Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN) is a coalition of four different neighborhood groups on the south and near-west sides of the Syracuse, NY. Each group has a monthly meeting and the leaders use the forum to hold politicians, agency officials and business owners accountable to the residents. But what happens when an issue can’t wait until the next monthly meeting? What if the politician will not come to the meeting? What if the public meeting is held during the day?
SUN has devised a system to counter these problems by creating a team of leaders, available during the daytime, to put pressure on targets and move SUN’s long-term campaigns to the next level. The goal is to have a core group of 50 people that can jump on a bus and put the hammer on some unsuspecting politician, bank official or other target—SUN’s Street Team.
The most recent Street Team hit was done out in the fancy suburbs east of our city. On June 19th, 30 SUN leaders went to the house of Matt Schiro, the president of the Syracuse division of M & T Bank. SUN’s Banking Committee had negotiated with M & T’s CRA officer for nearly two years to enter into a CRA agreement to increase mortgage loans in SUN’s turf.
M & T walked away from the table, saying they would not sign any agreement that included measurable goals for increasing mortgage loans. The Street Team went to the president’s house to demand a meeting with an official “with juice”, someone with both the ability and willingness to sign an agreement. Leaders decorated his house with red streamers and signs protesting M & T’s redlining of our neighborhoods. Accompanied by one of our youth members on a bass drum, leaders chanted “Good Loans, Not Saxophones”, a reference to the fact that M & T is the major sponsor of the city’s Jazzfest.
The local police negotiated with Mr. Schiro, who refused to come outside. In a direct telephone discussion with Mr. Schiro the next day, our Banking Committee won a commitment for meetings between our leaders and a new group of M & T officials, including two vice-presidents. It was agreed that the mutual goal of SUN and M & T was to sign an agreement to work to increase mortgage lending in our neighborhoods.