Taking the Occupation Home – Fighting Foreclosures in Minneapolis

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The foreclosure crisis is hitting the Twin Cities hard. According to a study by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Minneapolis alone has had over 13,000 foreclosures since 2006, with a majority of evicted families moving out of the city.

In November, a campaign was launched by a coalition of activists, including Occupy Minneapolis and Socialist Alternative, to occupy foreclosed homes and stop the banks from destroying our communities.

Indeed, Minneapolis is leading the charge in a movement that is catching on across the country. Our ongoing occupations of Monique White’s and Bobby Hull’s homes in Minneapolis have garnered national and even international press attention, with Monique featured on Al-Jazeera English and Bobby on MSNBC and the front page of the Huffington Post, among other media. The drive to expand the number of occupied homes is now underway.

Bobby is a Vietnam veteran who has lived in his home for 43 years. After missing work due to medical issues Bobby fell behind on his payments and the bank foreclosed. Monique is a single mother who lost her job with a non-profit after budget cuts forced it to close. In both cases the banks have refused to negotiate, once again putting their need for profit before the needs of people.

Bobby, Monique, and the Occupy Homes movement are demanding that banks renegotiate mortgages to ensure homeowners can afford to stay in their homes, not based on what is most profitable for the banks. If the banks refuse to act in the public interest, we must put them under public ownership and community control.


Defying Police, Occupiers Reclaim Foreclosed Home

Of course, the banks will not sit idly by and allow us to deny them their profits. The laws are currently on their side, and they will not hesitate to make use of them, as demonstrated by the huge expenditure of tax dollars used recently to shut down our occupation of Sara Kaiser’s foreclosed home.

On Saturday, November 19th, around forty people gathered in the cold at the People’s Plaza for a short rally, then rode the train and carpooled to Sara’s south Minneapolis home. Sara moved to the U.S. from Hungary thirteen years ago and is an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota and Metro State University, as well as a single mother. From the front steps of her house she gave a short speech about her experience as an immigrant to the U.S. People continued to arrive throughout the rally, and after Sara’s speech nearly sixty people occupied the house, removing a ‘for sale’ sign from the front yard.

The occupiers held a meeting and it was decided that a group would go door-knocking to inform the neighborhood of what was happening and try to garner community support. The group reported an overwhelmingly positive response, with one knocker, SA member Chris Gray, reporting that six out of seven people he’d spoken to personally knew someone who had been foreclosed on. The ultimate goal of the outreach was to directly involve the surrounding community in a neighborhood defense council, to collectively defend Sara’s home as well as the homes of others, should the need arise.

By this time, many of the occupiers had left the house to take care of their day’s business, planning on returning for a meeting at 7pm. Only six or seven people remained at the house, and at this point the police arrived. Caught off guard by the speed of the police response, the activists were led from the house and the officers began boarding up the windows.

Calls went out for others to return, and within minutes people began showing up, quickly outnumbering the police by a wide margin. The police were visibly unsettled by the large show of solidarity, and gave up on their efforts to seal the house as protesters linked arms and formed a human chain around it, chanting “You can’t evict us all.”

As many as 150 stood united; seven Socialist Alternative members risked arrest in the chain. After making one arrest—on charges of trespassing—the police returned to their cars, frustrated. One protester, Devin Lee Wynn-Shemanek, planted himself in front of a squad car as it prepared to leave. Video from the incident shows the car advancing on Wynn-Shemanek and ‘bumping’ his knees before pushing him half a block on the ice with the car’s bumper. Other protesters can be heard in the clip saying, “The police are running Devin over!” At that point an officer hopped out and arrested him for ‘obstruction of justice,’ pinning him on the hood of the car as protesters chanted, “The whole world is watching.”

The occupiers retook the house, elated at their victory yet on edge, unsure about what follow-up action the police were planning. A meeting was held at ten to go over the house rules—no drinking or drugs, quiet hours starting at ten PM—and to devise strategies for defending the house. Lookouts were posted at the front and back doors and a schedule was passed around to ensure that there would be someone at the door throughout the night in case the police returned as people slept. As the meeting dragged on past 11pm the exhausted occupiers were more than ready to unroll sleeping bags and get some rest. Over 20 people stayed overnight at the house.

During the meeting it had come to light that the house was potentially sold—a neighbor had made an offer. It was no longer clear who legally owned the house and at this point, there was little hope of finding out. The banks’ morally (and often legally) questionable practice of trading people’s mortgages in search of still more profit has created a legal labyrinth of paperwork so impenetrable that a Massachusetts register of deeds recently told an NBC interviewer that he “can’t look a constituent in the eye and tell her who owns her mortgage.” This form of packaging mortgage securities is partially responsible for the financial meltdown that has plunged us into a global depression. Regardless of the house’s legal status, the occupiers were determined to stay the course.

The police returned just after noon the next day with twelve squad cars and the fire department in tow, along with a city bus indicating they were prepared for mass arrests. Though only a few protesters remained in the house, the police kicked in the door and entered with a show of force. No further arrests were made and the protesters filed out peacefully, gathering on the sidewalk to once again chant “You can’t evict us all,” seven or eight voices compared to the hundred-strong chorus of the night before. Officers boarded up the house, no doubt satisfied with a job well done—tens of thousands of city taxpayers’ dollars spent to kick a working mother and her child out of their home.

This battle was lost, but the struggle continues. An important concept that was developed in the course of the occupation is that of the ‘neighborhood defense council.’ Through door knocking and engaging the neighbors the hope was to shift the occupying force from outside activists to the neighbors themselves. Not only does this model put the power directly into the hands of the affected community as well as address the problem of keeping eviction-proof numbers at or near the home at all times, it is easily replicable in any neighborhood, anywhere. Why wait for your local Occupy branch? Join your neighbors today and make a stand against the dehumanizing advance of capital. Occupy our homes against foreclosure and keep our communities whole!

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