No blank check for Wall Street! (DRAFT)


Final version posted on OpenLeft and Pam’s House Blend

Executive Summary: please check out the No blank check for Wall Street Facebook page, add yourself as a fan, let your friends know, and blog about it.

How to help:

If you’re on Facebook, it takes next to no time to sign up as a fan.  While you’re at it, please post a link to wherever you’re reading this to your profile, and share it with your friends; and maybe even write a note about it.

If you’re on other social network sites, please check the current list.  If you don’t see your site, please help out by starting up a No blank check for Wall Street! page there as well.

If you’re a blogger or journalist, why not cover this as an emerging story?  If it pans out, you’ll have a scoop.  When you get a chance, please add your article to the coverage page.

And if you use email, please send mail to your friends and ask them to join!


There’s outrage over the Bush Administration’s proposed bailout of Wall Street — unlimited authority, no oversight, a $700 million dollar blank check — on both the right and the left.  It’s amazing to see people on all sides of the fence draw comparisons between the ultra-short deadlines and the overly broad language of Paulson’s initial proposal and the PATRIOT Act.   Newt Gingrich and Robert Reich, Yuval Levin and Paul Krugman, McCain/Palin and Obama/Biden, all agree: the original proposal doesn’t cut the mustard.

So now what?  From afar, the scene in DC seems like a game of chicken: Patrick Ruffini on The Next Right describes the political reasons for Republicans to oppose any deal; Matt Stoller, on OpenLeft, quotes Steny Hoyer as saying there will be a deal, with a “soft deadline” of Friday.   Meanwhile, Lehman’s $2.5 billion bonuses are adding fuel to the flames, and experts see a need for punitive action.

On the blogs, discussion boards, and in the news, it’s clear: people are angry.

From a strategic standpoint, it’s interesting to compare-and-contrast with the FISA situation.  The most important difference is that the bailout is far more concrete and visceral for most people than FISA: it feels like Wall Street’s stealing money from me, my family, and my friends.  And while corporate accountability is a big deal in both situations (telecom immunity is by far the most unpopular piece of the FISA legislation), with the bailout it seems like there’s a chance to build a multi-partisan movement in favor of accountability.

Of course, there are also strongly partisan aspects as well.  Still, building on the learning from the Strange Bedfellows anti-FISA group, it’s likely to be more effective to focus on some unifying prinicples.  Here’s an initial proposal:

  • Wall Street firms and individuals should be held accountable, and should not be allowed to profit from misdeeds
  • Any government spending or loan guarantees to Wall Street as part of a recovery package must not be a blank check; it must involve meaningful oversight, accountability, and fair compensation to taxpayers.

There’s a golden opportunity for the netroots to take the lead here by building on the learning from Strange Bedfellows, Get FISA Right, and other activism campaigns this summer.  A blog/social networking campaign focused on these principles could help put pressure on Washington.  Call it No blank check for Wall Street.

The goal here is to highlight the breadth of support for these principles, and kick off a cycle where media coverage of the campaign’s success feeds into more success and the end message that’s conveyed is, “wow, a lot of people care a lot about this.” If successful, It reinforces politicians of both parties who are trying to do the right thing, and gives any wavering politicians something to think about the November election — and the 2010 primary.

Time is ridiculously tight, of course — Congresspeople need to go home to campaign, and even if Friday’s deadline is “soft” the pressure will continue to mount for a deal. There’s nowhere near enough time to plan something.  But one of the cool things about net movements is that they can be self-organizing … and things can evolve spontaneously, remarkably quickly …

It’s so crazy it might just work.

One important thing is to pick a “headline number” (the indication of the movement’s size we’ll be tracking and reporting) and a goal.  Mike Stark did really well early on with Get FISA Right: the number was “members on myBO”, the goal was “become the largest”. That was a relatively low target in absolute terms — only 13,000 at the time — but still an important milestone, and the steady increase and then achievement of the goals is what the coverage focused on.

Once No blank check for Wall Street is on multiple social network sites: Facebook, MySpace, BlackPlanet, Ning, SecondLife, Yahoo, LiveJournal, Twitter (etc.), the “headline number” is the total number of friend and fans in all of them.  Of course, you’ve got to start somewhere, so for now I set up a Facebook page; the headline number is the number of fans.

And the goal is to become page with the most fans on Facebook.  Barack Obama is (I believe) currently #1 at roughly 1,900,000, growing at maybe 100 an hour.  As I write this, we’re at 1.  We’ve got a ways to go.

Sure, it’s an aggressive goal, but it should be achievable.  I bet there are least 20,000,000 people on Facebook who are against a blank check for Wall Street.  It’s ridiculously easy to sign up as a supporter — one click, and you’re done — so if we can get viral spread or significant media coverage, it shouldn’t be a problem to reach 2,000,000 Facebookers fairly quickly.  Look at the Paris Hilton video: 4,000,000 views in a few days.  So why not?

[Paris, if you’re reading this and your economic policy is as sensible as you energy policy, would you please take a few moments and make a video opposing a blank check to Wall Street.  Thanks!]

The netroots could make a key difference, in a couple of ways: intense waves of blogging and email forwarding.  If enough blogs cover this new group, that in itself is likely to spark coverage.  And as the rapid growth of the Women against Sarah Palin blog showed, email is still a powerful propagation mechanism.  As new poeple join — and forward email, and let Facebook friends know about it — the headline number starts to climb … which in turn also makes extensive coverage more likely.

At some point, things potentially “go viral” on Facebook: whenever anybody signs up as a fan, an update goes out to all of their friends in their feed.  Thus far, none of the activist groups I’ve been involved in on Facebook have grown fast enough for this to happen … broader concentrated action from the netroots could tip the scales.

Also, the campaign will hopefully make the jump to other social networks.  This happened with Get FISA Right: somebody noticed we didn’t have a MySpace page, and created one and let us know about it.  Cool!  Optimistically, I’ve created a page on the wiki to track where else No blank check pops up.

Who knows, maybe not enogh people will pick this up for it to click … or maybe Facebook won’t be able to keep up with the load … or maybe No blank check for Wall Street will become the largest page on Facebook and nobody will notice.

Then again, maybe there is critical mass here, and it’ll turn out to make the difference.

Let’s find out, shall we?