Strike Debt Bay Area

Jul 30

Community, Non-Profit Check Cashing for Vallejo

This is the proposal which Strike Debt Bay Area submitted through Vallejo’s participatory budgeting process for a vote of the people of Vallejo, along with a detailed budget. We hope to know soon whether or not we got through the screening process, which is the last step before being on the participatory budgeting ballot. If we get through the screening and are selected by the voters, Vallejo will provide a few hundred thousand dollars (really!) to make this happen.

We also submitted a proposal for public finance research, which we will post here soon.

Summary

A non-profit community check cashing service in Vallejo would serve the public, especially the unbanked public (usually the poorest residents) by providing an alternative to for-profit check cashing services, without the predatory high fees charges by for-profit check cashing businesses. This business would also provide other services such as assistance in opening bank accounts, financial coaching, credit repair loans, and other financial services to Vallejo’s unbanked and underbanked citizens.

Project details:

A nonprofit check cashing business, operating with a completely different set of values than market rate stores, can assist low income, unbanked people in understanding their financial situation,  saving money, developing improved financial habits, entering the financial mainstream, and moving out of poverty.

Presently, the fringe banking industry (which consists of check cashers, payday lenders, pawnbrokers, rent-to-own stores, car title lenders and similar operations) earns exorbitant profits from the low-income people they claim to serve, becoming an obstacle in the path of anyone needing these services from moving out of poverty. Households using these financial services are often racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, and/or low-income, paying stratospheric fees and interest rates that transfer a large percentage of the customers’ wages and payments to the business owners. The existing industry provides no mechanism to help low-income customers learn about their own situation, let alone move into the financial mainstream .

In contrast, a nonprofit check cashing storefront can offer the same financial services at much lower costs, leaving substantial funds in the hands of the people who need it.  Such a store would provide financial counseling and planning through classes and one-on-one sessions, small business assistance, and referrals to partner banks and credit unions. This organization also would operate with greater transparency, a benefit to its customers and the city of Vallejo.

One of only a tiny handful of nonprofit check cashing stores in the United States operates in Oakland and has been serving the Fruitvale neighborhood for over five years. It is our partner in this proposal. It operates several clusters of programs located in its storefront:

This comprehensive set of services helps households move into the financial mainstream. In Oakland, these programs have already proven to save customers $150,000 to $200,000 annually.

Banks and credit unions are incentivized to partner with nonprofit check cashing businesses because financial services create a cost-effective means of reaching an unbanked or underbanked population. Referrals for store customers to partner institutions can create new, long-term institutional customers. Increased business and revenue may be generated in the short run as customers use the banks’ services, mostly smaller loans and checking/savings accounts, and become more accustomed to working with a conventional financial institution. The nonprofit organization’s financial coaching helps bring more educated customers and businesses to the banks, facilitating the banks’ business model of encouraging their depositors to make larger transactions such as home mortgages, car loans and business loans.

Market-rate stores owners are often absentee, or are part of national corporate organizations; their excess (and excessive) profits are drained from the community. In contrast, customers of a nonprofit check cashing business have more money available because of the lower-priced services, which they can spend on local goods and services; thus, the City’s tax revenue increases, which helps save jobs and fund City services.

The nonprofit check cashing store is designed to generate enough revenue to be self-sufficient after an initial start-up period or to be able to raise grants and donations to cover shortfalls until self-sufficiency can be reached.

Implementing partners: 1

The nonprofit organization which runs the Oakland store will be working with Vallejo residents and others to leverage existing knowledge and expertise in opening a second business. The proprietor of the Oakland store will divide his time between Oakland and Vallejo, at least in the build-out and first operating year of the project, and will be responsible for the setup and running of the check cashing service.

Jul 24

RALPH NADER WILL SPEAK ON THE STEPS OF THE DOWNTOWN BERKELEY POST OFFICE

nader_portrait

 ABOUT THE POST OFFICE, PRIVATIZATION OF OUR PUBLIC GOODS
AND SERVICES & THE FIGHT TO DISMANTLE THE CORPORATE STATE

TUESDAY, JULY 29th
MUSIC FROM 2:00 PM TALK AT 2:30 PM
2000 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA

“Postmaster General Donahoe has demonstrated that he lacks the political courageto stand up to Congress and tell them that theycaused this mess and they need to fix it. Instead, time after time, he has chosen to take the easy road and dismantle the USPS piece by piece – whether it is by cutting post office hours, closing post offices, cutting service and delivery standards, increasing postage rates, or now ending Saturday delivery.”

–      Ralph Nader, February 6th, 2013.

Jul 01

Save the Date: Organizers’ meeting, 7/19, 3:00 p.m.

The Strike Debt Bay Area organizing group will meet at Oscar Grant Plaza (aka Ogawa Plaza) in the amphitheater or on the front steps of City Hall, Saturday, July 19, from 3-5:30 p.m. If you have specific questions for a smaller group, or just want to know a few people before the meeting starts, email me at my personal email address below.

Activism on such a big issue can use as many people and talents as we can find. If you are excited by the idea of Strike Debt, and/or our many projects, which include organizing for public banking in Oakland, participating in Occupy San Francisco’s third anniversary convergence, securing funding from the City of Vallejo for nonprofit check cashing and public finance study initiatives, saving the Berkeley Post Office and stopping the Staples non-union takeover of good Post Office Jobs, working with the City of Richmond and other municipalities for eminent domain seizure of underwater mortgages from the banksters, and much more.

Also, we’d love to meet you at Oakland’s First Friday, on July 4, when we will have an information table at the holiday gathering (roughly 4-7 p.m. in downtown Oakland).

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Jun 10

Save the Date: Planning Meeting, Saturday, June 28

The Strike Debt Bay Area organizing group will meet at Oscar Grant Plaza (aka Ogawa Plaza) in the amphitheater, Saturday, June 28, from 3-5:30 p.m.

We are always looking for new people to join us, and work on our many projects, which include saving the Berkeley Post Office, organizing for public banking in Oakland, getting funding from the city of Vallejo for nonprofit check cashing (and public bank study initiatives), working with the City of Richmond and other municipalities for eminent domain seizure of underwater mortgages from the banksters, and much more.

Save the date now, so you’ll be free to join us in three weeks!

Jun 03

Planning Meeting, Saturday, June 7

Oscar Grant (Ogawa) Plaza, Amphitheater in front of Oakland City Hall.

Join Strike Debt Bay Area in working on some exciting projects locally and nationally to fight unjust debt.

In addition, we are exploring the use of a public bank to help Richmond, CA and other communities escape the thrall of Wall Street.

New to Strike Debt?? Don’t walk cold turkey into a bunch of radicals talking about debt! Show up a half hour early—at 2:30 PM—for an informal pre-meeting intro session. If you’d like to attend this pre-get-together please email strike.debt.bay.area@gmail.com and let us know you’re coming.

May 19

Making Debt a Political Issue: The Annals of Strike Debt Bay Area

By Susan Harman

One of the principal slogans of the Occupy movement was, “Banks got bailed out — we got sold out!” Strike Debt New York arose to explicate that slogan. While banks were given a debt jubilee — thanks to us, the tax payers — the millions of underwater homeowners, student debtors, and people going bankrupt from medical bills, not to mention entire municipalities, were left to fend for ourselves.

Debt unites us all. Whether or not we have personal loan agreements or are in danger of foreclosure, we live in cities and towns that have been swindled in municipal bond markets. Strike Debt is one of the many and varied progeny of Occupy Wall Street, and in particular it arose to rethink debt as a systemic, political issue.

Strike Debt Bay Area (SDBA) began in the fall of 2012 after an Occupy Wall Street activist arrived in Oakland from New York City, found the Occupy Oakland General Assembly, and invited people to come together to watch livestream coverage of the Rolling Jubilee – a Strike Debt program that went on to forgive over $15 million dollars of medical debt at pennies on the dollar.

SDBA’s first action was a Debtors’ Assembly, held in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland in February 2013, and attended by over 70 people. Where banks feel no shame about their massive debts, but instead intimidate the government into subsidizing their risks, individual debtors are often overcome with anxiety, worry, humiliation and isolation. They blame themselves for their medical or student debt burdens, not realizing that billions of other Americans are in the same position because the cost of simply living (a roof over our head, an education, medical care) has skyrocketed.

Debtors’ Assemblies are designed to help individuals realize that “You Are Not a Loan”: that debt is a systemic problem. Our first Assembly was devoted to testimony – initially from some of us to break the ice, and then from the audience – about our various forms of debt. Our underlying theme was, “How can we change debt from an issue of individual shame to a platform for collective action?”

An organizing committee met frequently all spring, discussing the use of debt as a mechanism of control, and its impact on the choices people can make about their own lives. After holding another Debtors’ Assembly in San Francisco in May 2013, a series of projects emerged that had to do with debt on all levels, from individual to municipal to federal. These ongoing projects include:

Strike Debt Bay Area

1. Fighting the sale of the Berkeley Post Office. The excuse for selling our post offices is that the U.S. Postal Service is broke, but that’s a myth. The truth is that the USPS was saddled with a formidable and totally unnecessary debt in 2006 by the Republican Congress. They passed a law mandating that the Post Office prepay 75 years of health insurance for its retirees, something no other government agency or private corporation must do.

This appalling debt made the Post Office a perfect example of the disastrous effects of debt on our society; in this case, as a wedge to privatize our commons. Strike Debt Bay Area joined with others already working on legal challenges to the sale, testified at City Council meetings, and finally, in August 2013, set up tents and occupied the steps in front of the historic 1914 building for the whole month. We held seminars, showed movies, engaged and fed the homeless, and made a clear statement to prospective buyers that they will not take our commons without a fight.

More recently, we have expanded our post office campaign to protest at local Staples stores, where some branches have installed mini-post offices on a trial basis. These mini-post offices are staffed by Staples workers at Staples salaries, not the unionized living wages the Post Office pays.

2. Organizing a Politics of Debt Study Group. The group, which got organized last fall, meets every other week to discuss major readings in the politics of debt and monetary theory. They presented at the Occupy San Francisco Forum in March 2014.

3. Initiating Talks for a Public Bank. Strike Debt Bay Area has begun working with associates of San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos to start a public bank. We also assisted in writing a policy paper for the Siegel for Oakland mayoral campaign, providing the rationale for and endorsing a “Public Bank of Oakland.”

4. Fighting for Richmond’s Homeowners We have been very supportive of Richmond’s efforts to use eminent domain to rescue underwater homeowners. Although the city has voted three times to implement a blight-prevention program, Richmond still needs another California city to join them as part of a Joint Powers Authority, in order to bring the program into existence.

SDBA has been trying to find a willing partner for Richmond and to that end our members have testified at Council meetings in Oakland and Berkeley, and are meeting with representatives and community activists in Vallejo, Fairfax and San Francisco. We see eminent domain as one strategy to get the banks to restore peoples’ above-water ownership of their homes.

We are eager to pursue other strategies, such as the broken chains of title and mass action lawsuits based on the recent California court decision Glaski v. Bank of America as other ways to stop foreclosures. Mortgages are the largest category of individual indebtedness in the U.S. and the foreclosure pipeline remains a crime-riddled jackpot for the big banks. SDBA members have written about radical solutions to the mortgage crisis here and here.

5. Re-Publishing the Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual. We organized a well-attended publishing party in March for the new edition of the Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual, produced by our New York counterparts, where we sold or gave away about a hundred copies.

6. Producing Strike Debt Radio Produced as six 10-minute shows airing on Pacifica’s KPFA in Berkeley, Strike Debt Radio consists of “women-on-the-street” conversations, interviews with debt resistors, music, data and analysis, and advertisements for alternatives to indebtedness.

We have explored student debt with Andrew Ross, Annie Mclanahan and Justin Tombolesi; What is Money with Ellen Brown of the Public Banking Institute; and the Federal Reserve with Stephen Zarlenga of the American Monetary Institute. 

7. Applying to Vallejo Participatory Budgeting process. In order to start a non-profit check cashing/payday loan business, Strike Debt Bay Area met with the staff of Community Check Cashing located in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, which may be the only nonprofit check cashing facility in the country. They have a very low default rate because they spend a lot of time counseling their customers about money management. We would like to figure out how to help replicate their model and make it financially sustainable in both Vallejo and Oakland.

8. Presenting talks across the Bay Strike Debt Bay Area has presented at Occupy San Francisco Forum, California Institute of Integral Studies, Acorn Books, Suds Snacks and Socialism, and other venues on the centrality of debt to contemporary forms of capitalism and what Strike Debt plans to do about it.

9. Holding Berkeley seminars Most recently, SDBA spun off a UC Berkeley chapter, which held two seminars with visiting scholar and New York Strike Debt member Andrew Ross, and will hold a Debtors’ Assembly on campus in the near future. Strike Debt advocates a platform for truly public education, which is far more possible than we have been led to imagine. Read about it in “How Far to Free?”

Debt impoverishes the many while profits accrue to the few. Mass indebtedness is a symptom of finance capitalism where our debt payments (for student loans, for mortgages, for credit cards, for municipal bonds) fuel the destructive fire of Wall Street.

But Strike Debt believes that debt also holds the key to our collective liberation. Once we begin to understand debt as a platform for collective action and resistance, we realize that we have power over Wall Street. Imagine a debtors’ union that could both threaten and realize coordinated debt strikes – not only to renegotiate principal amounts or interest rates, but also to demand debt jubilees. The banks got a debt jubilee and if we organize, so can we. We, the millions of debtors, are also too big to fail.

Learn how to get involved by clicking “Contact” on the right-hand side of this page, or writing to strike.debt.bay.area@gmail.com.

May 02

When:
May 17, 2014 @ 3:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Add to Calendar Add to Google
Where:
Oscar Grant Plaza amphitheater, right next to City Hall
Broadway & 14th Street
Oakland,CA 94612
USA
Contact: Hannah Chadeayne Appel (hannah.appel@berkeley.edu)
Meeting

New to Strike Debt?? Don’t walk cold turkey into a bunch of radicals talking about debt! Show up a half hour early—at 2:30 PM—for an informal pre-meeting intro session. If you’d like to attend this pre-meeting get-together please email strike.debt.bay.area@gmail.com and let us know you’re coming.

Join Strike Debt Bay Area in working on some exciting projects locally and nationally to fight unjust debt.

– The latest on our coalition efforts to Save the Berkeley Post Office and fight the privatization of our commons.

– The latest on our efforts to help Richmond and NGO allies push for principal reduction for Richmond’s homeowners. Read two articles here and here, written by two Strike Debt Bay Area members  on the Richmond principal reduction / eminent domain case.

In addition, we are exploring the use of a public bank to help Richmond, CA and other communities escape the thrall of Wall Street.

- Work on our radio segment broadcast periodically on KPFA.

- A project to bring non-profit, non-usurious payday loan services to Vallejo and Oakland.

– Other projects include efforts to fight against student debt in conjunction with peeps at UC Cal via a Strike Debt UC Berkeley chapter of Strike Debt, a book group with semi-weekly discussions, investigations into the legitimacy of mortgage ownership and therefore the right to foreclose, and more.