Occupy the foreclosure crisis

Occupy the foreclosure crisis November 15, 2011

The “occupation” of Zuccotti Park was not an end in itself. The Occupy movement was organized to address injustice and inequity, but that injustice had nothing to do with the lack of tents erected in a lower Manhattan park.

Nor was the encampment in the park established in order to produce a particular or specific remedy. The occupation echoes similar earlier efforts, such as “Resurrection City” in Washington, D.C., or the Bonus Army encampment near the Capitol. The Bonus Army had a very specific demand — expedited payment of the benefit owed to veterans of World War I. Their camp was established in 1932 to achieve that goal and they said they would stay until the bonus was paid.

The “until” for Occupy Wall Street hasn’t ever been that precise, which has been a nagging problem for the Occupy effort. How could they or anyone else measure their success? How could they know when they were done?

I’m a fan of this movement, but not a part of it. I regard it as a Good Thing and I celebrate it for helping to change the national conversation in a positive way, shifting the focus away from imaginary problems (the Social Security “crisis” of 2037) and self-inflicted crises (debt ceiling) and forcing elected officials to start confronting the real and urgent problems we face — persistent joblessness, decades of wage stagnation, a deck that’s stacked against the 99 percent.

Since I am an outside admirer, and not a participant, there’s no particular reason they should seek or heed any advice from me. But for what it’s worth, I would encourage the Occupy movement to take this opportunity to refine their strategy and enter a new phase. Wall Street really is waging class warfare against the 99 percent, but it is not doing so on a single front. It’s everywhere, and those who would confront it and stand against it must engage it on all those multiple fronts. Wall Street long ago invaded and occupied Main Street, and Main Street might be the next place to take a stand.

I was pleased to see the folks from Occupy Atlanta engaging Wall Street by “occupying” a Georgia home facing imminent foreclosure. Before the Occupy Wall Street movement began here in America, ad hoc activists in Spain were already scoring victories with that approach:

Some people don’t even know their neighbors’ names, but in Spain protesters are gathering in front of people’s houses to stop or stall foreclosures. And they’re getting results.

NYT reports on how the activists are organizing the protests in front of their fellow neighbors houses, using cellphones, and Facebook, Twitter and other electronic means to get hundreds of people to show up on the day the evictions are supposed to happen. When the officials see the crowds, they usually leave, and it can take a month for them to re-organize to try to evict again. The protesters hope that in the time period the bank can be convinced to rent the houses back to the people living inside at an affordable rate.

And Occupy Wall Street had a taste of success with this approach last month, “Occupy Wall Street Protesters Occupy Harlem Boiler Room, Get Tenants Heat and Hot Water“:

Dr. Delois Blakely claimed the landlord had refused to hand over a key to the boiler room so that maintenance workers could install a new one. That was, until a band of about a dozen Occupy Wall Street protesters last week occupied the building’s basement and refused to leave until the landlord complied with Blakely’s demand that the boiler be replaced.

After an all-day occupation on Halloween and the arrest of one protester, the landlord relented, allowing access to the boiler room. By late Friday evening, workers were clanging and banging away in the basement, dismantling the old clunker and clearing space for a new boiler, provided in part by an emergency order by the city, Blakely said.

In October, 77,733 homes entered the foreclosure process. Occupy them and help them stay occupied.

Ideally, the focus would be on those homes that would particularly highlight the bad faith, incompetence and illegality of the big banks’ actions. Lenders are pursuing a multistate mortgage fraud settlement to get off easy after employing “robo-signers” and submitting up to 10,000 false affidavits per month. That’s criminal. For such criminals to claim the law should be on their side when foreclosing on those fraudulent mortgages shouldn’t stand up in court and certainly won’t win in the court of public opinion.

This would be a PR battle the protesters couldn’t lose, and as such it would be a good way to ensure that 99 percent of the public supports the 99 percent. The banks are simply too guilty, their track record of bad behavior is too long and too indefensible:

So I’d encourage the larger Occupy movement to follow the example of Occupy Atlanta and move out of the parks and into the front yards, porches and properties facing foreclosure. As the AFL-CIO’s Arlene Baker put it: “Tell the Banks: This Home Is Occupied.”

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* From that last story:

“We apologize for the error and have reached out to the homeowner to resolve the issue,” said Chase spokesman Michael Fusco.

Should you ever be caught burglarizing a home of $14,000 worth of someone else’s property, just try that line: “Officer, I apologize for the error and have reached out to the homeowner to resolve the issue.” That worked for Chase — no one’s facing any criminal charges for what was, by any definition, theft. But it wouldn’t work for you. You’re not a bank.

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  • Ursula L

    By the way, Fred, if you have not done so, you need to read Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber.  It’s exactly the sort of analysis of human and economic relations that fits with your ideas of what humanity can be.  

  • Anonymous

    I’m right there with you.

    Stereotyping people based on their appearance is one of those things evolutionary psychologists would probably tell us evolved to help distinguish between social group members.  I agree that it’s a questionable way to make judgments about the value of people’s opinions – and I like I said – it isn’t that I disagree with what white-dreads-guy has to say, or that I think he’s any less articulate than the guy in a suit, or less authentic than the guy in Carharts and work-boots.  (I mean, every single one of those people eventually gets started in on telling me how to live my life, whether it’s telling me I’d be happier if I ate vegan, or hunted and killed my own meat.)

    I think Lori’s got it – it’s that the media is well aware that showing people with lots of body mods will squick out a large proportion of the viewers, and that’s the story they want to tell. Most people only tangentially pay attention to the news (why would they? Knowing what’s going on in New York or Oakland does exactly zero to help you feed your kids and get to work on time) so they can ignore the protests as soon as they think it’s populated by a bunch of drum-circle guys.

    Unlike Lori, I don’t think they’re setting out to intentionally sabotage the protest (Apologies to @LoriAnnK:disqus if I’ve misrepresented your position.) I think that they’re all members of the The Church of the Saavy.  And like most people who don’t work, really, really hard at it – they see what they want to see, and what they want to see is that direct-action protesting like Occupy is largely the province of unwashed hippies.  So they find the unwashed hippies.  Even though there are 85 year old grandmas and electricians, and bankers, and a lot of diversity within the movement.

    So, basically I agree with you.  When I pay attention, I find myself agreeing just as much with the white-dread-guy as I do with polo-shirt-and-slacks-guy, but when I am not really engaged in listening to what they say, I tend to assume “white-dread-guy is going to get on his organic tomatoes soap box in a minute, I’m just gonna tune him out now.”

    You know what they say about assuming.

  • Lori

     Unlike Lori, I don’t think they’re setting out to intentionally sabotage the protest (Apologies to if I’ve misrepresented your position.)  

     

    I don’t think the press is intentionally trying to sabotage the protests. I think they have a set of prejudices and incentives that causes their coverage to skew in a particular way and that means that what news outlets report in not the whole story. 

    IOW, we’re pretty much on the same page. My real point is that we have to work both to resist our own prejudices and push back on the skewed picture presented by the media, because it harms us. The 1% have most of the money and almost all the power. The only way the other 99% have a chance to make anything positive happen is be working together, not splitting into factions based on things like body art, footwear and food choices. 

  • So, today I learned that at least some police departments define curling into a ball in response to pepper spraying is a threat to a police officer and warrants more force:

    http://imgur.com/gallery/ZnWKr