Wall Street Protest: Main Street Speaks

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Hundreds of people congregated yesterday for a march on Wall Street with thousands more supporting the march online. The event was organized by AFL-CIO with a single message: Wall Street helped bring down the economy so they should help to restore it.

Protesters waved signs that read “Reclaim Our Democracy,” and “Hold Wall Street Accountable.” One sign asked a simple question: “Which Side Are You On: Greed or Need.” MainStreet spoke with many individuals at the rally to get a sense of how Wall Street has affected them, what their biggest frustrations are and to find out what they would like to change about Wall Street.

Whether or not you agree with their points, the sheer variety of people that came to the event is a testament to the incredible impact that Wall Street seems to have had on this country.

K Webster and Steve Elson, community organizer and musician, respectively

Steve Elson carried around a sign that read, “Here on behalf of those widows and orphans,” a quote that his wife, K. Webster found in one of the e-mails from the infamous Fabrice Tourre of Goldman Sachs. ““I’ve managed to sell a few Abacus bonds to widows and orphans that I ran into at the airport, apparently these Belgians adore synthetic ABS CDO2,” Tourre wrote. In a sense, she and her husband see this quote as an embodiment of all the arrogance and greed that makes Wall Street so easy to revile.

“They produce nothing of value and need to invest back in small businesses and the community,” she said. “Right now, it’s a culture utterly about greed and not investing in the economy.” As a community organizer on Manhattan’s lower east side, she has worked with many people who lost their homes in the recession, and her husband has found it even more difficult to get work as a musician now. “Everyone wants to have work of value, that means something, and people are losing those now,” Webster said. More than anything, she wants Wall Street to accept some “heavy duty regulations” and then to begin giving back to the rest of America.

Bill Hanley, 60, Iron Worker

Bill Hanley has worked as an iron worker for 30 years but he says his days there are numbered now. “I’m getting laid off soon and I have nowhere to go,” he said. So Hanley is deciding to retire ahead of schedule. “We lost money on our annuity last year because of the crash and construction in general just took a flop because of what happened on Wall Street,” he said. Hanley did not try to hide his disdain for bankers and investors. “They’re parasites.”

Still, even Hanley admits that we do need Wall Street. “Our country runs on Wall Street,” he said. He just wishes that they would be less “arrogant and dishonest.” So what’s his solution? “I’d like to see a new crew, a younger, more honest crew take over Wall Street. People that really love America, not people who want to feed off America.”

George Dessi, 55, Sewage Worker

George Dessi used to work in the manufacturing industry, but now he works as a sewage worker at a New York City treatment plant. But he believes Wall Street is responsible for more than just the recession; he blames them for a loss in American jobs. “All our manufacturing jobs are going overseas. They put profits ahead of everything else and shipped out all the jobs. But we have the skill and the manpower here to build and compete with anybody,” he said.

Dessi has been fortunate enough to work a pretty stable city job, but he says he knows plenty of people who’ve become unemployed during the economic downturn. When asked what he wants from Wall Street, his answer was short and to the point. “I want them to open up the spigots and let the money trickle down to Main Street.”

Michelle, Substitute teacher

Michelle works as a substitute teacher in Queens and while she was smart enough to put her money into a fixed income pension fund, she knows many teachers who did not do that and lost much of the money that was supposed to hold them over in retirement. “How can you justify giving high salaries and bonuses to executives but strip the money that working people put in all those years,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense. In my opinion, it’s thievery.” For that reason, she marched around the protest carrying a sign that read “Wall Street Overdrafted Our Economy.”

When asked what a better Wall Street would look like, she said, “More reserved. There’s too much merger and acquisition right now.” She also thinks they need to be policed more. “I’m not for big government, but unfortunately I think we need much more regulation on Wall Street.” Like many of the people we spoke with at the protest, she confessed that the current financial reform bill being considered in Washington is not sufficient, but at least “it’s a start.”

John Couter, Electrician

Wall Street, if I have one piece of advice for you it’s don’t mess with John Couter. He’s been a union electrician for 20 years in New Hampshire and has had enough. “The recession has taken away my standard of living,” he said. He blames Wall Street for keeping his wages stagnant for the last two decades. “I’m tired of big business trying to crush the middle class,” he said. “The middle class supports the big bankers and if you crush the middle class, you will have no more means of support. Continue to crush us and we will crush you.” Couter has this message for Wall Street: share the wealth. “If it takes a civil unrest, it will happen.” Yikes!

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