Community organizer George Goehl would be glad if there was a national leader who could pressure the big banks to pay their fair share of taxes and deal honestly with the mortgage crisis by writing down the principle for underwater homeowners. He wishes President Obama could be such a leader, but he isn't sure that will ever happen.
Goehl, the executive director of National Peoples Action, was interviewed Friday on the PBS program Moyers & Company. When Bill Moyers asked Goehl if he was satisfied with the president's recent attempts to employ populist rhetoric, he responded firmly, "We're not."
"I would say that it's been hard for the president to tap into that populist bone in his body," Goehl explained. "I think some of us question whether it's there. It often feels like he's kind of trying to eat his worst, or least favorite, vegetable. Putting some broccoli down his throat. And he can do it for a couple days. But then he kind of moves back towards the middle. But he's got a chance to prove himself."
Goehl noted that when he himself began attempting to take on the banks in 1990, there were 37 major banks in the United States. By 2009 there were only four, and as a result, the CEO's almost never have to face public opinion. Goehl said he would "like to challenge these CEOs to come out and see the neighborhoods and the communities that they've devastated."
Goehl is involved in an effort called The 99% Spring, which owes its inspiration to Occupy Wall Street but draws its support from more established groups, such as MoveOn.org and the major labor unions. He said they plan to send representatives to attend bank shareholder meetings this spring and summer and confront the CEOs, possibly risking arrest for civil disobedience. They also hope to organize 100,000 Americans to spread the word about income inequality and lead an effort to "reimagine" the economy in ways that will make it work for everyone.
"I think the community and cooperative economy's particularly interesting for two reasons," Goehl told Moyers. "One, it actually retains wealth in communities. Less wealth leaves a city and goes off. Or a neighborhood and goes off to some gated community or to some stockholder. But secondly, I think that there -- people feel that there is something spiritually missing in their lives right now. People want to be in community with other folks. And I think a more community-controlled economy is a place that can happen."
"I think people are losing faith in the political process as it's run right now," Goehl concluded. "So I think people feel like they have to take things into their own hands, and engage directly at pressuring the corporations. ... And we have to be more serious about candidates that do not match up with a certain set of values or principles and saying, 'Hey, if you're not going to come with us on being willing to tax the corporations, to challenge corporate power, and to protect people, you're not going to get our vote.'"
This video is from Moyers & Company, March 30, 2012.