By Katherine Harbin
CHICAGO (PNA/Xinhua, 06 Nov. 2011) – Thousands of Americans pledged to switch their money from bank accounts to credit unions for Saturday’s Bank Transfer Day, a protest against perceived corporate interests in the American banking system.
Over 84,000 people signed up to join the protest on the event’s Facebook page, and across the United States participants gathered to celebrate their mass departure from the world of corporate banking.
Many Americans have recently voiced frustration against the policies of the country’s large banks, who despite accepting bailout money from the American taxpayers continue to impose high transaction fees that some customers feel is just too much.
“I was tired — tired of the fee increases, tired of not being able to access my money when I need to, tired of them using what little money I have to oppress my brothers & sisters,” Bank Transfer Day creator Kristen Christian said on her reasons for starting the event that has since inspired thousands.
Christian was one of the many Bank of America customers who objected to a proposed five U.S. dollar monthly fee for using the bank’s debit card. The fee sparked such a national outrage that Bank of America recently moved to drop the issue entirely, stating on their website that they had listened to feedback and would not be going ahead.
For many Americans, however, the damage might have already been done.
The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) estimated that since Bank of America introduced their plans for debit card fees on September 29, over 650,000 Americans have joined credit unions, an alternative to banks.
Just these numbers for last month are already more than the entire total for 2010, for which CUNA estimated half a million people joined the nation’s over 7,500 credit unions.
“People were really just fed up, and they were tired of being nickeled and dimed — or dollared and five-dollared — by these high bank fees…I think many consumers responded to that, and they started to investigate credit unions,” CUNA Communications Senior Vice President Mark Wolff told Xinhua.
“We think people should investigate their options if they’re not happy with the way they’re treated by the banks, and we do think people will be drawn to credit unions the more they find out,” he continued, noting that unlike banks credit unions are not-for-profit institutions.
In today’s environment largely critical of corporate interests that some say empower a few at the expense of many, Wolff believes Americans will be attracted to credit unions specifically because they embody the democratic principles of equal ownership and representation.
“Credit unions are Main Street financial institutions,” he said, contrasting them to Wall Street and the big banks. “In fact, you can’t really get more mainstream than a credit union, because credit unions are owned by the members that it serves and is a cooperative financial institution.”
Although Bank Transfer Day is technically unaffiliated with the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, it voices many of the same sentiments against corporate greed and is supported by most of the Occupy groups around the country.
“It’s towards a greater goal of decentralization of power,” Occupy Chicago organizer Sam Abrahamson told Xinhua, who was positive of the event and its aims of reducing corporate dominance.
Unlike the Occupy Wall Street protests that sometimes involve extensive time commitments and political activism, Abrahamson believes that Bank Transfer Day is something all Americans can easily participate in to voice their grievances.
“This is something that you can do just in your local neighborhood…it doesn’t require holding a sign or marching out in the street,” he commented, adding that many Americans resented the policies of banks and could now use Bank Transfer Day to send a message.
Bank Transfer Day organizers hope the event will attract enough attention to inspire continuing switches to credit unions in the future. (PNA/Xinhua)