We Need to Take Advantage of Opportunities for Formal Protest

Community Organizing Labor Organizing Organizer Training Organizing
A Group pic of some of our meeting attendees

New Orleans    Recently as our family of organizations met for our annual planning meeting and the groups from each sector reported back, the reporter from the union mentioned that one of their goals for the year was taking better advantage of postings at their contractual job sites where they had access to bulletin boards to communicate with the workers. Such a simple thing really, and so hard fought when first won, but something that requires regular attention to make it work, and therefore easily falls through the crack, especially in 21st century where the ease of social media and a quick “like,” short sentence, or a little more than a 100 character message can allow you to pretend that you have communicated with thousands.

A union bulletin board is a hassle for many. It can’t be simply “the boss sucks,” but has to communicate information to the workers, and in many contracts the boss gets a look at the message and have some say so. Nonetheless, you can guarantee that eyeballs will spend time on the bulletin board in the captive audience boredom of the workplace. The problem is the routine. Anything requiring weekly or monthly, or regular attention requires discipline and a “git er done” philosophy, and that’s amazingly hard to muster.

Thinking about how to better use our bulletin boards reminded me of more formal avenues for protest that also require discipline and perhaps routine, but also have the opportunity to achieve the power of protest. I’m thinking specifically of the public files legally required by some very important institutions where public comments have to be kept and maintained and could carry serious weight.

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) has required banks for almost the last 40 years to maintain a public file on their efforts to reduce discrimination and meet the housing needs of the community through their lending programs. Examiners from the Federal Reserve and the FDIC have been playing patty cake with the banks for so long that the test scores are a little like kindergarten with 98% of the banks easily getting passing scores. We could make this harder and force attention more easily to our issues by utilizing this opportunity by advocating more aggressively for better housing lending to our people from the banks. Why not force the conversations and implicitly question an area’s banking charters by filing comments on disparate housing cost burdens compared to income and geography, the availability of affordable housing and banking support including lending for rental and worker friendly developments, action by banks on foreclosures matched with racial and ethnic statistics, discussion of the problems of the unbanked or underbanked, hard talk on whether banks are offering lending alternatives to predatory products like payday lending and check cashing, and the hard question on how often and how substantively banks are meeting with community organizations. Like the old Lyndon Johnson story about the politician and his intimacy with his pig, “make them explain that to the public” and in this case to the community and the banking examiners.

The licensing renewal procedure for television and radio stations also maintain a public file and requirements on equal access and stewardship of their privileged access to the public airwaves administered by the Federal Communications Commission. Regularly filing objections to the hate speech over the airwaves from commentators and the bias frequently expressed could force review of the station license.

Yeah, it’s not as easy as hitting a button on Facebook, but like the union bulletin boards, you know that these messages will be read and require a response, so it’s not a conversation with yourself in the social network echo chamber. Once a week, once a month, or every once in a while, these are not messages in a bottle put out to sea but a form of “paper protest” that cannot be ignored and might even force real discussions and concrete response and change.


Please enjoy Sunny Sweeney & Brennen Leigh’s But You Like Country Music.

Thanks to KABF.