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Transcript:

December 11, 2009
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal. There's only one way to counter the power of organized money, and that's with the power of organized people. This is the theme of our broadcast this week.

We've all seen in recent months how the insurance companies, the drug cartels, Wall Street bankers, corporate lobbies and other powerful interests are reaching deep into their pockets to stifle efforts at reform. And they've been winning. It's been a year since the big financial firms blew a hole in the economy and took down the jobs, wages, pensions and homes of millions of people. They would have gone down too — devoured by their own greed — were it not for the taxpayer bailout. But now major banks and securities firms are on track to pay their employees up to $140 billion in compensation this year. That's more than the combined budgets of the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Goldman Sachs — the godfather of Wall Street — is projected to earn around $45 billion this year in net income with its employees slated to receive an average paycheck of $743,000.

But get this — just this week, Goldman announced that its top 30 executives will forego their usual big cash bonus in response to public outrage over runaway compensation deals. Maybe people in the streets are getting through at last to Wall Street. Here's what I mean.

MAN: Are you tired of predatory lenders? Are you tired of sub-prime mortgages? Are you tired of the banks? Hallelujah ...

BILL MOYERS: You might have thought this was an old-time revival...

CROWD: Somebody say 'I'm tired!' I'm tired!

BILL MOYERS: But this was not about the life hereafter, these people want a better world in the here and now.

CROWD: Banks got bailed out; we got sold out!

BILL MOYERS: So earlier this fall, from foreclosure blighted California and small farming towns in Iowa and the struggling suburbs of the east coast they came to Chicago to take on the financial giants whose greed and reckless gambling brought the American economy to its knees.

MIKE MCCARTHY: We're losing jobs. We're losing state employees. We're losing industry and businesses. We're losing farms and homes. And meanwhile, these people across the street are trying to divvy up their record profits, in tens of millions of dollars worth of bonuses. And that's not fair, it's not fair.

BILL MOYERS: Across the street The American Bankers Association was holding its annual convention. The symbol, to these protesters, of a system turned upside down.

REV. BOOKER VANCE: What it appears is that banks are getting richer; some of the employees and officers are getting raises while we're seeing more homes go under and people suffering in the community.

What we're trying to do is to let the banks know, they have more responsibility to take the money, they have a responsibility to help educate and to inform and to work with community groups to stop the foreclosures. We need a moratorium on foreclosures in the state. We need to address many of the concerns of small businesses who are trying to keep afloat, able to get loans and access the loans — the money that was given to the banks. We need a flow down, we don't need a trickle down. We need a flow down at this particular point.

GEORGE GOEHL: Here in Chicago in the last two years, we've had foreclosure filings double, in a two year period. Foreclosures were already a big problem in Chicago in 2006, but they jumped up to 20,000 filings in 2008. We have a neighborhood in Chicago that has 200 new foreclosure filings this year per square mile. So, communities are hurting. That story's not getting out.

These are the same folks that came up with the ideas that led to 30 years of deregulation, and we've seen how that worked out. They created the economic crisis. They created the foreclosure crisis. They needed billions and billions of bailout dollars. And now they're lobbying to kill common sense reforms who would protect every day people.

CROWD: ABA, you're the worst, time to put the people first!

BILL MOYERS: From the bankers' convention the protestors moved on to the Chicago offices of Goldman Sachs...

CROWD: Goldman sucks! Goldman sucks!

BILL MOYERS: ...that global goliath who's on track to divvy up the companies richest bonus booty ever.

CROWD: We're fired up! Can't take it no more!

VALERIE BENJAMIN GLOVER: You took our tax dollars. We bailed you out. At least have consideration for the people who are flooding and feeding your bank accounts, your salaries. There's no compassion. There's just their own self interest, their own greed. And they just want to continue with the same cycle, the same old thing. It's just if you have Tide, you have the original Tide and then they lie and say, "We got the new and better Tide," but it's not a new and better Tide, it's the same product.

BILL MOYERS: From there, it was onto a nearby branch of Wells Fargo where protesters crowded into the bank lobby and, for a short time, disrupted business as usual.

DENNIS GANNON: I'll tell you what, the bankers haven't seen anything. The bankers are enjoying the money that our government gave 'em. It's time for us on Main Street to reach out to these folks and tell 'em, "We want real reform." And when do we want it?

CROWD: Now!

DENNIS GANNON: When do we want it?

CROWD: Now!

BRENDA LABLANC: All we want is to have them regulated. We need banks. God knows we need them. But they've got to do business in a decent fashion. And if they won't do it themselves, then the government has to make them do it.

JOE FAGAN: We got to change things. All these people, we're just regular people. It's got to stop, that's why we're here.

JOE FAGAN: Bust up!

CROWD: Big banks!

JOE FAGAN: Bust up!

CROWD: Big banks!

BILL MOYERS: Their message for the banks was clear and simple.

JOE FAGAN: Clean up your act. Enough is enough. We've caught onto your game. We know what you're doing. We're not fools. People know it. Clean up your act. And don't be a scandal to us and the world.

BILL MOYERS: They're up against the powerful lobby of the Financial Services Industry. It spent more than $220 million in lobbying so far in 2009. Most of it directed at stopping reforms in Washington that would hold banks accountable and hopefully prevent a repeat of last year's disaster.

JAMES THINDWA: What we're doing here in Chicago ought to be replicated across the country. We need to get out by the millions to protest, to demand that this industry, in particular, the banking industry, that is spending 200, 250 million dollars lobbying against bank reform, this is unacceptable. And I think average Americans need to understand that.

REV. TONY PIERCE: I think it's hard for them to ignore our message at this point. Because everyday, this crowd gets larger, and everyday the American people get angrier, and everyday we are shouting to Congress and to the President. And everyday that that happens is a day that the bankers cannot ignore.

VALERIE BENJAMIN GLOVER: It's no longer people like me feeling that it's my fault. You feel that, "Oh, maybe I went to school for the wrong type of study." But, you know that there's some force bigger than you out there that's been sopping up your money and not giving you an opportunity to take advantage of the American dream.

JAMES THINDWA: We are fighting against big money interests. We don't have the billions of dollars. But we have legs, we still have voices and we're going to continue to march and we're going to continue to speak out. And to send a message quite frankly to Democrats in Washington that, once again, the November election was a referendum on the old practices that have been repudiated, that have been discredited. It's time for a new chapter in American politics. It's up to them to make a decision. Are they going to listen to the people on the ground here, or are they going to listen to the bankers? That's the question today. And we can say that even in Chicago, Obama's hometown, that many people are beginning to question his commitment to serious, sweeping reforms.

BILL MOYERS: So, as we heard here time and again, they cling to the audacity of hope.

BRENDA LABLANC: When enough people get active, things will happen. I think Obama will act if people will push him. But we've got to push him. He said that himself, he said, "You push us." And I think we're ready to do that.

GEORGE GOEHL: The one thing we have, our own political currency, is people. And people are ready to hit the streets. Today is a beginning of a much larger set of mobilizations that are going to take place all across the country. We're just getting' started.

BILL MOYERS: With me now is George Gale, one of the community organizers you just saw in our report from Chicago. He's Executive Director of National People's Action, a group dedicated to organizing for social justice.

Also with us is Heather Booth, who's been a political activist and organizer for 40 years, ever since she joined the civil rights movement in the sixties. She's currently Director of Americans for Financial Reform and President of the Midwest Academy, a training program for leaders and organizers.

Welcome to you both.

HEATHER BOOTH: Oh, wonderful to be here.

GEORGE GOEHL: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: George, you say at the end of that report, "We're not going away, we're just starting." Who's we?

GEORGE GOEHL: Who is we? 'We' is everyday people from across the country. We saw something really interesting happen over the course of the summer. We were having meetings with the Federal Reserve. And what started out as people coming out around predatory lending and foreclosures started to evolve. And suddenly retirees were coming out. Saying, "How come my pensions been depleted by 30 percent?"

People who'd lost their jobs were coming out. People who were worried about State budget cuts were coming out to these meetings. And I think more and more people are making connection around their own economic insecurity to what's happening with the banks and on Wall Street. So, suddenly we've got a growing movement of people who want to get out on the streets, put pressure on the banks, they recognize it's a David and Goliath fight. And it's only through their action that we're going to make things happen. I think people don't believe right now that their Members of Congress are going to lead the way. They're questioning whether Obama will lead the way. And it's becoming more clear that they've got to lead the way.

BILL MOYERS: Heather, you're based in Washington. George is in Chicago. Who are Americans for Financial Reform?

HEATHER BOOTH: Well, it's the fight of Main Street against Wall Street. And it's unified both from the grassroots working closely with George and other grassroots organizations. And also folks in D.C. So, we've got trade unions, civil rights organizations, religious organizations, investors.

And we broadly would like to see the values of decency, democracy, accountability, transparency, and fairness in the financial system. That system should work for us, for the American public

BILL MOYERS: Those people we saw in Chicago, what did you sense they were feeling when they were there?

GEORGE GOEHL: A number of places have really been ravaged by foreclosures. So, we do have communities that just have intense foreclosure concentration. The foreclosures keep rising. And they see banks doing less. And then you've got more people in desperate financial situations, which turns people to payday lenders. Which Senator Durbin called it the event in Chicago the bottom feeders of an industry that I would say is like chalk full of bottom feeders. So...

BILL MOYERS: Payday lenders are?

GEORGE GOEHL: Payday lenders are these little shops, these little storefronts that make 400 percent interest loans to people. The average $300 payday loan ends up costing the borrower $900. So, it's a classic, you know, lending scam that actually strips wealth from people and from communities. So, actually more and more people are having to go to payday lenders, 'cause they want to keep the lights on, get their groceries paid. They want to save their housing.

So, people are seeing more and more abuse, more and more scams at the local level. And 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. So, you know, launching the sub prime 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. And you want to talk about the classic example that we're all in this together. This is it. We're all facing this crisis. The banks created it. And now they've activated this massive lobbying apparatus to kill reforms that would prevent a future meltdown.

BILL MOYERS: So, you are really up against some very powerful interest in Washington, Heather. I mean, the financial sector spent $110 million lobbying. The health care sector $133 million. The energy sector $100 million. All in the second quarter of this year. What makes you think you stand a chance up against those kind of forces?

HEATHER BOOTH: Well, first of all as George rightly said, it's though it's a David and Goliath fight, we should remember that sometimes David wins. Especially when it's not...

BILL MOYERS: A clean shot right between the eyes?

HEATHER BOOTH: And it's not just David, it's Jane and Sue and all sorts of folks getting together, because we really do have a people power, especially in the financial industry. There has really never been an organized, popular protest. This has been a secret temple, as Bill Greider referred to it. Where...

BILL MOYERS: "Washington Post" reporter who's covered the Fed for a long time, right?

HEATHER BOOTH: Absolutely. And as he and others have said, this was kept secret in the back rooms. Right now we still don't know what's actually going on. We don't know what happened with that money.

BILL MOYERS: You mean the TARP money? The bailout money? We don't...

HEATHER BOOTH: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: All of it hasn't been accounted for, right?

HEATHER BOOTH: Not at all. In fact, we need to audit the Federal Reserve. What did they do with the money? What happened to this money? And what's happened now is that people are joining together and are saying let's take that curtain away. Let's open it up to the sunlight. And people are starting to organize. We saw it clearly in Chicago. We see it in the last few weeks maybe 150 demonstrations around the country.

GEORGE GOEHL: Like on Black Friday, a bunch of clergy went to take over and shut down a payday lending office in Bloomington, Illinois, led by...

BILL MOYERS: Black Friday being?

GEORGE GOEHL: Being the day after Thanksgiving when everybody else is out spending money. These folks decided it was time to go shut down a payday lender. And say, 'Hey, until we have a consumer financial protection agency, we're going to protect ourselves. We're going to be the first line of defense in our community.'

On this last Saturday in Iowa, 60 people took over a payday lending branch there and said, "Enough is enough." So, a lot of the action, and I think the kind of action that leads to true movement building, and we really need a popular movement if we're going to win this kind of fight. We can play in the game of inches in D.C. But if we really want to move things in terms of feet and yards, it's going to take part popular unrest that the media cannot deny happening across the country. And it's starting to happen all over the place.

GEORGE GOEHL: I think as progressive organizers, this is our chance to bring more people into our tent, to help develop a more clear analysis around what's happening with big time capital and unregulated corporations.

I got an email from a friend the other day basically explaining or I should say a long-time acquaintance explaining that how they had been ripped off by a mortgage lender. In detail explained this to me. And then how they had been laid off at 64 and were they were not going to get their full pension. So, two experiences where corporations did not treat them well.

And then the last couple sentences, they laid the responsibility at Obama's feet. So, there there's a mix in kind of the reality of what's happening to people. And then people's analysis around it. So, I think we have a job to bring as many people into the tent. There are a lot of Republicans that came out to Chicago, particularly family farmers who still, regardless of like political affiliation, said, 'Unregulated capital is not good for me.'

HEATHER BOOTH: In part, I think they come together when you combine, you say no to bailouts, yes to jobs. That people are hurting. We're over ten percent unemployment. And actually real unemployment's probably 15 percent or even more. The foreclosures are increasing now driven by that unemployment, while the banks are making these billion dollar bonuses. So people are furious.

BILL MOYERS: How do you how do you get the members of Congress to feel what we sensed in the streets that are listening to these people?

HEATHER BOOTH: Well, we know that the amount of money in politics often dominates the political dialogue. And so, we're trying to bring a people power, as well as the inside relationships. It's an outside/inside relationship.

GEORGE GOEHL: What we're trying to do is really organize around a set of ideas. And when 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.

GEORGE GOEHL: As Heather knows, there was a period in the in the field of community organizing, where the different networks didn't always work that well together. And the people that we served were not served well by that lack of collaboration. But there's a new generation of leadership that's trying to break through those old barriers and say, "Hey, what if we came together? What if we started to aggregate all the power that we're doing around the country into something much bigger?" So, I'm more- we're definitely on the ropes right now in financial reform. It's a tough fight. I'm more optimistic than ever that we're in a position to turn the tide.

HEATHER BOOTH: Change is hard. Partly 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.

Partly because there is a crisis. And people are saying, "You've got to do something about it." Partly because the old ideas don't work of saying just deregulation. Free market without really concern about real people. Or the greed is good spirit. It's partly because there is a new leadership that is turning the country. We are now moving in a new direction with big ideas around important agendas. On health care, on climate, on jobs, and on financial reform.

BILL MOYERS: But here in New York this week at the big annual meeting of the supporters of "The Nation Magazine," one of the progressive magazines in the country, you could really feel the division between people who say we've got to stay with Obama, because he is the agent of change. And people who are saying, "Wait a minute, he's made his peace with with the Wall Street interests. He took his first big appointments to the financial system from the very people who brought this about. How far do you go in criticizing Obama or praising Obama, when he seems to be cutting the corners on a lot of the agenda he was elected to achieve?

HEATHER BOOTH: You know, these kinds of divisions are present in all movements. They're present in the tea baggers. And they're present in movements for progressive change. You know, back in the 1960s, even for the big March on Washington with Dr. King that so many people remember before that march, there was a whole debate. Should they allow John Lewis, who was seen as a dangerous radical, part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee should they let John Lewis, who's now a congressman

BILL MOYERS: Right.

HEATHER BOOTH: Should they let him speak at that March on Washington? Because he was going to criticize a young and dynamic and charismatic and hopeful young President, at that point, President Kennedy? And in fact, they decided he should speak. And he was also part of that dialogue, because he was representing the voice of people in SNCC, out in the people in Mississippi, in Alabama, and other places around the country. And so, that that difference of opinion is part of the healthy, internal creative conflict.

BILL MOYERS: So, how do you grade Obama right now on banking reform? A, B, C, D, or a flunk?

HEATHER BOOTH: He is certainly moving us in a positive broad direction for change of for regulation, for a consumer protection agency, for trying to address this casino economy and get derivatives regulated and controlled. Now, there are other areas in which we think we have to go much further. There are questions about the Federal Reserve. We think it does need to be democratized. And really should function for the people and not just for the largest banks, who largely control it.

BILL MOYERS: So, A, B, C, D, or F?

HEATHER BOOTH: I think the grade depends in large part on what we do. You know, Obama himself said that he doesn't he's not asking us to believe in him. He's asking us to believe in ourselves and our ability to organize and mobilize. We have to be there and engage the grading is not done yet.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think he still remembers when he was a community organizer in your city of Chicago?

GEORGE GOEHL: I don't know. It doesn't feel like it right now. I would give him a C on leadership in terms of fighting for the issue. I don't feel like he's been out there at the level he could be. Really championing serious reform. It's interesting in Illinois, he actually worked with organizations like ours to pass an anti-predatory lending bill at the state. It was one of the first in the country.

But he needs to be out there using his bully pulpit and using his power to get the message out there. And I feel like lately a lot of members of the Democratic Party have been running like a washed up prize fighter. And not getting out there and really leading for us. And I think that's why more and more Americans like the folks you saw in the clip said, "We're going to deputize ourselves. We're tired of waitin'. We're going to take the lead."

And I think about people like Brenda LaBlanc who was in that video, from Des Moines, Iowa. Eighty-one, retired. She says, 'I'm going to form the first line of defense against predatory lenders. Against payday lending. Against Wells Fargo in my community.' Or the Reverend Charlotte Dotts, who's leading the fight in Central Illinois. Or Mitzy-Rivers Singleton in Wichita, Kansas. These are unpaid people that say, 'We're tired of waiting for leadership. We're the leaders we've been looking for. And we're going to lead the way.'

BILL MOYERS: How do you create a movement out of them when they're many of them are just struggling to stay afloat personally?

GEORGE GOEHL: Yeah, there's a new level of collaboration between organizing networks that gives me a ton of hope. So, right now, you take our organization, National People's Action, or another national organizing network. We maybe we cover 15-20 states. And we're strong in some and not strong in the other. But if you put that all together, you have a federation of people moving around a set of ideas around a shared set of principles and a shared strategy. And you could really start to turn the tide. I do think on this fight, we don't win unless we figure out how to toxify the banking money in politics. Until...

BILL MOYERS: Do what?

GEORGE GOEHL: Toxify that money. It's amazing to me that the same banks that created the foreclosure crisis, sent the economy into the tail spin, needed and billions and billions of taxpayer bailouts, are still able to hand out millions in campaign contributions. You'd think there would be a political price to pay for taking that money. But Members of Congress like Melissa Bean, I wonder how she sleeps well at night. Well, I figured she must sleep on a bed of campaign contributions.

BILL MOYERS: She is?

GEORGE GOEHL: She's a Democrat from Illinois, who's been selling us out left and right. And until we as the public say, 'You're going to pay a political price for taking banking money from the same banks that created the crisis and we bailed out."' I think it's going to be a real uphill battle.

BILL MOYERS: The...

HEATHER BOOTH: In our view, it's at this sort of two part approach. One part is working this working the system and moving for legislation that is moving for concrete change. And this legislation is moving through Congress right now. And that legislation wouldn't have been there if there wasn't the leadership that President Obama's providing. But it also won't get through unless there's a grassroots support that George and other organizations are doing around the country. And focusing on the banks and the largest banks and the role they're playing.

BILL MOYERS: The Senior Senator for George's State of Illinois, Dick Durbin, he said this summer, you know, the banks own the place, speaking of the Senate, the House, and Washington. The senior Senator from George's State of Illinois, the majority leader of the Senate, Dick Durbin, told me on this broadcast, repeated what he had said in Illinois. He said, "The banks own the Senate."

HEATHER BOOTH: They own the place.

BILL MOYERS: They own the place. Yeah, they the banks own the place. Is that true in from your experience?

HEATHER BOOTH: It is certainly the domination of political money is affecting the politics. And he said that precisely at the point when there was about to be a renegotiation of loans with a provision in the bankruptcy bill. And when that provision went down, he was so frustrated, because here people were facing foreclosures. And the banks basically stood in the way of the interests of the American public. So, on one side you've got organized money and on the other side, you've got organized people.

BILL MOYERS: But the organized money. It'll be there next year when these people that came to Chicago have to go home and try to make a living. And take care of their families. It's an uneven playing field, isn't it?

GEORGE GOEHL: It is. And I think until we change it, we're going to have, you know, lots of tough fights. And be in an uphill battle. In this case, I do think we have the opportunity to toxify that money. And make it too tainted to touch. I feel like the Democrats and Republicans fight on many things. But when it seems to campaign contributions, they're not that different. They all like that money. There are a few exceptions. And they're happy to take it. Until they stop taking it, we're going to be in one hell of a fight.

HEATHER BOOTH: We want to show that it's politically smart, as well as in the interests of the people, to stand up for Main Street. And not to just keep standing up for Wall Street.

BILL MOYERS: So, what's next for both of you?

HEATHER BOOTH: Well, the fight continues. There's a vote in the House on financial reform. And then it goes over to the Senate. And it's interesting. There's actually even a stronger bill in the Senate. And Senator Chris Dodd is actually leading a fight for real reform, for democratizing the Federal Reserve, for ensuring that derivatives, this casino economy is more regulated. That we can move for an end to the kind of foreclosure crisis we've got. And that we move for our consumer financial protection agency. And then we're talking about activities well, actually, December 14th when the bonuses come out, they'll be bonus demonstrations around the country. And then that will carry on through January and February. And we think there's a gathering storm.

GEORGE GOEHL: This is an incredible opportunity to turn a tragedy into something good. So, if we can get it together, and I really think is not about the Congress. This is not about the President. This is about the people watching this show and other Americans saying, 'Enough is enough.' And I'm going to move from my seat out into the streets, from fingers on a keyboard, boots on the ground, and get out there." Whether that means calling the Members of Congress. Whether it means organizing a little protest in front of a bank. Whether it means making a YouTube video and cutting up your credit cards and posting it and sending it out to your friends. If people get engaged, we can win this fight. And that's happening. There are actions planned all across the country in 25 states over through the end of the year. And then as next year comes around, you'll start to see more events like the showdown in Chicago.

BILL MOYERS: How can people watching find out how to be in touch with you? What how can they know what you're doing?

GEORGE GOEHL: Sure, they should go to the website, ShowdownInAmerica.org. Which will give them ideas around what's happening around the country. And ways that they can plug in and be a part of this movement.

BILL MOYERS: And Heather, how do they reach Americans for Financial Reform?

HEATHER BOOTH: OurFinancialSecurity.org is our website. And also they can link up with various organizations that really are in every state, whether it's National People's Action or U.S. Action or Center for Community Change. Whether it's their trade union. Whether it's their religious institution. There are ways that we can combine altogether. The Civil Rights organizations. And be much stronger together in this gathering storm.

BILL MOYERS: Heather Booth and George Goehl, thank you very much for being on the Journal.

GEORGE GOEHL: Thank you.
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