Socialist Alternative

Occupy Homes Takes On the Mayor

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A few doors down from the Cruz family home, site of repeated clashes between anti-foreclosure activists and police, lives Sasha Lindquist, himself a homeowner on the verge of foreclosure.

Angered by the massive police presence, Sasha wrote a letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, signed by three other neighbors, that effectively sums up the role of govern­ment and police in capitalist society:

“Mayor Rybak, the city attorney, and the chief of Minneapolis police have all declared that the city is not in the busi­ness of providing free private security for banking institutions. Their actions, however, speak louder than their words: there have been a total of five raids on the Cruz house in the last two weeks. Last Friday, I awoke to the sound of chainsaws and jackhammers as sheriff’s deputies hacked away at the concrete barriers that protesters had erected…

The living experience of the class struggle has always been the best teacher of political theory. While study after study reveals Wall Street’s widespread crimes against homeowners and their flagrant disregard for even the lax laws governing financial institutions, hardly any bankers sit behind bars.

Meanwhile, 39 Occupy Homes activists have been arrested since late May. Chief Dolan, head of the Minneapolis police, sent a widely publicized letter to Mayor R.T. Rybak outlining the costs of securing 4044 Cedar Ave against the Cruz family and Occupy Homes: $45,585, including “work performed by him, an inspector, three lieutenants, five sergeants, 155 officers, a public information officer, a crime lab offi­cer, three forensic scientists and two video analysts,” and the Fire Department (Star Tribune, 6/14/12).

Strategic Weak-point

The issue is already causing public divi­sions within the Democratic Party machine that runs Minneapolis. “There’s no way Minneapolis property taxpayers should be footing the bill for [evicting activists] who are trying to keep a family in their home… We send that [$45,585] off as an invoice to PNC [the Bank who foreclosed on the Cruzes] and ask them to pay for it,” proposed Gary Schiff, an ambitious city councilor reputedly eyeing a run for mayor himself. “Arresting every protestor is not a sustainable solution to the foreclosure crisis.”

It’s also not sustainable for Mayor Rybak’s political career. City officials may be able to weather the political fallout of mass arrests to force foreclosed upon fami­lies out of their homes once, twice, maybe even a dozen times.

But upwards of 3,000 homes are fore­closed on in Minneapolis each year. If hun­dreds of homeowners “take the pledge” to occupy their homes – which is the central goal of Occupy Homes MN – responding with police repression would hopelessly expose Mayor Rybak and his allies in the Democratic Party as agents of Wall Street.
Electoral Challenge Needed

Yet as recent history has repeatedly demonstrated, unless social movements put forward a clear and credible political alter­native, big business will simply replace unpopular capitalist politicians with “fresh faces” who carry out the same policies.

Imagine if, in the coming year, Occupy Homes MN succeeds in building a mass campaign of hundreds of homeowners facing foreclosure, backed up by their neighbors, unions, and community groups. Imagine if Occupy Homes used this base to run a homeowner for Minneapolis Mayor in 2013, calling for a moratorium on fore­closures and vowing to reprioritize police resources toward white-collar criminals instead of evicting families.

Combined with ongoing home defense campaigns, and mass door-to-door can­vassing to build an active base of support, an electoral challenge could transform the debate. The main goal would not be to win the election, but rather to use the electoral platform to broaden the struggle and popu­larize the demands. A credible campaign would add tremendous pressure on the local Democratic Party machine to shift police priorities.

Again, Sasha Lindquist’s letter opposing police “providing free pri­vate security for banking institutions” poses the question perfectly:

“…As a local resident and not as a member of any group or organization, I am requesting that the city cease providing this type of security. What would happen if they did? The occupiers would be inside, quiet as mice – just like they were for four weeks before the police marched in. Freddie Mac would then have incentive to work with the Cruz family on modifying their loan. The occupiers would call it a day and go to sleep in their own homes. With the Cruz family back home, we’d have our stable community once more.”

If city and county authorities simply stopped enforcing evictions whenever bankers demanded it, a de facto foreclosure moratorium would be in place. The banks would have no choice but to collectively bargain with homeowners. Occupy Homes’ call for across-the-board principle reduc­tion to current market value could be achieved.

Occupy Homes MN is already looked to as a national model. Creat­ing a clear political voice for the 99% here could jump-start discussion on what’s needed nationally: a broad new political party of, by, and for working people to challenge Wall Street’s polit­ical stranglehold on our country.

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