Occupy The City Council: Protests Beginning to Influence Policy
Much of the recent media coverage of Occupy Wall Street has focused on conflict between protesters and the cities they’re occupying—from last week’s midnight police raid of Zuccotti Park to the recent pepper spraying of nonviolent, peaceful students at UC—Davis.
But the Occupy message has also made its way into municipal policy in more friendly cities; Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Buffalo, N.Y., have all passed new resolutions supporting local Occupy protests, and several cities are beginning to take a closer look at their financial practices with the goal of investing responsibly in ways that strengthen the local economy, support city enterprises, and advance social goals.
And building on Occupy’s “Move Your Money” campaign, a few progressive municipalities are also discussing moving their money away from “too big to fail” banks like Chase and Wells Fargo and into local banks and credit unions.
The Seattle City Council, for example, recently passed a resolution in support of Occupy Seattle that calls upon the city to “examine its banking and investment practices, home-foreclosure patterns and the financing of local elections.”
Councilman Nick Licata, who sponsored the bill, has argued that the city should be exploring ways to keep public funds within the community by investing via local financial institutions and examining policies like tax breaks for banks with international holdings.
Similarly, the Los Angeles City Council's Budget and Finance Committee has commissioned a report exploring the potential impacts of a “Responsible Banking” ordinance, which would require the city to stop conducting business with banks that do not invest in the local community or that have been involved in illegal activities. The councilman who introduced the ordinance, Richard Alarcon, first proposed it two years ago—but it went nowhere until Occupy LA protesters brought new attention to dubious banking practices and lent their support to the measure.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams has also announced that his city “will look into” responsible banking, two weeks after state representative and mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith challenged Portland to move its money to locally-based credit unions on the Occupy-supported Bank Transfer Day.
While none of these measures would have significant repercussions for the nation’s banking system or single-handedly recharge local economies, they could send an important message to big banks, showing there are consequences for reckless behavior and demonstrating commitment to community institutions over multinational corporations.
Perhaps most importantly, the interest such measures have attracted is a sign that the Occupy movement’s messages are beginning to work their way into electoral politics and public policy—which, despite protesters’ fears of co-option, is an important next step in turning protest into lasting change.
Alyssa Battistoni is a staff writer for Campus Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @alybatt.
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