Burn Down The Banks?

By Jonah Raskin

Yes, I know the title of this piece is inflammatory. But these are inflammatory times and inflammatory times call for inflammatory words — and deeds. This past year, citizens all around the country have protested outside American banks including the Bank of America, a branch of which was burned down at Isla Vista in California 40 years ago in 1970. The lawyer for the Chicago Eight, Bill Kunstler, was there, and urged demonstrators to go to the bank and burn it down. “Burn Baby Burn” was as much the cry of a generation as “Turn on Tune
in Drop out.”

It was a good idea then, and it’s a good idea now. American bankers are thieves; they’ve been getting away with outrageous crimes for decades, robbing from workers, and from the middle class too. They’ve grown fat and corrupt. A little bank burning might show them that we’re pissed and we’re not going to take it anymore. We won’t allow ourselves to go on being fleeced.

Of course, this is the summer of the new Robin Hood movie, and as every kid knows from Nottingham to Austin and Isla Vista, Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Both parts of the equation are essential — robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. The
banks have been doing just the opposite: robbing from the poor and giving to the rich. Maybe it’s time to bring Robin Hood back to the ‘hood, put sheriffs on alert and bring some economic justice into our sorry world of billionaires.

Now, I’ll have to admit that as a Yippie, I’ve always believed in the power of guerrilla theater, such as tossing bills on the floor of the Stock Exchange on Wall Street, as well as burning money. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin did that. I wouldn’t mind a little street theater now, in front of the Bank of America, or at my own piratical financial institution, Citibank. Not long ago, Arianna Huffington suggested that citizens withdraw money from big banks and put it into smaller – more responsible banks. That idea didn’t go over very well because a bank is a bank — big or small — and because just moving money around from one bank to another bank won’t do the trick.

Maybe we don’t have to start with burning down a bank branch, but with burning money in front of a bank. It might be liberating; it might free some of us from the power of the Almighty Dollar. I know money is scarce and that men and women are out of work and can use money. In that case, give it away on the street; give away as much as you can as often as possible. Get it out of your pockets; get its power out of your head. And of course protest outside of your bank; remind the bankers that, as Woody Guthrie said, “Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.” These days, bankers are robbing most of us with computers, and maybe the computer can free up some of the money – while it’s still around – because what happened in Greece could and might very well happen here. Before you lose it all in the deepening recession, and in the next big decline on the Stock Market, you might as well play with it. After all, it’s only play money.

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