While America’s biggest financial institutions certainly played their part in the economic recession that persists today, it’s hard to exact meaningful punishments on them. Unethical behavior, after all, isn’t necessarily illegal behavior.
Right on the heels of Berkeley City Council’s Jan. 31 decision to consider alternatives to banking with Wells Fargo came a similar bill in the ASUC Senate, passed the next day, directing the ASUC to do the same with its accounts held at Bank of America.
Both organizations cite noble reasons for the move — Bank of America and Wells Fargo have seen their share of scrutiny for predatory lending practices — and these commitments to divestment are just two examples of a commendable, novel trend toward taking action where the law cannot.
Moving accounts away from big banks shouldn’t be an inevitability for the city or ASUC, though. While the strongly worded resolutions direct both organizations to find alternatives to big banks, those entrusted with investigating other options must remember that their task is just that: to investigate. Funds should not be pulled out just for the sake of proving a point — it must be financially sound and logistically feasible for each organization to do so.
And even if the ASUC or city of Berkeley do not end up moving their funds to smaller banking institutions, simply entertaining the possibility concretely demonstrates their commitment to ideals upheld by members of the Occupy community — a movement for which both organizations have expressed support.
Whether local, non-profit or community banking options are the solution for either organization remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the power to make change often lies in the customer’s hands. It is refreshing to see the ASUC and the city taking the lead to see if they can do just that.
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