“We are building a real movement here, a real mass campaign,” explained Chris Gray, an activist with Socialist Alternative who coordinates Occupy Homes’ canvassing operation in Minneapolis. “If we can mobilize the community to stop Monique’s eviction, this thing is gonna really blow up.”
At 8:30am on Monday, March 5, over 100 supporters packed the eviction hearing for Monique White, a single mother from North Minneapolis who has emerged as a national hero for the new “Occupy Homes” movement. After she and 2,000 co-workers lost their jobs due to state budget cuts, she fell behind on her mortgage payments.
In November, Monique spoke to Occupy Minneapolis General Assembly, asking for help. Soon after, she publicly pledged to “occupy” her foreclosed home. Another two joined Occupy Homes in December, and by early March, eight had publicly pledged to resist foreclosure and eviction. Dozens more are in discussions with us, and the list is growing faster than our capacity to process them.
When the judge called Monique’s name, we rose to our feet together, silent, fists raised high, many clenching roses. Faced with the crowd and legal challenges, the judge decided to delay the hearing!
As the jubilant, multi-racial crowd flowed into the courthouse lobby, Nick Espinosa, a leading Occupy Homes activist whose mother is among those pledged to fight her foreclosure, led us in song:
“We are fighting for our homes, we shall not be moved; fighting for our homes, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree, standing in the water, we shall not be moved.”
“We Shall Not Be Moved”
The eviction hearing culminated a week of action, including protests at U.S. Bank, who foreclosed on Monique, and Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office, whose police already broke up one Minneapolis home occupation.
Seven of nine city councilors, Congressman Keith Ellison, and a number of other elected officials, have signed a petition against using city police to evict Monique White, and calling on U.S. Bank to renegotiate her mortgage. This community pressure and legal delay tactics have succeeded in putting off her eviction for several weeks, providing much-needed time to step up the pressure.
A coordinated outreach campaign to community groups, churches, and neighbors is being combined with preparations for an escalating campaign of civil disobedience to block the eviction.
After the canvass of Monique’s neighborhood on Saturday, March 10th, Chris reported the excellent response over the campaign email list:
“16 people participated today, 8 of whom had never canvassed for OccupyHomes before. We knocked on around 390 doors. About 120 neighbors pledged to support Monique, gave us their contact information, and agreed to put up yard signs. We also met 3 homeowners facing foreclosure, who potentially will take the pledge. Many people knew of us from the news, and canvassers reported that it was an awesome and inspiring experience. We set the target of having 500 neighbors pledge to support Monique by the end of the month.”
Our First Victory
As police repression and winter weather broke up the Occupy Minneapolis encampment late last year, many of the most serious activists proposed a focused campaign against foreclosures and evictions, bringing the anti-Wall Street movement into the hardest hit working class communities.
Occupy Homes Minnesota was formed, and began an energetic door-knocking campaign targeting foreclosed homes. Each year since 2006, around 3000 families have been foreclosed in Minneapolis alone.
Early on we met Bobby Hull, a marine veteran who was forced out of work due to medical problems, and who also faced foreclosure by U.S. Bank. Bobby lived in a hard-hit working-class neighborhood in South Minneapolis with traditions of community activism and radical politics.
With Bobby’s redemption period ending on February 17th – after which his eviction proceedings would begin – a major two-month campaign was organized. Weekly “Neighborhood Assemblies” of activists and neighbors planned protests and civil disobedience at U.S. Bank. For two solid blocks around Bobby’s homes, neighbors agreed to erect bright orange fencing adorned with signs declaring a “Foreclosure Free Zone.”
Over 500 neighborhood doors were knocked on to build support. At a nearby public school, where 10% of students are “housing insecure,” we organized a community forum that drew 130 people to discuss a mass movement strategy to fight foreclosures.
The campaign culminated with a 300 strong block party on February 17th, featuring performances by Toki Wright, Slug from Atmosphere, Guante, and other local celebrities. A few days later, U.S. Bank sat down with Bobby and negotiated a deal allowing him to stay in his house (U.S. Bank forced Bobby to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but it is widely speculated that his principle was reduced by more than half).
A Strategy to Win
Occupy Homes in Minneapolis has emerged at the forefront of the national anti-foreclosure struggle. Emerging directly from debates within Occupy Minneapolis assemblies, the campaign brought together a dynamic coalition of occupy activists, and several experienced anti-foreclosure organizers, most notably from Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (formerly ACORN). From early on, Socialist Alternative members also played an important role envisioning and building the campaign.
We emphasized the need to politicize the campaign with demands for collective solutions to the housing crisis. Rather than just fighting “one house at a time,” which has been the focus of most non-profit led anti-foreclosure work, it was widely agreed to highlight three political demands on Occupy Homes outreach material:
- Housing is a Human Right!
There are over 18 million empty homes in the U.S., but just under 4 million homeless people. We demand the banks end this madness by renegotiating mortgages to ensure families can stay in their homes. We need a housing that meets the needs of the 99% rather than maximizing the profits of the 1%.
- Stop Foreclosures!
A people’s movement forced the Minnesota legislature to pass a “foreclosure moratorium” in 1934, stopping all foreclosures. We have history on our side! We call on Governor Dayton and the legislature to pass a new foreclosure moratorium today.
- Stop Evictions!
The police should protect and serve the 99%, not the banks! We will organize our communities to resist evictions. We call on Mayor Rybak to stop using police to evict people from their homes whenever the banks demand it.
In addition, we point out that as long as the housing industry is run on a for-profit basis, no sustainable solution is possible. In leaflets Socialist Alternative has distributed, we argue for “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.”
Achieving any of these demands will require building a mass movement that is prepared to squarely face off against both political parties. The Democratic Party machine, which runs Minneapolis, is dominated by the big banks and corporations. Occupy Homes, as it grows, will be strongest if it also develops an electoral front, running independent candidates for local and state offices to popularize our demands on the political institutions, and further expose their inaction.
And Occupy Homes Minnesota is set to expand, maybe rapidly. Bobby Hull’s victory proved we are serious. Since then a steady stream of homeowners have been contacting us to fight back. The struggle to stop Monique’s eviction will be the next test, but its already clear that U.S. Bank and the Mayor will suffer serious political damage if they send in the police, cameras rolling, to drag Monique and her family out of their home.
As we expand to first dozens, then hundreds of occupied homes, the public relations nightmare to banks and politicians alike of using police repression to break-up popular mass resistance to foreclosures would be impossible to sustain. They will be forced to negotiate collective, political solutions to the foreclosure crisis.