By Dave Lindorff
Leave it to a soccer hero to kickstart some serious political action.
Eric Cantona, a French soccer star who finished his playing career at Manchester United and went into acting, has sparked a European, and perhaps a global uprising against the global banking industry by calling on people everywhere to simply take their money and run away from the big banks on December 7.
Cantona, in a television interview about his career, got political in a hurry, saying that demonstrations such as those that occurred last month across France in opposition to cuts in that country's retirement program, were meaningless and "accomplish nothing except to further the aims of the oppressors." He called on those same protesters, and on people everywhere, to take "effective action" by withdrawing all their savings from the banks.
His challenge has caught fire across Europe, where the action is being coordinated on Facebook and via a website called Bankrun 2010 . More recently, this campaign has made its way across the Atlantic to America, where soccer's not such a big game, and where most of the economic protest action has been focussed on the reactionary anti-tax Tea Party crowd. But even here in the US, the idea of sticking it to the big banks has begun to resonate, with a website called Stopbank USA calling for a day of action by Americans on December 7.
The banking industry is clearly nervous. In France, a spokeswoman for the banking industry called the idea of an organized bank run "stupid," and warned that it would be an invitation to thieves to steal people's money.
But organizers in the US have an easy answer to that. The US movement is calling on people not to take their money out as cash, but to close their accounts at major regional or national banks and to move the money on Dec. 7 to independent community banks or--better yet--to credit unions.
Besides, it's really ironic to hear a bank spokesperson warning depositers about thieves, when it is clear that the bankers themselves are the real thieves these days--stealing peoples' homes through deceptive mortgage terms and through fraudulent foreclosures, stealing their money through deceptive fees and penalties, and stealing their retirement security by wrecking the economy while enriching the managers of the banks via undeserved massive bonus payments tallied in the billions of dollars.
Could a major run on the big banks seriously damage them? It depends on how seriously people take the idea. Let's imagine 10 million Americans pulling their worldly savings out of the banks--not just household accounts but funds invested in CDs too. We could quickly be talking about upwards of $50 billion.
Maybe not enough to bring down a Bank of America or a Goldman Sachs, but then, what if the process started to snowball, continuing on beyond Dec. 7? There's no reason why it would have to stop at one day. If people decided they were no longer going to bank at big institutions, then those banks' days would be numbered. They all depend upon the money of the so-called "small people" to give them the cash to play with in their hedging games, their structured derivative plays, etc.
It could all be a fantasy, the idea of taking down the big banks, but then, it's really a cost-free thing to attempt, and besides, as I've written earlier, everyone would be better off taking their banking business away from the greedy big banks and shifting it into credit unions. You get better service, fewer fees, lower loan interest rates, higher interest rates on your deposits, and many of the lobbies even have customer restrooms! So what are you waiting for? Get your papers in order and prepare to march down to your big bank and tell them, on December 7, "I want to close my account!"
Hopefully, you'll find yourself waiting in a long, long line.
While you're at it, if you're in any association or club, or especially if you're in a labor union, tell them to move their money out of the bank too, and put it in a credit union, or at least move it to a community bank. And don't take no for an answer.
DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run online alternative newspaper. His work, and that of colleagues John Grant, Linn Washington and Charles Young, can be found at ThisCantBeHappening!