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Tue Feb 21, 2012, 01:26 PM

Frequently Asked Questions: Wells Fargo Divestment Campaign

Recently, Occupy Bozeman called on people to get their money out of big banks, particularly Wells Fargo. People who have learned about the campaign have been asking questions. I have compiled many of those questions and provided some answers below.

1.What is a divestment campaign?
2.What’s so bad about Wells Fargo?
3.Why Wells Fargo and not another big bank, like U.S. Bank?
4.How can a divestment campaign work against a giant corporation like Wells Fargo?
5.Is this being done anywhere else?
6.What are the alternatives to keeping my money in a big bank; are local banks okay?
7.Besides asking people to get their money out of Wells Fargo, what other actions are you planning in Bozeman?
8.How can I get involved?
9.I can’t make a meeting but have lots of great ideas. How can I help?
10.Do you have any materials that I can distribute and show my family and friends?
Links to other articles/resources related to Occupy Bozeman's Wells Fargo divestment campaign.

1.What is a divestment campaign?
A divestment campaign is a series of actions taken by a group or groups designed to get people to remove their money from some institution.

People have a lot of money put into banks. That’s most obvious through savings and checking accounts, though it could also involve stock investments as well.

In this case, Occupy Bozeman is organizing action designed to get people to withdraw their money out of Wells Fargo and to put it in some other local institution. We will be taking a series of actions, most notably a picket line, intended to convince people that they should withdraw their business from Wells Fargo.

2.What’s so bad about Wells Fargo?
There are so many reasons to get your money out of Wells Fargo. An essay I wrote on February 10, 2012 – Foreclose on Wells Fargo: So Many Reasons to Divest – goes into a whole assortment of better and lesser known reasons why Wells Fargo is a worthy candidate for a divestment campaign.

In short, Wells Fargo contributes to economic disparity in our country.They’ve done so by being a key player in the housing crisis, both in terms of the high-interest subprime loans they provided to people who could least afford them as well as in the ways they have gone about foreclosing homes.They also provide high fees and provide low rates of return.

There are a lot of other reasons as well that you can read about in the article.One of interest is Wells Fargo's $120 million ownership stake in two private prison corporations that use their profit incentive to influence government officials on crime and immigration policy.That fact alone has led groups to call for divestment from Wells Fargo.

3.Why Wells Fargo and not another big bank, like U.S. Bank?
This is perhaps the most commonly asked question and the hardest to answer. There are a lot of reasons to divest from U.S. Bank also, which we encourage. There is also a huge local connection in that Montana State University has its accounts at U.S. Bank. Occupy Bozeman has previously consented on the formation of a working group to pressure Montana State to divest from U.S. Bancorp.

Occupy Bozeman chose to focus on Wells Fargo for a few reasons. Because Occupy Bozeman wanted a deeper rather than a more superficial campaign, we believed we should focus on one bank – all while saying we believe that people should get their money out of both big national banks in town. One reason we chose Wells Fargo is that it is a bigger bank, with a larger role in mortgages and investments, which has had more national action directed at it, and more available research with which to make the case against it. Secondly, because Occupy Bozeman operates on consensus, it is simply true that the decision to take action against Wells Fargo represented the energy of the group that made the decision. On another week with a different group of people and set of facts, U.S. Bank would have been a worthy choice. If a group of people wants to dedicate themselves to a campaign against U.S. Bank, it will have Occupy Bozeman’s full support. They could even do so under the Occupy Bozeman name and use the group’s resources.

So, choosing Wells Fargo does not exclude any action against U.S. Bank.

4.How can a divestment campaign work against a giant corporation like Wells Fargo?
It is true that Wells Fargo is huge; netting more than $15 billion in income last year. The corporation has been fined or faced settlements in the billions of dollars, and yet Wells Fargo continues to churn out record profits.

Nevertheless, there is something about the nature of banks that give people leverage. Banks create credit and dole it out; they never have anywhere near as much in capital reserves as people have invested in accounts. This is why bank runs are so dangerous on the banking system. There simply is not enough cash.

If people make a concerted effort to remove their money from a bank, there is greater reason for the bank to close up shop in town. Pulling money out represents more severe stress on a bank than, for instance, a boycott on a product. Banks use your money to generate more wealth.

Pulling your money out is no harm – and actually a help to you (as you will save on fees and actually get more return on your money almost anywhere else), and the worst that can be accomplished by such a campaign is that a few more people have made better financial decisions. However, the best is also possible – that Wells Fargo will not have a viable commercial banking presence in town, that others around the country will take notice, and that the people will be able to take down one of the pillars of economic disparity and injustice in our society.

5.Is this being done anywhere else?
There is at least one specific divestment call against Wells Fargo that we are aware of from a group in Arizona. There have been numerous other actions taken by groups across the country, as well as in San Francisco where Wells Fargo has its corporate headquarters. There was also a large day of action last fall called Bank Transfer Day, where hundreds of thousands of people took their money out of big banks and put them into credit unions. In fact, credit union membership is on the rise, and so there already is some wave of action without our campaign.

Nevertheless, because Wells Fargo is still reaping in record profits and still conducting many of the same practices that contributed to the recession, there is so much work to be done.

Even without support from anywhere else, though, we should not think it impossible to make a difference here in Bozeman.

6.What are the alternatives to keeping my money in a big bank; are local banks okay?
Here I need to be clear that I’m not writing for Occupy Bozeman because there is no clear consensus on the issue of alternatives. Everyone agrees that credit unions are perhaps the best option currently available. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that serve member interests (as opposed to shareholder interests). They have lower interest rates, lower fees, higher rates of return, and more sustainable lending practices. The ones in this area are available to the people who live and work here.

What we do not agree on – to be perfectly frank – is the issue of local banks. Because Occupy Bozeman is ideologically diverse, some people are not opposed to banks making a profit. They argue that the key is that the banks are local and that therefore the investments the banks make with your money is local. That will in turn aid economic prosperity here.

The other view – represented by people like me – is that you should also divest from local banks because there is also an economic class gap within our local community. A local investment is not a guarantee of economic justice and because banks – whatever the type – still are beholden to shareholders rather than account holders, they still are not accountable to the people. What’s more, local banks repeatedly will farm many of the loans they give to bigger banks. So, you often end up doing business with a big bank, anyhow.

Ultimately, the lack of consensus is not troubling. That’s what you should expect. The choice is yours, and you have to decide where to put your money. If you keep it under a mattress, manage to form your own barter system with your friends, put it in a credit union, or put it some other local institution, there is wide agreement that those choices are still better than keeping money in a large corporation like Wells Fargo.

7.Besides asking people to get their money out of Wells Fargo, what other actions are you planning in Bozeman?
The first action we have planned is February 29, 2012, at Noon in front of Wells Fargo, in conjunction with a call put out by Occupy Portland. They put out a call to take action against ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council – basically a large group of large corporations who meet together and draft model legislation that they use to pursue their interests in Congress. Wells Fargo is not a member of ALEC. However, the Corrections Corporation of America, one of the private prison companies that Wells Fargo has an ownership stake in, is. We will be picketing and doing some other creative actions – perhaps one with an occupied Wells Fargo wagon. Details will be coming. Pickets and other actions will follow from there. We need ideas and creative energy. We’ve been talking about them at the Wednesday General Assembly meetings.

8.How can I get involved?
You can get involved in a number of ways. You can come to a General Assembly meeting, which are Wednesday nights 6:30 – 8:15 PM at the Bozeman Yoga Center, at 1716 W. Main Street, Suite 8A1. You can join our mailing lists, particularly our general email discussion list – go to http://groups.google.com/group/Occupy-Bozeman. We’re also on Facebook. All of this, of course, is available at http://occupybozeman.org.

One other way, obviously, is to come to any of our events.

You can also organize something on your own. If you have an idea, we encourage you just to go ahead and make it happen. Occupy Bozeman is not just the group of people who meet under that name. It can be you. In Bozeman, it started when some Montana State students made something happen. It can continue by you making something happen.

9.I can’t make a meeting but have lots of great ideas. How can I help?
Besides the ways mentioned in the last answer, you can share your ideas on Facebook with us, on occupybozeman.org, and on our email lists. However, if you have an idea, it ultimately is your responsibility to take the first steps to make something happen. A lot of people have a lot of ideas; what really is needed is the initiative to make an idea reality. Take the first step of getting your idea out there and stating what you need to make it happen, and we’ll do our best to help you help all of us.

As mentioned, you do not need to come to a meeting to bring an idea up or to take action – even as Occupy Bozeman. No one will be more delighted than us if you took a solid action against Wells Fargo as Occupy Bozeman (or under some other name) and that we read about it somewhere else. We are not here to increase our group’s prestige; we are here to facilitate you to have a voice.

There are only a few things that we ask you do if you do take action on your own, particularly if you are using the Occupy Bozeman name.

10.Do you have any materials that I can distribute and show my family and friends?
Besides the articles that have been written and the research on our website (see links below), other materials are in the process of being created. However, you can download, share, or print any materials you find from us and distribute those. Flyers, videos, photos, and other articles are being developed.

If you develop any yourself, I need to plug my other group – the Northern Rockies Independent Media Network. This is a great place to post all that stuff. You can do so anonymously, too. That’s at http://www.rockymt.org. If it shows up there, Occupy Bozeman absolutely will see it.

Links to other articles/resources related to Occupy Bozeman's Wells Fargo Divestment Campaign
Call to Action: Keep Your Money in Bozeman: Make Wells Fargo Pay

Press Release: Montana Group Calls for Divestment from Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo Divestment Campaign Research page

Love Letter to Wells Fargo (an immodest proposal) (by Josh Davis)

Foreclose on Wells Fargo: So Many Reasons to Divest (by Jim Macdonald)

Occupy Bozeman Braves Blizzard (by McKenzie)

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