Citizen Participation in Paterno and Banks Settle for Billions On Small Foreclosure Aid

ACORN International Community Organizing International

Paterno    Every place is different whether town or country, but there’s something about waiting for a meeting to start in many countries that always feels the same.  My presentation in Paterno before the members of La Citta civic movement and many others who had been invited was scheduled for 7 pm.  I had been warned that we would not possibly begin until 730.  At 730 there were hardly 20 people inside visiting and smoking in the street.  When we finally began another 15 or 20 minutes later, most chairs were full and there were perhaps 40 as the president of La Citta introduced me.  By the time I started speaking at 8PM, there was a standing room only crowd, many of which finally had to stand behind me, and we might have squeezed 80 to 100 people into the room.  What do I know?!?

I made the case for citizens’ participation and the power organization and collective action could build, as I always do, citing examples from 40 years and experience around the world.  They were polite and attentive to the translation, and especially interested in what I argued was a unique opportunity that civic movements had to directly engage politics and access to the ballot in Sicily.  As always, it was the questions and answers that I enjoyed most, teaching me even as I got a better feeling for what was really on their minds.  They wanted to believe something was possible, but they were skeptical.  Paterno was a smaller city based on the agriculture all around them and they saw themselves under attack including by a new mall – Etnaopolis, I think it was called – on the outskirts of town that was squeezing small shops dry.  There was interest in our work in curtailing the growth of Walmart in Florida and our FDI Watch campaign in India. 

Access to banks, credit and loans are huge issues that I hear my friends talk about all of the time.  I was surprised when I mentioned our home mortgage and community reinvestment campaigns that there were not more questions about this.  I think this is more than skepticism and something more akin to cynicism now.  ACORN Italia or any future ACORN Sicilia will have to research this more thoroughly.

Some of our past victories against banks seem hollow as I read the headlines on the foreclosure settlement about to be announced by the government and driven by the hard work of the attorneys general in the states.  The number looks huge – $26 billion!  Unfortunately, it seems the relief for the borrowers who are “underwater” on their loans seems small compared to the huge number of families in this sinking boat.  Since the Obama Administration and the Treasury Department have been so weak and wimpy in this area, the AGs had little stroke in correcting past banking misdeeds to win more on writedowns, I suspect.  The relief to homeowners already screwed is mostly symbolic and almost an insult.  Some number of them will get $2000, but even that seems to be in payments over 3 years?!?  Are you kidding, $600+ a year for a couple of years hardly offsets having lost your home because of mortgage shenanigans from the big banks who are party to this play (Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citi, and so forth).  It is amazing how bad the banks have been in driving this recession, administering true and deep harm to families, being bailed out, and still largely getting away without huge consequences.  Meanwhile this new settlement, gives them a “get out of court free” card for future litigation.

I should feel lucky that people in Paterno didn’t ask me more questions about banks and credit.  I might have been embarrassed by the morning newspapers when they finally catch up on the 7 hour time zone change!