Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mega-bank Run Saturday

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2011 at 2:21 PM

This Saturday, Nov. 5, has been designated "Bank Transfer Day," a consumer activism event designed to stick it to the greedy mega-banks that nearly decimated the world economy, only to be bailed out by taxpayers.

The idea -- which has been claimed by L.A. art gallery owner Kristen Christian, though it was suggested elsewhere much earlier (see video above) -- is for consumers to take their money out of "too big to fail" institutions like Bank of America and JP Morgan (Chase) and move it to local credit unions or small community banks.

(Nov. 5 is also the date when, in 1605, a group of disgruntled Catholic Brits led by Guy Fawkes launched their doomed Gunpowder Plot -- an attempt to blow up Parliament and Protestant King James. Fawkes inspired Bonfire Night in Britain, and his stylized visage, along with the motto "Remember, remember the Fifth of November," were later incorporated into the art and plot of the comic V for Vendetta, which, in turn, has given inspiration to the Occupy Wall Street movement. But I digress.)

Officially, Bank Transfer Day is not affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, but the two movements arose from the same bubbling magma of populist rage now erupting across the country.

Multiple separate movements have begun melding together. Move Your Money is promoting the same idea as Bank Transfer Day, minus the time peg. The movement's website has been gaining momentum of late, with more than 60,000 people pledging to close their accounts with big banks. has joined the party, too, announcing a "Make Wall Street Pay" action to be held (you guessed it) Nov. 5, using more or less the same methods in pursuit of the same goal:

"We'll visit [Wall Street banks'] corporate headquarters, local branches, and town plazas with our message: Make Wall Street Pay! If they do not support the 99 percent, we'll move our money elsewhere, damaging their business and their brand."

It's unclear how the banks might convincingly express support for the 99 percent. In the face of public criticism, Bank of America and some of its major rivals recently abandoned plans to implement a $5 monthly debit card fee, though protesters are hardly calling off the dogs.

Also unclear is whether these actions will, in fact, damage the business and brand of major banks. Some bloggers have argued that too-big-to-fail banks don't particularly give a shit if you close your account. Chances are, this argument goes, the banks aren't making much (if any) money off your comparatively puny savings and checking accounts, especially since the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act put limits on their overdraft and transfer fees.

Owners of nonprofit credit unions, of course, love the idea. The CEO of the Credit Union National Association tells customers they can expect to save $70 a year or more through lower rates, higher return on savings and lower fees. 

Locally, protesters couldn't wait for Saturday. Eureka Police Department officers were dispatched to the Fifth Street branch of US bank this afternoon in response to a report that protesters in dark clothes and masks were causing a disturbance -- shouting and banging on the bank's window with a big stick. Officers found the activists a few blocks away, protesting outside the Fourth Street branches of Bank of America and Chase.

According to a press release (ahem), "Protesters were advised that their activities were outside of civilly protected activities." In other words, cool it, kids, or you'll be arrested.

The local MoveOn uprising will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka.

Employees at the Eureka branches of Chase and Bank of America said they're not allowed to comment at the branch level. Eileen Leveckis, a Chase spokeswoman with a San Francisco phone number, said Chase bank's Humboldt County branches will be "operating business as usual" on Saturday. Citing privacy issues, Leveckis declined to say whether local residents have been closing their accounts.

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Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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