CHICAGO - It was a snapshot of America. At least struggling America.
Thousands gathered here to tell the American Bankers Association that the loan they took from the American people is in default. Angry at foreclosures, soaring corporate profits and CEO pay, people from across the Midwest demanded that banks bailed out with some $17.8 trillion of taxpayer funds meet their obligations.
"We want our money back," said speaker after speaker, demanding that the money be in the form of a moratorium on foreclosures, investing in good, green jobs, getting credit working and government regulations on financial institutions.
"It's time to bail us out," speakers said. "Enough is enough," the crowd chanted.
"We're pissed off," said Carl Rosen, president of UE's western region, "seeing so many foreclosures and lay-offs while there has been a huge bailout to the banks." One hundred UE workers lost their jobs in Illinois/Iowa Quad Cities area after Wells Fargo pulled a line of credit from a die-casting factory.
Students from D.C., Florida and California marched next to the UE workers.
"Students and workers have the same struggle with these banks," said Maria, from the Student Labor Action Project, who didn't give her last name. Instead of profiteering banks, she says, the government should run the Stafford program, making loans directly to students, saving taxpayers and students money.
It was clear from the speeches, slogans and signs that the labor union-led community coalition is tapping into deep anger at the corporate and financial elite. Under right-wing Republican and Glenn Beck-type of mis-leadership, including the "tea party" movement, they use the anger to blame the Obama administration, immigrants, people of color, unions and others for the economic woes.
Instead, the thousands that marched on the Sheraton Hotel, where the ABA was celebrating its profit recovery, were a virtual rainbow of America. SEIU, the service employees union, signs in Polish, Spanish and English demanded good jobs. Homeowners and community activists from predominantly African American neighborhoods in Chicago held up signs with Chicago neighborhood names and the number of foreclosures in that area; S. Chicago: 902, Portage Park: 883, Englewood: 1,350 and Humboldt Park: 1,355 ... for a grand total of 44,091 foreclosures in the city alone.
Angenita Tanner runs a child care business. Wearing a SEIU shirt, Tanner, an African American woman, wove a story of the "real" economy and how the bank profiteering has an impact on state budgets and people's lives.
Tanner's child care program receives state funds that have been slashed because of the budget crisis and the refusal by lawmakers to raise taxes on the wealthiest in the state. "I have parents who are losing their homes and have to pay me in food instead of money" to keep their children in the program so they can go to work, Tanner said. "But I have bills to pay, too," she said. "I fell behind in my mortgage. I called the bank because they said they'd be 'glad to help.' But it was all a game. They never helped.
"No one wants to lose their job or home. The people bailed out the banks, but the banks should bailout the people," she said.
According to Action Now, a local community organization and rally sponsor, the African American community lost $11 trillion in assets through this mortgage/financial crisis. "It was the largest transfer of wealth out of the African American community, ever," said Action Now's Denise Dixon.
Union leader Anna Burger, head of Change to Win, said banks should loan money to businesses and entrepreneurs at the same low interest rate they enjoy. "Investment could go to the infrastructure and human services," she said, creating jobs and needed services, especially for women who make up 40 percent of America's breadwinners. "There's a lot of services moms need, like child care," she said.
According to the rally organizers, the top six banks raked in $30 billion in profits this year alone, and executives are on pace to get almost $150 billion in bonuses and compensation.
Yet in the "real" economy, layoffs and furloughs continue and unemployment has hit a 26-year high. A home is foreclosed upon every 13 seconds, small businesses continue to close, and cities, towns and states continue to cut services. In the United States, more thank 5 million homes are in foreclosure.
Labor leader Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, asked the crowd, "How do you like Obama cutting these CEO bonuses to shreds?"
Trumka urged the crowd to not just be angry and outraged but to organize and make a difference. "Commit to do one thing," he said, "call your member of Congress everyday and tell them four things" -- reform the Federal Bank and make it a real public agency; regulate the shadow economy like hedge funds, derivatives; create a consumer protection agency to protect people from sub-prime loans and sky high credit card rates; and reform CEO compensation and corporate governance.
Speakers promised that this was just the beginning of a movement to break the power of the banks and Wall Street.
"I'm here because the banks did the same thing in my home country, Ecuador, as they are doing here," said SEIU member Luisa Moreno. Speaking in Spanish, she said, "Le están robando al pueblo." (They are robbing the people.)
Photos: John Bachtell/PW