(published originally in the Huffington Post)
I’ve learned a lot in my 45 years. I’ve learned from hustling in the streets of Boston, from more than two decades in the rap game, from being a landlord, a retail store owner, and the father of six daughters. But the some most important things I know, I learned from Bank of America.
Before the economic crisis kicked in, things were good for me. People knew me around Boston from my career in the rap industry with the Mighty RSO. I was running a clothing boutique in my neighborhood. For almost 10 years, business was good.
In 2008, things slowed down drastically because of the economic meltdown. I had to let a few employees go. Two of the tenants in the building I owned lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their rent. I started to fall behind on my mortgage payments to Bank of America. Soon I had to close my store, and I was far behind on my mortgage.
At that time, I didn’t understand what was going on in America. I didn’t know that while I was trying to get Bank of America to agree to a loan modification, it was collecting $230 billion in bailouts. I didn’t know that while I was paying my own taxes, Bank of America paid zero taxes in 2009 and got a $1 billion refund in 2010. I didn’t know that while my neighbors were fighting to keep their homes, and feeling ashamed just because they were struggling, Bank of America was forging thousands of documents a day to illegally force people out of their homes.
And Bank of America did offer me a loan modification: they gave me the chance to pay $1,000 more a month than I’d been paying.
Then I started to go to community meetings by a group called City Life, part of a grassroots network called Right to the City that is fighting foreclosures. They asked for people to come to a blockade to try to stop an eviction by Bank of America, and I went. The house was a one-family, where a Haitian family was living relatives they took in after the hurricane. The police came. Some of the officers had gone to high school with one of the guys they had to evict. They were shouting. Babies were screaming. The grandmother in the family had a heart attack in the driveway from the stress.
I’ve seen people shot in the streets and haven’t cried. But this was something else. I had to step aside, because tears were rolling down my face. I learned at that moment that this was the fight that really mattered to me. Bank of America and the other big banks caused the mortgage meltdown, and now they were profiting from it by forcing people out of their homes. I decided to do everything I could to stop them.
I went to work for City Life as an organizer. Last September we helped organize a 1,500-person march on Bank of America’s Federal Street offices—the biggest protest against the bank in history. I wrote a song called “Bank Attack” for the march, then recorded a whole album about this movement. We’ve helped save more than 1,000 families from losing their homes in the Boston area so far. That’s a good start, but this problem is nationwide: Bank of America has almost $90 billion dollars of foreclosed homes on its books all around the country.
That’s why I’m heading down to North Carolina next week with a bus full of Boston folks for the “Showdown in Charlotte”: a march of more than 1,000 people on Bank of America’s annual shareholder meeting, organized by the UNITY alliance together with the New Bottom Line, Rainforest Action Network, and others. Our demands to the bank: stop profiting from the crisis you created, expand principal reduction for struggling homeowners, pay your fair share of taxes, and get your money out of the dirty coal industry.
Marches like this are happening at shareholder meetings of big banks and corporations all over the country. It’s called 99% Power, and it’s the way the 99% are showing the 1% that our need is greater than their greed.
The City of Charlotte is trying to scare us off. They invoked an anti-free speech law that’s so harsh that children could get arrested for carrying magic markers. It’s one more sign that “Bank of America” is the wrong name. What they’ve become is “Bank vs. America.”
I keep hearing that Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan spends most of his time in Boston, but I haven’t seen him in my neighborhood yet. Maybe we’ll get the chance to meet in Charlotte. I have to thank him for all I’ve learned.
Antonio Ennis is an organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana, a member of the Right to the City and UNITY alliances, a rap artist, and a clothing designer.