This week, students with the Community Banking Working Group (CBWG), a task force comprised of Occupy Wesleyan members, is sponsoring Bank Transfer Week. The organizers of the week’s events say they hope to encourage students to move their money into credit unions, and out of commercial banks like Bank of America (BoA), which operates the ATM in the Usdan University Center.
On Tuesday afternoon, the CBWG hosted a lecture at 200 Church by Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Brian Stewart about the impact of large financial institutions on the environment. During “Move Your Money” days—this upcoming Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday—representatives of credit unions will be tabling from noon to 4 p.m. in Usdan, providing community members with information about how and why they might become members and move money into credit unions. In addition, the CBWG has called for a march to the Middletown Bank of America branch on Main Street, leaving from the steps of Olin library at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 27.
The group’s plans are part of a large movement occurring campuses and communities around the country. One pamphlet that the CBWG cited, by Occupy Wall Street protestor and Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, details several reasons for divesting from commercial banks. He argues that lending and financial policies at BoA were a precipitating factor in the financial crash of 2008, and that public bailouts of BoA have served to treat the symptoms, but not the cause, of the economic downturn.
“We don’t want Bank of America to fail,” Taibbi writes in the pamphlet. “Our position is, it already is insolvent, and already has failed—and only our tax dollars, and our government’s continued protection, is keeping that failure from becoming more common knowledge. But one thing that everyone on this spectrum of beliefs can agree upon is that our system doesn’t work when corrupt companies, companies that should fail in the free market, are kept alive by the government.”
CBWG members Anders Dohlman ’15 and Nina Gerona ’15 said that the idea to hold a bank transfer day or week at Wesleyan arose last fall in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street protests, and a task force was formed. Dohlman said that, among other concerns—such as the University’s own banking and investment policy—he and others in the working group were particularly troubled by the BoA ATM in Usdan.
“Every person who doesn’t have a Bank of America account is sending two dollars to Bank of America every single time they use the ATM,” Dohlman said. “Wesleyan’s a very forward-thinking and socially conscious school, and I think this isn’t the sort of place where we should be funding huge banks that are corrupting the environment and our political process.”
Gerona noted that the University’s lack of banking choices on campus caused many students to sign up for BoA when they arrived as freshmen.
“I think a lot of [our concern] was that there wasn’t a lot of choice [between banks],” Gerona said. “You can open a bank account wherever, but BoA was the bank that was on campus, and they were here for orientation week. I know that I set up an account with them just because they are here and just because there’s an ATM on campus.”
Gerona contrasted for-profit commercial banks, like BoA, where investment decisions are decided by shareholders are less likely to serve the community, with credit unions, whose policies are decided by its account-holding members.
“With credit unions you’re keeping your money local and you’re keeping your money in safer hands than if you were giving it over to bigger corporations that can invest tons of money into things that are not necessarily what you want to be funding,” Gerona said. “People don’t really talk about what the other options are—how easy it is to put your money in a credit union.”