Community groups call for creation of a ‘public bank’

Protesters staging a game show spoof in which a New York family faces off against Wall Street executives. Photo: Juan Garcia

They urge the city to divest from Wall Street

Activists from citywide community organizations gathered in front of the New York Stock Exchange on June 6 to press the city to divest from Wall Street banks and instead create an alternative banking system that would allow communities to control their investments.

The Public Bank NYC coalition, which consists of groups that advocate for workers’ rights, fair wages and a cleaner environment, argues that a private bank would not invest in projects that lead to climate change and privately-run prisons that ultimately harm New Yorkers and their neighborhoods. 

“Our vision is a bank that would invest in communities right now,” said Deyanira Del Río, co-director of New York Economy Project. The group “works with community groups to build a new economy that works for all, based on principles of cooperation, democracy, equity, racial justice, and ecological sustainability,” according to its website.

A spokesman for one prominent South Bronx advocacy organization said that that group will mobilize locally to push for the initiative.

“Public banking would allow for some of the public money to go to the public banking and then to the community,” said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of grassroots advocacy organization South Bronx Unite. Johnson added that private banks should be prevented from handling the money that rightfully belongs to residents in their own neighborhoods. In a similar vein, South Bronx Unite has created a community land trust in Mott Haven to fight real estate speculation and displacement of residents.

“A public bank would provide the needed capital to our community in terms of access to small business loans. Also, people don’t have the means to build credit,” said Alpha Amadou Diallo, co-founder of the Pan-African Community Development Initiative, a Longwood-based advocacy group.

Residents would control housing stock and land in their own communities to help them fight gentrification and displacement, said Del Río, who moderated the event.

The coalition kicked off its campaign on the day the City Council was slated to adopt an $89 billion budget.

The city’s current investments in the Bronx are not based on principles of sustainability that help neighborhoods, said Diallo. Instead, resources are extracted from the borough’s poor communities and not replaced. If a public bank is not established, he said, “we’re going to continue having check cashers, businesses that are not owned in the community, and developers and landlords overpricing our neighborhoods.”

The coalition members say that they are seeking ways to partner with elected officials and other stakeholders to explore “legal pathways for chartering a public bank in NYC,” wrote Ali Issa, organizer for Public Bank NYC coalition and New Economy Project, adding that a new bank “must be accountable to the public, have a clear mission to serve the public good, and meet community needs in low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color.”

Protesters waved banners that read “Public Money for People Not Profit”, and “A Public Bank for the Public Good.”

Gigi Nieson, a student at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn said that “students have felt the sting of Wall Street as we drown in student loan debt and are hurt by predatory loan practices.” Nieson is a board member at the New York Public Interest Research Group, a non-partisan, nonprofit, research and public education organization.

As the rally wound down, the protesters illustrated their point by staging a game show spoof they called Wall Street vs. Families Feud, in which a New York family faced off against Wall Street executives. The family won.

The coalition will host a series of actions and events in all five boroughs, and says it will invite elected officials and other community stakeholders to participate in the coming weeks.