Emily Flitter

Housing advocates in California today got some fresh air as they decried bank bailouts and called for government aid to Main Street. Representatives of 40 community groups marched through San Francisco, stopping at the local headquarters of big banks that received federal bailout money and ending their rout at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

They started the rally at Bank of America, and their route took them to the offices of Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and U.S. Bancorp. “Every bank we’d come to, no banker came out to say hello to us,” said Orson Aguilar, the executive director of the Greenlining Institute. “But when we showed up to every bank they were definitely expecting us, and a lot of bankers were inside at the windows, with locked doors, waiving at us. I guess they knew we were coming.”

When the group reached the San Francisco Fed, Director of Community Development Scott Turner was waiting. He told the group that Fed officials had toured blighted Bay Area communities like Oakland and Richmond to view firsthand the effects of foreclosures there. Mr. Aguilar was unimpressed. “They didn’t say anything of substance other than that they would relay our message to Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Members of the Institute, including Mr. Aguilar, will have their own chance to bring a message to Washington: They’ve scheduled a meeting with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on March 11. They’re planning to discuss their “eight pro-Main Street banking principles.” They are: a six-month foreclosure moratorium; money for community home counselors; banking for the unbanked; more charitable donations for low-moderate income families and communities; home lending reform supported by banks; greater support for small minority-owned business and micro-businesses; information on how banks are using bailout funds and “limits on excessive executive compensation.”

For the purposes of the protest, however, the principles were boiled down to simpler chants: “What do we want? Loans! When do we want them? Now!”