Thousands of Americans who were badly hit by the recession have been able to directly message the most powerful figures in the country’s top financial institutions via a new website set up as part of the Occupy movement.
So far, almost 7000 people have sent messages via OccupytheBoardroom.org directly into the inboxes of figures like Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup and Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase.
To make sure the executives can’t just ignore the emails, activists from Occupy Wall Street plan to print them off and hand-deliver them in a march on Friday.
Those who have sent messages include foreclosure victims, students unable to pay off loans, and ordinary hard working people affected by the recession and then by debts called in by banks.
Some are heartbreaking, many are angry, and a few rely on sarcasm to get their point across. In one message, a Marine Corp veteran who has served in the Middle East described to Joe L Price, a Bank of America executive, how he got into debt because his son had a lengthy spell in hospital, and how he can’t afford the mounting fees.
He writes: “You may think that this is ok but it is not ok… as a patriot of the original founding fathers beliefs, you are unpatriotic and I was willing to lay my life down for people such as yourself. Tell me, what sacrifice are you willing to make for me?”
Another, written to John G Stumpf, chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo, under the heading “Congratulations Mr Stumf”, reads: “I work two jobs (retail and freelance) to keep up with my student loan payments ($700/mo), mortgage ($1100/mo), utilities, insurance, credit, and two car payments ($1500/mo). I have so many payments, sometimes my account gets really low, and I like to pretend its a game to see if my paycheck will clear in time before the payment goes through! Its very exciting, and when I lose, YOU WIN! $30 each time!
The site is a collaboration between Occupy Wall Street, New York Communities for Change and a coalition of community and labour groups. It has posted 200 names of CEOs and board members of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo, with links allowing messages to be sent directly to their inboxes.
Olivier Leirer, of New York Communities for Change, said the idea was aimed at giving ordinary people a chance to tell their stories and have their voices heard.
“The letters touched on four key issues, foreclosure, unemployment, anger at rising fees and corruption and collusion between Wall Street executives and our elected officials” said Leirer, who helped set it up.
They had originally intended to publish the emails and other contact details of all the board members and executives, but learned that they could be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act if their actions unwittingly crashed the email servers of the banks.
“It could be punishable by time in jail and we decided it wasn’t a good way to go about things” she said.
Instead of sending out thousands of emails, with the potential risk, OTB devised a system where individuals write into a group blog, which is then tagged and sent in batches of 99 emails to the intended recipient.
Leirer said that they are able to discern if the emails are being opened and, so far, around 20% of them are.
“We know that they are not being sent directly to trash. But even if they are, we are printing off the letters and delivering them directly.”
The site also urges readers to choose a “Best Friend Forever ” among the “1 per cent”. By clicking on their name, they are encouraged to find out more about them and even meet them. It stresses, however, that they should not be harassed.
The site, which has been running for two weeks, has not gone unnoticed by the institutions it has targeted.
A memo from Fay Feeney, a consultant and member of the National Association of Corporate Directors, described how corporations should prepare to combat the Occupation movement.
In the memo, leaked to the Occupy Washington and first published by website October2011.org, Feeney warns “corporate counsels, CEOs and board rooms” about OccupytheBoardroom.
She said: “As the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters are hitting the streets worldwide, another movement is quietly unfolding online; OccupyThe Boardroom”
“Users can access a list of CEOs and share their stories regarding bankruptcy, job losses, and unfair treatment. According to OTB (which claims it has the contact information for al members listed) prizes will be awarded to the best funnniest and most revelatory interactions.”
She warns: “Board members and corporate counsels prepare themselves for a bumpy ride by future-proofing their companies.”
“Protests can spin out of control, with real time data processing from Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites.”
Among the steps taken to protect themselves is to use social networks to gather intelligence so “board chairs and CEOs should always remain one step ahead in protecting their boardroom.”
When contacted by the Guardian, Feeney said in an email: “This guidance was for directors to listen to stakeholders and take action to make the board responsive to the voices – whether internal or external… My counsel is aimed at improved governance and enlightening the
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