The fact that regular citizens have been largely excluded from the debate over financial regulation on Capitol Hill was underscored most vividly when Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill, said last month that "frankly the banks own the place ."
But this week a coalition of citizens groups have taken the offensive, organizing to demand a seat at the table in making a bank system that works for all of us, not just corporate profiteers. As part of that effort, a group of organizations including Campaign for America's Future, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and A New Way Forward met on Capitol Hill today to discuss a growing citizen's movement to bring the voice of working families to the debate over banking system reform.
Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, argued at the event, at the Rayburn House Office Building, that financial reform is important not just to rebuilding our economy, but to fixing our democracy. As banks grow bigger through deals and mergers, they increase their ability to corrupt the political process through campaign contributions and lobbyists. The more banks grow, the more money they have available to use this influence lawmakers to write rules in their favor and prey on ordinary Americans through predatory lending and other practices. Most recently, we have seen a particularly gross example of this: grossest major banks using our taxpayer money via the bailout to lobby against very popular legislation that would allow judges in bankruptcy cases to readjust homeowner mortgages at current market rates.
Johnson argued that the sense of crisis that has driven a populist push to break up so -called "too-big-to-fail" banks this spring In the wake of the bailout and outrage over AIG bonuses scandals has diminished as the media drums up the myth that the economy is recovering. However, the financial crisis remains very real for ordinary Americans: Unemployment is on the verge of reaching nearly 10 percent and foreclosures are increasing as laid-off workers are unable to pay their mortgages.
Financial reform is one that we as a progressive movement need to begin dramatically organizing around, Johnson said. He estimated will be an approximately five-year-long fight. Similar fights over breaking up trusts in the early 1900's and regulating Wall Street during the New Deal took equally as long and required a great deal of public pressure to achieve real reform. The fight won't be easy, it will be long, it will require serious organizing done by citizens taking to the street to be heard in order to create a Wall Street that works for Main Street.
In this vein, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and A New Way Forward are sponsoring over 100 events today throughout the country, from rallies to town hall meetings with elected officials to community organizing meetings. In Chicago, workers of United Electrical Workers from Moline, Ill. , whose factory Quad City Die Casting is being liquidated by Wells Fargo, are marching today threatening to occupy  their factory, following the lead of workers who occupied and successfully reopened Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago back in December. As John Taylor, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition said, "In the era of 'too big to fail,' the public must be too loud to be ignored. Today's actions, in communities across America, loudly say that enough is enough—it's time to return integrity and trust to the financial system."
The fight over financial reform is important not just in reforming the financial system, but showing the progressive movement's ability to defeat special interests. At today's event, Mike Lux, author of the Progressive Revolution and honorary co-chair of a New Way Forward, argued In order for the Obama administration to be successful, it must be able to take on these big lobbies. Every time the administration succeeds in defeating one major lobby, it will make passing subsequent reforms easier. Lux argued that when you have early success against special interests, as FDR did in his first 100 days, it weakens the choke-hold that special interests often have on lawmakers.and makes passing subsequent reforms easier.
The fight over banking reform is a crucial battle in the progressive movement's drive to put people power back into the political process. Now is the time to get involved. Visit A New Way Forward  and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition  to see how you can get involved in events happening across the country.