‘The swamp is Goldman Sachs': how the bank is rewarded for putting profits over people
The Guardian : January 18, 2017
In a persistent drizzle on 17 January, a group of protesters swathed in green ponchos unfurled tarps and sleeping bags on the sidewalk in front of Goldman Sachs’ high-rise building on the West Side highway in New York City. A few of them wore handmade swamp creature masks; others bore signs with the swamp creatures on them. A light-board sign declared the bank “Government Sachs”.
The protest was the beginning of a multi-day camp-out aiming to stay on the sidewalk outside the investment bank until the inauguration of Donald Trump, and to bring people affected by the bank’s policies to the doorstep of some of the world’s richest people – some of whom will belong to the Trump administration.
“It’s about highlighting the lie that was told to millions of people in this country, the lie that Trump was draining the swamp. If we really want the swamp to be drained, we have to do it ourselves and we’re doing it by going to Goldman Sachs,” says Nelini Stamp of the Working Families party.
As the crowd of about 100 people set up camp, the police erected barricades around them but mostly held off as the crowd moved from chanting “The swamp is getting deeper! The swamp is Goldman Sachs!” to a series of speak-outs from the crowd about the bank’s connection to payday lending, the economic crisis in Puerto Rico, foreclosures and more.
For Jean Sassine, who lost his job and nearly lost his home during the 2008 financial crisis, fighting the influence of the big banks in Washington is personal. He became a member of community organization New York Communities for Change (NYCC) six years ago as a way to fight back, and for him the Goldman action “means trying to wake people up that these are the people who were part of the big crisis in 2008, that Steven Mnuchin was called Mr Foreclosure at OneWest and Goldman Sachs. Do you want Mr Foreclosure to be secretary of the treasury?”
The organizers targeted Goldman Sachs because, as Stamp explains, the bank “is a pipeline to government”. Through Democratic and Republican administrations, she notes, Goldman Sachs in particular has fed its bankers into high-ranking government positions – if Mnuchin is confirmed as treasury secretary, Trump will be the third of the past four presidents to have hired for that job from Goldman’s ranks. To Stamp, particularly in the post-financial crisis era, this means the bank is being rewarded for its involvement in subprime mortgages and the financial instruments created to profit from them.
On that front, says Renata Pumerol of NYCC, it is important to confront the power brokers directly as well as the elected officials who work with them. Calling them “Government Sachs” is a way to highlight the level to which they have captured Washington and influence policy that benefits themselves.
As for the occupation itself, the tactic obviously brings echoes of Occupy Wall Street, but Pumerol says that this demonstration differs in its specific demands – to halt the appointment of Mnuchin as well as fellow Goldmanites Gary Cohn, Anthony Scaramucci, Dina Powell and Steve Bannon. Also, she notes, this action is led by people of color and people who have been directly affected by Goldman’s actions.
“It’s an interesting circle of life for someone like myself, who was involved with Occupy,” Stamp adds, “to see this fake crony populism of ‘draining the swamp’ while the swamp is actually continuing to be filled.”
For many of the people involved in the Government Sachs action, it seemed obvious that Trump’s promises to drain the swamp were less than genuine. But for Richard Robinson, they resonated and led him to vote for the president-elect.
The 60-year-old veteran and truck driver from Utah lives on social security after a work accident nearly killed him and pushed him into medical retirement. Out of work, he says, he found himself “sitting at home feeling worthless, didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything”. A friend suggested he get a hobby, and, he laughs: “I became an activist, I guess.”
Robinson lives in a manufactured home community, and through forming a group called MH Action to deal with the issues that he and his neighbors faced, he began to get in touch with other people working on similar issues around the country.
Robinson’s community is owned by a multistate corporation that also owns apartment complexes in New York and Chicago, which helped him get in touch with NYCC. “These companies are buying communities, buying apartment complexes and their business model is not acceptable to me. It’s to raise rents as quickly as possible and decrease maintenance of the communities, and that’s not a good business model for America,” he says.
His vote for Trump, he says, was based on the assumption that because the president-elect was not a career politician, “maybe things would be run differently in Washington”. But the number of Wall Streeters and ultra-wealthy in the administration has him frustrated, and brought him to New York in protest. “He actually hit Hillary Clinton over meeting behind closed doors with [Goldman Sachs] and now I believe he was meeting with them at the same time. He’s appointed them so quickly that I’ve got to believe at the same time he was campaigning hard on Hillary Clinton for meeting with them behind closed doors, I believe he was doing the same thing.”
Nomi Prins, former managing director at Goldman Sachs turned journalist and author of All the President’s Bankers, says that rather than make sincere promises Trump simply attacked weaknesses, taking advantage of widespread anger at Wall Street to score points against first his Republican opponents and then Clinton. Mnuchin, she points out, was his finance adviser the whole time. “There were more apparent Wall Street connections through Hillary Clinton because of the foundation, the speeches and because of Bill Clinton that were real,” she says, “but these are bipartisan relationships; Wall Street is a bipartisan opportunist.” (That relationship is visible in New York City, where Alicia Glen, formerly of Goldman Sachs, serves as deputy mayor to Bill de Blasio.)
That bipartisan relationship, and the bipartisan anger at the power of finance, is what makes it so important to target the banks and lay groundwork for white working-class communities to come together with communities of color to fight, Pumerol says. Adds Sassine: “It is clear that they are ready to raid the American people as opposed to benefiting. Government is supposed to be for the benefit of the people, whether you believe in small government, big government, it’s supposed to be for the benefit of the people.”
(read the full article at the guardianby