The Next Frontier for Occupy: Protesters Take Over Vacant Homes, Rally to Protect Those Facing Eviction and Foreclosure
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On Tuesday occupiers all over the country took part in a day of action to do what politicians and the courts have repeatedly failed to: hold banks accountable for creating the housing crisis and then making it massively worse by rushing through millions of shady and illegal foreclosures.
In at least 20 cities, occupiers rallied with homeowners facing foreclosure or eviction, interrupted housing auctions, protested at banks, and took over vacant, unused properties to move homeless families in.
"The day of action marks a national kick-off for a new frontier for the occupy movement: the liberation of vacant bank-owned homes for those in need. The banks got bailed out, but our families are getting kicked out," read a statement from occupiers and other groups involved in the New York action, including Organizing for Occupation and New York Communities for Change (NYCC). Other organizations such as Picture the Homeless and Take Back the Land also took part.
New York Occupiers gathered at an intersection in East Brooklyn, New York, a poverty-stricken, predominantly African-American area with a foreclosure rate five times the state average, occupiers repeatedly said. A crowd of about 100 swelled to roughly 600 as the march set off on a tour of foreclosed homes in the neighborhood, trooping past shuttered store fronts, empty lots, and deteriorating houses.
Pat Boone, former president of New York's ACORN, who's lived in East Brooklyn for 35 years, says she was devastated to see it start to resemble its dilapidated 1980s state, as empty, foreclosed homes fall apart around her. "The empty houses make the streets more dangerous. Businesses are closing," she said. "People feel like there's no support. What we want to do is stand with them, let them know they don't have to give in to the banks' illegal foreclosures."
As the crowd wound through the streets and sidewalks, many neighborhood residents signaled that they stood with the marchers as well. A middle-aged black woman who had not previously heard of Occupy said she joined the march when it passed her house, said occupiers could come hang out at her home any time, and promised to feed them noodles. At one stop, in front of a yellow house with boarded-up windows, councilman Charles Barron told the marchers to turn and look behind them. Across the street at Thomas Jefferson High School, students at the windows waved, cheered, and shouted along as occupiers chanted, "We are the 99%!"
"Today we're showing that we're not backing away. Bloomberg, we're doing what you should be doing," declared a speaker through mic-check at one falling-apart vacant house. Marchers crisscrossed the door with yellow police tape that read "Occupy" and fastened a large yellow banner to the front, marking the house as "Occupied Real Estate."
At the second to last house, several people on the verge of losing their homes shared their stories. (And one woman invited JP Morgan Chase's CEO, Jamie Dimon, on a tour of the foreclosed homes in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Harlem.)
A slight man in a black hoodie stood shyly on the steps of the house, about to try out his first open mic, occupiers said. His story amplified by the hundreds of people echoing his words, Quincy said he owed $47,500, after getting his "deed stolen." (Later, I talked with him, and he said that he'd sold the deed to a man who turned out to be a fraud.)
He was getting evicted that day. "Thank you. I hope you guys can help," he concluded. "Let's stand together and fight together."