WASHINGTON, D.C.– Calling for the jailing of Wall Street bankers, protesters with National People’s Action (NPA), a progressive network of local activists from around the country, rallied outside of the Fairmont Hotel Monday morning.
Tam Ormiston, Iowa’s deputy attorney general, soon joined the crowd outside of the hotel — which is the site of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) spring meeting — and listened to several people tell gutwrenching stories of losing their homes after being victims of predatory lending and mortgage fraud.
Shanna Rogers, who traveled to Washington from Maine, told Ormiston and the crowd that she "bought into the American dream in 2004," when her mortgage company gave her a loan just out of her price range, and then didn’t explain that the rate was adjustable. Her monthly payment increased by hundreds of dollars over the years, and she found herself in foreclosure.
Rogers says her goal as a member of the Maine People’s Alliance is to see the country’s attorneys general hold banks accountable for what she calls criminal activity around predatory lending. Rogers points out that predatory lending disproportionately hurts people of color.
And Rev. Dr. Eugene Barnes, the president of the NPA’s board, calls predatory lending "reverse redlining." Redlining was used by banks and realtors a generation ago to prevent blacks and Latinos from moving into white neighborhoods. Before the financial crisis, predatory lending led to banks targeting people of color, often regardless of income, and giving them subprime mortgages that would eventually have unsustainable monthly payments.
"In 2004, we started seeing predatory lending," Barnes says, adding that this movement and anger came from the grassroots. "We were hearing this on the ground. Today, we have been able to identify the criminals, but we haven’t seen any criminal prosecution."
One young woman with her husband and toddler waited after the crowd dispersed to tell Iowa Deputy Attorney General Ormiston that her family lost their home after her husband was laid off, and the stress of being foreclosed on led to him — who didn’t look much older than 35 — having a heart attack. "We aren’t irresponsible like they’d have you believe," she said. "Please do something about this."
The protest was a sign of a disconnect. Criminal prosecution of bank executives doesn’t appear to be a priority to the attorneys general. Ormiston says, "I appreciate these people coming out, coming from across the country, the East coast, the West coast, to share their views. The voice of the individuals are what we’re hearing loud and clear."
Yet, despite the loud calls for criminal prosecution — including those that interrupted Ormiston while he spoke — Ormiston says that he’s focused on the stability of the economy, and suggests "bringing down the system" would be destabilizing. He maintains that helping individuals is the most effective way to make change, and points to Iowa AG Tom Miller’s success at keeping 12,000 Iowans in their homes.
Earlier in the day, NPA protestors shut down a Bank of America branch in downtown Washington, to draw attention to mortgage fraud. The protests today were part of the group’s Make Wall Street Pay campaign.