Reject Big Banks in Favor of Local Credit Unions

Rose Stoloff

Dear Big Bank, This isn’t working. It’s not me; it’s you. Big banks are evil. In 2010, JP Morgan Chase invested one billion dollars in Massey Energy, the leader in mountaintop removal coal mining. Big banks caused the 2009 financial crisis. They invest in corporations that are destroying this planet, communities and our livelihoods. As customers of these banks, it is time we took some responsibility. The Occupy Wall Street movement demonstrated just how damaged our relationship with big banks has become. Though it was effective in raising awareness about corruption within financial institutions and big banks, the banks themselves did not budge. We need to finish what Occupy began. We cannot rely on the aid of politicians to change banks for us. As much of a splash as the Occupy movement made in the media this past year, it was curiously absent from the presidential campaign. The frightening truth, however, is that both candidates relied heavily on funding from the financial sector, leaving their hands tied and effectively incapable of fully aligning themselves with the movement. Despite much excitement in Oberlin Tuesday night, Obama’s reelection does not mean that we will see much change on Wall Street. Though Obama has given the nod to the movement, doing much more would be awkward at best. The President’s Chief of Staff is a former executive at JP Morgan Chase and his former budget director resigned to take a position at Citigroup. As much as we might like to think otherwise, the revolving door exists even in Obama’s office.
Every mother and grandmother has told her daughter, “Honey, you can’t change a man!” It is time we wake up and free ourselves of the politics of hopelessness our society instills in us. The decision to keep Oberlin’s money in big banks is a moral concern. Big banks take our money and invest it in oil and gas, pharmaceutical companies and land grabs in the global south. They invest it in Walmart, McDonald’s and ExxonMobil. They take our money and spit in the face of the ideals that Oberlin has upheld for almost two centuries. It is time we take direct action and confront this contradiction. Fortunately, fear of being single is not something we will have to worry about post-breakup. We have an alternative, not on Wall Street but on Main Street. Credit unions are nonprofit, democratically controlled financial institutions where account holders are not just customers, but also part owners. As a result, credit unions do business that inherently works for the community. Oberlin students had the opportunity earlier this fall to weigh in on where we want our Student Finance Committee-controlled money to be. Of the students who replied to the SFC survey, over 68 percent supported the transfer of the Student Activity Fund money from the large banks in which it currently resides. Fewer than 10 percent of respondents were opposed to the potential transfer of funds. As you read this, the Responsible Investing Organization is working with the College to make this a reality. However, we, the students, must lead the way. This weekend, RIO is kicking off our Break Up With Your Bank campaign. On Saturday, [Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics] David Orr will be giving a talk at 11 a.m. in the [Adam Joseph Lewis Center for] Environmental Studies building titled “The Importance of Investing Our Money Locally.” Bring your friends and parents, and consider making the change with your own money. The friendly folks at Ohio Educational Credit Union and Lormet Community Credit Union would love to have your business. When you open an account with them, you can be assured that your money is staying right here in Ohio. Not on Wall Street. Not as long as the students have something to say about it. So… I’m leaving you, Big Bank. I’m going with a local credit union, and I’m never coming back.

–Rose Stoloff College sophomore Responsible Investing Organization