What #BankTransferDay Reveals About Digital Activism

Many people are angry at the current financial system these days, including Los Angeles art gallery owner Kristen Christian.  When it was announced last month that Bank of America was going to charge a monthly US$5 debit card fee, Christian took her anger to Facebook, asking her followers to close out their accounts with the corporate bank and move their money to smaller banks and credit unions.  Initially, she had hoped that at least a fraction of her 500 Facebook friends would take on the task, but over a short amount of time, it became a revolution.

Here are some digital activism observations we took away from this social movement:

The Power of One: As mentioned before, Christian got fed up one day and expressed her anger to her online followers.  Up until recently, people felt that they had to take their grievances to an “established social justice group” to make change happen.  According to Bank Transfer Day’s Facebook page, over 57,000 followers “like” the idea of giving big banks a lesson.  Like Rosa Parks, sometimes it takes one person to get the ball rolling.

Have a Specific Goal/Demand: The Occupy Wall Street movement has been criticized for not having a clear set of demands and action goals.  Bank Transfer Day, on the other hand, had one simple and clear goal, which could be done by anyone.  It’s Facebook page gives clear reasons for joining a credit union/small bank and their benefits.  This is what we think helped propel the strong support for the movement.

Conflicting Movements Can Cut Into Media Coverage: Christian made it very clear in many TV appearances that while she “acknowledges the enthusiasm” from OWS, “the Bank Transfer Day movement was neither inspired by, derived from nor organized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Bank Transfer Day movement does not endorse any activities conducted by Occupy Wall Street.”  However, the media covered Bank Transfer Day as if it was a part of OWS.  Also, the Move Your Money Project had a similar goal of divesting from big banks on Nov. 5.

Money Talks: According to Bill Cheney, president and CEO of The Credit Union National Association (CUNA)at least 650,000 consumers across the US have joined credit unions since Sept. 29. (the day Bank of America unveiled its $5 monthly debit card fee). Also during that time, CUNA estimates that credit unions have added $4.5 billion in new savings accounts, likely from the new members and existing members shifting their funds.

Clearly, Bank of America was paying attention, as it abandoned it’s $5 debit card fee plan just days ago, after listening “to our customers very closely,” David Darnell, BoA’s co-chief operating officer, said in a statement.  Wells Fargo, JP Morgan & Chase and Citigroup are among other big banks who have also retracted similar debit card plans.

“Any day is a good day for a consumer to become a credit union member,” Cheney said. “Saturday, Nov. 5, is one good day to join, and we certainly encourage consumers to make the change. Because when a consumer joins a credit union, he or she takes the first step for themselves, and their families, in moving toward financial freedom.”

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