Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Extending thanks

By Reginald Johnson

I got a note in my email box this week from the fine group “Strengthen Social Security” enititled ‘Something to be thankful for.’

In it they extend their thanks to the many people who worked hard to send letters, made phone calls, held rallies and signed petitions when the call went out to tell Congress not to make cuts to the bedrock safety net programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Everytime Congress threatened these programs, the letter said, “you were there, pushing back. And you were successful.”

While noting that the battle to save the “Big Three” programs isn’t over, there was a major victory this week, with the announcement by the so-called congressional super committee it couldn’t reach agreement on the drive to cut the U.S. debt. The committee at one point had been considering major cuts in the social programs.

“Many people will call this a failure,” the letter said. “But make no mistake, this is a victory for the 99 percent and democracy, and it’s due to your hard work.”

I’d like to second their thoughts. But I also want to say another group should be thanked for thwarting the drive to undermine public assistance programs: all those who are participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Thousands of people, many young, are encamping around the country and rallying everyday to demand accountability from the banks and the financial elite while insisting on a fairer shake for working people. They deserve so much credit. Their persistence has forced a change in the national discussion, from talking about the so-called problems of the budget deficit and the need to cut programs, to talking about income inequality and the needs of “the 99 percent.”

What Occupy Wall Street has already accomplished is amazing --- in just two months. Despite the vicious actions of city leaders like New York’s billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg to break up the movement by destroying encampments, I think this drive for national economic justice is only going to get stronger. It has the makings of the strongest social change movement in generations.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I tip my hat to all the participants in Occupy Wall Street. Thank you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Going after the banks

To Tiffany Mellers, big banks are doing the American people an injustice.

They’re charging high credit card rates, making it difficult to get mortgages and hitting people with excessive fees. They’re also not investing in the local communities like Bridgeport, said Mellers, herself a city resident. At the same time, the large banks are pulling in record profits and rewarding their top officers with hefty bonuses. In many cases, they’re also paying little or no taxes, Mellers said..

Like thousands of others around the country, Mellers has decided that the people have to fight back. One way they’re doing that is by encouraging people to move their money from banks like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo into small banks and credit unions.

On Saturday, Mellers took part in “Bank Transfer Day” --- a nationwide action where people were urged to withdraw their money from large banks and shift the funds to smaller institutions.

Mellers joined several other protestors in Bridgeport, standing outside the Bank of America branch on Middle Street and then on Main Street and Capital Avenue, to urge people to drop business with the bank.

“This is about holding banks like this accountable,” said Mellers, as she handed out flyers near the branch on Main Street.

By investing money in credit unions and community banks, she said, people will better insure their money will be invested locally.

“These banks aren’t recycling the money locally,” Mellers, pointing back at the Bank of America sign.

The nationwide protest, also called “Move Your Money Day,” was organized by and a number of other progressive organizations. Since September, there’s been increasing calls for consumers to move their money out of mega banks. Part of the drive has emanated from the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is aimed at making corporations, including large banks, pay their fair share in taxes and act more responsibly in terms of credit card rates, foreclosure procedures and fees.

Just since Sept. 29, credit unions have pulled in some 650,000 new customers, according to an industry trade group. That influx took place after Bank of America announced they were hitting customers with a new $5-a-month debit card fee. (The bank has rescinded its decision, and other banks dropped similar plans).

Credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives owned by their members. They generally charge less fees than banks and offer credit cards with lower rates of interest.

Mellers is an organizer with and a member of the “American Dream Movement.”

In the Saturday protest, Mellers was dressed up in a colorful red, white and blue costume. Calling herself the “American Dream Girl,” she held up a sign saying “Save the American Dream.”

When she wasn’t chatting with people who stopped at the stop light, she sometimes broke out in song. One ditty went:

“The banks have tanked, We bailed them out, It’s time to take your money out. Move your money!”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Heading for general strikes?

When I hear the words “general strike,” it’s music to my ears.

This is an event where everyone in a city or country decide they’ve had enough of being exploited and they want a fairer shake from their government, their employer or prevailing economic system. Often general strikes have been made in support of a group of workers who are being abused by a company.

The general strike sees workers, students and regular citizens stop their normal routines. They don't go to work, don't patronize businesses, don't to school. The system comes to a halt for that day, or days.

A general strike can send a powerful message to the powers that be that the people are really serious, and they’re willing to make major sacrifices to bring about greater political fairness and wider economic rights.

Huge general strikes took place in Egypt earlier this year, which led to the ouster of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak. General strikes have also rocked Spain and Greece, where millions of people chafe under the brutal austerity demands of governments and corporate elites.

The U.S. --- where some historic general strikes took place back in the turbulent 1930s --- has not seen much in recent years.

But things are changing now, as the Occupy Wall Street movement sweeps the country.

On Wednesday, Occupy Oakland plans a general strike aimed at shutting down the Bay Area city.

Members of the Oakland movement are furious over their treatment by city authorities. Police evicted them from their encampment at a plaza near City Hall last week and 85 people were arrested. Then when the group tried to retake the plaza, police beat them back using stun grenades and tear gas. During the melee, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, Scott Olsen, was hit in the head by a tear gas canister, leaving him seriously injured.

News of the injury created a wave of anger among the protesters and Olsen has become a rallying cry for the Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide.

The movement, which began with an occupation near Wall Street in New York City in September, is aimed at fighting economic inequality and corporate greed. Occupiers say there's something wrong with a system that allows the top 1 percent of income earners to enjoy so much wealth and power while everyone else --- the 99 percent --- struggle with unemployment, declining incomes and escalating costs.

"Occupy" protests have sprung up at 200 locations around the country.

Of the general strike, organizer Cat Brooks said, “We mean nobody goes to work, nobody goes to school, we shut the city down.”

He added, “The only thing they seem to care about is money and they don’t understand that it’s our money they need. We don’t don’t need them, they need us.”

It’s not clear how successful the Oakland strike will be, which was hastily organized.

Protests will be held Wednesday at banks and corporations that refuse to shut down. Protesters will then march to the Port of Oakland to try to shut down the night shift.

It’s interesting to note that one of the most famous general strikes in U.S. history took place in 1934 in San Francisco, when thousands of both union and non-union workers walked off their jobs to show support for striking longshoremen and protest violence by police.

Even if the Oakland action is not totally successful, I think a spark has been lit, and there’s likely to be more general strikes in other areas and possibly a nationwide general strike down the road.

Let’s hope so.