Occupy Protests Rouse Small Business Owners
With the Occupy Wall Street movement recently crossing the one-month mark, it remains to be seen if any of the protestors’ list of frustrations will be addressed and acted on.
Since nearly 2,000 people rallied in Zuccotti Park Sept. 17 against bank bailouts, corporate greed and what organizers describe as the unchecked power of Wall Street among Washington leaders, protests have gone global.
According to occupywallst.org, on Oct. 15, gatherings were held from North and South America to Asia, Africa and Europe, with over 1,500 events in 82 countries, as part of a global day of action.
“I am here to celebrate the 30th day of this protest against corporate power,” said Karanja Gacuca, a former Wall Street analyst who now organizes with Occupy Wall Street.
“Concerned about the egregious Wall Street bonuses, particularly after the industry accepted a taxpayer bailout and the middle class continues to be squeezed, I believe it's time for a fairer system that provides health care, education and opportunity for all and rejects corporate influence over government,” Gacuca said at an Oct. 15 rally in Liberty Square in New York.
According to Occupy Wall Street organizers, the protest has grown to become a diverse mix of students, elderly people, families with children, unemployed Wall Street executives and veterans of all ages, races and political beliefs.
The credit union industry has certainly taken notice. CUNA Mutual Chief Economist Dave Colby previously weighed in on the uprising saying everything from rising student loan debt to an unending mortgage crisis and retirement plan concerns are some of the factors behind the frustration.
But Barry Sloane, CEO and chairman of Newtek Business Services, is concerned the protesters are pointing blame at the wrong entities. The New York-based Newtek provides small business services and products to credit unions and other financial institutions.
“The protestors are upset with the banking industry getting bailed out. They are half right,” Sloane said. “The banks and the financial system needed the government safety net as a stop gap to avoid financial meltdown. Providing the funding was right thing to do. However, the government and U.S. taxpayers should have gotten equity in the companies and management changes and board changes to punish the bad risk taking.”
Sloane still believes the protests are an ideal opportunity for credit unions to take over market share from banks.
“A free-market solution is best. Banks must recapitalize before they lend again,” Sloane said when asked if enough is being done to aid small businesses in an effort to rebuild the nation’s limp economy.
The Main Street Alliance, a national network of state-based small business coalitions, said it is joining the protest.
“As the momentum of the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow, with hundreds of demonstrations across the U.S. over the weekend, a new voice is entering the debate in support of the 99% movement: Main Street small business owners,” the Seattle-based alliance said in a statement.
Several small businesses belonging to the Main Street alliance expressed the reasons for their support.
Melanie Collins, owner of Melanie’s Home Childcare in Falmouth, Maine, said she has been participating in Occupy Maine events, marches and meetings alongside other small business owners, people working multiple jobs, Republicans, independents, tea party members and Democrats.
“Small businesses enthusiastically support the 99% movement,” Collins said. “It’s basic math: to create jobs, we need customers, but the richest 1% can’t spend their exploding fortunes fast enough to keep the economy going for the other 99%, which includes virtually every small business.”
Collins said writing down underwater mortgages and stopping spending cuts, tax haven abuse and corporate tax loopholes will go a long way in creating more jobs.
David Meinert, owner of Big Mario’s Pizza & 5 Point Café in Seattle, said he sent 100 slices of pizza to the occupiers in Seattle’s Westlake Park shortly after the occupation started in the area.
“Small businesses don’t need more tax giveaways for the rich. We don’t need more money spent on bank bailouts, subsidies for oil companies, corporate agribusiness and the wars,” Meinert said. “We need money reinvested in American infrastructure, education, and people. My businesses wouldn’t exist without these reinvestments.”
Kit Schackner, owner of Foley-Waite Associates in Bloomfield, N.J., said Wall Street continues to bank record profits while Main Street struggles to cover costs, make payroll and stay in business.
“Those at the top of the financial chain who share direct responsibility for this recession have not been held accountable,” Schackner said. “They have not suffered the losses they have visited on millions of small businesses across America. Until small business owners see some accountability at the top, until we see that our pain is shared by those who created it–the bankers and the CEOs–we will stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.”