Once upon a time, I was a young man who felt societal pressures to open an account at a financial institution in order to save my money. We were all taught to do so, whether by the Berenstain Bears or fiscal responsibility exercises in third grade. I had the opportunity to join a Credit Union. Bingo!
But I had to move away, far from my credit union. And in this new land, I found not a single credit union that was open to the general public. So I chose a local bank. “At least I’m not feeding one of the big, bad wolves,” I told my still teenaged self.
A few years later, this bank was consumed in a tidal wave that washed ashore a vampire squid, whose skin was emblazoned with a calmingly blue pseudo-swastika. This vampire squid had chased me down and won the battle. Suddenly, all of the local bank’s branches had makeshift banners over theirs masts: proclaiming CHASE!
I then decided to escape once again. This time I was taken in by advertising. Another large safety house ran commercials with a bankers’ pin, gleefully satirizing the capitalist class. They also promised no fees. I opened an account with them, and for a year began to think I’d escaped.
But in the corporate sea, my new raft was once again set upon by the JP Morgan vampire squid, seized and overturned for all assets to enter within its sharp beak. Could I have no respite?
For a time, I was resigned to my fate. Every time I set out, I felt the long, slender tentacles and the sharp suckers of JP Morgan around my waste. Only with the advent of #OccupyWallStreet (hashtagged as a force of habit) did I finally deign to join family and friends in the protection of the country’s only labor union-owned bank. Amalgamated Bank, located in Las Vegas, Pasadena, Washington DC, New Jersey, and most of all across New York City. Wholly owned by Workers United, a sub-union of Service Employees International Union, one of our largest labor unions (of which I am a former shop steward).
I went into my Chase, and took to the customer service representative, who immediately pushed me with some condescension to have faith in those too big to fail. I responded it had claimed to nearly just topple, until pumped with hundreds of billions of dollars in baby blood by the very Congress we send to regulate it. When she became resigned to my triumph, she candidly agreed with my analysis. I left my last Chase personal banker with a grin on her lips. And from there, I joined Amalgamated Bank.
Today, just before Bank Transfer Day, while reading about the alleged 600,000 who left corporate banks for credit unions last month, a comrade decided she’d had enough of the tightening grasp of Bank of America. I accompanied her inside, she quickly closed her account, and walked just three blocks south of Liberty Plaza to the nearest Amalgamated. And that was that.
Let’s be clear. The most valuable political acts you can make are with your body and mind. Not with your dollar. Nor with your vote.
I’ve had the debate many times with people on both sides of me (to the left and the right). A little consumer activism can help alleviate suffering (as in the case of vegetarianism or boycotting Israeli businesses) or divest from criminal enterprises (like Coca Cola’s killing of Colombian trade unionists). But capitalism, as with any devil fish, is a flexible mollusk plenty capable of pulling through minor blocks and obstacles. It is the economic system, and finds ways to survive nips from eels and the evasion of its prey.
Make no illusions that we are upending the ship and sending the vampire squids to their doom with this small act. But they will be weaker. It requires a grand variety of tactics to take down any predator. So divest from the corporate banks. Join a credit union or Amalgamated. Buy unionmade, support workers coops, join consumer coops, shop farmers markets, but it’ll take more than that to end a system bent on sucking us dry.