Occupy Homes: Will Taking the Fight to Foreclosed Houses Unleash More Police Violence?
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A couple of days after the Occupy Portland encampment was busted up by police, 15 occupiers took over a vacant, foreclosed home owned by Bank of America. "We have occupied a bank-owned house in the northeast suitable to house 30 to 40 people (and encourage others to do the same)" they wrote on a flyer left at the house.
Bank of America, the Portland police department and the homeowners of nearby condos were not pleased by the occupiers' experiment in egalitarian living and on Friday, police battered down the door, kicking the occupiers out and throwing two in jail, the Oregonian reported.
Other cities also haven't taken it well when occupiers set up camp on private property. Two weeks ago, police armed with assault rifles stormed into an abandoned car dealership in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to arrest protesters who'd taken over the vacant property. "We had breaking and entering of private property downtown. The government has to respond, " the mayor said in a press conference the next day, unapologetic about the use of military firearms to subdue a handful of unarmed protestors.
After a coordinated national crackdown that dispersed occupations from the public parks and plazas of Portland, Denver, Oakland and New York, occupiers have floated the idea to camp on private space, confronting banks and mortgage servicers at ground zero of their disastrous policies: the foreclosed home.
One tactic is to occupy the home of a family facing eviction, in the hopes that media attention will encourage the bank to rethink whether the homeowners have exhausted their options after all. Another, more radical action is to take over a vacant property, co-opting it for use by a family that's already homeless (or by occupiers).
There's a clear difference between the two tactics, but both confront big banks and mortgage servicers' virtually unchecked exploitation of struggling homeowners, through such shady, or outright illegal practices as pushing foreclosures based on shoddy or falsified paperwork; robosigning; kicking people out of their homes when they are eligible to refinance; starting foreclosure proceedings after just one late payment; and capping it all off by letting foreclosed homes sit vacant and fall apart.
Occupations around the country are already holding actions to aid homeowners threatened with foreclosure, using their bodies -- and the TV news vans Occupy actions attract -- to pressure banks into negotiations.
Rose Guidel fell just two weeks behind on her payments after a family member who was helping out financially was shot and killed. Despite being served with an eviction notice in September, she's still in her home, thanks in part to a series of protests that grew larger as members of Occupy LA joined in.
After getting kicked out of Woodruff Park, Occupy Atlanta relocated to the lawn of a police officer who thought his family would be evicted within days. The family ended up leaving the house following threats by the local sheriff that they could be arrested for being accessories to trespassing, the occupiers claimed.
In Ohio, a single mother expecting eviction papers contacted Occupy Cleveland through Twitter, prompting the group to set up tents and stage a sit-in at her house. The action earned her a 30-day extension, which she tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer helped her secure a rental for herself and her two kids.
Right now, members of Occupy Minneapolis live on the lawn and in the home of Monique White, a mother of two who lost her job when her nonprofit employer was hit with budget cuts. When her part-time job at a liquor store couldn't cover her payments, US Bank moved to foreclose, even though White says she was eligible for a program helping laid-off homeowners stave off foreclosure.