I told myself I wasn’t going to write any more on this topic because I had said what needed to be said when it all happened but as events continue to unfold in the story of McIntosh State Bank, I feel compelled for a variety of reasons to write what I want to say about it and broaden the scope of things just a bit more.
Before I jump into that, allow me to revisit that day just a bit to refresh the memory and while some of it may not seem relevant to the point I’ll be getting to, please bear with me a few paragraphs. I wrote an article entitled “Remembering McIntosh State Bank” back on June 17th, 2011, the date the Federal Depositors Insurance Corporation came to our town in their ominous black minivans and took possession of the bank around the close of business that day. I went home, made some phone calls, notified my employers plus a couple of family members and then finally, I sat down and thought about the implications to our town. I was angry about it, to be sure and I knew it would be helpful to me if I began to write their story, which helped me to regain my composure. Their story needed to be told and it needed to be told quickly before the rumor mill got fired up and before the autopsies could be performed by everyone with a lot of opinions and few, if any, solid facts.
I tend to write my articles in the evening when it is quiet and then my blog program allows me to schedule the date and time it publishes. Since it posts to both my Facebook page and Twitter, I usually schedule it to go out during lunch time or after 6PM. People tend to check in during those times and the notification of an article doesn’t get backed up behind a logjam of notices. For example, this article was written on Sunday but won’t go out until you actually get it on Wednesday. The night of Friday, June 17th I just wrote it and sent it without taking the usual time to refine it and smooth it out or even to schedule it. It expressed what I felt in the purest sense and I felt I should let it go out as it was. It published at 10:22 PM and when I went to bed shortly after midnight, I checked the site statistics page and saw that it had registered 20 reads of that particular article, not counting the people who subscribe to the blog and get it emailed to them when I publish something. That was about normal for the first few hours after a publication.
Saturday the 18th was altogether a different story. To say that I was overwhelmed with the response it got would have been a huge understatement. I checked my email around 10:30am and had already received three comments on the article. Since article comments are kind of rare, I logged in and checked the statistics for that day and was shocked to see that it had received over 150 unique views, which was a new record for a single day. Meanwhile, more comments trickled in to the site but more surprising than that were the number of emails I got directly from people, along with a few phone calls. My mother called as well with the list of misspelled words which I did go in and correct. This went on all day and shortly after midnight, I checked the statistics again and was stunned to see that the article had been read from 1,049 individual and unique IP addresses. I also discovered that it had been reposted by several people on Facebook which made it available to a lot of people outside my circle of contacts and that from Facebook, 428 people had found their way to it, plus a few from other sites as well. That was, of course, the biggest day The Literate Pen ever had but over the new few days, it remained strong and after one week, it had garnered over 2000 unique views and continues to get a few per week.
I said all this for two reasons: first, I’ve wanted all along to say thank you to the many people who read the article, commented on it, sent me emails about it, shared it with other people and even wrote me handwritten letters. I was very humbled to find that something I had written, admittedly in a moment of anger, had resonated with so many people. Second and more important, I discovered through the responses I received that many people were feeling the same shock, disbelief and anger that I was feeling, all of which led to a groundswell of support for McIntosh Bank and the people who had tried so hard to prevent what inevitably happened to it. The loss of McIntosh touched so many people at the same time that whole segments of our community grieved over it, much like a family grieves together when a loved one dies.
I’ve only seen a few events in my life that created such an atmosphere in a group of people larger than a family and it is hard to describe in words how that feels. The loss of the space shuttle Challenger and the destruction of the World Trade Center had a similar effect, except it was nationwide and not just in a few small communities and the situations were far worse. In the case of our local bank, optimism helped drive some of the gloom away because even though it wasn’t “our town bank” anymore, the people who made it the bank would still be there and as long as they were, the spirit of the bank would live on.
Two months after the seizure of the bank, I wonder about the key players who sat around a table, perhaps in Atlanta or maybe in Washington, and decided to map out the strategy for liquidating a local institution the way in which it was handled. Do they think about the effects that doing something like this will have on the collective psyche of the community? Or do they just think of that only in terms of how they can make such a major occurrence seem like only a ripple in the road? Who looks at the impact on the community though? Who thinks about the collective well-being of the towns that suddenly are faced with black minivans and agents, sometimes accompanied by armed law enforcement officers? What kind of message does it send to the community when people who are highly thought of and respected in the community, from Tellers to CEO’s are suddenly displaced from the business that they have called home for many years and replaced with faces unknown to them?
To the bank examiner or the auditor or the person who decides which bank lives and which one dies, it’s all about numbers on a ledger. To the community banker, however, it is much more. Each account number represents a dream of someones, be it that first new car, a new home, a retirement account or a new business owner ready to go out and try to claim a piece of the American dream and the community banker holds that dream in trust. To the shareholders that provide much of the equity to capitalize and fund a bank, it’s a belief that putting their funds back into the community fuels the economy of the community that most of them call home. To the depositor, it’s having a place to keep what you have earned in safety, secure in the knowledge that caring people are looking after what you have worked hard to make. To the community as a whole, it is a symbol of the strength of the community.
When all that is suddenly and irrevocably gone, dreams are broken, belief is shaken, security is fragile and strength wanes. When you come and you take that away, you do more injury to the community than good. When you order new banks to dispose of good people and you remove within minutes the names of companies that that have years of history behind them, be them ten years or forty-seven, companies that helped to shape the history of the counties they served, you do more wrong than right. When you stifle innovative ways to solve problems by burying the solutions under mountains of red tape and regulation, you do more harm than you realize.
The next town your caravan decides to visit, think for a moment about the people involved, not the figures in a book. You may have a job to do but don’t forget that behind every bank is people and behind those people stands a community.