Building a National Movement Against The Big Banks: Organizing Underwater Homeowners

In September, NWFCO joined more than 230 people from around the country for the “Banking for a New Economy” Summit in Chicago, Illinois. We came together to build a national movement for bank accountability – reminding ourselves that the banks created the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, and now we have to make them fix it

At the summit, NWFCO’s Betsy Dillner talked to a group of grassroots leaders and organizers from across the country about our work in Washington state to organize “underwater homeowners” – those who owe more on their homes than their homes are currently worth. (When the big banks created a housing bubble and then crashed the economy, housing prices plummeted, leaving hundreds of thousands of people underwater.)

Undwerwater homeowners, Dillner explained, are an important constituency and an untapped resource in the fight for bank accountability. She reported on an outreach drive carried out by NWFCO and Washington CAN! in the South Seattle and South King County areas. For several weeks leading up to a homeowners meeting, organizers knocked on doors and made phone calls, turning out fifty neighbors from diverse backgrounds to talk about how we can all join forces to make the banks solve the huge problems that they created.

At the meeting, participants responded well to placing blame on the banks for their situations, sharing their experiences, and working for solutions. The participants were especially excited about the demand of closing tax loopholes and forcing the banks to pay their fair share of state taxes. There was a hunger to have their stories heard and to connect with others with shared frustrations. Nearly all the participants committed to taking action and even started planning ways that they wanted to work with Washington CAN! to continue outreach in the community. Thr model, Dillner noted, is especially valuable because it brings in community members who may otherwise have never gotten involved.  (Read the full Underwater Pilot Project Report.)

As Betsy reported on this organizing drive at the summit, there was a lot of energy in the room, and many questions from organizers and leaders from different groups about how to use this model in their home states. We also heard from people going through exactly the same problems that Betsy was talking about. One woman in the room described the emotionally wrenching experience of walking away from the home, where she’d raised her family, because she was so deep underwater. “I’ve already walked away,” she said, “and I could still be organized.”

The most powerful take-away from this session – and the summit in general – was the collaborative spirit and growing opportunities to generate ideas about how we can build our collective strength to take on big banks.

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