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Mon., April 26, 2010

George Goehl: Pass reform to send banks crucial message

As kids, we brought our rolled-up coins to the bank and opened savings accounts. The bank would pay us interest for letting it reinvest our money. Later, we’d borrow from the bank, for college, car, small business or home loans.

Whose money did we borrow? Based on how too many banks have acted, you’d think it was theirs. But it wasn’t. All along, it’s been our money. We put our paychecks and our pensions in banks for safekeeping and for investing in our homes, educations, businesses, jobs and communities.

But the banks betrayed our trust. They made loans that were designed to fail. They sold bizarre financial instruments, then bet against them. They ran and ruined so many parts of our economy we were forced to bail them out when their reckless schemes fell apart.

Attention, bankers: If you’re too big to fail, you’re too big to manage our money.

But it wasn’t just banks that betrayed our trust. So did our elected officials. Too often, the people we voted into office chose Wall Street bankers over Main Street voters.

Our financial system has long needed new consumer protections to hold banks accountable. Instead, Congress led a steady march toward deregulation and less accountability, “trusting” banks would self-regulate. That fantasy caused a record foreclosure crisis, 10 percent unemployment, depleted pensions and huge state budget shortfalls that will cut more jobs and critical services.

This week, two years after the first taxpayer-funded bank bailout, a long-overdue bill – to make the banks that keep our accounts become accountable to us – will reach the U.S. Senate floor. We can’t all be there. But, from San Francisco to Kansas City through Charlotte and beyond, we’ll go back to our banks.

This time, we won’t be bringing rolls of quarters. We’ll be showing up for a showdown. Thousands of us will come to Wall Street on Thursday. We’ll be bringing our friends – retirees and workers, veterans and clergy, family farmers, homeowners and renters. Our message: Hold banks accountable and pass financial reform.

Betrayed? Yes. Angry? You bet. But we’re also hopeful. We know we can do better. We can have a financial system that’s far more open and fair.

Our message to Wall Street? Stop blocking common-sense banking reform. Start doing your part to create millions of good jobs and restoring the wealth you stripped from our communities. Yes, you can.

Our message to Washington? Hold the banks that hold our money accountable and pass banking reform ASAP. Yes, we can.

George Goehl is the executive director of National People’s Action, which is based in Chicago (

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