Fighting Banks, Helping 100s of Families: 'Occupy Our Homes' Is One of the Occupy Movement's Great Success Stories
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Since most of the original Occupy encampments were evicted by wintertime, the question now is, what's next for activists? One of the most popular suggestions is "Occupy Our Homes," a campaign in which occupiers around the country would do actions at foreclosed houses or at bailed-out banks that are throwing people out of their homes. A national day of action on December 6 focused on this approach and featured home occupations or solidarity marches in 25 cities, including New York and Chicago.
Occupy Our Homes has three particularly good instincts.
First, it takes the general critique of inequality that the movement has been voicing - something often expressed in abstract charts and tables - and makes the issue concrete.
Since so many people in America are dealing with insecurity about their homes, the shift to doing foreclosure prevention and anti-eviction actions allows new groups of people with a clear sense of their own connection to the struggle to engage with the Occupy movement. Social movements at their best are about helping people take their individual troubles and link them to a public problem and shifting the focus from trying to personally cope to taking collective action.
Second, the campaign connects the Occupy movement with organizing that has been going on for years. Community-based groups have been resisting foreclosures and evictions at least since the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008, if not before. Bringing the energy of Occupy to bear affords these campaigns more visibility and helps scale up local struggles, which can see themselves as part of a national movement.
Third, Occupy Our Homes identifies an arena for concrete change. Thus far, Occupy has been successful in creating enough general unrest to keep issues of inequality from being ignored and to shine a spotlight on the real economic problems affecting the majority of Americans. But as the movement progresses, it will benefit from targeting its discontent. Yes, we need to create a crisis in public consciousness, but the movement also needs to be able to drive specific changes.
As a new frontier for action, Occupy Our Homes raises a variety of difficult questions: How can we make sure that protests at a home or bank are actions that get real results instead of merely momentary occurrences? And how do we scale up so that we are not just addressing the problems of a few homeowners but instead making an impact that can resonate throughout the national economy?
I will be devoting two columns to these pressing questions.
To begin to understand the tactics and prospects of Occupy Our Homes, I spoke with Steve Meacham, organizing coordinator at City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston. City Life is one of the groups that has long been at the forefront of grassroots anti-eviction actions, and I was excited to get Meacham's insights.
First, I asked him about the history of City Life's anti-foreclosure work.
"Our organization was formed in 1973," Meacham said. "We launched our anti-foreclosure, anti-eviction effort about five years ago. It was really focused on fighting displacement more than fighting foreclosure. We discovered that other people were intervening on behalf of homeowners either at the moment they got their loan - advising them on how to be successful first-time homebuyers - or they were intervening at the moment people faced foreclosure. We opened up a third area: We started to intervene after foreclosure, to fight eviction.
"We discovered that for people who are underwater, foreclosure itself isn't such a big deal. They don't really have much equity in the house, so they're not losing that. What they are really losing is their ability to physically stay in their home. They can fight that independent of fighting foreclosure. I think that's especially true in Massachusetts, but it can be true almost anywhere."