Occupy Homes Wins Crucial Victories for Struggling Homeowners Against Big Banks
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In Atlanta, I met Brigitte Walker, a decorated 20-year Army veteran. A few years ago, she was injured in Iraq and pushed into medical retirement, which cut her annual income by more than half. She reached out to Chase bank for a loan modification, showing them that she now had a fixed income for life, and would have no trouble making consistent, timely payments, provided they were slightly reduced. Chase stonewalled her and then started foreclosure proceedings. Brigitte teamed up with Occupy Atlanta and after two press conferences on her lawn, a national call-in day, and direct actions at local Chase branches, the bank suddenly figured out how to help, and Brigitte kept her home.
I also visited the Higher Ground Empowerment Center, a Baptist church in the historic Vine City neighborhood of Atlanta, only blocks from where Dr. King and his family were living when he was murdered in Memphis. In 2008, the church was severely damaged by tornadoes that wreaked havoc on the neighborhood. The church took out loans to rebuild but the economic crash only months later saw Pastor Dexter Johnson and the congregation struggling to pay the loans and praying for guidance. Soon, they too faced foreclosure by BB&T Bank. Pastor Johnson approached Occupy Atlanta and, well, you can guess the story by now. They occupied. They fought back. They won.
Each of these people—Colleen, Monique, Bobby, Pastor Johnson, and Brigitte—is featured in a new 30-second PSA that Occupy Our Homes is working to get placed on national TV, to raise awareness about the #OccupyHomes movement, and connect more people facing foreclosure with the resources to organize for justice. An initiative of LoudSauce, a crowd-funding site for TV ‘spots,’ as they call them, we’re appealing for contributions to amplify these stories — in order to attract more homeowners and more community supporters who are ready to fight back.
And while the 30-second spot features five foreclosure fighters who have won their battles, we also meet Christine Frazer, a 62-year old widow in Atlanta whose brutal 3am eviction left four generations of the Frazer family on the curb, including her 85-year old mother and 3-year old grandson. She has filed suit over fraud in the foreclosure process but her home remains locked down.
While we pay tribute to the hard work of Occupy Homes MN and spotlight the Cruz family’s fight today, Occupy Homes Atlanta and the #OccupyHomes movement have not given up on Chris Frazer and the millions of other homeowners, tenants, and homeless fighting for housing justice.
In urban centers like DC and Detroit to suburban LA and Midwestern towns, Occupy groups, community organizations, and housing justice activists are fighting unjust foreclosures, defending their neighbors from eviction, and liberating bank-owned vacant housing. These efforts are being led by frontline communities and supported by occupiers and activist allies who aim to spotlight the direct impacts of Wall Street greed and the pathology of corporate capitalism.
Someone smart once said, “political education begins at home.” Fighting for homes has been a political education for occupiers and newly minted activists, as well as homeowners whose experience of the economic crisis has brought the inequality and unfairness of our political and economic system into stark relief.
One-house-at-a-time battles have trained a spotlight on the problems as well as the solutions, and inspired new battles. But to fundamentally shift the power from the banks to the people—especially the millions who are underwater on their mortgages or can’t afford rent in cities that have become real estate speculators’ sandboxes—we need this movement to scale to the point where it’s impossible to keep track of the home occupations and communities fighting back.