The Unlikely Activists

Wall Street’s criminal recklessness and its impact on millions of people across the country is making activists out of an unlikely selection of people.

Peggy Mears is a 52-year-old African-American woman living with her husband in suburban San Bernardino County, California, one of the epicenters of America’s foreclosure crisis. Donna Vieira is a 42-year-old Chinese immigrant living with her husband and six-year-old son in San Leandro, California. In normal times, these two women would appear to have little in common.

But these are not normal times.

Over the past year, both women were arrested after joining others in the fight to stop foreclosures and curb Wall Street abuse. Neither had ever been arrested before, and neither thought she ever would be. And yet, both see this arrest as one of the proudest moments in their lives. And when talking to both of them, there’s one thing you’ll hear loudly and clearly: “The banks are the criminals. The bankers are the ones who should be locked up.”

Mears and Vieira both say the time has come for everyday people across the country to band together and take on the power of Wall Street, and big corporations more generally. The survival of what they see as the “American way” depends upon it.

We are in a moment in time when making the connection between the out-sized power of big corporations in our body politic and the crisis on the ground — in our lives and in our neighborhoods — cannot be missed. The nation’s largest banks engaged in predatory lending, crashed the economy, got bailed out, continue foreclosing on millions of homeowners, and continue to rip-off our cities and states with disadvantageous loan and bond deals.

People get it. People like Mears and Vieira are outraged at the bailout of Wall Street, while Main Street suffers. The Refund California campaign in California that Peggy, Donna, and thousands like them are involved in begins with an analysis that as much about addressing income inequality long-term as it is about stopping bank foreclosures here and now.

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