Socialist Alternative

Building Foreclosure Free Neighborhoods – What Strategy to Beat the Banks?

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Over 130 area residents and community activists gathered on January 7th for a successful “Occupy Homes Community Forum” to discuss a strategy to take the movement forward. Socialist Alternative played a big role organizing this forum and distributed a leaflet, the text of which is below, outlining our proposals. These arguments and proposals were also presented at the forum by Ty Moore, who spoke on the panel for Socialist Alternative. Check out this article for background on the Occupy Homes campaign in Minneapolis, as well as OccupyHomesMn on Facebook.

It’s been five full years since the sub-prime housing market collapsed, triggering recession, skyrocketing unemployment, and a foreclosure crisis that continues to ravage working class neighborhoods. Yet still, while Wall Street got bailed out, no government relief is in sight for homeowners or our communities.
But hope is on the way. Not from any politicians – both parties are completely bought off by Wall Street – but rather from ordinary people rising up to reclaim their homes and neighborhoods! The re-orientation of the Occupy movement to “Occupy Homes” offers the potential to build a serious national movement.
Minneapolis is at the forefront of this new national Occupy Homes campaign. The occupations of Monique White’s and Bobby Hull’s homes gained international media attention. If we can build on our early momentum, and expand the occupations to hundreds of homes across the Twin Cities metro area, we could help spark a national mass movement.
Out of ongoing dialogue between homeowners, longtime community organizers, and occupy activists, a serious strategy to build such a movement in Minneapolis is crystalizing. This leaflet is an attempt by Socialist Alternative activists involved in Occupy Homes Minneapolis to summarize what we think are the key conclusions from this dialogue within the campaign so far, and also – in the final “Looking Ahead” section – to raise some wider strategic ideas we think are crucial to success.

Mass Resistance
In Minneapolis alone, between 2,200 and 3,000 homes have been foreclosed on each year since 2007. Most families leave quietly, shamed into isolation, and feeling powerless against the banks and government.
But imagine if hundreds publicly pledged to occupy their foreclosed homes, like Monique and Bobby are doing. Imagine if every time city or county officials sent cops in to evict families, neighbors and activists rallied in their defense, forcing dozens of arrests in front of the TV cameras.
The political costs to city and county officials facing re-election battles would be immense. For banks like Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank, who spend millions in ads to attract customers, mass resistance to foreclosures would be a public relations’ nightmare.
Already U.S. Bank and city officials have delayed evicting Monique for two months because they understand that police repression would only expand public support for our movement! If first dozens, then hundreds more homeowners followed Monique and Bobby’s example, it would be politically impossible to evict them all. Our movement would have real bargaining power to demand collective solutions to the foreclosure crisis.

Political Pressure
Protest movements are strongest when they can unify around a clear vision for social change, including clear demands on those in power. As a starting point, we urge Occupy Homes Minneapolis to start mobilizing around the following basic points of unity:

Moratorium on Foreclosures – Housing is a Human Right!
Governor Dayton and the Minnesota legislature should declare an immediate freeze on home foreclosures. Mortgages should be renegotiated to ensure homeowners can afford monthly payments, not to exceed 1/3rd of their income. Banks should absorb the losses from the economic crisis they created, not working people!

Stop Evictions Now!
We demand elected city and county officials, including Mayor Rybak and Sheriff Stanek, re-prioritize law enforcement resources away from evicting working-class families from their homes and toward fighting corporate crime. County sheriffs and city police should protect, serve and be accountable to ordinary people, not the wealthy 1%!

Defending individual homes should be coupled with organizing big protests around these demands, exposing banks and politicians at the city, county, state and federal levels for their shameful inaction. Petition drives circulated online and door-to-door could help popularize and gather grassroots support for our demands.

Community Organizing
Already, Occupy Homes Minneapolis has begun door-knocking on homes of families facing foreclosure, which are publicly listed, to find others who want to occupy their homes and resist eviction. Where we find homeowners ready to take a public stand, we have begun organizing regular “neighborhood assemblies” to build solidarity and work out eviction defense plans with individual homeowners.
This effort needs to be massively expanded. With a bold plan, we could aim to discuss with most of the 2-3,000 families facing foreclosure each year. This would mean recruiting and training a huge volunteer canvassing team to systematically door-knock throughout the city.
Canvassing should be supplemented by other outreach and coalition building efforts. In the coming months, we should cover the city with 10,000+ posters urging homeowners facing foreclosure to contact us if they want to fight back. Yard signs saying “This Home is Occupied – Stop Foreclosures Now” should be everywhere.
Trade unions and community groups should be approached to endorse our demands and commit financial and human resources. Big neighborhood forums, fundraising concerts, campus teach-ins, and other outreach efforts will be necessary to broaden our support and recruit activists.

Looking Ahead
In the long run, however, unless our movement develops a clear plan to break the political and economic power of the banks, we are treating the symptoms not the disease. The financial system is designed to maximize profits, not ensure housing as a human right. This system hasn’t been seriously challenged because, for most of U.S. history, both political parties have been in the pocket of the financial elites.
This underscores the need for our social movements to unite politically, to give our protest movement a direct and accountable voice in the electoral arena. In the first instance, Occupy Homes could run independent candidates against Mayor Rybak and Sheriff Stanek if they continue to send cops in to evict families whenever the banks demand it.
If the Democrats and Republicans at the state level continue their refusal to call a moratorium on foreclosure, if they keep cutting budgets and attacking unions, they must be challenged. After all, it was the Minnesota Farmer Labor Party – before it was co-opted into the Democrats – that enacted the 1933 moratorium on foreclosures. We need a party today standing for and controlled by the 99%.
The immediate struggle for a foreclosure moratorium and against evictions must be linked with a wider struggle for system change. In the first instance, this would mean taking the financial institutions into public ownership under democratic community control. All investment decisions would be democratically decided, transparent, and for the public good, with no one profiting. On this basis, quality housing and other basic human needs could be a guaranteed right for all.

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