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Why Wall Street?
Wall Street plays a significant role in determining who gets money and who doesn’t, and on what terms.
The intended role of the financial system is to channel investments into the real economy. The financial system would not exist and function without basic rules of the game. We can choose between rules that prioritize sustainable, productive investment in the needs of people and communities, or rules that prioritize profits and power for a wealthy few.
Wall Street has rigged the rules of the system and turned finance from an investment vehicle into an extractive one that again and again operates to steal wealth from people, particularly people of color and women, and make a handful of players extremely wealthy.
Wall Street doesn’t have to be this way, and we must fight to restore it to its proper role.
Why it matters
The processes that drive inequality, and their policy mechanisms, are largely mystified and hidden. There is little information reaching the American public that challenges the inevitability of the current way that finance and structural racism work. We know from polling and elections that most people believe, correctly, that Wall Street has rigged the system. But it is hard to translate this into action for progressive change without filling in the story of how the system-rigging is happening, and what the levers are for changing it. The power and influence of Wall Street in rigging our economy and our political system are on display in several major policy fights: on issues of financial regulation and consumer protection, tax reform, and privatization schemes, to name a few. To prevail against Wall Street’s millions in lobbying and campaign contributions we need a larger and stronger grassroots movement of leaders and activists who are able and eager to take on these fights.
Partners in the Take On Wall Street coalition have embarked on a long-term, ambitious program of popular education and training with the goal of training thousands of community organizers, union members, citizen activists and other allies to improve our collective capacity to organize around Wall Street accountability, financialization of the economy, and racial and gender justice.
Through the training, participants are better able understand the hidden structures behind the challenges faced by working people across the country — in particular, the role that the financial industry plays in harming communities, and the central role of race and gender in the creation and perpetuation of economic inequality.
Work so far
Inspired by the work that coalition partners were doing in the cities across the country to educate members about different aspects of Wall Street accountability, we put our heads together in 2017 to develop a shared training program and curriculum–following a participatory methodology model–that would help the coalition as a whole:
- Situate finance in the broader movement for economic, racial, and gender justice.
- Identify ways that Wall Street currently extracts wealth from working people, particularly people of color and women, and has throughout history.
- Identify ways that Wall Street rigs the rules to serve themselves, including through money in politics.
- Build solidarity with others by identifying shared targets and goals for our movements, while also naming examples of how structural racism and sexism impact us differently.
- Connect the dots between issues and ground ongoing campaigns in a broader analysis and campaigning network to better take on Wall Street and dismantle racism and patriarchy.
We held an initial pilot training in Milwaukee, WI in 2017, and then revised the training based on feedback from participants. We then piloted the new version of the training in May 2018 in New York City with over a dozen local and national community organizations, unions, consumer advocates and others. In August 2018, we did another pilot in Philadelphia, and in November, one in Washington DC. In each case, we asked participants to give feedback on the curriculum and then incorporated it in order to continue to improve the training. We also previewed modules from the training at the Labor Research and Action (LRAN) conference in Nashville, TN, as well as at the Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans, LA.
Topics we cover
With the help of coalition partners and expert advisers, we pieced together existing training modules and developed new ones into an integrated curriculum that covers the following topics:
- Solidarity in movements, centering race and gender, and going after the right targets
- Economic inequality, debt, and predatory lending
- Wall Street wealth extraction – then and now
- Financialization of the economy
- Money in politics
- Dog-whistle politics
- Power mapping
- Countering the power of finance
The original goal was to have a shared training that is robust enough to be easily replicable by partners organizations and allies who want to lead it, and flexible enough to be tailored to different contexts and local needs, with time carved out to feature relevant local and federal campaigns and call to actions. While the ideal is to be able to organize as many in-person trainings as possible, partners are considering complementary platforms for trainings, like webinars, videos, infographics, and channels for continued connectivity to reach a wider audience.
The following organizations worked together in this Take on Wall Street project: Action Center on Race and the Economy, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund, Center for Innovation in Worker Organization – Rutgers University, Center for Popular Democracy, Citizen Action of New York, Communications Workers of America, Grassroots Collaborative, Institute for Policy Studies, LittleSis, Partnership for Working Families, People’s Action, Public Citizen, United for a Fair Economy, and the Working Families Party. We welcome other interested organizations to join in this collaboration.
From anonymous evaluations written by participants in pilot trainings:
- “Great overview of how Wall Street impacts our life and our constituents.”
- “Really good at connecting the dots between what is going on on Wall Street and how it is impacting everyday people. Explaining the complexities of the financial system in a clear and digestible way was key.”
- “The concise and simple explanations of complicated concept around privatization was wonderful. I learned a lot without being overwhelmed.”
- “Extremely thorough and great exercises and visual actions. Thanks for foregrounding racial disparities and systemic racism in these presentations.”
- “Terrific content, interactive exercises, mixed-media, and visualizations. Great mix of content and direct calls to action. Fantastic training.”
- “All of the presentations were well done. Analysis of neo-liberalism was very good. It answers the question of “how neo-liberalism’ is ruining my life.” In doing that, it also makes clear how struggles are interconnected. Focus on white supremacy was well done.”
- “Super duper. We are developing trainings for our member organizations and this will be referenced over and over again. There is definitely a hunger for this information. Thank you!”