Family farmer speaks about rural crisis caused by Wall Street, big banks and mega-farms,
joins 'Showdown in Chicago' protests against American Bankers Association
By Ethan Genauer
Larry Huelskoetler, a family farmer from Beason, IL, a small unincorporated town in central Illinois with a population of about 200, spoke on Monday morning, October 26th, to hundreds of people gathered for the "Showdown In Chicago," a national grassroots mobilization taking place in Chicago against the October 25-27 national convention of the American Bankers Association (ABA). The ABA is a banking industry lobbyist group that "works to enhance the competitiveness of the nation's banking industry." Its members represent over 95 percent of the banking industry's $13.3 trillion in assets.
The protests against the ABA have brought thousands of people to Chicago this week, from across the U.S., to demand progressive reform of the financial industry, call to "bust up big banks," and send the message that "the only ones too big to fail are the American people."
Huelskoetler directs Farmers Supporting Independent Agriculture (FSIA), ia Central Illinois-located, faith-based community organization that works to save family farms, preserve local economy, and promote sound stewardship of farmland. FSIA has successfully negotiated low-interest rate operating loans for Central Illinois family farmers who commit to purchasing from local suppliers, worked with farm realtors and farm managers to develop land stewardship best practices, partnered with institutional landowners to craft farmland leases that create sustainable farming incentives, and pushed the University of Illinois to manage its endowment farmland in a more sustainable manner that benefits tenant farmers and local communities. FSIA is a member organization of the Central Illinois Organizing Project (www.ciop.org), the largest faith-based community organization in downstate Illinois, which organized dozens of people to participate in the Chicago rallies and protests against the ABA.
"I'm here to talk to you today about the long-term effects of the decisions that the dishonest Wall Street bankers have done to my community," Huelskoetler said. "Like in many rural communities, family farmers in my area are struggling and having a difficult time with the decisions made by the people on Wall Street."
"I've been farming for 37 years, and 7 years ago a Wall Street investor came and bought the farm that my family has farmed for 50 years. I then talked to the investor. He said, "Give me an extraordinarily high rent and you can continue to farm." I said, "I can't give you that kind of rent and do the job right." He said, "Too bad, I'll bring in a mega-farmer." "
"A mega-farmer is a farmer who wants to be just like the big banks, big enough that he can't fail. But high-risk farming by mega-farmers is becoming a reality. Mega-farm operators are pushing family farmers off the land they have farmed for decades. Mega-farmers can do this because they farm in an unsustainable manner. They work on narrow margins of profit. The risk is so great that these mega-farmers know they can't do the right thing and make a profit, so they don't even put back the nutrients into the soil that the crop takes out."
"Therefore they are stealing from one of our greatest natural resources: the soil. The impact is felt severely. What's left is poorly maintained fields, agricultural runoff, and diminishing productivity at a time when the world's population continues to grow and we have to feed the people all over the world. Large-scale mega-farm operators are bypassing local agricultural suppliers and costing local communities billions of dollars in economic activity every year."
"Six years ago we did a study in Logan County, right in the middle of Illinois. It's some of the best farmland in the world, and we wondered why our communities were dying. The mega-farmers in our community who spent zero dollars in our area were taking 4 million dollars out of our community every year. In the very small town that I went to school in, the only business open now in my town is the post office. Everything else is boarded up."
"Even though our problems are a little different because they're slow-developing, they are the same as everyone else who spoke. Local agricultural bankers are expressing concern about the amount of arrears associated with large loans given to large-scale mega-farmers. Some ag loans reach $15 million for one farmer per year. These guys think they're too big too fail."
"The mega-farms have extended credit that family farmers can only imagine, and they are leveraged to the hilt. But now they are facing a crisis of falling crops. The outlook is not good. The warning sounds are all around us. Just look at the fall of the housing industry and the disaster in the auto industry. We need to prevent this from happening in central Ilinois and all through the Midwest."
"We need to break up the big banks. We need banks that understand good farming practices, soil stewardship … and look at the long-term picture for the good of the environment and not just short-term profits."
In today's financial atmosphere, young people who want to start — or survive — working as farmers are faced with "almost impossible" obstacles to overcome, Huelskoetler said.
Huelskoetler was not the only farmer who joined the Chicago protests. Wall Street Journal reported that Garry Klicker, a farmer and activist who works with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, took time away from harvesting his corn and soybeans in Bloomfield, Iowa, to voice his anger against the ABA. "This is not a financial system," he said. "This is a financial disaster."
Heidi Hynes, who works with a community center in the Bronx area of New York City and recently attended a Women Farmers Retreat, said it was "really kind of beautiful" to hear Larry speak about his care for the land and his anger at the way that agribusiness robs the soil of its nutrients.
She believes community farming should be a vital part of the movement for financial reform. "Food justice might point the way to a transformation of our economy better than anything else," she said. "It can teach people a new way of looking at the world because it's caring for the Earth and waiting for food to grow [instead of demanding instant gratification]. In order to grow food, we all need to work together [and this can help change the rampant selfishness in our economy]."
Pictures from the ABA protests are posted here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ethanagri4/sets/72157622677412998/
Ethan Genauer is a freelance journalist and grassroots activist for food and environmental justice. When not on the road, he lives and farms in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One of his blogs is "New Mexico Young Farmers Rise Up!" — http://nmyoungfarmers.wikidot.com
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MORE NEWS from the "Showdown in Chicago" against the ABA:
"Assholes Bankrupting America": Banners Dropped Against Bankers ~ http://chicago.indymedia.org/newswire/display/87889/index.php
"Showdown: Hundreds Gather to Talk About Foreclosures, Financial Struggles" ~ http://www.truthout.org/1027095
"Protests at US bankers' convention" ~ http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/oct/27/us-bankers-annual-convention
"Banks and the Broke: Showdown in Chicago Roundup" ~ http://chicagoist.com/2009/10/27/banks_and_the_broke_showdown_in_chi.php
"5,000 Protest Bank Power, Abuses as Showdown Culminates" ~ http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/5103/5000_protest_bank_power_abuses_as_showdown_culminates/
"Showdown Against the Greedy Bankers in Chicago" ~ http://www.alternet.org/workplace/143517
video: "ABA Showdown: Fed-Up Taxpayers Arrive In Chicago" ~ http://progressillinois.com/2009/10/26/showdown-begins
"ABA Showdown: Protesters Storm Wells Fargo" ~ http://progressillinois.com/2009/10/26/showdown-wells-fargo
"Protesters in Chicago March On Offices of Goldman, Wells Fargo" ~ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125658175842408635.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLTopStories
Economy Yielding ‘Very Angry’ People, Bankers Told ~ http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=a0JYDmIjD_20
Pictures: "Protesters Swarm Bankers Convention" ~ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/25/showdown-in-chicago-prote_n_333245.html
"Protesters Invade ABA Convention" ~ http://www.seiu.org/mt/mt-search.cgi?blog_id=1&tag=Chicago%20Sheraton&limit=20
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"SHOWDOWN IN CHICAGO" PRESS RELEASES
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT:
Jane Yoo, National People's Action, 718-710-2277
Andrea Frye, National People’s Action, 773-559-8078
Marcus Mrowka, SEIU, 202-531-0689
5,000 Converge On American Bankers Association Convention
Taxpayers Launch National Campaign to Demand Banks Stop Lobbying Against Financial Reform During Third Day of Protests in Chicago
CHICAGO — In the largest mobilization since the economic crisis began, more than 5,000 taxpayers from 20 states marched on the American Bankers Association (ABA) convention in downtown Chicago today. The public march culminated three days of demonstrations demanding that banks stop lobbying against financial reform, end extravagant executive bonuses and halt home foreclosures that are ruining neighborhoods across the nation.
“We need to continue to demand that big bankers stop using our taxpayer money to buy politicians and instead use that money to create jobs, save families from foreclosure, and invest in our communities,” said Service Employees International Union Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger. “And we need to tell the politicians that we will no longer tolerate them taking the side of Wall Street and big banks.”
The march and rally concluded three days of demonstrations around the ABA convention and launched a nationwide campaign to demand big banks and Wall Street stop spending millions in taxpayer dollars to lobby against financial reform.
After taking $17.8 trillion in taxpayer bailouts and backstops, the ABA and the six largest banks are back to business as usual, ignoring their commitments to help taxpayers and helping themselves instead. The largest banks are making tens of billions of dollars in profits on the backs of the American taxpayers while spending $35 million in taxpayer funds to lobby for more taxpayer bailouts and fight against reforms that would protect taxpayers from bank abuses in the future.
Meanwhile, ordinary Americans continue to face rising foreclosures, record unemployment, skyrocketing bank and credit card fees, and vanishing pensions and 401(k)s. Americans have lost six million jobs, homeowners have lost $6 trillion in home values and local governments have lost up to $58.0 billion in annual property taxes.
“When we bailed out the banks, they were supposed to help people who were hurt by the economic crisis,” said Maria Guerra, janitor at Little Village Academy. “The banks got our money and they could help people like me, but they don’t even try.”
Events kicked off Sunday with a gathering of hundreds of ordinary Americans who have lost their homes, jobs and pensions during the bank-induced economic crisis sharing their stories and hearing from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). That evening, more than 900 people took their message directly to the ABA at a banker’s ball being held at the ABA convention.
“American families already lost $11 trillion in wealth and every 13 seconds another home goes into foreclosure,” said Denise Dixon, Executive Director of Action Now. “All while the bank bosses live it up on big bonuses and lavish parties. The banks must be held accountable for the destruction they’ve caused in our communities.”
On Monday, FDIC Chair Sheila Bair addressed nearly 1,000 people and reaffirmed her support for much needed reforms like the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. She told the crowd she would deliver that message when she addressed the ABA convention later that morning. Following Bair’s remarks, taxpayers took their message directly to the banks at demonstrations outside of Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and the ABA convention.
October 26, 2009
THOUSANDS OF TAXPAYERS IN CHICAGO FOR DAY 1 OF 3
FOR A SHOWDOWN AGAINST BIG BANKS
Hundreds Gather Outside the Opening Ball of the
American Bankers Association Conference to Demand Accountability
Chicago – Thousands of taxpayers are in Chicago for a three day “Showdown” against the American Bankers Association (ABA) at their annual conference.
Events kicked off with a gathering of hundreds of everyday Americans, including U.S. Senator Dick Durbin
(D-IL), for the People’s Commission to hear testimony and evidence of loss of homes, jobs and pensions, which the Commission plans to share with the Obama Administration, Members of Congress and the Angelides Commission.
“The big banks and their lobbyists have had their way in Washington for decades,” said George Goehl, Executive Director, National People’s Action. “Their drive to deregulate the financial markets has failed miserably. It is time for new ideas – and the incredibly diverse crowd of everyday Americans gather in Chicago to put forth a set of clear proposals.” Details of proposals is available at: http://www.showdowninchicago.org/oursolution.html
Immediately after the People’s Commission a group of more than 900 people were organized to take their message directly to the ABA at a social being held at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, also the conference location.
About 60 people penetrated the hotel lobby, requesting a demand letter be delivered to members of ABA and was read out loud for members to hear. No comments were made by ABA representatives.
“I know they heard us, whether they wanted to or not,” said Reverend Robert Bushey, member of Central Illinois Organizing Project. “We’re tired of what they have done. We want to hold them accountable for the current economic crisis. We want to find out if the lawmakers are on our side or on the side of profit.”
Today, organizers plan for even more protests outside the ABA conference, as well as a protest outside Goldman Sachs Chicago Headquarters, which will take place around 10:30am CT.
Photos and videos of all “Showdown” events and activities are being captured and provided to the media thru the following websites:
* YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/ABAShowdown
* Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&q=ABAShowdown&m=text
Also visit: www.SEIU.org, www.StopBankGreed,org, or www.ShowdownInChicago.org for more details.
Groups participating in the three days of mobilizations include: A New Way Forward, AFL-CIO, Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Alliance to Develop Power (ADP), Americans for Fairness in Lending, Americans for Financial Reform, ARISE Chicago, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Central Illinois Organizing Project (CIOP), Center for Community Change (CCC), Change in Terms, Change to Win, Citizen Action, Chicago Coalition of the Homeless, Communities United for Action (CUFA), Community Voices Heard (CVH), Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), Grassroots Collaborative, Green Party of Nevada, Fuerza Laboral/Power of Workers, Illinois Hunger Coalition, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Jobs with Justice, Gender Just Metanoia Centers, Inc., Michigan People's Action (MPA), MoveOn, National People’s Action, Northside Action for Justice, Northside POWER, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, People Organized for West Side Renewal (POWER), PUSH Buffalo, Right to the City Alliance, Rights for All People (RAP), Roomdad Productions, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), SEIU Illinois State Council, SOUL, South Austin Coalition Community Council (SACCC), Sunflower Community Action, Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN), Teach Our Children (TOC), The Grassroots Collaborate, UE, UCLA Undergraduate Students Association, Workers United, and Working In Neighborhoods (WIN)