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George Goehl and Heather Booth
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December 11, 2009

Things were livelier than one might expect at the American Bankers Association's annual meeting in October 2009. Protestors gathered on the streets of Chicago, mobilized by what they see as fundamental injustice in the aftermath of the bank bailout: large financial institutions are posting huge profits and awarding their employees big bonuses, while home foreclosures across the country continue to climb.

George Goehl, whose organization National People's Action helped organize the protests and Heather Booth of Americans for Financial Reform join Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL to explain why people are angry with the banks, and what they believe community groups can change across the country and in Washington, D.C.

George Goehl explained why so many people care about the rules that govern financial transactions:
I think people are angry for a few reasons. One, their relationship with their bank is not a good relationship. We were having a conversation with people across the country the other day. And they were like, "What if we had banks that actually helped people build wealth?" Like that was a radical idea. Versus banks that are stripping wealth from people.

So, that's one thing people are frustrated about. You know, high interest rates and overdraft fees. Then the actual actions that led to this crisis [...] launching the subprime foreclosure crisis. Sending the economy into a tailspin. Needing billions in taxpayer bailouts. People are upset around that. And then there's just the principle that the same banks that created the crisis, that we're all facing [...] activated this massive lobbying apparatus to kill reforms that would prevent a future meltdown.
As Congress moved to bail out the banks in October 2008, many legislators were calling for tougher regulations to prevent similar disasters in the future. And, as soon as legislators began considering regulations, the banks began opposing them. As Gretchen Morgenson and Don Van Natta Jr. reported in the NEW YORK TIMES in June, "The nine biggest participants in the derivatives market — including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America — created a lobbying organization, the CDS Dealers Consortium, on Nov. 13, a month after five of its members accepted federal bailout money."

Intense opposition from the financial sector defeated a mortgage modification plan advanced by Senator Dick Durbin in April 2009, and has slowed the progress of the financial regulation bill moving through Congress and created internal divisions within the Democratic party.

Foreclosures and the Bailout
Also at issue for the activists is the handling of the bailout, officially known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which they see as too opaque in its dealings with the bank, and too ineffectual at helping struggling homeowners.

It's a criticism with which some in Washington agree. On Wednesday, December 9, the Congressional panel charged with overseeing TARP, led by Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, released its monthly report, and while it called the program successful at preventing a financial panic, the report criticized TARP for lacking focus and for not doing enough to halt the foreclosure crisis.

The report came out the same day that treasury secretary Timothy Geithner announced he would be extending TARP past its end-of-year deadline until October 2010, promising to focus efforts on preventing foreclosures. Home foreclosures have continued apace, and at the end of September, 14.4% of mortgage holders were in foreclosure or delinquent on their payments.

Only around 31,000 homeowners have received permanent loan modifications under the Obama administration's $75 billion plan. Lenders claim that the low success rate is the failure of borrowers to send in the necessary paperwork. But Paul Kiel, of ProPublica, reports that the mortgage servicers may be to blame, "the data from servicers should be viewed with skepticism, given another clear trend: Banks and other mortgage servicers are themselves not very good at managing documents."

Heather Booth agrees that the problems seem daunting, but believes change is possible, but only if people organize, "because money largely dominates politics, media, and so many factors of our life. These opposition forces — the insurance companies, the big financial interests, the big energy companies — they're still around. But this is a new moment. I actually believe that it is a historic opening. Not with a guarantee of change, but with a promise that there's an opening for change if we seize it."

According to Goehl, the protests are about more than bailouts and bonuses: "What we're trying to do is really organize around a set of ideas. And we think a real successful movement would be more around an allegiance to ideas over party. And some of that'll contain protests. But it's really about a vision of what we want to create. Around a more fair and just economy. So, right now, I think a lot of the action is around banking reform. But I think we're building the foundation for a big movement around an economy that serves us all."

Heather Booth
Heather Booth has been an organizer for more than 40 years, starting in the civil rights movement. She was the founding Director and is now President of the Midwest Academy, training social change leaders and organizers.

Booth has been involved in and managed many political campaigns and was the Training Director of the Democratic National Committee. In 2000, she was the Director of the NAACP National Voter Fund, which helped to increase African American election turnout by nearly 2 million voters.

Booth has been a consultant to a variety of social change and political groups and was the first DC representative for Booth was the lead consultant for the 2006 Campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. In 2008 she was the director of the Health Care Campaign for the AFL-CIO, organizing to win affordable high quality reform for all. Just recently she directed the campaign to pass President Obama's transformational budget.

She is now Director of Americans for Financial Reform, working to regulate the financial industry. She is on the board of USAction, NAACP NVF, and the Center for Community Change.

George Goehl
George Goehl is the executive director of National People's Action. National People's Action, founded in 1972, exists to create a society in which racial and economic justice are realized in all aspects of society, resulting in more equity in work, housing, health, education, finance, and other systems central to our well-being.

A community organizer, strategist, and trainer for 15 years, Goehl has crafted national campaigns on affordable housing, predatory lending, and immigrant justice issues. He began his career as the founding president of the Coalition of Low-Income and Homeless Citizens, an organization that won the first Housing Trust Fund in the state of Indiana and the first Housing Trust Fund campaign in the country run by low-income and homeless people. Then, as an organizer at Blocks Together, a multicultural organization on the Westside of Chicago, Goehl led several successful campaigns to address inequalities in housing, safety and municipal services.

Goehl came to National People's Action for the first time in 1996 and designed a national campaign to pressure HUD to address fraud and abuse within the FHA home loan program. This three-year organizing effort resulted in the Credit Watch Program, which holds lenders accountable for excessive defaults on FHA-insured mortgages. Later, as organizing director, Goehl supervised the team that forced statewide anti-predatory lending regulations and legislation in Illinois.

In 2004, Goehl moved to the Center for Community Change to work as a strategist and field organizer for the organization's Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM). His work there included the launch of a national summit of immigrant and allied organizations from more than 30 states, and culminated in the implementation of the national "Stop the Raids" movement, in response to a wave of immigration raids that separated young children from their parents.

Returning to National People's Action in 2007 as the third executive director in its 35 year history, Goehl has led the organization through a forward thinking reorganization and transformation. As a result, the organization has significantly expanded its affiliate base, built a new and talented staff team and opened the organization's first Washington DC office.
Related Media:
James Thindwa
James Thindwa, whose campaign for economic fairness for working people in Chicago has brought him up against the city's powerful political establishment and corporate giant Wal-Mart.

Steve Meacham: Fighting Foreclosure
The JOURNAL profiles Steve Meacham, a Massachusetts community organizer fighting to keep working people in their homes.

American Dissidents
People who've made a difference in America — from Thomas Paine to Ralph Nader. (March 20, 2009)

Leo Gerard, photo by Robin HollandLeo Gerard
Bill Moyers sits down with United Steelworkers' International President Leo Gerard to discuss seeking economic justice for workers in the middle of an economic crisis and how he sees the future of American manufacturing. Gerard shares his thoughts on how unions will fare under the Obama administration, what kind of stimulus might be needed and what the future of American industry might look like. (January 9, 2009)

Andy Stern
The president of Service Employees International Union, the fastest growing union in the nation, weighs in on the growing economic gap between average families and the wealthiest Americans. (June 15, 2007)

Holly Sklar, photo by Robin HollandHolly Sklar
Holly Sklar, co-author of RAISE THE FLOOR: WAGES AND POLICIES THAT WORK FOR ALL OF US, discusses what current economic conditions say about the state of the American dream. (June 13, 2008)

Grace Lee Boggs
Bill Moyers talks with 91 year old activist, Grace Lee Boggs, about the cultural revolution brewing in our country at the grassroots level. (June 5, 2007)

References and Reading:
Americans for Financial Reform.

National People's Action.

"Protesters in Chicago March on Offices of Goldman, Wells Fargo"
By Lauren Etter, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, October 27, 2009.

"Goldman Sachs amends pay practices to stifle criticism"
By Walter Hamilton, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, December 10, 2009.

"Why Treasury Needs a Plan B for Mortgages"
By Gretchen Morgenson, THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 5, 2009.

"Debt Raters Avoid Overhaul After Crisis"
By David Segal, THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 7, 2009.

"Homeowners Getting Blame for Lack of Loan Mods, but Evidence Points to Banks and Servicers, Too"
By Paul Kiel, PROPUBLICA, December 9, 2009.

"Audit Finds TARP Program Effective"
By Jackie Calmes, THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 9, 2009.
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