If you mail a dollar to UC Berkeley, Billing and Payment Services will deposit it in an account administered by the UC Office of the President, earmarked to the Berkeley campus. Because the UC Office of the President manages UC Berkeley’s many accounts in Bank of America, your tuition dollar could support the same values and causes that these big banks support. Suppose you’ve already taken steps to move your personal accounts out of large banks — in the hands of Bank of America, your dollar may underwrite private, for-profit prison companies such as the Corrections Corporation of America or GEO Industries, owners of 80 percent of all private prison beds in the U.S. The federal government pays for-profit prison companies over $5.5 million a day to detain immigrants, and the profits return to investors in CCA and GEO, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
And still, if your tuition dollar bypasses private prisons, it might instead cover the operations costs of Bank of America in its sale of troubled mortgage debt as securities or other unlawful foreclosure practices. It could have gone to the subprime housing loan given to your friends, family or classmates that led them to lose their home. Through practices of predatory lending to students and people of color, along with subprime mortgages, big banks directly contributed to the overvaluation of real estate and the devastating burst of this bubble, and recent reports indicate they haven’t ceased these practices. Your dollar sits in the very financial institutions that have toppled this country into recession, driven child poverty rates sky-high, stripped so many of their homes and made even UC Berkeley graduates sweat to find paid employment.
The mantra of “schools, not prisons” implies that prison spending and education spending are mutually exclusive. What’s most chilling about the university’s heavy investment in large banks is the blurring of the line between prisons and schools. Federal and state tax revenue pay the private prison industry, just as they pay for education. But while the UC Office of the President’s many accounts trickle to the private prison industry through Bank of America, the private prison industry doesn’t return the favor. As investment in CCA and GEO grow, so do their profits and their burden on California’s tax revenue, leaving even less money for education. In this way, university investments in Bank of America push an already strapped state budget farther away from education.
In his historic speech on Sproul Plaza at the 2011 Mario Savio Memorial Lecture, professor and former U.S. secretary of labor Robert Reich stated that American frustration stems from the asymmetry between the punishment of the financiers responsible for the crash and the crippling austerity measures that the California state Legislature levied upon the rest. America incarcerates a greater proportion of its citizens than any other country, yet not a single banker responsible for this meltdown is among those incarcerated, while so many more have lost everything. So why should the University of California keep rewarding a financial system that has bankrupted the future of so many? Prisons don’t invest in students — students should not invest in prisons.
So we call upon Cal students to move our money, and to do it now. The ASUC, University of California Student Association, Peralta City Colleges (which includes Berkeley City College), the Berkeley Rent Board and the city of Berkeley itself have recently voted to take steps to move their combined hundreds of millions of dollars out of large banks. Because we are unbeholden to mortgages and uniquely mobile, young people comprise the majority of money-movers, and we can actively pressure the UC system to follow our lead. Our ability to create change within the state and the UC system is predicated not only on our ability to lobby legislators in Sacramento but also on our choices as consumers. What’s more insidious — the fact that food deserts exist as close as Oakland, where one can traverse entire neighborhoods and find liquor stores but no groceries? Or that on each of these blocks is an ATM for a large bank? UCOP clamors for students to turn to Sacramento for structural change to fund our education, but students can turn to their own wallets and demand the same of UC Berkeley and the regents.
Moving your money makes you more than a one-time donation: It’s your decision to become your own banker, seize financial control and make informed financial decisions. Demanding change from Sacramento legislators carries more credence when your wallet is free of Chase, Wells Fargo or Bank of America cards. The 2012 Democratic National Convention will be in the heart of Bank of America headquarters — Bank of America Stadium, in Charlotte, N.C. Considering the fact that both major political parties are in bed with the largest financial institutions (and campaign spending has exploded in the wake of Citizens United), creating change today necessitates making personal choices based on personal values. Like registering to vote, recycling or printing with union services, the card in your wallet reflects your values.
You can create change in California and the UC system in a matter of seconds simply by moving your money into a local bank or a credit union — one that not only invests locally, but one that also invests in a socially responsible manner. Follow that dollar dollar bill, y’all.
Andrew Albright is a UC Berkeley student and ASUC senator. Ariel Boone is a UC Berkeley student and former ASUC senator.