Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Did It! I Burned The Bank!

In early 1970, during the rather intense demonstrations in the U.S. and around the world against the U.S. war on Vietnam, Nixon decided to ignore the opinion of the country and the world and to expand the war, by invading Cambodia. It was an astonishing Imperial Presidency moment, Nixon completely disregarding that little constitutional fact that only Congress has the authority to start a war.

College campuses were the center of anti-war actions and demonstrations back then, and so they erupted across the country, up and down the coasts. Students coordinated a take-over of the 101 freeway which ran the length of the west coast, cramming onto the on ramps and onto the freeways and bringing traffic to a halt.

The people in the anti-war movement who were leftists engaged in what were called "teach-ins" across the nation, which were community gatherings, usually in and around college campuses, in which people would speak, lecture, discuss the role of multinational corporations in the war industry. They discussed history, politics, international affairs, the current wars, past wars, and in particular focused on how U.S. multinational corporations intruded on third world countries, set up local businesses and corrupted the governments, enslaved the citizens, stole the resources, and, when conflicts arose, often led the United States into wars against what essentially were colonies of U.S. corporations.

One of the corporations which was the focus of teach-ins in Isla Vista (the student town next to the University of California at Santa Barbara) was the Bank of America, already a multinational entity, and already seen by the left as complicit in policies which created mass poverty in much of the world, and led to wars such as the U.S. War Against Vietnam.

When Ronald Reagan declared in his usual fanatical way (still Governor then) that he would not let those "radical" students stop him, he was going to go about his business, he announced he would be flying by plane to Santa Barbara to address a luncheon group of white male Republican fascists. And when that announcement was made, students got up off the 101 freeway and marched to the airport to "greet" Ronny. The Santa Barbara airport was a blacktop with chain-link fence around it, not a major transportation hub. Anyway, Ronny looked down and saw the mob of "radicals," and his plane turned around and went back to Sacramento.

Then the National Guard was called into Kent State and they shot and killed some kids (Neal Young's "Four Dead In Ohio"), and they did the same at Jackson State, and then the campuses really went up in flames, and the National Guard was called in as an occupying force in many places including at the University of California in Santa Barbara (Isla Vista).

Isla Vista was a 10,000-person community with few over the age of 25. Hippies, students, dope smoked openly on the streets, nice weather, little clothes, record stores. Environmentally conscious. Lots of bikes, few cars. And right in the middle of what passed for "downtown" was one big structure which dominated everything: the Bank of America.

When the rioting against the invasion of Cambodia and against Kent State and Jackson State started, the Bank became the focus. Cops came in to send kids home but they were chased off, their cars overturned and set on fire. Kids was mad. Real mad. About the war and about the fact that the government was now killing students too.

So somebody picked up a metal trashcan and used it to smash in the front window of the Bank of America. And everybody cheered: "Burn it, Burn it down." Then the next person picked up another trashcan full of trash, lit it on fire, and threw it in. And burned down the Bank of America.

I was reminded of this when I heard that people in London were attacking a bank. Deja Vu man. But they didn't burn theirs down, did they? Useless Limeys. If it had been the Irish, that story would have a different ending.

The National Guard came in to Isla Vista, there was a curfew, they too shot and killed a kid named Kevin Moran. Reagan then sent out an order closing down all the campuses. I think all of the kids killed by the National Guard in those incidents were killed by accident. The National Guard at that time consisted of guys lucky enough to get in so they could avoid going to Vietnam. But at the time, it seemed intentional, like the government was now going to kill all its young people.

The Bank of America (perhaps seeing that in the future it would rule the world -- or destroy it) refused to leave Isla Vista. Instead, they built a new branch. Its walls are stone, probably 5' thick. Can't bomb it, can't burn it. It is the funniest thing that this multinational corporation built a bunker because they were afraid of a couple of students with a metal trashcan and a pack of matches.

But maybe in the long run, that's the way it always is: the banks have the bunkers, the cops, the national guard, the government, and the money. The citizens have curfew, occupation, no voice, no money, and only the fury of their own rage and ingenuity of their own making.

After the bank was burned, the local D.A. arrested all the top leadership in the area in the Anti-War Movement, and accused all of them of burning the bank, inciting it, conspiring, etc. It was a real farse. There were rumors that they had an additional 30 warrants and were breaking down doors in the middle of the night. Of course most of the arrested had nothing to do with it, and everyone would deny responsibility.

Somebody came up with the idea that everyone in Isla Vista should stick together and say: I Did It. I Burned The Bank. So suddenly there were stickers, buttons, posters, petitions signed by thousands saying: I Did It. I Burned The Bank. How's that for a defense to criminal charges: Your Honor, One of these 8,000 other people did it. They've even confessed. In writing.

For awhile, the burning of the Bank of America in Isla Vista was remembered as a symbol of the anti-war movement. Here's a picture of some graffiti on a Bank of American branch in Berkeley on the ten-year anniversary of the burning of the bank: Never Forget Isla Vista.

So in the beginning, in the end, and everywhere in-between, it's the banks. Which are the central core of what I call the Financial Cartels: more lucrative than the Drug Cartels, and more ruthless and deadly too. Stealing people's homes, looting third world countries, destroying family farms, charging 25% interest on credit cards, destroying communities, throwing Americans out of work, cheerleading for outsourcing, instigating wars which cause the deaths of millions. Given how much damage has been caused by these out-of-control conglomerates of hoarded money, why haven't we shut them down? Why don't we completely eliminate private banking, shut down any international or even national financial cartel.

Go back to a local bank owned completely, managed, and answerable only to local people who deposit their money there, and get their loans there, and that's where it ends. The only banks that should be allowed to operate should be co-ops: owned by the local people, all decisions made by the community. Stop the Financial Cartels from moving into third world countries and stealing from those people, creating even more poverty. Why shouldn't the citizens, the people, control the source of money, the availability? Why should all that be in the hands of rich people who use that power to corrupt our government, bribe our politicians, and destroy the lives of the people.

Have you ever really heard of a bank doing any good for anyone? Except rich people, of course. For the rest of us? They take our money, pay us no interest, charge us secret and hidden fees, charge 25% interest on a small, short-term loan, and they conspire with the other banks to squeeze us until we can no longer breathe or we die.

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