The Next Frontier for Occupy: Protesters Take Over Vacant Homes, Rally to Protect Those Facing Eviction and Foreclosure
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"We're not going to let this young man lose his home!" A group of occupiers split off from the block party at the end of the main action to join Quincy in his home.
An older woman talked about learning about her son's death in Iraq following a four-year tour there. She said she bought her home in 1997, but her monthly payments doubled from $1,500 to $3,000, and she fell behind despite the fact that she worked two jobs, as she had her whole life. "Now they're trying to take my home away, " she said. "How many families are like me?" before launching into the chant, "Don't give up! Don't give up!"
With that, the march set off to the final destination: a small split level that shared walls with the house next door. Instead of sitting empty, starting that night it would house Alfredo Carrasquillo, Tasha Robinson, and their two kids. The house, owned by Bank of America, had been vacant for three years, said OWS in a statement.
Occupiers had already been decorating: bunches of balloons sprung from the yard, the front of the house was papered with giant yellow signs declaring, "Foreclose on banks, not people!" A black-and-white photo of the family graced the front.
Council member Barron knocked on the door, and the family came out. "As an official representative of East New York, we welcome you to the neighborhood!" over cheers from the crowd. That message was underscored by the delivery of a Christmas tree, as well as the housewarming presents — plants, chairs — brought by marchers.
"I want you to know this is just the beginning," said Carrasquillo, as his kids waved from the porch. Tasha Robinson, who appeared afterward, just said, "Thank you, everybody ... I'm shy. I just want to say I love you all."
Then the block party got rolling, courtesy of a marching band, while a cleaning crew of occupiers hurried inside to fix it up for the family before their first night there.
Other cities that saw actions include Atlanta, where protesters disrupted a house auction. In Los Angeles, occupiers and members of the community massed at the home of Ana Casas Wilson and her family of five to stop their eviction by Wells Fargo, reported Bloomberg News.
Minneapolis occupiers defended the home of Vietnam veteran Bobby Hull, who'd lived there since 1968. Minneapolis was one of the first occupations to focus on foreclosures, setting up camp in the home of Monique White to protect her from what she thought was an impending eviction.
What he learned from defending White's property, says organizer Anthony Newby, is that the media occupiers draw make banks think twice about rushing through evictions. The CEO of US Bank, Newby points out, has tried to present himself as the "Golden Boy" of Wall Street and US Bank as clean of the mortgage mess. "We'll hold his feet to the fire on that. If that's your public position, what are you willing to do for these struggling homeowners?"
Monique White has not heard anything from US Bank, which she says is good news, certainly better news than an eviction notice.
"It's an "aha!" moment," says Newby of the movement's shift to occupying homes. "It makes perfect sense. We have so much pent-up rage, and this is a way to direct it in a really pointed, smart, calculated way that can effect some real bank reform. I think it's incredible that it's becoming a national movement."
Matt Browner Hamlin, who helped organize the New York action and runs the website of Occupy Our Homes, says camping at homes has two giant advantages: it can shift the national conversation to affect long-term change and help actual people now. "Nonviolent, direct action has the power to inspire people, captivate attention. This is just another way we're trying to change the conversation about what's going on and help individual families."