Occupy Our Homes: From the Streets to Foreclosed Homes, OWS Finds a New Frontier
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In fact, for many occupiers, the exploitative nature of the foreclosure crisis, the fact that families are losing their homes while the bankers who engineered this fateful bubble get bonuses--these were the reasons they joined in September.
And this means that occupying homes is one of the most pertinent and personal ways the message of their movement can be expressed.
"About two years ago my family in Northern New Jersey almost lost their home due to a foreclosure — and so I joined the [OWS} movement in late September in part because of this issue, foreclosures," Yesenia Barragan, a Columbia student and member of the OWS press team who has been helping to coordinate the day of action, tells me. "I'm really excited about this action, because it literally hits so close to home," she says.
She calls Occupy Our Homes the new frontier for the movement and particularly is thrilled by the way the local community organizers from Organize for Occupy, VOCAL-NY, and more have brought their experience and knowledge, and fused it with the "energy" coming from Occupy Wall Street — and the activists' willingness to use direct action — all in service of "getting folks back in their homes."
Today in New York, protesters will meet at a train station at the economically ravaged, largely minority neighborhood of East New York, where they will take a neighborhood tour of foreclosed and vacant bank-owned homes — perhaps, it's hinted, potential sites for future occupations. Then they will have a "housewarming and block party" for a family in need, culminating in as yet unknown direct action to bring that family home, complete with a fixup team to help them do so.
This is a family, says Barry, "which has experienced long-term homelessness, been a victim of Bloomberg's budget cuts, and are excited about the opportunity for a better life." The plan, he notes, is to ask that the house be signed over to a community land trust, which will keep rents low and pass the house on to other needy families should this one move on.
Beyond the compelling optics and the help activists are offering this single family, the movement sees tomorrow's varied actions as a change for building bridges within this community. "It's also about getting young people and residents to get hooked up with community organizations to prevent foreclosures," says Barragan.
To that end, OWS activists have been spending the week walking around the East New York neighborhood and flyering, talking to residents about the upcoming action. "They're really excited — this community — they're going to come up for the block party and housewarming," Barragan says. "A lot of them were thanking the door-to-door canvassing occupiers, and that's also because a lot of them are one paycheck away from potentially being foreclosed on."
This day of action will only be the spark plug for what organizers hope is a coordinated but spontaneous national campaign, offering a blueprint for communities to do similar eviction resistance around the country or to coordinate between already-active movements.
In New York itself, "OWS and Organizing for Occupation have already identified other bank-owned vacant properties. The intention is to fill those with families," says Barry of VOCAL-NY. But beyond the five boroughs, this is the beginning of a nationwide effort to replicate this action and literally occupy everywhere. "One of our messages is that there's more empty homes that banks are sitting on than there are homeless families," he says.
Again, there are three ways for residents to participate in these kinds of actions: first, using nonviolent direct action to prevent impending evictions; second, using those tactics for moving families back into their own empty houses post-eviction; or third, fixing up and occupying vacant houses for homeless families.