It would be a terrible mistake, however, to use those likely facts as reasons to keep your money in Wells Fargo, to not find available time – if you have it – to go out and support the action, or to disparage the work of us who are beginning this campaign. The truth is that we have to start somewhere, that this – or some similar campaign – is very badly needed, and that no matter what it makes very little sense for anyone to keep their money in Wells Fargo.
Too many times actions in Bozeman have that predictable look of a small group of sometimes pitiful looking people standing in front of the courthouse waving signs and their hands at traffic, taking energy from the occasional honking horn. The action ends, there’s maybe – if they are lucky – a small television story or write up in the Chronicle, and that’s that. Just move us a block east to Wells Fargo, and that’s likely to be us on Wednesday. We’ll have information about the evils of the American Legislative Exchange Council and will hang our creative signs and banners, but most people will look on us with apathy. “Who let the crazies out?”
That said and admitted as likely to be true, there are some things you should know about our efforts.
First, we plan on coming back. This is not an isolated action taken as reaction to an isolated call to action – in this case by Occupy Portland.
Second, we are doing our homework. We are taking pains to study Wells Fargo, to study the banking system, and to make sure we are armed with information. Yes, it’s okay if people have an insight that big national banks are screwing people over and little else to back them up. That insight is rooted in something substantial, recognition in the obvious hierarchical system we have in this country and that this system no doubt produces injustice. We see rich and poor all among us. Nevertheless, we who are organizing are doing our homework. We know and are learning what Wells Fargo actually is doing to people in obvious and not so obvious ways. That is, though an emotional reaction would be understandable and even justified, this is not simply an emotional reaction.
Third, we are fully aware that pickets can only be a part of any campaign. If it turns out that the presence at the bank only contributes to the stereotype of protesters in general and that people are ignoring us and not removing their money, we are committed to shifting gears. Nevertheless, it seems that the first best step is not to make the most cynical assumption – the one that I’m tempted to make myself. It may be that presence on the street does produce conversations, instill the street action with energy, and produce enough discomfort inside the bank that there is a measurable and tangible effect from the protest. Just being able to organize an action is a feat of coordination in itself, and it provides the baseline of data from which we can assess and adjust our campaign.
Going out there with us and proving the cynical interpretation wrong – rather than assuming it and thus making its failure a self-fulfilling prophecy – would provide us all with a great shot of energy, the kind that we really need. A people’s movement without people is definitely a bummer – even if it is understandable given just how little voice we have in our society and how apathy can often be a very reasonable defense mechanism (especially when we have so many other needs pressing on our time).
However, even if you cannot join us and are not made for street activism (really, so few people are or can), we still need your energy and tangible support. What we really do not need are empty criticisms disparaging our effort. By that, I do not mean defenses of big banks and Wells Fargo. Those are inevitable; you are always going to find reactionary people out there who for whatever reason are willing to defend economic injustice against all reason. Those people we can no doubt handle; that is simply a war of ideas. What I mean are those people who do not necessarily disagree with the critique against Wells Fargo or other big banks but who nevertheless think the campaign is misguided or that people are wasting their time. They argue that Wells Fargo is too big or powerful, or that the actions are not positive enough, or that there are other more pressing needs. These kinds of criticisms are simply not wanted, not because criticism is unwanted, but because people should not be spending their time tearing down the creative impulses and energies of those moved right now to take action. We need more energy in more directions, not less.
Rather than waste time telling groups like Occupy Bozeman what else we involved should be doing, what we really need is for people to pick up the slack. No doubt, picketing Wells Fargo or researching the evils of the banking system or coming up with other actions related to this, is not and cannot be for everyone.
Nevertheless, too many people are quick to offer a statement that begins “Why aren’t you doing …” or “Can’t you do something more positive like …” While critique is a necessary part of any social movement, critique in absence of any reciprocal action on the part of the person offering it does less than nothing. If you don’t like this campaign or would rather see us do something else, pick up the slack and do something else. Organize workshops, small groups of people, and other things that go along with putting ideas into practice. That’s ultimately what we need so desperately; we need more drive and initiative; we need people who want not only to speak but also to make their voices heard through the force of direct action. If you want to support local businesses, or help people start their own businesses, or grow their own gardens, or find their own jobs, we need you to take steps – it’s of little help for you to tell us that we, in absence of your participation, should be taking different steps.
Now, it might be reasonable to come back and say that you don’t know how to go about that. That’s fair enough. That is something we can help out with. Occupy Bozeman has been taking the time to create resources that allow you to pick up organizing skills, to reach out to more people with your idea, and has people in it who have experience with various facets of putting ideas into practice. I am also involved with an independent media effort that started last fall that is committed to helping people get their organizing ideas and issues out there.
Ultimately, though, all this discussion is a little silly. No matter what, it makes little sense for you to keep your money in a big bank – even if you decide to act only on selfish motives. I have written extensively in recent weeks about the studies that show that Wells Fargo has higher fees, higher interest rates, and lower rates of return for your money than local banks and credit unions. The arguments in favor of big banks – including more branches and ATM machines – do nothing to negate the money you are losing by keeping your money in that bank. When you add that a local institution more often invests locally, thus helping the local economy more, that credit unions – in particular – have no incentive to offer riskier loans in the way that big banks do, there really is very little reason to keep your money in the bank. If you agree with that argument, there is little reason not to do at least two things: 1) get your money out of Wells Fargo and other big banks; 2) tell your family and friends to do the same. If you don’t go out on the street with us, don’t help us organize, and only offer ideas in absence of action, all will largely be forgiven if you can at least do those two things.
Now, of course, we are likely to be far more successful if you do more than that. We will not have to grasp for better tactics if you come out and make our initial ones successful. We’ll be better off if you can organize your own actions in support of economic justice, whether it’s related to Wells Fargo or any other pillar of systemic injustice. We’ll be better off if we can get to know you and that you can feel the inspiration and energy and empowerment that comes from taking action. In that context, we’ll be glad to have your criticisms because you’ll be out there helping us learn and do things better. If you are willing to dare and be one of those crazy people out in the streets, that might be a great start. You’ll soon discover that we are only mostly crazy (by God, we do have a sense of humor!) We want to learn; we want to do things better and differently. And, we have a non-hierarchical process that makes that possible.
Don’t disparage us for caring and trying. Get your money out of Wells Fargo, and then help us all do the kinds of things you dream of doing.
So, I'm already proven wrong ... the action has already done just a little more than I imagined; that is a nice bit of news to pass along.