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New York Activists Blockade Foreclosure Auctions to Stop Banks Selling Homes

In each of the five boroughs of New York City, each week, there's a foreclosure auction. And this week, community activists turned up to try and stop it.

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The activists stand up and sing to interrupt the auctions as an act of symbolic civil disobedience, but also as direct action, to physically disrupt the process and, by taking up time, prevent the sale of as many homes as possible. On Thursday, there were originally supposed to be 14 homes on the block; three were actually auctioned off. “We disrupted the process in a real way,” Gargamelli noted. Because the organizers had successfully kept their plans a secret, the court wasn't prepared for them; when court officers recognized some of them, they moved through the courtroom, making everyone in the room go back outside and surrender their cell phones to an officer. The auction, which was supposed to start at 2:30, wound up getting underway just before 3:00, and the courtroom had to close at 4:30. Because several court officers were required to escort out those arrested, the organizers presumed that the process was cut short because they didn't have enough security.

Nine people were escorted out, singing, in handcuffs with the expectation of a ticket for a violation. Thus far, all of the Brooklyn auction blockades (this was the tenth action citywide taken by Organizing for Occupation-affiliated groups) have resulted in violations for those arrested except for one misdemeanor charge. “We're not angry, we're not resisting arrest,” Eichenbaum-Pikser explained at the training before the action. Instead, she said, they sing to bring something beautiful into that space. “We're highlighting the ugliness and violence and injustice that happens in those courtrooms.”

They kept singing as they were led through the courthouse, switching as they faded from earshot of the auctioneer to a verse of the song that addressed their arresting officers instead.

A Message to Homeowners

With the crisis showing no signs of stopping, direct action often seems like last hope for homeowners. But do actions like these really stand a chance of solving the larger problem?

“It's a message to homeowners that people care, a message to the court,” Gargamelli said. “It's a message to the investors that they're doing something morally wrong, even if they refer to it as business.” (And at least some of the message seems to be getting to them—as we stood outside the courtroom after the arrests, one investor walked by and started humming the melody to “Listen Auctioneer.” Others greeted the start of the song with a sort of grudging humor --“There they go,” one muttered.)

Carlos Rivera, a Bronx homeowner who is facing foreclosure himself, is evidence that the message works. “I found out I'm not alone,” he said. He came to Brooklyn Thursday to take part in the action and was arrested in support of strangers—he explained that he balances looking for a job since losing his, fighting his own battle, and taking part in activism. “Bridges must be formed between people on all these issues,” he said, citing the work of the new Home Defenders League, a national movement advocating for the interests of homeowners who are underwater, facing foreclosure, or have lost their homes, as an example.

As Organizing for Occupation moves forward, Schwartz-Orbach explained, they're taking steps to coordinate with families facing foreclosure, so they can attempt to shut down specific auctions and support specific homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes. It's work that's grounded in the community, in a sense of solidarity between homeowners like Rivera, volunteers like Schwartz-Orbach, and professionals like Gargamelli, who'd been at the courthouse just that morning representing a client, and noted that she's perfectly happy to take arrests and risk her law license in support of homeowners.