Building a new activism

 OccupyMaine at two years
By JEFF INGLIS  |  September 26, 2013

feat_occupy_bors_main
A 2011 cartoon by Matt Bors still carries a great deal of relevance.
 

Two years ago, OccupyMaine founded its encampment, which was to become one of the longest-lasting in the country (and one of the few shut down peacefully, rather than by force and police violence). Like the Occupy movement nationally, the local effort can claim some clear victories, though other efforts remain in the works, or even stalled by countervailing forces.

In the national success column, the group’s protests and continued pressure fundamentally changed the discussion about Wall Street risk-taking and government support of the investor class. The principles of Occupy Wall Street have provided populist support for activist politicians like US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who has made her name (and many viral videos) holding federal regulators’ feet to the fire, and upping pressure on financial institutions to behave in socially responsible ways.

While student-loan debt has not been forgiven, Congress has taken important steps to improve student borrowing conditions, such as removing for-profit middleman companies from the federally insured loan system, and keeping interest rates down.

More recently, the Occupy goal of reducing income inequality came a big step closer, with the Securities and Exchange Commission proposing a rule that would require publicly traded companies to reveal the difference between CEO salaries and those of average workers at the company. That won’t necessary change anything itself, but it will provide improved transparency for workers, customers, investors, and union representatives to use to evaluate companies’ values and performance.

And Warren has introduced a bill that would restore the Glass-Steagall Act restrictions on banks making bets with depositors’ money (which is backed by, among others, Maine independent Senator Angus King). The modest support for that is, however, dwarfed by the outcry against prospective Federal Reserve Board nominee Larry Summers, who withdrew his name from consideration earlier this month after protests from people concerned about economic  justice and his role in creating the conditions that led to the financial meltdown (as well as those who take issue with his demeaning attitudes toward women).

Still yet to bear fruit, unsurprisingly, is the effort to reform campaign finance laws, which remains as stalled as it has been since the Citizens United decision in 2010. (Though locally, in January 2012, an Occupy-initiated effort resulted in Portland’s city council passing a resolution asking Maine’s congressional delegation to abolish corporate personhood.)

In Maine, and in Portland specifically, Occupy’s local goals are most clearly expressed in a December 2011 petition from the OccupyMaine General Assembly to the Portland City Council, asking for four things, only one of which has received any real attention at all. And there have been efforts involving many people who were involved in OccupyMaine, such as the protest against tar-sands being transported through Maine, and the objections to the sale of Congress Square Plaza to an out-of-state investment company with close ties to Wall Street.

No for three
The Occupiers asked the city to move its money — anywhere between $70 million and $150 million — away from TD Bank, to a locally owned bank or credit union. TD Bank was once a local bank, founded in the city in 1852 and growing to become Peoples Heritage Bank in 1983; around 2000, it expanded and renamed itself Banknorth, but kept its local ties. In 2007, though, it was bought by Toronto Dominion Bank, which remains the owner today. TD Bank US Holding Company has assets of more than $228 billion, making it the 14th-largest financial holding company in the country, according to the Federal Reserve.

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