As the Senate pressed to complete work on financial overhaul legislation, nearly 1,000 union workers, small business owners and teachers marched along Washington’s K Street Monday to protest efforts by Wall Street lobbyists to derail the bill.
The demonstrators marched under umbrellas, rain ponchos and improvised trash bags, but the heavy rains didn’t dampen efforts of grass-roots Chicago-based organization National People’s Action, the Service Employees Union International (SEIU), AFL-CIO and Jobs with Justice who organized the event and bussed in chapter members from all corners of the United States.
The protests were part of two days of events targeting bankers and lobbyists in their homes and offices. After the K Street event—complete with a float depicting a sinister-looking banker holding a member of Congress on puppet strings—the protesters shifted their venue to Capitol Hill.
“Wall Street and corporate special interests are the single biggest obstacle to the reforms working families urgently need—from good jobs to Wall Street reform,” said Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer.
The demonstration, similar to a rowdy April 29 rally on Wall Street, attracted people of varied interests and concerns. National People’s Action member Trenda Kennedy of Springfield, Ill., has been fighting to save her house from foreclosure for nearly two years. Her $100,000 mortgage has been sold three times and is now in the hands of Bank of America. Kennedy, who was 19 months behind on her payments, said she is one of millions of Americans who were caught up in the subprime mortgage crisis, and hopes her actions will be heard in Congress.
“My fight is against Bank of America,” she said, adding that she believes the financial overhaul bill pending in the Senate is not the only answer but a step in the right direction to make banks accountable. “We are not satisfied with the way the government is going,” the Rev. Eugene Barnes, president of National People’s Action, told The Fiscal Times. “We believe the government has been bought out by the lobbyists—especially the lobbyists down here on K Street and that’s one of the main reasons we’re here today is to bust up big banks.”
Organizers, who dubbed the event “Showdown on K Street” sought reform on a variety of issues, chief among them: passing financial reform, breaking up “too big to fail” banks, protecting consumers from bank and credit card abuses, and creating jobs. Community groups and union organizations including the American Federation of Teachers sought reform on immigration, labor and foreclosure issues.
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said, "a movement is building across this country to challenge the toxic influence Wall Street and corporations have on our democracy and…ensure taxpayers are never again forced to bailout Wall Street’s recklessness.”
After a short 20-minute rally in McPherson Square protestors marched along K Street to the Bank of America headquarters, chanting “Bailout no thanks, bust up big banks” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out”—creating a traffic gridlock for more than an hour. Some banking and financial lobbying groups said yesterday they support financial reform.
“Raising important concerns doesn’t mean you are against reform,” said Peter Garuccio, vice president of public relations at the American Bankers Association. “Bankers are trying to make sure that reform they support is meaningful and done right.”
However, many banking lobbyists object to the bill’s language to scale back the preemptive doctrine of nationally chartered banks—a mechanism which has meant large financial firms are exclusively controlled by federal regulators. The Obama administration partly blames preemption for the crisis because it precluded state authorities from cracking down on wrongdoing which may have gone on beneath the federal radar.
The Senate is attempting to complete work this week on a 1,400 page financial overhaul bill which seeks to address the regulatory lapses that led to the financial crisis in 2008. While organizers claim Wall Street CEOs spend $1.4 million each day on fighting financial reform, the Senate bill largely mirrors President Obama’s first blueprint, despite intensified efforts from lobbyists.
Many protestors couldn’t describe what was in the financial overhaul bill but believe lobbyists’ efforts have been highly effective in influencing Congress over new financial regulatory measures. “We know the lobbyists are fighting the financial reform and we know who is financing this,” Barnes said. “We know that 'Government Sachs' has a revolving door in and out of the White House,” he said in a slap at Goldman Sachs.
Lane Bodner, an American Postal Workers Union member from Washington, said he turned out in the rain to “support the struggles of all working people.” “I think this really cuts across party lines, [because] everyone is pissed off with Wall Street and what they did to our economy,” Bodner said. “I don’t even really feel this is controversial. Putting regulations back on these Wall Street firms, breaking up these banks that are too-big-to-fail, is a no brainer to me.”
Monday’s rally was the culmination of two-days of actions seeking Wall Street reform. On Sunday night more than 700 demonstrators kicked off the events by rallying outside the house of Bank of America General Counsel Gregory Baer in suburban Washington. Earlier Monday morning protestors held demonstrations against lobbying groups including the Corrections Corporation of America, Elmendorf Strategies and The Podesta Group.