Astra Taylor, filmmaker, activist, and co-editor of Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America, writes for the Nation about the latest sites being occupied: houses and apartments under threat of foreclosure and eviction.
As the Occupy Wall Street movement approaches the three-month mark, encampments in Oakland, Manhattan, Portland, Los Angeles, and around the country have been evicted in a series of coordinated crackdowns. With temperatures dropping and police violence increasing, the movement is seeking out and discussing new strategies and points of escalation. A major tactic that has emerged from these meetings is literally "occupying the home front" by taking over and defending homes under threat of foreclosure and eviction. December 6th marked a national day of action to kick off this new campaign, and Taylor attended an event here in Brooklyn, in East New York:
December 6 was the result of weeks of careful planning and alliance building, a sign in itself that the Occupy movement is evolving in exciting ways. In Chicago, a homeless woman and her baby moved into a foreclosed home with the blessing of the previous owner and the help of over forty supporters; in Atlanta, protesters made an appearance at foreclosure auctions in three counties; in Denver, activists collected garbage from abandoned properties and delivered it to the mayor; in Oakland, a mother of three reclaimed the townhouse she lost after becoming unemployed while another group held a barbeque at a property owned by Fannie Mae. Over twenty cities hosted protests, all told.
In New York, Occupy activists worked with community organizations and other allies to host a foreclosure tour and coordinate the "liberation" and re-occupation of a vacant bank-owned property in a Brooklyn neighborhood where the foreclosure rate is estimated to be five times the state average.
Helping facilitate the actions are various grous like Take Back the Land, who are longtime organizers in the housing rights movement. Predatory lending, exploitative landlords, and evictions have been violent institutions in many low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, so why are occupiers adopting this tactic now?
Though Americans are fed up with income inequality and generally disgusted by the bad behavior of big banks, the task Occupy Wall Street has chosen isn't exactly an easy one. Even though public sentiment on economic issues may align with the movement, organizing against something as abstract as finance capital is a challenge. How do you launch a campaign against something that is everywhere and nowhere? For those who don't live near lower Manhattan, it's not obvious what the proper protest target should be.
This is why focusing on the mortgage crisis-which a recent study suggests is only half over-is a brilliant next step. "To occupy a house owned by Bank of America is to occupy Wall Street," said Ryan Acuff, who has been working with Take Back The Land in Rochester, NY doing these kinds of actions since Sept 2010. "We are literally occupying Wall Street in our own communities." The reclamation of foreclosed homes and defense of individuals facing unfair eviction helps make arcane economic issues like deregulation and securitization, local and personal.
People who previously knew little about eviction resistance are proving to be quick studies—support for direct actions in affected neighborhoods is palpable, with neighbors joining in the occupiers' block party and hanging signs on their windows. Banks, too, are taking notice:
While banks often refuse to negotiate with individuals, taking advantage of those who are intimidated or can't afford legal counsel, they often change their tune when threatened with serious scrutiny. Once a bunch of people show up on a lawn to form a blockade and have a press conference, once intransigent institutions are suddenly willing to compromise. In Rochester, one bank called off an eviction when they got wind of plans for direct action.
This new wave of actions is bringing resistance to folks' front doors, and to the forefront of their political consciousness, as communities begin to self-organize and defend themselves. Like Tasha Glasgow, who recently moved into a liberated home with her two children, says,
"There are a lot of homeless people in the world and hopefully people see this and see that something needs to be done and people will change the world ... I'm no Martin Luther King, but I'm something."