When I started my live local journey, I hoped to prove that indeed it was possible to source things in our community. Without question, I also hoped to spark the interest in some of my fellow citizens to choose to invest in our community rather than sending their hard-earned money far away to line the coffers of offshore bank accounts in the Caribbean or sweat shops in China. As a small business owner I was (and am) overwhelmed by the disparity between how money can be invested in our economy by small business and how quickly it is funneled out by chain stores.
Statistics continue to amaze me about economic multipliers within communities, from money spent with small business-versus the swift funneling of money out the same communities by chains and big box stores. During the last two years, this column has tried to shine some light and differences an individual can make in the world with their daily economic choices. We talked about the Move Your Money project last year and re-visited it when Bank Transfer Day (November 5th) was announced. We looked at farmers’ markets and local food, the importance of food security, and investing in our agriculture and preserving its diversity. We have discussed co-ops, the 3/50 project, the film industry, tourism, credit card fees, the Dodd-Frank Act, the franchise structure, local currency, localized health care, “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, cash versus plastic, and tried over and over again to stress the importance of local investment for job creation.
To a certain extent, I felt like a cry in the wilderness, but, occasionally, someone would ask me if I knew where to get something locally—like sheets and towels. Conversations like that would leave me on cloud nine for days. Because that meant there were two of us, and if we had two, then maybe we could get three—three whole people purchasing locally only! Then four people! And, folks, that would constitute a movement. All we’d have to do is sing along when it comes around again on the guitar—and avoid Walmart at all costs.
Over the last two months, as Occupy Wall Street has picked up momentum and spread, paralleling in real time has been the effort behind Bank Transfer Day. I have oscillated between feeling like a glimmer of hope and grieving among extreme frustration. But, one of my heroes—a registered Republican and Ron Paul campaigner, nonetheless—Arlo Guthrie (yes, you read that last sentence correctly) has been making his rounds of media since he and Pete Seeger showed up at an Occupy Wall Street march in NYC. CNN interviewed him via Skype the day after Ben Stein (yes, from “Win Ben Stein’s Money”) had been a guest and declared that banging on a drum in the face of a complex banking fraud problem was incredible. More over, it would do nothing to solve the problem. Mr. Guthrie’s response pointed out that for people to get out from behind a computer screen and connect with other people to make their voices heard is a significant effect of the Occupy Movement, which will have an impact on this country.
To Mr. Stein, I, personally say, “Ah? You think so?”
Bank of America has dominated the news cycle for the last month between the glaring light shone upon them for the debit card fees/layoff announcements, all fed by the Occupy Wall Street Movement’s ongoing cries. Bank of America didn’t back off because of regulations. Or goodwill. They backed off because public backlash had turned it into a public relations nightmare! This came after the Dodd-Frank Act nationally capped the fees at $0.12, which banks charge retailers when customers use a debit card. (As I have stated in previous columns, our bank charges $0.75 per debit card swipe, which is why we cringe when people buy a $1 book with plastic.)
Please, may I ask, Mr. Stein: Do you think Bank of America just woke up one morning and decided to be nice and community spirited to walk away from the projected $475 million per quarter it expects to lose? No. College graduate Molly Katchpole’s original petition against the bank fees, followed by customers walking into branches to close their accounts made them back down. They had to get hit where it hurts. Thus the creation of Bank Transfer Day—which had them stave off the damage and appease people with the announcement of canceling the fee. Bank Transfer Day saw the movement of $4.5 billion out of big banks and into credit unions in November.
It is flattering for people to ask where I bank. My father has had an account with State Employee’s Credit Union (SECU) for almost 30 years. He also has an account with a big bank and had no intention of moving it (despite several discussions on the topic) until recently. Both the bookstore, as well as my personal account are at First Citizens. It is not a credit union; it is a small, conservative, for-profit bank with roots in North Carolina and still family controlled. When our building got condemned at the height of the mortgage meltdown—when no one seemed to be interested in commercial lending—we were surprised when our banker said First Citizens had not stopped lending and would be happy to work with us.
I have discussed on several occasions moving our account to SECU. Besides the fact that neither Jock nor I have any money to speak of to even open a bank account, we both find the fossil fuel investment to get to SECU to be something of equal importance. Our lives concentrate downtown; for us First Citizens is on the way to or from places we go every day, and less than a mile from our house. Thus, the fossil fuel output is not altered by banking downtown. Unfortunately, having the personalities and interests we do, this is a topic that is frequently up for debate in our household, so it might have changed by press time.
Regarding our business account: I have already disclosed that we don’t get the rock-bottom lowest rates on plastic processing or anything else. But when we do have problems, I get a real person who knows my name that I see every day—not someone in India. It’s a person who lives down the street from me. It’s a worthwhile investment.