On Monday, the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, stormed Washington, D.C., joining forces with the AFL-CIO and community organizing group National People's Action. A horde of protesters clad in SEIU's distinctive purple T-shirts roved along K Street, dropping in on some of the city's most powerful lobbyists and most prominent banks.
SEIU's first visit was to a Bank of America (BAC) branch near Capitol Hill. The protesters filled the lobby, confusing customers and frightening tellers. The bank quickly shut down, and the protesters proceeded to Chinatown, where they blocked the intersection of 14th and K Streets, in the heart of the lobbying district.
Following speeches, they moved on, visiting a Citibank (C) branch before making their way to the offices of Tony Podesta, one of D.C.'s top lobbyists. Chanting "Bank of America is bad for America" and banging drums, the group set up shop outside Podesta's office, where they harangued the brother of former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.
Targeting Liberal Lobbyists
In their visit to K Street, SEIU specifically identified some famously left-leaning lobbyists, including Podesta, Steve Elmendorf, and former Democratic Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. All three remain allied with the Democratic party, yet have also taken on banking clients. Gephardt and Elmendorf for example, both work for Goldman Sachs (GS). In fact, according to SAIC, more than 70 former members of Congress and 940 former federal employees are now lobbying for the banking industry. According to SEIU, this "revolving door" between Congress and K Street has effectively frozen Wall Street reform.
Monday's event capped a weekend of action. On Sunday, an estimated 700 protesters converged on the Chevy Chase, Maryland, homes of Gregory Baer and Peter Scher. Baer, Bank of America's deputy counsel, used to be a senior official at the Treasury Department. Scher, who wasn't home, is a lobbyist for JPMorgan Chase (JPM).
Although Baer also wasn't at home, the protesters camped out on his front lawn, where they talked about their mortgage problems. When Baer finally showed up, he tried to sneak into his house by blending with the crowd, but was outed by one of his neighbors. As the crowd booed him, he ran into his house, saying "I don't have time for you."
Who Is To Blame?
SEIU's political theater echoes the protests of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, or NACA, a homeowner advocacy organization. In recent months, NACA has hosted several demonstrations, notably a brief occupation of the lobby of New York's Chase Manhattan Bank. The group also went on a "Predator's tour" of suburban Connecticut, visiting the mansions of Greenwich Finance CEO William Frey and Morgan Stanley (MS) CEO John Mack.
The key difference between SEIU and NACA seems to lie in who they blame: NACA places responsibility on Wall Street, while SEIU is critical of the lobbying industry that's trying to minimize regulation of the banking industry. The third leg in this tripod of greed is the legislators themselves, a group that has drawn the ire of the Tea Party groups but largely seems to be getting a pass from SEIU and NACA.
SEIU, NACA and the Tea Partiers seem to be carving up the protest landscape based upon largely ideological grounds, yet all three are tapping into widespread rage at what appears to be a deck stacked against middle-class America. Whether the ultimate villain is Wall Street's banks, K Streets lobbyists, Capitol Hill or -- most likely -- some combination of all three, one thing is clear: Millions of Americans are furious, and their anger isn't going away.
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