Thursday, October 30, 2008

From Wall Street to Main Street: Protests Demand Bailout For the People!

From Wall Street to Main Street: Protests demand: Bail out the people!

By Betsey Piette
Published Oct 29, 2008 2:43 PM

It was a strange sight on Wall Street. In the heart of U.S. finance capital, stage left of the statue of the wealthy slaveholder George Washington, more than 100 veterans and youths from unions, housing, civil rights and other popular movements began a conversation with the U.S. working class from the steps of the Federal Building. The topics: capitalism and socialism.

Six weeks ago, the speakers might have been whistling in the wind. On Oct. 24, after the credit collapse and bailout of the banks, their talks at the corner of Wall and Broad brought many people to a halt. Wall Street workers stayed to listen for a quarter hour, took literature, asked questions of those participating and thought about the economic crisis that threatens to disrupt life as they know it.

The speakers represented a cross section of progressive New York. Whether it was City Councilmember Charles Barron explaining how Bloomberg climbed up the “wealthiest person” ladder since he became mayor of New York; housing activist Nellie Bailey chiding the landlord domination of local politics; Katrina-survivor supporter Brenda Stokely making it clear that solidarity must begin with the most oppressed; people’s lawyer Lynne Stewart denouncing capitalism; or FIST youth organizers LeiLani Dowell and Larry Hales, mobilizing for future struggles; they had an audience.

A rousing speech was presented by a leader of women steelworkers in South Korea, who have been striking the SIRIUS Corporation for the past three years. Their example of struggle despite hardship may turn out to be one of the important lessons of the rally. Teresa Gutierrez from the May 1st Coalition for Immigrant and Workers Rights; Charles Jenkins, a leader of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; and Bernadette Ellorin from BAYAN-USA spoke on workers’ unity across all borders.

For those distributing literature, there was constant interaction with passers-by, most of it friendly questions. A group of Chinese visitors enjoyed photographing each other beside a sign on the Workers World table that called capitalism the problem and socialism the solution.

Media from Spain, France, Venezuela and local Spanish-language TV stations interviewed participants and recorded the rally/street meeting that Bail Out the People Movement organizer Larry Holmes opened and which kept going for more than three hours until Monica Moorehead gave an update on the struggles to save death-row prisoners, Troy Davis and Mumia Abu-Jamal. The final speaker read a message from a Philippines revolutionary to the U.S. working class. It was a new day on Wall Street.

In Los Angeles, the Labor/Community Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions held a “Bailout the Workers, Not the Bankers” forum on Oct. 24 and a street protest on Oct. 27. The forum was held at Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, located in Panorama City in Los Angeles County. Led by Gloria Saucedo, Hermandad services the immigrant community with legal assistance and was an initiator of the historic Mar. 26 demonstration for immigrant rights in 2006.

Rosie Martinez, executive board member and chair of the Latino Caucus of Service Employees International Union Local 721, addressed the forum about the need for unity and organization to fight for justice and against our wealth being given away to the banks.

Chito Quijano, national chair of BAYAN-USA, explained the origins of the economic crisis and motivated for unity and action as the only means to make sure the fallout from the crisis does not all land on the shoulders of workers.

Martha Rojas, co-coordinator of the coalition, spoke about her personal experience going through foreclosure. One of the demands of the forum was for a moratorium on foreclosures as well as against the raids targeting immigrants.

In Detroit dozens of people, including many victims of home foreclosures and evictions, demonstrated outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit on Oct. 27 to demand the interim mayor declare a state of economic emergency in the city and formally apply to the governor for a two-year moratorium on foreclosures. They also demanded a federal bailout for the people of Detroit, who have the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the U.S.

Since interim Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr. took office in mid-September, organizers with the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions have sent him three letters demanding a meeting to discuss the state of emergency facing the city and the action he should take. Cockrel ignored the letters until coalition activists confronted him at two “meet and greet” community meetings he hosted on Oct. 21 and 23. Coalition spokespeople received a tremendous response from the audience and the mayor was forced to acknowledge that a moratorium was “a good idea.”

Following those meetings and the continued organizing and outreach done by coalition activists throughout Detroit and beyond, a representative from the mayor’s office contacted the coalition to arrange a meeting. A multinational grouping of 16 activists went to the mayor’s office on Oct. 27 after the demonstration, only to find out that the mayor’s representative was postponing the meeting due to a funeral. The activists were outraged and a confrontation occurred with city police and members of the mayor’s security detail. One senior shouted, “You show some respect! We pay your salary and this is OUR office!”

Coalition members then went to the City Council auditorium and discussed a plan of further action. Calls were placed to the mayor’s representative, who finally agreed to come to the coalition’s office on Oct. 28 and meet with organizers.

Coalition members will present a draft letter for the mayor to send to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, formally requesting a declaration of a state of emergency in the city and asking her to use her emergency powers under the law to impose a two-year moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in the city. Organizers see this as an important step in getting a statewide moratorium passed by the legislature.

On Oct. 24 in Buffalo, N.Y., a “Bail Out the People, Not the Banks” rally staked out a spot in the heart of the financial district, surrounded by huge glass-covered banks and the Federal Reserve office. The rally expressed such clear, intense anger against the rich and against the whole capitalist system that it drew the interest and attention of all the downtown workers waiting for the transit trains just inches away. High school and college students stood for an hour in the cold wind. The banks even sent observers to listen.

One community activist pointed at the windows all around, and said, “Don’t think this is small, because you can see how many people are paying attention, even in those windows, and standing over there listening and reading our signs. The word will be out to a lot more people by tomorrow.”

The rally and speak-out was endorsed and co-sponsored by Buffalo Forum, Buffalo State College Students for Peace, Center for a Livable World, Citizen Action of New York-WNY, Coalition for Economic Justice, Code Pink Buffalo, Green Party of Erie County, International Action Center (member of the Ad Hoc National Network to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions) and Western NY Peace Center.

In Baltimore, protesters braved pouring rain to gather at the Federal Reserve Bank for a speak-out and press conference denouncing the trillion dollar bailout of the banks and to announce a statewide campaign to demand emergency measures for workers this winter. The speak-out was widely covered by local television and C-Span. Speakers included union delegates, community organizers and student activists.

Among the emergency measures called for are a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, a halt to utility shut offs, no layoffs and an extension of unemployment benefits, and no budget cuts. The City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland have begun already to announce budget cuts that threaten workers jobs and services.

The speak-out and protest was called by the Baltimore Chapter of the National Network to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions.

Several people gathered in front of a midtown Chase Bank in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 26, unfurling a large banner reading “Bailout The People—Not The Banks!” The busy intersection was active with hoots and hollers of support, horn-honking and other signs of approval from passersby.

People feel betrayed by the massive handout to the wealthiest bankers while workers are left to fend for themselves. The state of Arizona needs $2.6 billion to cover its budget shortfall. Less than one-half of 1 percent of the $850 billion guaranteed to bankers would allow the state to continue providing the essential services working and poor people need and would also prevent the planned mass layoffs of state workers. The banks get bailed out and we get thrown out!

On Oct. 25 in Charlotte, N.C., about 50 people rallied in front of the world headquarters of Bank of America, one bank which stands to profit from the deepening economic crisis. A spirited and militant picket included city workers from the Charlotte chapter of UE Local 150; Raleigh Fight Imperialism, Stand Together; Atlanta International Action Center; Charlotte Action Center for Justice; UNC-Charlotte Students for a Democratic Society; and UNC-Chapel Hill SDS.

Demonstrators demanded a moratorium on home foreclosures and evictions, an end to cuts in student loans and a moratorium on state budget cuts. The response to the demonstration was overwhelmingly positive, with many passersby honking their horns, raising their fists and even joining in the picket. As the crisis deepens, affecting more and more working people, organizers expressed a commitment to continue raising these demands against Bank of America and building a working class fight back against the bailout.

Around 20 youth, workers and community activists converged at the Wachovia building in downtown Raleigh, N.C., Oct. 24 to protest the fraudulent bailout of the superrich. Demands to “Bail out the people, not the banks!” and “Money for jobs and education, not banks and corporations!” as well as “no” to massive public sector budget cuts, were met with mixed support from the bankers, but strong support from workers who occasionally joined the protests.

Representatives from Black Workers for Justice; Raleigh FIST; UNC Chapel Hill SDS; UE 150, North Carolina’s Public Service Workers Union; and various community allies picketed Wachovia and marched through the streets to kick off a weekend of nationwide protests against the nearly one trillion dollar handout to the gambling bankers.

The Cleveland Chapter of FIST held a protest and speak-out at the national headquarters of National City Bank, just one day after it had been bought out by PNC Bank. Protesters went inside the bank, passing unhindered by a lone security guard. Later FIST members went to the Public Square area in Cleveland to distribute Workers World newspaper.

Led by youth from FIST and SDS, nearly 30 people gathered for a rally and speak-out against the bankers’ bailout on Oct. 27 at Philadelphia’s City Hall, across from Wachovia Bank. Despite its defunct status, Wachovia is one of many banks responsible for the subprime mortgage scandal and the subsequent tightening of credit markets, and stands to receive $25 billion of taxpayer dollars to fund their acquisition by rival Wells Fargo.

Speakers pointed out Wachovia Bank’s origins in profits from slavery in the U.S. as well as its recent practice of “redlining” neighborhoods of color to deny loans for development.

More than a thousand fliers were handed out to passersby, many of whom stopped to sign a petition for a bailout that would provide for programs people really need. Chants of “Money for health care, not for bankers’ welfare!” went over well with downtown shoppers and drivers honked horns in support.

The protest was sponsored by the Philadelphia International Action Center; Brandywine Peace Community; N’COBRA; Code Pink, Delaware River Area; Justice for Families; Neighbors Against McPenntrification; RASH—Philadelphia; Philadelphia Socialist Action; and FIST.

In Boston about 50 people attended a rally and press conference at Boston City Hall chaired by Miya Campbell of FIST and featuring Boston’s three city councilors of color, Chuck Turner, Charles Yancey and Sam Yoon. The councilors called on the governor and mayor to declare a state of emergency and ensure that the thousands of people who are facing winter without heat or light have their utilities service restored. More than 100,000 received shutoff notices from the Massachusetts utility companies last May.

Nan Genger of the Women’s Fightback Network outlined the group’s ongoing campaign for an economic state of emergency, linking the shutoffs to the war budget and the Wall Street bailout. Tony Hernandez, organizer for District Council 35, Painters and Allied Trades, described how the economic crisis is affecting poor and working people in every community.

Other speakers included members of USW 8751, Boston School Bus Drivers; Jason Lyden, pastor of the Community Church of Boston; a representative from Action for Boston Community Development, which advocates for fuel assistance for low income families; and a member of New England Human Rights for Haiti.

Campbell told how the economic crisis impacts youth, with homeless youth attempting to attend school; school closings from recent budget cuts being used to attack desegregation and the African-American communities’ access to education; and of the more than one million Black men in prison.

The participants are planning further action and vowed to continue until there is no one in Massachusetts without heat or lights this winter. The event was covered by both TV media and the Boston Globe.

An unanticipated but welcome addition to the October 24-27 Call to Action activities, initially planned by the Ad Hoc National Network to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions, came when San Diego homeowner June Reyno called the Ad Hoc Network office to announce her intention to chain herself to her home of 19 years in the Mira Mesa area rather than submit to eviction. She had been served with an eviction notice, but had been granted an additional 18 days to vacate. Since Reyno publicly announced her intention to resist, the police were expected the morning of Oct. 27.

The Network office was able to put her in touch with San Diego activists from the International Action Center and others who stood with her on Monday morning, anticipating the arrival of police, and who were instrumental in bringing out much of the San Diego media to cover her struggle.

Reyno is angry that an offer was made to sell her back the house and then withdrawn when she and her husband found a willing lender. The bank that now holds title clearly intends, instead, to sell the home at a bigger profit, perpetuating the greedy financial feeding frenzy that has produced the present catastrophe of foreclosures and evictions.

Throughout the country, many thousands of people are being deprived of their homes because of corporate greed and a system that puts profits first and people last. By defying the eviction, Reyno is providing an example of resistance to injustice that will resonate among the millions who have or are in danger of losing their homes. As of this writing, Monday morning and early afternoon have passed with no sign of the police.

Sharon Black, Ben Carroll, John Catalinotto, Ellie Dorritie, Kris Hamel, Caleb Maupin, Bob McCubbin, Monica Moorehead, Frank Neisser, John Parker, Paul Teitelbaum and Scott Williams contributed to this report.
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1 comment:

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