America branch at Westlake park.

Bank Transfer Day - Seattle

While I understand they are part of the 99% and don’t blame the big banks’ local employees, they do need to either get educated or stop telling lies about credit unions. I forget what else they claimed to one of the customers closing their account that set me off, but one of the things they were whining about was that credit unions don’t pay taxes. That would be income tax, which is true – because credit unions are non-profit cooperatives, where all the customers are co-owners who get to vote on polices and there are no shareholders getting wealthy off ripping people off with bad loans and excessive fees.


I’ve been with the Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union for several years, having left Washington Mutual (or WAMU!, as they liked to call themselves), before the crash and Chase taking over. I still have free checking, no charges from SMCU for using other institutions ATMs, and a nationwide network of  credit unions and ATMs I can use for free (including ATMs at 7-11, which admittedly is a little strange).

There are a number of reasons to take your money out of the big banks and go to a credit union or community bank. Fees are one of them. I couldn’t afford $5 or $10 a month for my checking account, yet it’s the customers who have the least money the banks like Chase and Bank of America charge (although they did back down, due to the protests, on charging a monthly fee for using their debit cards as well).  True, they are a business, and if they want to run a business model charging those who can least afford it to subsidize those who have the largest accounts, they can do it. I fortunately still have a choice not to keep my money there (and wouldn’t even if I were one of the wealthy. For shame! Exploiting the poor, like you need it more?).

However, taking taxpayer money for a bailout (with your CEO, who makes $10,000 an hour, on the Fed board, no less), not paying any taxes and foreclosing on homeowners trying their best to pay their bills is not okay, even if it is legal.

Which is what brought so many of us out into the street in the rain Tuesday night, to protest Chase CEO Jamie Dimon:

I’ve already mentioned in my last post some of the reasons we’re protesting Chase (and in my post before that, Bank of America).  Here’s a little more from Working Washington‘s blog entry, November 5: We’re breaking up with the Big Banks (and remember, according to the Seattle school teachers at the other protest, Chase is getting away with not paying taxes on mortgage interest as an in-state bank):

Chase Bank hasn’t been a good relationship. When they first took over Washington Mutual they fired 3400 employees as a way of introducing themselves to our state. They then raised fees on social services like EBT for which they were already being paid by the state at the ridiculous cost of $8 million a year, your tax dollars not at work.

Chase Bank didn’t stop there. They then gave even larger bonuses and pay to their CEO Jamie Dimon ballooning his pay to nearly $10,000 per hour. In fact, he is the highest paid banker in the United States. His earnings have exploded while he continues to foreclose on Washingtonians; nearly 10,000 and counting while making a profit on food stamps from folks who can least afford it.

Now, don’t feel too bad about Jamie Dimon, according to a Seattle Times article about his visit and the protest, he doesn’t lose any sleep at night. Having a lot of money and no conscious will do that for you!

Too much pepper spray flying once again (shades of WTO and the protests shortly after), and I evidently just narrowly avoided getting hit both at the protest I happened upon after my last class let out (maybe 2:30 or 3 pm) at the Chase branch on Capitol Hill on Broadway and at the Sheraton where Jamie Dimon was speaking (video below by Jonathan Walczak of the Seattle Weekly). Ironically, the Sheraton is within a block of the Washington State Convention Center which hosted the WTO a decade ago.

While I wasn’t crazy about some of the “f@#k the cops” chants or the challenging people just trying to get home by the mostly young protesters at that earlier protest; after seeing the photo of the cops pepper spraying them in the Seattle Times, I’d have to say that they were remarkably restrained.


I was heartened to see so many more people, and including a lot of union members and a Marine with an American flag, by the time the rally and march to greet Chase CEO Jamie Dimon started at 6 pm, in the cold and pouring rain. We even had older people in wheelchairs taking to the streets and one woman on oxygen (which made me very nervous, as she was near the front, like I was, just behind some young people in bandannas and even gas masks, with the already itchy fingered SPD with their hands on their pepper spray canisters. I was glad when her friends persuaded her to move back).

Myself? I sometimes moved back, and sometimes was up near the front, taking pictures, and I checked out the action at all the exits the crowd had eventually blocked. I was generally hanging back just a bit, but ran into a friend and ally who came to America after being involved in the protests at Tiananmen Square in China, and really didn’t feel like chickening out as she went up front and even talked to one of the police officers (fortunately, not while they were into pepper spraying). Which did put things a little in perspective, as I don’t think SPD would get that bad, at least not deliberately, but one of the did have a gun with, I think, rubber bullets ready; and as Oakland showed, people can be seriously hurt by “less-lethal” (and unneeded) weapons.

I noticed the headlights on the police helmets, which I suspect was to make it harder to photograph or videotape their excesses. On the other hand, I could read their name tags and they didn’t seem to be covering those over, which was an issue during the WTO era.

SPD's Helmet Lights

I know a lot is made of the excesses of a few protesters, like the “black block” anarchists in Oakland that same night. I’m not defending them, but anyone focusing on the actions of a handful, when thousands were peacefully taking the highway and closing down the port in a mostly peaceful general strike in Oakland is missing the point.


Don’t Occupy Bank of America

Wait, I was wrong about Bank of America trying to shift their shaky Merrill Lynch derivatives off to be covered under the FDIC insurance covering our savings and checking accounts. I wasn’t paying attention. It turns out they have, to the tune of $53.7 trillion.

Don't Occupy Bank of America With Your Money

According to Truthout:

The total amount of derivatives in the FDIC-insured portion of B of A as of mid-year was $53.7 trillion, up 10 percent from $48.9 trillion the prior year, and up nearly 35 percent from its pre-fall crisis level of $40 trillion (the Merrill Lynch securities division holds $22 trillion in addition.) The bank has $5 trillion of credit derivatives, nearly double its $2.7 trillion pre-Merrill amount. In addition, because of its inherent zombie status and rating downgrades, the cost of insuring B of A against a possible default continues to rise in the credit derivatives market – a pattern that American International group (AIG) once followed.

So the FDIC, which is meant to insure safety of our savings and checking, is already being used to cover shaky investments. Fees to customers continue to be raised. I’m kind of shocked that people put up with that, having left WAMU years ago over overdraft fees, back when banks had free checking (without a high minimum), and no monthly debit card fees, or fees for online bill paying. We still have free checking at credit unions, with no monthly debit fee In fact no charge at their own machines for anyone, customer or non customer, and you can use any credit union ATM and many other places, including 7-11s fee-free.

Then, of course, Bank of America throws out people trying to close their bank accounts. They say you can’t close your account if you’re protesting. Wait! Its their money, and they were very polite in asking for it back.

It gets worse.

It is the official bank of the US military and has branches by or on many bases, which provides the firm with another locus of extortion. B of A can entice military personnel to take out loans at usurious rates. Personal loans made to soldiers for a few thousand dollars can actually keep them indebted for the rest of their lives.

Last May, Bank of America paid $22 million to settle charges of improperly foreclosing on active-duty troops. The firm spun these foreclosures as being Countrywide’s fault for having started them before becoming part of B of A.

Pretty outrageous. At our expense. This is why people are Occupying everywhere, and good reasons not to let your funds occupy Bank of America and the other big banks. There are a lot of options with credit unions and community banks, and with credit unions, you’re a co-owner. People run the credit unions, not some corporation.

November 5 has been declared Bank Transfer Day. Maybe its time to consider other options.