Living in this World

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#106 Moving our money

Dear all,
Well, I've gotten pretty excited about the space that the Occupy movement has opened up to talk about wealth and injustice. I've been providing some hosting at the Friends Center, from whose kitchen 1500 meals a day are going to feed Occupy Philly (and whose single shower is in great demand!). And a group of us from my neighborhood are promoting the "Move Your Money" campaign (, or, with a first event on Bank Transfer Day, November 5th. So my post today is in support of that movement.

Moving our money

I remember when the local branch of a big Philadelphia bank moved out of our neighborhood because they just couldn’t make enough profit there to be worth the trouble; a church took over that large imposing space. And I remember when the local credit union finally opened--after long and hard effort by an idealistic group of activists and community members. Inertia kept us with our same checking account so I had to fit bank visits into farther flung trips, but we put our savings into the new credit union.

I remember Linda, one of the original credit union staff people who lived in the neighborhood and knew our growing boys. She always asked about them when I came in, and I remember getting help from her sorting out money transfers when our oldest ventured off to Nicaragua. I remember switching an organizational account from the bank to the credit union when the bank fees for that little “business” account got to be a significant portion of our expenses. There were no fees at the credit union.

And so I straddled the credit union/big bank world uneasily for years. The biggest reason for sticking with the bank, besides inertia, was that there was a convenient branch at my new job downtown, and when I had to deposit cash I knew that the lines at the credit union could be long.

I hadn’t been aware of the banking deregulation that happened so quietly in the 1980’s and 90’s, opening up a world of new ways for banks to make money. But I didn’t like what I saw. I noticed how fees kept creeping up--to the point where they charge you if you come in and use up a teller’s time “too often”. I observed the continuing buyouts of big banks by ever-bigger ones. I thought of all the money they had at hand to pour into their advertising campaigns in an attempt to buy good will, to convince us that they were good neighbors.

Finally, the dissonance got to be too much. I took all our money out of the big bank and put it in the credit union--and immediately wondered why I had waited so long.

I’m getting to know two of the women who have replaced Linda since she retired, and I ask for their help with questions about our sometimes complicated finances. I love being confident that their advice will not be tinged by lust for profit; after all, I’m one of their members. I’m getting the hang of what can be done on line. (My son, back from Nicaragua, has never had his money anywhere else--and has effortlessly mastered doing almost all his financial transactions on line and with his debit card.) I have decided that when I have to wait in line, it’s an acceptable cost of doing business in the neighborhood--I bring a book or visit with others who are waiting with me. I love knowing that my money is staying in the neighborhood as well, and not buying derivatives or credit swaps (whatever they are), or playing a role in nefarious mortgage bundling schemes whose main result seems to be putting people out of their homes, or flying off to pad some distant bank executive’s swollen pay check.

I think of our family’s Christmas tradition of baking an enormous batch of cookies to give to the businesses we are glad to have within walking distance--the corner deli, notary/insurance place, Korean dollar store, auto repair shop, independent gas station and drug store, Chinese take-out place, ethnic groceries. I doubt we would have included the branch of the big bank--but the credit union fits right in.

And that old branch bank, with its imposing façade, abandoned by the street corner church years ago? Well, it’s been bought up by the neighborhood food coop as part of a major upgrade of their services. Maybe the forces of sustainability and local economies--the forces of sanity--are actually starting to get some traction, providing a little hope for this troubled world.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently--

How some of the homeless folks who have been drawn to the food, shelter and safety of Occupy Philly are finding meaningful work in community there, and feeling blessed by that opportunity.

The labor union guy with his wife and three children who came down with a case of water on his shoulder to donate, hopeful about the possibility of transformation, and wanting a way to be involved (and how he stands for countless others).

How the European Union is leading the way in asking the big questions about our future viability as a species on Earth (and, as somebody recently pointed out, how they are working together after centuries of almost constant warfare).

A gathering in Guatemala of folks who lead alternatives to violence and trauma healing workshops all over the world, and how the Indonesian, East African and Latin American folks learned from and supported each other.

Check out:, a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years.

Also: START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to
(If the background is too dark to read, I hope you can get a computer whiz
to help--and let me know what you figured out! When I go there on my Mac
via Safari, it's fine.)

If you're in Philadelphia and want to move your money out of a big bank, go to