Outrage over bonuses, bailouts and home foreclosures have prompted angry demonstrations at bank office buildings, bank conferences and even bankers' homes since the financial crisis began. With Wall Street reform proposals up for debate in Congress and bank shareholder meetings taking place later this month, protest organizers say they're getting ready to rally the troops again with several new demonstrations expected to draw thousands.
"There's something fundamentally wrong with an economic and political system that allows the big banks to rewrite all the rules to stay afloat while allowing entire communities to collapse in the wake of the disaster caused by Wall Street," Anna Burger, the secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "That's why we're escalating and expanding this campaign."
The SEIU, one of the most vocal critics of Wall Street and big U.S. banks, is part of a coalition of at least six groups -- including the AFL-CIO; the National People's Action, a racial and economic justice advocacy group; PICO National Network, a faith-based group; and North Carolina United Power, an organization of religious and community groups -- planning demonstrations across the country later this month.
Organizers are calling on banks to help people stay in their homes, offer more small business loans, stop offering financing to payday lenders and stop attempts to block financial reforms. They say they're targeting their demands at the country's biggest banks: Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.
The American Bankers Association, one of the banking industry's top lobbying groups, declined to comment on the planned protests. Last October, an ABA conference in Chicago drew 5,000 protesters, organizers say.
A spokeswoman for Bank of America, which will be the target of at least two demonstrations scheduled for later this month, said of the protesters: "While we understand their passion on the issue, we don't necessarily agree with some of their statements and approaches."
On Wall Street itself, news of the planned protests was met with disdain by some of the street's rank and file.
"I mean, there is a lot of excess on Wall Street, you know, with the bonuses, but there are people that deserve it," said Michael Maresca, an information technology employee at JPMorgan Chase. "People down here work very, very hard ... I think there's also a lot to blame outside of Wall Street, with the Federal Reserve, politicians, the Federal Reserve, all those guys that have been involved -- there's a lot of blame to go around, I think. It's directed at the wrong place."
Alan Valdes, a trader with DMC Securities, said he didn't think bank protests help anyone and have kept people from taking advantage of a lucrative rebound in the stock market.
"We've still got problems, and we've still got a lot of headwinds ahead -- there's no question about it. But (for the market) to be up 75 percent in a year -- that's a great market," he said. "To keep bashing Wall Street, I think, is wrong. It sends the wrong message to the public ... With all this bashing that's going on, a lot of people, I think have stayed away from the market."
Jerry, an employee at a Wall Street law firm who did not want his last name used, said he didn't see the new protests accomplishing much.