In Defense of Bankers: Why Occupy Protesters Shouldn't Target Those Who Cash Our Checks

Categories: Politics
occupynewyork.jpg
Photo by C.S. Muncy, Village Voice
The Occupy movement has some solid causes, but targeting bank workers isn't one of them.


One banker, we'll call him Steve, was walking out of the corporate office in Orlando recently when a protester got in his face. There were three or four Occupy protesters who spotted Steve with a couple other people wearing suits. The protesters figured they had found one percenters.

"You're responsible for this!" the man yelled, inches from Steve's nose.

Steve, not backing down, replied: "You're completely misguided. I'm not what's wrong with the system."

Now first, a little background on Steve, who asked that his real name not be used due to his bank's media relations policy. He's charming, the kind of guy who could host a dinner party of random strangers picked up from a bus stop. He's generous: I saw him give a cabbie an excessive tip once without asking for extra from the other passengers. And he's incredibly reasonable: He's a die-hard Gator, but he and his FSU-grad wife go to separate bars when the two rivals play.

But Steve wasn't going to let this Occupy protester shout him down. The protester was yelling about how Steve worked for a big bank responsible for the financial collapse. Steve shouted back, explaining that he does commercial loans and had nothing to do with it, although his arguments did nothing to get the man out of his face.

But Steve's right. He had nothing to do with the financial collapse, and the Occupy protesters are doing their cause a disservice by targeting the workingman, even if he is
briefcased and suited and calls a big bank his employer.

Anti-bank sentiments have dominated the Occupy movement lately. Protesters from London to Milwaukee to Los Angeles have descended in hordes to block the entrance to banks and centers of commerce. Last week, police busted hundreds of Occupy protesters as they tried to block New York's financial district. Their civil disobedience failed to keep the Wall Street bell from ringing and succeeded only in keeping hundreds, maybe thousands, of workers from getting to their offices.

Granted, some of the bankers did themselves no favors. "Get a job," one of them snarled to NBC Nightly News while entering the turnstiles of an office building. But I'm willing to bet that TV cameraman filmed streams of workers before getting that soundbite.

Here in South Florida, banks dominate the skyline, and their workers make up much of the young professional groups like Emerge Broward and PetSet. These bankers generally aren't the one percenters. They're the toilers, working in quota systems where their jobs depend on sales or new business or generally profits. Their computers forbid web access to ESPN and Facebook, they're required to wear ties and sometimes even jackets at their desk, and their hours are strictly regulated.

Sure, that doesn't sound like the kind of place many of us would want to work. But their function is key to a democratic society. They lend money to people buying houses, to businesses looking to expand, and to insurance companies looking to insure.

Not all Occupy protesters believe low-level bankers ought to be targeted. Evan Rowe, an artist and adjunct professor at Miami-Dade College, has been involved in Occupy Fort Lauderdale since the beginning. He says fellow protesters miss the point when they target those who work for banks. He says, "Here's a metaphor: Don't hate the player, hate the game. There are always going to be bankers who do good in a bad system. Just because someone works at a bank that has done bad things doesn't make them bad people."

So who is responsible? Protesters had better intentions last month when they marched to the Upper East Side home of John Paulson, who collected billions by betting against the housing market (although marching to someone's home does seem akin to an angry mob). And blame President Clinton and Congress for removing many of the government rules on banking in 1999. Those rules would've saved us from ourselves during the housing bubble, restricting homeowners from taking out loans on houses they wouldn't be able to afford and limiting the risks that banks took on before the collapse.

But the bankers toiling away at the low levels of the financial system? They didn't lobby for deregulation (although their employers did). They didn't ask for the taxpayer bailout of banks (that would be the 2,000 banking lobbyists who surely helped get it passed). They didn't lead Lehman Brothers to collapse (the blame there, at least in part, should be placed on the bookkeepers who did some dastardly number-crunching). And they didn't cause you to enter foreclosure on your house.

Well, OK, it is bank workers who file foreclosures. And they've filed lots of them, considering that 2.7 million of us have lost our homes in this Great Recession -- and that may double in the years to come. But society also needs bankers to file foreclosures. If we're going to have a system where lenders give money to homeowners, there has to be a penalty for not paying. There has to be someone who spends the workday taking someone else's home out from under them.

Those bank workers won't all have a good holiday season this year. Last week, big banks began handing out 75,000 pink slips. Many of those will be at Bank of America, which plans to lay off 30,000 people. There may be a few of the lobbyists or hated hedge fund types among them, but largely we're talking about enough low-level bank workers to fill a football stadium -- workers who may soon find themselves on the wrong side of a foreclosure filing.

Occupy protesters can take credit for at least some of those layoffs. The movement spurned Bank Transfer Day, which targeted big banks as the bad guys in our financial mess. Since Bank Transfer Day began on Facebook, $4.5 billion has gone from big banks to credit unions, according to the Credit Union National Association. The idea -- to hurt big banks that helped cause the financial crisis -- was simplistic and short-sighted and ignored the cost to workers now losing their jobs.

Which leads back to Steve and his job of arranging loans for companies. He exchanged shouts and a few insults with the protester without ever really getting angry about it. "Do your research," he said. Then he walked away.

What the protester doesn't know about Steve is that he epitomizes the dream that our capitalist system allows. Neither of his parents finished high school, yet he went on to become the first college graduate in his family. Then he got a master's. Then he landed an entry job at one of the country's largest banks. From there, hard work earned him the vice president title he now carries. His job is to lend money to companies looking to expand, and his role in that is to help them assess the risk of taking on the debt.

"By and all, banks do good things. I work to help clients be successful and do positive things in the community," Steve says. "In capitalist society, there is always going to be greed, and there will be people who do bad things because of greed. But that's not what I do."

That Occupy protester had picked the wrong person to harass. And as the protest hones in on the employees of the big banks, the movement overall loses a bit of its reason to exist by targeting those who aren't responsible for our problems.


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27 comments
Jessica
Jessica

I am a 26 years old girl, down to earth and cute but still single ... I  wanna find my lover who can give me a real love,so I joined in the seekcasual.COM,it's the best club for  man and woman finding their intimate encounters. Well, you do not have to be lonely , you  can meet the Mr. or Miss. Right there.

FQS9000
FQS9000

Lets close all the banks.  Arrest all the bankers.  Triple the salaries of the regulators.  And reelect the Democrat Congresscraps who wrote the banking laws.

Nirvana will arrive immediately.  Alas we'll have to keep our money in our sock drawer and borrow from our family.  And when we default, Christmas will be a very dreary holiday.

Unamerican
Unamerican

What's the difference between the 1% and those, like poor Steve, who work for the 1%?

Freedom.

Occupy This
Occupy This

Nice article Barton, you fucking hypocritical, politician-loving traitor.

Guest
Guest

Nobody is blaming Steve personally, and he's a muddle-headed loon if he thinks they are. Worse, and more to the point, he's being highly disingenuous.

What about that deregulation that the banks lobbied for? What about those bets against the housing market? What about that bailout? The appraisal fraud? The credit rating fraud? The no-doc loans?

How about the extraordinary leverage that would have bankrupted those banks, but for us? Or The deceptive accounting practices, both here and abroad? Or the complex derivatives, the junk assets they eventually traded in (for our borrowed cash)? Or the record bonuses they paid themselves (again, with our borrowed cash)?

What about accountability?

Accountability is what OWS is about, more than anything. A tiny clique of bankers drove our nation's economy off a cliff to line their pockets, and are determined not to answer for it. No one went to jail for this. No one lost their jobs over this, save us. Hell, no one even took a goddamn pay cut over this, save us. Well, guess what? That won't fly anymore.

Take Bank Transfer Day. Remember how we got there: Dodd-Frank required that banks charge swipe fees that are "reasonable and proportional to the actual cost" as opposed to "whatever the hell we want".

The banks' response: punish the depositors. No negotiation, no debate, no argument, simply hold your customers hostage and make them scream.

There was once a time that the banks could jam (and jam, and JAM) such fees down our throats. There was once a time when politicians simply never used the words "accountable" and "bank" in the same sentence. That time is now past, and about damn time, too.

Leaving banks alone for the sake of commercial lending is like leaving rabid dogs alone for the sake of their healthy tails--irrelevant, idiotic, and highly dangerous. Steve, of course, knows this. Shame on him.

nanook5
nanook5

this is almost as convincing as trying to make me believe i should support the troops because it's just their bosses that year after year tell them to commit war crimes and that they're really heroes deserving all our best well wishes and happy thoughts while they're out slaughtering innocent people. fuck steve and fuck capitalism too.

People need loans too
People need loans too

Tell Steve to write some loans to small banks or individuals instead of hoarding all the equity in this country for corporations.

Monique Everhart
Monique Everhart

Well there are idiots among us all. The occupy movement has attracted alot of people that are new to activism. They don't always see the bigger picture, but they know their pissed off for having their houses foreclosed on. That's why we do teach-in's. Our country is 17th in the world on education and unfortunately that is apparent. If our government used our tax money for education rather than paying back the private bank called the federal reserve, perhaps we wouldn't have protesters harrassing innocent ceo's. lol.  I am sure Mr. Vice President has a credit card as well like the rest of us. It will catch up with him eventually. The bankers/poorly slave wage workers need to band with the occupy movement and stop foreclosing on peoples houses.  Just like draft cards were burned during the Vietnam War, there needs to be a computer "glitch" revolution that lowers people mortgages and fills peoples bank accounts. Debt, inflation, derivitives are all a scam to make someone really rich, just like war. We just had a teach-in on Capitalism and Patriarchy and we many more coming up for anyone interested in the history of the world, capitalism, the banking system, etc...Checkout occupyfortlauderdale.org

Jezebel
Jezebel

The Occupy Protest has a worthwhile message at its core--that corporate greed and lax oversight got us into this mess and that the gap between the rich and poor has reached an unhealthy level. It would do the protesters good to get organized, get informed, and get a focused message out.  

Mickey Carroll
Mickey Carroll

I write songs about prevalent issues in the world and produce concerts that give back to world community.You Got To Give Back- dedicated to Corporate America -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

A group of elementary school children with the help of their teacher Mr John Olbert produced a video by using a song I composed entitled We Did The Wild Life Boogie. This is a song regarding jobs and the economy. Please click Like the kids would like that

The Economy Song – We Did The Wild Life Boogie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v....

OnwardMickey

KennyPowersII
KennyPowersII

Machines don't work well without all of the tiny parts. Tough shit Steve. If you lay with dogs , you will get fleas.

FQS9000
FQS9000

 Surprise, surprise, Occupy fools aren't either very bright, educated or reasonable.  If they want to do some good, they should be targeting the moronic Democrat congresscraps who fund Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, and who forced banks to give loans to people who could never pay.  The banks are just like EVERYBODY else.  They followed the laws and made all the money they could legally.

If the Occupy dolts don't like the outcome, then they MUST target the thieves who set up the laws.  Ranting at people who followed the laws for their own benefit is stupid, ignorant and unreadonable

truth101
truth101

Christmas is a fouls delusion! Get real . Christ wasn't born Dec. 25th, or in Dec. The sheep-herders were in the fields tending the lambs in April or May, Why beieve in false statements made??? Just because that they have been uttered by false teachers, fouls and lieing crap that try to cover thier corrupt corporate greed. Greed is SATANIC! Or has the scarlet whore who rides upon the back of the beast, drunken with the blood of the saints indoctrinated you oh so well! Be thy oh great sleeping taker??? Oh shylock go away frometh my door!!! Thy deeds foul the into the  deep-laid place called hell. James is right, the Tom always worked up in the big house for the master! Voi perfido.

nanook5
nanook5

his back will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes! (j/k)

Fat Hand
Fat Hand

Sounds like those guys yelling "You're responsible for this!" in Steve's face were blaming Steve personally. Or at least I can imagine that a person would not need to be a muddle-headed loon to think they were.The system needs changing but there is no need to alienate the good people that work at banks. One would think it would be important to try and gain their respect, as I am sure many of them are sympathetic. And everybody in all movements would be better served without the name calling. It is unnecessary and unproductive.  

FQS9000
FQS9000

Oh how happy you'd be without troops risking their lives for you.  Many of those 'innocent people' you are so concerned about would happily hack your bleeding heart out of your chest while you scream for your mommy.

KennyPowersII
KennyPowersII

Winner , winner, Chicken dinner. You nailed it on both counts.

FQS9000
FQS9000

Greed is always defined as someone how has more than you have, and thus it is a moronic insult.  BTW, the regulators are ALWAYS incompetent, thus demonstrating the pointlessness of having them at all.

Steve Ellman
Steve Ellman

Indeed. "They followed the laws" that their politician/stooges crafted at the behest of the bankers' lobby. They made all the money they could following all the laws their money could buy.

Occupy This
Occupy This

His back will probably be up in the air because he'll be busy blowing the cops for protection...

GuntherZorn
GuntherZorn

Please don't quote Guy Fieri. He gets way too much airplay as it is.

FQS9000
FQS9000

Sorry the banking laws were written by Barny (the fool) Frank.  Who is a venial Democrap.  Alas, the facts are sooo inconvenient.

Eric Barton
Eric Barton

Well, @ca19430855de0ddb51b16dec1aa9b3cc:disqus, you managed to turn a lively, fascinating debate into vitriol. But back to the reasonable arguments from above:

You're right @Guest that it's a small clique that ruined our economy, and that's why we shouldn't blame people like Steve, who hasn't been invited to the club. And @63da999e284544a91d8cf3d4fcda7528:disqus, I'm with you: It's corporate greed that Occupy ought to target, not the low-level bank employees.

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