Recently, I’ve been reminded that, in the words of Dr. King, “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice,” but not without people pushing it that way. I met some of those people last Thursday morning. Led by New York Communities for Change, they were camped in a plaza outside of Goldman Sachs, and they had a message: “Tell #GovernmentSachs: Stop Stealing Our Future.”
Donald Trump’s inauguration also marked the beginning of what could be a new era of American oligarchy. He has flooded his inner circle with Goldman Sachs alumni such as Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin (former Goldman Sachs partner), economic advisor Gary Cohn (outgoing Goldman Sachs President and COO), and senior advisors Steve Bannon and Anthony Scaramucci (both former Goldman bankers).
But just as politics often seems removed from our daily lives, so does the world of finance. The #GovernmentSachs crew really brought home for me what government by Goldman Sachs will mean for us, not only as Americans but as New Yorkers. The firm funnels billions of dollars into oil and gas companies, including 34 new pipelines and the promotion of bad practices like fracking. They essentially have a vested interest in catalyzing climate change. The consequences of Goldman’s practices for New Yorkers include an increase in natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, regular flooding of New York City, more air pollution, and 50–60 days a year of extreme heat by 2050.
As we dragged out a cardboard-and-garbage-bag representation of an oil spill and someone laid down and “died” in it, I was reminded that it is ultimately lower-income communities of color who will bear the brunt of climate change, just as they always have. These communities are already likelier to have high concentrations of asthma and other respiratory problems due to pollution. They already have lost homes not only to Sandy but also to foreclosures, gentrification, and the privatization of public services—all of which Goldman Sachs can take direct responsibility for.
A government by and for billionaires and millionaires means that the middle class is not safe either. The continual extraction of wealth and health from our communities makes it difficult for middle-class families to sustain themselves through hardships like natural disasters. I’m reminded of my friends who lost homes and lives to Sandy. People of color tend to owe larger mortgages, are redlined by banks, and are therefore more financially vulnerable. We have more student debt, more car loans, and now less and less support.
We’re already seeing the consequences: In the last weeks of President Obama’s term, the Federal Housing Administration instituted a mortgage-fee cut that would have reduced the annual premium of someone borrowing $200,000 by $500. This is something that would help first-time homebuyers and low-income homeowners and borrowers. In President Trump’s first hour in office, the decision was rolled back.
Showing up to “Shut Down Government Sachs” isn’t just about fighting for economic justice or climate justice or our country in some symbolic sense. New York raised me. I lost my baby teeth on the playgrounds of Queens and learned how to ride a bike on Long Island. My mother walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on September 11 to get home to my older brother and me. Exactly two years later, my younger brother was born, 50 miles away. My first job was in the Bronx when the subway fare was still $2. And despite swearing for years that I would leave New York, I’m at New York University and will finish my undergraduate degree here.
This is the fight for my family and my home. This is personal, just as every fight ahead of us will be personal. And if we are united, we will never be defeated.