Last Friday, I attended an Occupy St. Louis march that included a protest outside of the Bank of America's St. Louis headquarters. Participants included people of different ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and political beliefs. There were students, veterans, union members, toddlers, adults who reminded me of my parents, members of the St. Louis LGBTI community, and countless others. The ever-increasing diversity of the #occupy movement is clear. Now, we must work to harness that diversity in ways that strengthen, rather than fracture, the movement. We must recognize that different people are uniquely poised to affect change in different -- and powerful -- ways.
As students, what can we do? How can we help grow the #occupy movement and empower the 99%? We can do more than hold signs, hand out flyers, and post on Facebook. We can change the way our universities bank.
Often, universities portray themselves as sacred temples of learning -- places where apolitical knowledge is generated and shared. And while there is some truth to that, it must also be acknowledged that universities are powerful and wealthy institutions often controlled by powerful and wealthy individuals. These individuals have vested interests in seeing particular corporations prosper, as well as our current financial and political systems perpetuated.
Those interests are reflected in universities' institutional relationships with big, corporate banks. Many universities use Bank of America and Chase for banking services. They have participated in interest rate swaps with Lehman Brothers. They have welcomed corporate banks onto campuses to sell credit cards to students. These relationships strengthen the big banks that charge excessively high interest rates, engage in risky financial bets, and perpetuate predatory lending practices, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color. (For more information on these practices, see here.)
Universities control an almost mind-boggling amount of money, including about $350 billion in endowments and almost $100 billion in annual spending. Of course, that money does not just sit in a vault in the admissions' office. It is kept in a bank -- usually a big corporate bank such as Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, or Citibank.
The #occupy movement has raised awareness that where we deposit our money matters. Banks depend on deposits from their clients -- especially institutional clients like universities. When enough clients move their money because they do not agree with a bank's practices (such as engaging in payday lending, funding mountaintop removal coal mining, or perpetrating robo-signed foreclosures), the bank may be forced to change its practices in order to regain deposits and survive.
On November 5th, "Bank Transfer Day," thousands of individuals will close their corporate bank accounts and move their money to community banks and credit unions -- financial institutions that are more socially, environmentally, and economically just and sustainable. College students: let's join this action. But let's also go a step further and demand that our universities close their corporate bank accounts and move their money as well.
This is not a ridiculous demand. In fact, divesting from corporate banks is in line with most universities' rhetoric about and already existing commitments to social, environmental and community responsibility.
We must ask ourselves: How can a school flaunt its LEED-certified buildings, sophisticated recycling program, and commitment to buying local food, but keep its money in a bank that finances mountaintop coal removal? How can a school tout its community development initiatives and programs that provide tutors for children in underserved communities, but keep its money in a bank that unjustly forecloses on homes in those same children's neighborhoods? It is the time for college students across the country to call attention to this hypocrisy and demand that institutions change it.
It is our moment. Now is the time to leverage our unique power as students to expand the #occupy movement to affect university finances. Every dollar that we move gets us one step closer to a financial system that values our planet and all of its people.
On November 5th, join me and other students across the country as we move our money. Then, let's call upon our universities to do the same.
Everyone -- Join the Facebook event College Bank Transfer Day to make a statement and learn more.