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In Common

Help Support Better Stronger Neo-Liberalism with the Occupy Money Cooperative

July 27, 2013

For me, deciding where to “put your money” is like deciding which part of your skull you’d prefer your headache to be located. There are endless analyses as to which bank is “worst,” etc. And no matter where I keep my money, it will inevitably end up going into the hands of sweatshop owners. Yes, even if you shop at Whole Foods.

We face daily tensions between survival and our core values or human desires. Don’t think for a second that this paralyzing reality is a coincidence. So to criticize these dilemmas on an individual level, rather than systemically, is akin to victim blaming. People are shamed into “ethical” spending habits, as if it were all their fault that global trade is an uncontrollable monster. Those who can not afford to spend so “ethically” are made to feel doubly ashamed: both for supporting terrible corporations and for being poor.

So. Put your money wherever you need to. I don’t care. I’m not you, and I can’t pretend to know your financial situation or give you advice. What I will do, is give a helpful decoding to one of the most disgusting neo-liberal marketing campaigns I have seen in a long time.

Today I read about this new initiative called the Occupy Money Cooperative. Wait, did I say “new initiative”? I’m sorry. None of this is new. What I meant to say was “look at this person using the language of anti-capitalism and liberation to serve their own interests.”

Yes folks, the true agenda of Occupy Wall Street is here: to give you a negligibly “better” option within a system that is killing us all, and at such a reasonable price.

According to the YouTube ad, “inclusion,” “transparency,” “accessibility,” and “democracy” are concepts that we’ve simply “forgotten” in the world of international finance and banking. Oops! Silly us! Looks like we all messed up bad here. This system was created with such fairness and equity, with all human beings in harmony. How could we forget our glorious past of freedom? Let’s use money to fix it.

Ok, I thought after seeing the ad, great strategy. Go ahead, construct the same system you seek to dismantle. At best, it will never get off the ground. At worst, well, we’ll just lump it in with all the other banks. Either way, nothing changes on my end. It only adds a bit of irony to the despair.

Then I read the board member bios, and went from being amused, to confused, to outright shocked. They are all clearly lifelong revolutionaries. Working for Blackberry, the federal reserve, and Deutsche bank, for example, are real resume builders when it comes to collective struggle. These neo-liberal marketing geniuses disguised as your best friend, they were our enemies before Liberty Park ever housed an occupier.

And no, I’m not just throwing around the term “neo-liberal marketing geniuses.” The main difference between “occupy money” and your local credit union is that anyone, anywhere, can join occupy money. Which seems all fair and democratic compared to credit unions, considering you have to meet a certain set of requirements (like living in a certain neighborhood) to join a credit union.

The usual neo-liberal language makes its debut, though it has seemingly fused with the vocabulary of Occupy Wall Street. Untapped markets of the “40+ million underbanked,” all ripe for the picking, all ready to be “included.” In reality, this insidious concept of “inclusivity” simply allows Occupy Money to get the upper hand on their credit union competitors. If any one can join in (and people will join, as OWS has an excellent upper hand in branding), then people will take their money out of their local credit unions and put it into the national Occupy Cooperative. I’m not one to stand behind the efforts of credit unions or any bank sponsored community development, but I am a bit confused as to how any communities can be helped locally by consolidating individual resources into a national, centralized blob.

And of course, credit unions are generally free when you set up a checking account and get a debit card. Occupy Money, however, will offer a pre-paid card that will be integrated with Visa. Pre-paid debit cards are notorious for being marketed to the poor as an easy solution, while simultaneously charging all sorts of transaction fees and other nonsense. What does Occupy Money have to say about this?

Isn’t this just another pre-paid card? 

It’s different from other offerings that are currently available in some important ways. It’s more than just a prepaid card since it features additional services. It’s our aim to make the card and its associated charges less expensive than every other card on the market. Most importantly, every active user of the Card will be a full member of the cooperative.”

I will leave you to be confused about how such a seemingly empty statement can be so opaque. I still am.

The world of “occupy,” successfully (violently) branded as fair, peaceful, and revolutionary, was up for grabs. These folks grabbed it. ‘Cause you know, those ignorant anti-capitalists didn’t even stop to trademark their pre-packaged liberation. This small group of bankers has been waiting for its chance, patiently allowing the hard work to be done for them by those of us on the streets. Conveniently, all that waiting gave them time to construct a neat logo.

For the record, I claim no ties or ownership in Occupy Wall Street or any form it will inevitably take. This is for various reasons, including the deep seated heterosexism, white supremacy, and flat out loss of interest in such an unhealthy space. I’m not distressed because these bankers are using the word “occupy” and terms like “our movement.” I don’t feel any loss.

In fact, neo-liberalism and corporate style greed are not foreign to OWS. By the end of 2011, you couldn’t walk through union square without seeing OWS merchandise everywhere. And it wasn’t any better internally. When I stopped showing up to Occupy Wall Street meetings, budget discussions had already turned into fist-fights, with racist and sexist slurs being flung around the room like hateful confetti on a celebration of human indecency. And these are the people expected to turn a bank into something “constructive.”

So if you feel compelled to bank with Occupy Wall Street, I’m not here to stop you. I’m not concerned that they will ruin Occupy Wall Street’s “good name.”

But in the spirit of transparency, we can start at the beginning: these people are perpetuating the idea that the struggle isn’t on the streets, it’s in your wallets. And if all goes well, they are going to make a good salary off of this lie. I am writing this to say that the neo-liberal agenda is hurtful and oppressive, in every form it chooses to take.

In my ideal world, we wouldn’t have to pay anyone for food, shelter, and water, or any necessary part of our survival. Until that day, do what you need to do to survive. Bank if you need to. But don’t be lied to. Your good intentions are better spent elsewhere, in your actual neighborhood, building actual collective support between human beings.

It should be clear by now that community building cannot be left in the hands of a tight knit circle of bankers. I guarantee that, if it came down to it, the police will protect the bank of Occupy Wall Street just as well as they protect CitiBank.

And I can guarantee to you, board members of the occupy money cooperative: the brand “OWS” will not be a shield, nor will it be your free pass to abuse people’s sense of ethics in order to abuse their wallets.