Welcome Greg Basta (Deputy Director, NY Communities For Change) (Home Defenders League) (Occupy The Boardroom) and Host Sarah Jaffe (Alternet.org) (author, The 99%: How the Occupy Wall Street Movement is Changing America )

Trouble Is The Banks: Letters To Wall Street

“Hello John.

Honestly, I don’t really like what you’ve done with the place (America that is).”

A year ago this week, the original Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park was evicted. The camps served as a focal point for a vibrant protest movement that shook up the country, but they galvanized the anger and fear of working people around the country, struggling to make it through the Great Recession.

The mainstream press often did its best to portray the movement as simply a bunch of unwashed kids without a message, without demands. Yet if one ever doubted that the movement’s message got through, the collection of letters in The Trouble is the Banks, from Occupy the Boardroom and n+1 serves as proof.

Occupy the Boardroom began as a website, a place for people to submit letters to the 1% from the 99%. (Those numbers have become so ubiquitous over the last year that it can be hard to remember just how striking the simple formulation, a calling to class consciousness for millions who had thought they lived in a classless society, was when first heard.) People from across the country wrote letters that were published on the website and delivered to the bank executives of their choice—in one memorable case, a group sent letters up on 99 red balloons, bobbing on strings outside of Goldman Sachs’ 200 West Street headquarters in New York.

Who wrote letters? There’s Ilene S., from New York City, who introduced herself as “A civil servant with a professional title,” who told Bank of America “I’m not fringe. I’m just mad as hell.” There’s the unsigned letter from a woman who shared with JP Morgan Chase’s Heidi Miller her story of being “groped” as a waitress, who sympathizes with the sexism Miller probably had to face to become an executive at the megabank. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m a feminist all the way,” she wrote, “it’s just usually companies that screw the poor aren’t usually all about gender equality.”

Dave McGee, address unknown, wrote to JP Morgan’s David M. Cote in search of his missing democracy—and his realization that it had been purchased, and another Dave, no last name given, asked then-Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit if he really works 415 times harder than Citi bank tellers, since that’s how much bigger his $10 million and change salary was that year than their base rate of $26,000.

The letters often have familiar themes; writers had expectations of a middle-class life but have watched it slip away, and often a personal experience with a bank (or two) led them to direct their letter its way. N+1 and Occupy the Boardroom selected letters for content and style, to represent the breadth of the stories they received. Some are heartbreaking. Some are witty. Between the lines of all of them you can feel the anger, the hurt, the long hours and sleepless nights.

While debates in the occupations around the country centered on process and representation, direct democracy, food and shelter, this book is the distilled anger of those who saw the lives they expected to have go up in smoke–or rather, disappear into a banker’s pocket. Anarchists and horizontalists may have sparked the movement and created the public spaces, but Occupy was inspired too by the good old American Populist tradition, the anger of working people who see all their hard work turned to surplus profits by the ultra-rich banking elite. That’s the thread running through this book. The Founding Fathers make more than one appearance, proving that it’s not just the Tea Party that knows its American history.

These people aren’t looking to overthrow the government or dismantle capitalism (though one “longtime customer” warns John Stumpf of Wells Fargo, “Ignore or dismiss this movement if you will, but then, isn’t that what the British did for decades before the American Revolution?”). Some of them want the rich to pay their “fair share” in taxes, others, like a longtime Republican and former Reagan voter, want the bankers in jail.

They take solace in their families and the support they do have with one another; the website and now the book allow people to see that they are not alone. Lynn Giglio, a UAW member from Pavilion, NY making $14 an hour, thanks her union for giving her “everything you don’t want me to have,” dignity, friends, a roof over her head.

Greg Basta helped create Occupy the Boardroom and The Trouble is the Banks. He’s also one of the founders of the Home Defenders League and a community organizer in New York. He hears stories like these every day, and helped put together this book to share them with the world. Because now, a year after Zuccotti Park was cleared of occupiers, as Occupy organizers expand daily a mutual aid system helping thousands of New Yorkers recover from Superstorm Sandy, their problems haven’t been fixed or gone away, and Goldman Sachs’ 200 West Street headquarters never lost power during the storm. People are still angry. And they’re still organizing.

Because, in the words of Pamila Payne of Los Angeles, California, “We will create change because we’re not just disaffected hippies. We’re the disaffected middle class. And we’re huge.”

Join Greg and I to discuss this book, Occupy the Boardroom, and the long slow work of recovering from the financial crisis.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

106 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Greg Basta, Trouble Is The Banks: Letters To Wall Street”

BevW November 17th, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Greg, Welcome to the Lake.

Sarah, Welcome back to the Lake, thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Thanks Bev, and hello everyone!

BevW November 17th, 2012 at 1:57 pm

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Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Thanks for having us, Bev, and hello as well!

To get started, Greg, I’d love it if you could give us some background on how Occupy the Boardroom got started.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:01 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 4

Thanks Sarah – when Occupy first started, my organization, New York Communities for Change was working with a bunch of other local labor and community groups that were standing in solidarity with the Occupy movement. I was coordinating social media and communications for the coalition along with Austin Guest and Olivia Leirer. When we heard about the plan to make October 17th, 2011 a national day of action against the banks, the three of us started talking about how great it would be to build an online component for people who were unable to take to the streets that day. And that’s when we started brainstorming what became (one week later!) Occupy The Boardroom.

dakine01 November 17th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon Greg and welcome to FDL this afternoon. Welcome back Sarah.

Greg, I have not had an opportunity to read the book but do have a question and forgive me if you address this in the book but have you or anyone else received any responses of any sort from the banksters to whom the letters were addressed?

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 6

First of all, one of our brilliant co-creators, Olivia Leirer, figured out a way to track which bankers opened the emails and when. So we know that several of them, including Jamie Dimon, Vikram Pandit, and Lloyd Blankfein, in fact opened the emails (many times) when we sent them (though obviously they could have had their assistants open them).

Vikram Pandit did confirm that he was receiving the emails and would “gladly read them” in an interview about OTBR (no word from Vikram if he followed through!)

Of course, we also hand delivered thousands of the letters, and did get them in the hands of executives as B of A, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan Chase.

Banditelli November 17th, 2012 at 2:09 pm

can you comment on the decision process behind the content management system of OTBR. Also any idea why it seems like projectsnlike the rolling jubilee have been so successful, yet the debt stories aren’t as forthcoming vs the first weeks of OWS where you and the we are the 99 percent tumblr were just flooded?

spocko November 17th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Greg: We always talk about the power of stories, and what I’d like to know is, “What has happened since? Did those great letters help those people?” could you tell a specific letter and action that happened because of it?

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 2:11 pm

We’re having this conversation on November 17th, one year from the massive rally and march over the Brooklyn Bridge with thousands of people. For many people who couldn’t camp out in the park, rallies like that one allowed a way into the movement. But Occupy the Boardroom served to connect many more people to the movement, people who didn’t live in New York and couldn’t bring their messages to the bankers in person.

One year later, what do you think has changed for the people in this book?

megerman November 17th, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Hi there. I was an early employee at the CFPB (back when there were < 50 of us huddled in tiny rooms). People used to send letters to us (sometimes addressed to Elizabeth Warren, sometimes to people whose names had been mentioned in the press, sometimes just to random staff positions). These letters may provide an interesting counterpart to your work – they were stories of people who had played by the rules and been severely harmed by banks and the downturn.

There's an analogue to 19th century Begging Letters, something Scott Sandage writes about in Born Losers. There's a long history here. Keep it up.

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to megerman @ 11

Oh, wow, I’d love to see those. What an interesting story, indeed. I’d definitely read the “Dear Elizabeth Warren” book.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:14 pm
In response to Banditelli @ 8

The decision process behind the content management system of OTBR was fast and hasty, lol. We started conceptualizing the project a week before it launched. Our design team were people we met at Zuccotti park and ows listservs, and built it on the fly (and did a hell of a job, IMHO). The team was literally working 24/7 in the week leading up to the launch.

As for the debt stories, that’s a good question. I’m not entirely sure. I guess part of it is that discussing debt is very specific, and one that people feel great shame about. And I hope these stories DO start flooding in, because people should NOT have to feel that shame about dealing with a problem that is a result of a system rigged against them.

Gregg Levine November 17th, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Hello, Greg & Sarah:

Occupiers and fellow travelers have done a ton of invaluable work in the New York area in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. There has been a lot of good press on OccupySandy and the like, but there are undertones in the reporting that imply that somehow OWS had disappeared until the storm, and that the reason they are doing so much good now has mostly to do with the ability to leverage social media.

Of course, I don’t think anyone disappeared anymore than I think that the reason so much good is being done is just because the kidz are good with teh twitters–but maybe you can talk to what happened in the last year or so that has made OccupySandy work so well, and what you think the connections are between last year’s occupations and this year’s organizing.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to spocko @ 9

Spocko, we placed a lot of media emphasis on the letter written by Mimi Pierre Johnson, about all the games Chase was playing with her mortgage, including a Chase executive making an appointment with her to talk about her mortgage mod application at her home, and then sneaking up to her doorstep to leave a “sorry we missed you” note without ever having knocked on the door! We had her letter read at a GA outside of Chase and hand delivered it to Chase executives. A few weeks later she got a mortgage mod. Go figure.

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 13

People definitely have shame connected to debt–one of the things I try to do when speaking to groups is to talk about my own ($15k in student loans, another $2k in credit cards) and ask people to raise their hands if they have it, just to break the ice about it being an issue of shame. Breaking that fear of sharing your story is such a powerful move.

And many of the stories in The Trouble is the Banks are stories about debt. And Mike Konczal went through the We Are the 99 Percent tumblr and found that the word “debt” appeared 163 times, second only to “job(s)”.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 14

Gregg –

I think, even though the media stopped covering Occupy, and when they did, they obsessed over it “being dead”, much was actually happening, particularly on a hyper local level. I know from my experience, occupiers were extremely supportive of NYCC’s work in organizing low wage workers at car washes and grocery stores. You had the tremendous work being done by Occupy Our Homes in Minnesota, Atlanta, and elsewhere. While many went into full-on election mode, occupiers and community orgs were building bonds neighborhood by neighborhood.

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 15

Greg, wasn’t Mimi also one of the folks who went to the Morgan Stanley shareholders meeting to challenge the CEO to his face?

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I would like to thank you for helping to show how creative people have been under incredible duress to develop and implement these kinds of campaigns. I am so proud of our movement for these kinds of actions. The Jubilee campaign is fantastic, I sent a check yesterday.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 18

Sarah, she was indeed. She also told off Darrell Issa to his face when FORMER congressman (feels good to say that) Ed Towns invited Issa for a sham foreclosure hearing in downtown Brooklyn. Mimi is a fantastic leader in NYCC and in her community. She won’t shy away from anyone!

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 19

I agree with you about the Jubilee. I get more and more excited every time I hear updates about the work being done.

spocko November 17th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Was there any impact on the people getting the letters? I know there were a lot of 2nd and 3rd tier executives that got letters too. Did any of the writers to those people hear back from them?

I read a lot of the letters and some people tried to make a very personal connection to the executives I know that the PR people might tell them not to respond directly and to ask the people to “go through channels” but any stories about executive who contacted people directly?

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Could you tell us about the decision to collect the letters into a book? What was the response from some of the letter writers when you contacted them about the book?

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 15

Thank you for joining us this evening, Greg and Sarah.

Greg, you mention shame @13, and your response @16 causes me to wonder if any of these too-big-to-fail executives (who I consider engaged in massive criminal fraud, that you might know my prejudice, up front) might also, on some tiny level, not be susceptible to shame? Or, are they essentially sociopaths, fully self-convinced that they are doing “God’s work” and therefore above such “mundane” sensibilities as shame?

Of course, I maintain that the political class, which includes the media, ought to be feeling considerable shame as well, having essentially destroyed the Rule of Law to protect their well-heeled “friends” on Wall Street and in the oil “fields”, as the recent BP “fine” strongly suggests.


Beth Becker November 17th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

So I got my copy of the book in the mail last week but haven’t had time to break it out and read it… just curious though…how did you guys get people to actually go to the site and tell their stories?

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to spocko @ 22

Spocko, not to my knowledge. But this has been a recurring theme with the banksters, right? Jamie Dimon constantly whines about how unfairly he’s being treated. I don’t think we ever expected a big response from banks or their PR wings.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 24

DW I think they are susceptible to shame, and I think you see that in the way people like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein get so defensive. I really do think that’s their coping mechanism for justifying some of the truly awful things their institutions do to folks.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to Beth Becker @ 25


For starters, we reached out to literally dozens of community organizations to help get the word out. Now, we all know that org’s and advocacy groups are very particular in the emails they send out about campaigns, a lot of it is about “What will grow their lists, and get their name out there” (and that’s not a criticism, I help run a community org, it’s what we all have to do). So when I was reaching out to organizations to say “We want you to blast this site out to your email lists, let people know it’s out there, encourage people to write letters to the bankers, but DON’T tell them what to write, we want THEIR words not yours”) we expected a lot of “No thanks”. But the level of involvement was amazing. Organizations in over two dozen states, from groups like NYCC, ACCE in California, and The Other 98% to groups like Rainforest Action Network, and a whole ton of bloggers got the word out. Of course, everyone in Zuccotti helped spread the word as well!

Gregg Levine November 17th, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 27

I think they feel something–not sure it’s shame. Maybe just irritation that someone let you out of your cage? Anyway, nothing a few sessions with an expensive Dom can’t clear up.

It seems to me the only thing that focuses the mind for this class is good ol’ fashioned time in the stripy hole. Do you see anything OTBR is doing that might move someone to file criminal charges?

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:36 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 23

Sorry, missed this one from earlier Sarah. Great question, and I still can’t believe the book happened:

Mark Greif, the head of n+1 Publishing, happened to be at our action when we hand delivered the letters to all the Big Banks in late October. He fell in love with the concept of OTBR, and it was his idea to compile the letters into a book. A month later he reached out to me to see if we could grab coffee and talk about doing this. I had no idea who he was, and frankly I had no idea how real this was.

Mark and Dayna Tortorici and their whole team at n+1 read through every single letter submitted to the site, chose the ones they wanted for the book, and reached out to hundreds of people to talk to them about it. I can’t imagine the work that went in to doing that. The response from the letter-writers was amazing. Very few refused to be a part of it. Most were excited, and the one thing we kept hearing over and over again was how just writing the letter and getting it posted to the site was such a cathartic experience.

Beth Becker November 17th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

One more question…how did you find contact info for all these execs? I mean it’s not like they post it on their facebook pages…that must have taken an awful lot of effort from someone(s)

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:39 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 10

I missed another one of Sarah’s questions. I’m treating our host very poorly!!

I think what’s changed for people in this book is that the mood in this country has changed. There is WIDESPREAD anger and resentment towards what banks and their executives have done to our country, while reaping record-setting bonuses. I think, at the very least, they’re feeling less shame. Less shame about foreclosure, about debt, about bankruptcy. And their feeling more anger and resentment and channeling that to fight back.

I think you’re seeing the results of that in more investigations being announced by AG Eric Schneiderman, and other AG’s like Kamala Harris taking stiffer action against the banks. I think we have a way to go there, but I think it’s undeniable that this is starting to happen because of the collective efforts by people who are being directly affected.

spocko November 17th, 2012 at 2:41 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 27

I have some close friends who work for major banks and I know that they have lots of good justifications for their role in the institution, what I’m interested in are the people who have actively made decisions to implement policies that have hurt people. Especially the people who, “Played by the rules”
I would love to see some one on ones with these people and the letter writers.

Has anyone proposed setting up a situation like this, so that the executives can explain to the people, “Yes, we foreclosed on your home, I signed an order to throw all of your belongings away, but it’s just business.”

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Beth Becker @ 31

That would be a better question for one of the original OTBR team members, our researcher, Kevin Connor. He did an amazing job of tracking down these addresses.

Probably appropriate to point out here that one of my favorite things about this project is that the original OTBR team – myself, Austin Guest, Olivia Leirer, Mattias Peleneur, Cristian Fleming, Kevin Connor, Nathan Henderson-James and Crux – have never been in the same room together at the same time. I had known and worked with Nathan, Olivia, and Austin for some time, but not the others. I only met Kevin for the first time a few months ago. I’ve STILL never met Crux!

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 29

Ah, you anticipate part of my next question, Gregg.

And until the “enabling” the political class provided, as in the willful and deliberate destruction of Glass-Steagall, is fully understood by the majority of American citizens, there can be no honest accounting … and we have not even mentioned MERS and the destruction of the property recording systems at the county level.

Until the “too-big” face meaningful jail-time, they will, in my opinion, continue merrily along with legal and “moral” cover from the entire political class.


bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 30

Again, I believe that people respond to the creativity as well as the pathos, humor and whatever other messages were created in response to the opportunity to share stories in this fashion.

The internets/social media are really so perfect for these kinds of things. In fact, I am just now thinking we can launch this kind of action towards our governor, who needs some “bringing up.” I am def going to suggest it at our meeting tomorrow.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to Gregg Levine @ 29

I don’t think OTBR specifically. But I do think it’s up to ows, community organizations, labor, and everyday people victimized by the banks to keep fighting, keep being loud, keep this out there until that DOES start happening.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to spocko @ 33

Not only do I think bankers are already PUBLICLY taking that approach, they’ve tried to manipulate the message. At one point Jamie Dimon actually publicly made the argument about how foreclosures were GOOD for people – that they helped their credit and so on.

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Apropos of these questions, Greg, I understand that the proceeds from the book are going to fund NYCC’s work fighting foreclosures. Could you tell us more about that work and your work with the Home Defenders League?

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Greg, you mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. This sort of thing gives people who can’t attend demonstrations, actions and meetings the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way, to share their personal stories. Fantastic.

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 27

Certainly Dimon and Blankfein become “defensive”, Greg, however I consider it more annoyance, as does Gregg @29, than contrition.

Do you see any stopping of the fraudulent behavior until and unless incarceration becomes a likely “consequence”?

The lack of personal responsibility, on the part of the elite, the monied and political elite, to be precise, is a major (and continuing) assault upon civil society … and society has a fundamental obligation, to itself and to posterity, to insist upon the ability to protect itself from predation.

How might you imagine, if you agree, that such protection of the majority of members of society FROM financial predation, might be brought about?


mzchief November 17th, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 16

Thank you for coming, Sarah, Greg, all. I found your presentation during the Rolling Jubilee telethon informative in addition to the point made by another speaker of the lack of due process re debt collection in NY courts. Striking debt shame via education is a good thing as I think it affects the willingness of others to assist in home defense of which Portland, OR is in the midst.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 39

We’re taking on the banks in a variety of ways:

- With Home Defenders League, we’re working with dozens of community organizations throughout the country to organize as many of the 15 million underwater homeowners as we possibly can to demand mortgage resets and to demand that banks are investigated and are subjected to criminal prosecutions. We’re already working with thousands of homeowners in NY, CA, NV, AZ, FL and elsewhere. With the elections over, our goal is to go right back to work and make this all happen in 2013.

- NYCC is also continuing our work to get municipalities to divest from banks with terrible track records like JP Morgan Chase. In the past 18 months, we’ve convinced almost a dozen municipalities in NY to divest from Chase, the largest being the city of Buffalo. So far, almost $100 million have been divested as part of this campaign.

- We’re starting to work with other org’s to investigate the damage being caused by the whole credit swaps issue – municipalities losing billions of dollars a year because banks locked them into interest rates years ago and refuse to lower them while they’re being lowered in every other sector. So while your city is pushing austerity on you, the city’s losing money while banks are making more profit. THAT NEEDS to be addressed ASAP.

- We’re also working with Government Accountability Project to promote http://www.bankwhistleblower.org – bank employees need to know their rights as whistleblowers. We’re working to encourage them to speak out about illegal and unethical practices going on at their institution.

So we’re doing a few things :)

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 40

Completely agree, bgrothus, it is a marvelous and necessary thing, the people’s History, writ large and legible.


Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 41

DW, I’m not sure. I’ve heard arguments either way on what the affect criminal prosecution will have. I favor criminal prosecution because they’ve committed crimes and that’s what needs to happen! But I DO know that these slap on the wrist settlements won’t do the job.

spocko November 17th, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 38

Greg: Maybe I’ve watched Roger and Me too many times, but I personally would really like to see some video of a session where a banking executive hears the pain of someone they have injured.

As in Roger and Me the PR people will want to keep the exec away from real people, and they will want to put slick spokespeople up with inarticulate people who “bought too much house”
Yet, I would think that will the book you could find letters of good candidates for these stories.

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

municipalities losing billions of dollars a year because banks locked them into interest rates years ago and refuse to lower them while they’re being lowered in every other sector

love this, am going to find out what rate our city has going, who holds it.

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 43

One wonders, Greg, if the actions of the Regents at UC (which is not unique, btw) might not galvanize more and more of the college-age citizens in coming to understand what shenanigans the banks and university officials, like city officials across the nation, have been engaging … (ALL LIBOR related, as it happens)?


Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to spocko @ 46

I would like to see it too. And I’m sure there would be willing volunteers among the people who have taken part in the OTBR project.

What I would REALLY love to see is our first criminal prosecution of an executive, and have OTBR folks in the courtroom dressing em down. Dare to dream.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 47

Don’t just look at the cities as a whole, look at institutions – department of education, school districts, department of sanitation, housing departments, etc.

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 43

Thanks for mentioning the municipal debt issue! (For those who would like to read further, there’s a great piece on that particular subject at Dissent right now.)

Because of course, it’s not just people’s personal debt that’s being manipulated by the banks. Many of our problems and struggles are also caused by our cities being sucked dry of revenue by the very same bankers…

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Not to mention the part where we end up building community through the people who benefit. I hope the Jubilee is not shy about using this aspect, publicity.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 48

I think that’s critical. And I think this whole idea of banks holding municipalities hostage with debt needs to be better understood by the general public. Particularly in those locales where public sector jobs are being cut, education budgets slashed, etc. Oh wait, that’s pretty much everywhere. Yeah, this should be a national issue.

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 50

Thank you!

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 45

I’m curious, who is arguing that jail-time will not have a deterrent effect?

And what might be their “reasoning”?

A two-tiered system of “law” is tantamount to tyranny, and must be understood as such. It applies not just to bank fraud, but to torture and other high crimes as well …

The Rule of Law is central to democracy and to civil society, in fact, it is the foundation of both.


Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Thanks! I’m glad you liked. I believe the other speaker you’re talking about was the wonderful, brilliant Sarah Ludwig from NEDAP.

And yes, ending the shame is so important, which is one of the reasons I think books like this are valuable.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 51

Exactly. The Banks have found ways to profit from misery, poverty, and suffering in every way possible. Like JP Morgan reaping MAJOR profits from being in charge of EBT accounts in most locations. They’re making money off of welfare systems. So people on the right love to stereotype people receiving assistance as “lazy” or whatever, and JP Morgan Chase is LITERALLY scamming money from the EBT system.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 55

I don’t think anyone on our side is saying that criminal prosecution isn’t a good idea. I think the general argument is that placing our efforts on criminal prosecution will be exhausting, and will detract from actually changing the system. Also, that we’ve seen criminal prosecutions in Wall Street before, and that it hasn’t really changed anything.

Me? I’m a kitchen sink strategy guy – let’s go after them holistically. Attack the system, sue them, prosecute them, everything. Christ, there’s MILLIONS of us who are pissed off and fed up! We can take on this workload!

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 55

I’m curious, who is arguing that jail-time will not have a deterrent effect?

I’ll bet Martha Stewart is looking forward to the day she sees one of those bastards go down.

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

To return to the book: one of the repeated themes in the book is people who say that they are not “fringe” or “hippies” or silly kids in a park. One of my favorite letters, that I mentioned in the post above, was written by a 73-year-old who identified himself as a longtime conservative who voted for Reagan twice. It’s a very populist sentiment, and also it’s a conscious pushback against the media portrayal of Occupy.

Was that something that you thought you’d see when you launched the site?

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 58

Hearty uptwinkles to THAT.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 60

Wasn’t expecting it at all. There are a significant amount of letters that were submitted – literally hundreds of them – that I describe as “turning the right wing rhetoric against the right wing”. What I mean by that is there are hundreds of letters written by (as they describe themselves) upper income, the 1%, to say to these bankers “Stop whining. Just stop it. You created this mess, you own up to it and take some personal responsibility. I pay my taxes and I’ll pay more because it’s my duty.” Those are some of my favorites if only because I just didn’t expect them.

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 57

Right, Greg, and the “defense” giant Lockheed Martin does most of the database “work” for many state welfare and legal “information” systems … the “too-big” corporate “influence” and control are stunningly ubiquitous.

It is more than just one “thing” or one corporate “structure” with which we contend, and the connection with and between all of them is … the political class.

I consider that the role of the political class in deliberately “off shoring” jobs, permitting fraud, and restricting civil rights, even severely restricting the First Amendment right to assembly with HR 347 needs to reach the consciousness of the many.


Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 63

This is precisely why we began expanding the targets at OTBR – we included Verizon, we included the corporate execs who back some of the top pro-austerity lobbyists in the country. We hope to include more!

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Speaking of right-wing rhetoric, I really loved the letter telling the bankers to “Go Galt.” “You. Will. Not. Be. Missed.” he wrote.

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 64

Excellent, Greg!!!

And much more power to ye!

The kitchen-sink strategy!

We are most definitely on the same “page”, even likely the same “letter” … and “number” …


bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

According to Yates McKee, a Strike Debt organizer, the group has “friends in the industry” with debt-purchasing experience who are bidding discreetly on the group’s behalf.

I just noticed this in Truthout’s coverage. I was wondering how Occupy would be able to bid on the medical debt. So we have other “discrete” friends in the business world. Also it says there will be letters sent to debtors with the good news that their debts have been wiped. I hope the letters are prepared for framing! Another way to promote the anti-shame.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 65

My favorite line from the site from a comedy standpoint: One writer invited Vikram Pandit over to dinner to discuss why people are so fed up with the banks, but confessed that his apartment is a humble dwelling – “It’s a 4th-floor walk-up (Oh Vikram, you would love it. It’s positively DICKENSIAN!)”

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 65

I’m ordering the book, awesome, can’t wait to read it.

Banditelli November 17th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Going back to the hippies thing. It’s pretty obvious that the people in the streets and those angry aren’t all hippies because THERE ISN’T THAT MANY HIPPIES. but we look at the media and it’s largely 6 figure mouth pieces talking wonk. so the right creates these straw men. we know that real people stories sell. but we don’t see them at the same volume as corporate mouthpieces. what do we need to do chance this both from a media outreach perspective and training and identifying spokespeople. and what did you do in the promotion of OTBR.

mzchief November 17th, 2012 at 3:22 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 56

{ Thank you for your patience with my speed-of-response as I am on a slower connection } Thank you for the link and, yes, that’s the speaker! I think the Rolling Jubilee had a lot to do with the county level government here (Multnomah) announcing that they would at least go after recording fees although I think they should go farther and seek remedy (e.g. the county clerk wresting back the deeds, restoring chain of title and the dissolution of MERS).

Cynthia Kouril November 17th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Apprapos of mentioning the “begging letters” I think it is really important to get copies of this book into HS and University libraries.

When the Ken Burns of the next generation does his award winning documetnary about OWS (and you know there will be one) the voice over will at some point be reading these letters.

They’re like a time capsule

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Another of my favorites is Susie from Meriden, CT, who wrote twice to Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, having calculated that his hourly wage was $9,165. She offered to do three hours’ worth of his work each week for that salary.”You can leave the stuff you don’t like about your job to me: talking to the press about Occupy Wall Street, testifying at hearings about board members who are charged with insider trading. You know, all that icky stuff.”

Another letter writer asked a CEO if he really was worth 400 times as much as the letter writer. There’s a real sense of the injustice of income inequality to be gained from reading these letters. It’s not just about whether these bankers should be in jail, it’s about how much they make and how ridiculous it is.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to Banditelli @ 70

In short: A HELL of a lot more. I think Occupy Our Homes is a fantastic example of a campaign taking the right media approach, and I hope we see a lot more of it. It’s getting so much coverage because it is ENTIRELY comprised of personal stories. The fight against foreclosures has many different components, but OccupyHomes getting the personal stories out there (and saving homes!) is critical. Look at this case in Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, we’re they’re working with an Atlanta police officer to fight to keep his home. That has to just give people on the right a stroke, right?

As far as promotion: Again, this was all volunteer, all collaborative. We spent a total of $50 in launching OTBR, and that was hosting and domain fees. It was talking to people about it at Zuccotti, talking to friendly bloggers and reporters, talking to organizations willing to email their constituents about the project. I was in charge of doing outreach to bloggers and participating organizations. The level of participation among these folks was amazing.

mzchief November 17th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 52

:-) PastDuePDX.Org hosted the viewing party here and came with Debt Resistors’ Operations Manuals (DROMs) in hand.

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:28 pm

how ridiculouscriminal it is

fixed that for you

on edit, for Sarah at 73

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 72

TOTALLY agree Cynthia. In fact, Mark Greif, the head of n+1 publishing, is talking to a few sociology professors about exactly that.

Banditelli November 17th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to spocko @ 46

The LIBOR Harrisburg connection was just announced this past week and the apathy couldn’t be any higher. were suffering from huge city level debt burnout. I think thats intentional.

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 72

I think that’s an excellent point. These letters are the story of the Great Recession. They’re stories of low-wage jobs and student debt, foreclosures and short sales.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 73

“Another of my favorites is Susie from Meriden, CT, who wrote twice to Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs”

Another one of my favorite aspects of this project Sarah – so many people took the “penpal” approach and wrote multiple letters to the same executive. There was one series to Jamie Dimon from a woman in Florida. The letters were equal parts hilarious, frustrating, and poignant and they wove a great narrative

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Let’s talk about some of the actions that OTBR took to deliver the letters to executives. I went along for one of them (the video is above, in case anyone didn’t watch it) to see 99 red balloons flown up past Goldman Sachs’ windows with letters tied to them.

I’d love to hear more about some of the actions I wasn’t there for–the moves to both actually get the letters to people who’d read them and to dramatize the moment and call attention to the power disparity there.

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 80

Letters of Lazlo Toth. . .remember that? It’s a bit similar.

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 74

This is a most hopeful reality you delineate, Greg.

Many assume that huge amounts of “money” will be required to change the “game”. And social systems, economic, educational, legal, and so on ARE games, which means that they can and must be changed; to protect life and to protect the planet upon which all life, as we know it, depends.

I suggest that both time and “the” numbers are on our side, that a committed populace, even a committed minority, can make all of the difference in this world and in this time, our world, our time (although, to be honest, as I am old, the world already belongs to my children, and I am but a guest among among you many who are younger, and I thank you, all, for your tolerance, your courage, and your understanding).


bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 83

A Debt Resistor’s League. . .the thing will totally fall down if enough people quit paying.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:37 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 81

We had one major day of action where we delivered letters to all the major banks NYC headquarters in one day – JP Morgan Chase, B of A, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, and Citi. At B of A and Goldman, hundreds of people “delivered” the letters by turning them into paper airplanes and trying to reach the corporate suites. At Citi and Morgan Stanley, we set up 30 foot tall blow-ups of one of the letters, that a very brilliant member of Rude Mechanical Orchestra selected that fit perfectly when singing it to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” At the end of the day, thousands of people gathered around the entrance to JP Morgan, where NYCC member Mimi Pierre-Johnson used the people’s mic to tell her story to the dozens of on-looking Chase executives. Not a dry eye in the crowd after it. We all then wrote our own letter, and 1,500 of us lined up single file to deliver the letters, one by one, to a Chase executive.

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 84

Exactly so, bgrothus.

“It” only works if we “believe” … and two mere “clicks” of the heels, or “turns” of the fraudsters, is all that it takes for eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand … we are very close.


Banditelli November 17th, 2012 at 3:41 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 85

that is so fucking class war emo.

how have you kept those 1500 people involved?

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to Banditelli @ 87

I was wondering how they kept those execs captive?

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:43 pm
In response to Banditelli @ 87

I like to think they’re all involved either by still collaborating with occupiers or supporting NYCC or both. That’s how most of them knew about the deliveries. NYCC has had such a great collaborative relationship with many in OWS. And that was one perfect example.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 88

I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you :)

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Speaking of keeping people involved, have many of the people who wrote the letters to the bankers gotten involved in other ways, other organizing, that you know of?

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 90

Prolly not dinner at the walkup, I’m guessing.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 91

That’s a great question that I don’t know the answer to. But it’s something that I will bring up to the n+1 team who did most of the follow-up outreach. That would be like the most interesting “Where Are They Now?” feature ever.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 92

hahahaha yeah that wasn’t how!

BevW November 17th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this lively Book Salon discussion,

Greg, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and Occupy The Board Room, and your many activist/Occupy activities.

Sarah, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Greg’s website(s) (Deputy Director, NY Communities For Change) (Home Defenders League) (Occupy The Boardroom), and book (Trouble Is The Banks)

Sarah’s website (Alternet.org)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Sheila Bair (former Chairman FDIC)/ Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street From Wall Street and Wall Street From Itself; Hosted by James K. Galbraith

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

We’ve got about ten minutes left, so does anyone have any final questions before I ask mine?

bgrothus November 17th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Greg and Sarah, this was inspiring. I went to the n+1 site and ordered the book, can’t wait to read it. Thanks for hosting, Bev!

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

One last question then before we go: Greg, if you and the OTBR folks could choose just one of these bank executives to fire and send to jail, which would it be and why?

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 97

Thanks bgrothus. And thanks again Sarah and Bev, it was great talking to everyone about OTBR!

bigbrother November 17th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to Greg Basta @ 94

Has your org used CRA to force the banks to give you their lending data and make them serve the community equally>

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 98

HAHAHA GREAT Question. Easy answer. For me it’s Jamie Dimon. I hate everything about him. I even hate that Bill Pullman played him in Too Big To Fail.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 4:00 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 100

That’s a question that requires a long answer that unfortunately I can’t provide right now, but in short: that’s not quite what we’re working on, but others are, but that’s only one piece of the myriad of problems. But an important one.

Greg Basta November 17th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Again, thanks everyone for the questions, and your support for OTBR, NYCC. Obviously we all have so much work to do here. So let’s keep it going!

Sarah Jaffe November 17th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Yes, thanks everyone for showing up!

mzchief November 17th, 2012 at 4:05 pm
In response to Sarah Jaffe @ 98

Just ONE huh? Blythe Masters but I’d love to hear Nicholas Shaxson’s pick.

Thank you, everybody, and have a great day!

DWBartoo November 17th, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Had to step away for a few minutes and just wanted to say that this was a most excellent and enjoyable Book Salon. Thank you, Greg and Sarah. Thank you, Bev, as always, and especial thanks to all of you freedom fighters!



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