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Volume 11 ••• Fall 2012
Nonprofit Quarterly

Might Occupy Influence Democrats’ Banking Choices?

By Rick Cohen

August 13, 2012

For those critics who believe that the Occupy Wall Street movement was a bunch of modern day hippies and yippies camping out in public parks, we have noted some of the movement’s more significant broad-based accomplishments, including assorted anti-foreclosure actions on the local level and the impact it had in cementing the public’s awareness of the nation’s economic divide between the one percent and the 99 percent (as evidenced, perhaps, by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s extension of the multimillionaire’s tax). A less visible but perhaps significant impact of the Occupy movement may have been evident in the recent decision of the Democratic National Committee and other major Democratic Party operations to move their banking operations from the Bank of America to Amalgamated Bank.

Amalgamated is a union-owned bank, serving 650 labor unions. A spokesperson for America Votes, which also switched from BofA to Amalgamated, explained his organization’s decision by stating that, “Amalgamated is worker-owned, operates according to progressive values [and] provides great service with much lower fees.” In a press release, Amalgamated President and CEO Edward Grebow announced, “The DNC joins a growing chorus of non-profit groups, labor unions, and progressive organizations that are choosing to bank with an institution that understands and is fighting for the values of all hardworking American families, and we are proud to have their business.”

This shift from BofA to Amalgamated may be a belated attempt by Democrats to redevelop relationships with organized labor. The dynamic between the Democrats and the unions hasn’t been great lately, partly as a result of labor’s feeling that the money promised by Democrats in the special election to unseat Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker didn’t materialize as promised, and more recently because of labor’s distress that the Democrats chose a right-to-work state (North Carolina) and non-union hotels (in Charlotte) for the upcoming Democratic National Convention. On the other hand, due to the complexity of the DNC’s financial dealings, the shift to Amalgamated may not really happen until after the elections in November, which could mean that it doesn’t happen at all.

So what’s the connection to Occupy Wall Street? Occupy apparently refused to open any of its accounts with any bank other than Amalgamated. The Occupiers made the Democrats’ connection to Wall Street an issue of debate in the party, even if most Democrats haven’t exactly eschewed contributions from bankers and stockbrokers. It may only be symbolic, but sometimes symbolism morphs into a harder-to-change reality. If the Occupy movement got its ideological adherents to invest in labor-owned banks instead of the big commercials, that would be a major accomplishment for the Occupy movement.