In the fours years since the Federal Government and Federal Reserve began dumping obscenely large piles of public money into the corporate banking system, little has been changed for the better. The revolving door between that industry and its "regulators" is the same as it ever was, and there is every reason to believe that, in the next crisis, the "Too Big to Fail Banks" will once again be able to extract a bailout from our government over the protestations of the American people.
Given this reality, it has become clear that trying to reform the financial system through purely political action in the current environment is a fool's errand. The banking industry is so deeply embedded in the power structure that it gets what it wants from the government, regardless of public opinion. Indeed, the nature and extent of that power was laid bare for all to see in the process by which the TARP bailouts were enacted in 2008. Initially, the combination of the proximity of the coming elections and the enormity of the public backlash against the bailouts accomplished the unthinkable: the bailout that the banks were demanding failed to pass Congress. However, their lobbying machine responded by swinging into overdrive, and it took less than a week to strong-arm a majority of the House of Representatives into authorizing the pumping of $700 billion into the banking system.
Ultimately, the lynch-pin of the banks' success in obtaining the bailouts was the fact that they were able to hold the interests of tens of millions of their customers hostage. Though such people who patronized the likes of Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citizens Bank, et. al., felt that the bailout was wrong, their fear of what would happen if their financial services provider went belly up trumped their indignation and they were willing to go along with the program. Ultimately, it was the interests of their vast customer base that provided the critical element which forced Congress to accept the banks' agenda.
Thus, to prevent the next round of bailouts from getting off the ground, it is imperative to undermine the political clout of the TBTF banking system, and the most effective way of doing that is by convincing its customers to go elsewhere. By denying such banks the ability to shield their irresponsible behavior behind the interests of their small depositors, it will be much harder for them to make the case that the government giving them free money serves the public interest.
As for where people should be encouraged to move their money to, the choice is clear: credit unions. As cooperatives owned by their depositors, the basic organizational structure of credit unions ensures that the interests of the customers (or "members," in credit union parlance) are aligned with those of the institution (in contrast to banks, where the relationship is oppositional). Indeed, in a free market for financial services (i.e., one without government regulation/central banking, etc.), most deposit-taking institutions tend to be organized in this way; people only began trusting corporate banks with their deposits in large numbers after the passage of Federal banking regulation in the 1930s.
As a result of this dynamic, the rate of commercial bank failure in the most recent financial crisis was almost five times that of credit unions, and credit unions therefore did not need a bailout. Thus, if this trend holds in the next crisis (which a quick glance at history suggests it will), it suggests that pushing for a mass movement from banks to credit unions could be a key factor in preventing the next bail-out.
For credit union members whose self-regulating institutions behaved responsibly and are sound, a bailout doesn't feel like the necessary evil it appears to be to a bank customer. Instead, it should rightly be perceived as a transfer of one's tax dollars to prop up an industry that is in direct competition with the credit union of which you, as a member, own a stake. As such, to a credit union member, bank bailouts are not just an attack on the public interest, but also on one's own personal financial wellbeing. If made conscious of this fact and politically mobilized the next time a bailout is on the horizon, the mass of credit union members have the potential to form a counter-weight powerful enough to neutralize the enormous clout of the banks. Thus, moving one's patronage from a bailed out bank to a credit union both strips the banks of their cover while simultaneously strengthening the most formidable potential barrier to the passage of the next round of bailouts.
There are many ways of achieving this goal, but one tactic that has a great deal of potential is boycott and picket campaigns against bailed-out banks. After connecting with other like-minded activists locally, do a bit of research and figure out which bank with a branch in your community is the most egregious example of Too Big to Fail. Once identified, publicly announce the goal of closing that branch through a boycott and picket campaign (ex.: http://bit.ly/IIBGc6), and begin organizing groups to stand outside of the bank several days a week handing out literature and asking everyone who enters to move their money to a credit union.
As the campaign grows, increase the number of hours per week there are pickets present, with the ultimate goal of making it so no-one can go to the bank without first being asked to join the boycott. If the branch can ultimately be made unprofitable as a result of its customers moving from credit unions, you will have succeeded in meaningfully shifting the balance of power away from the Too Big to Fail banks that have hijacked our government and run our economy into the ground!