Ready to Occupy Our Homes

December 8, 2011

Blair Ellis and Laura Durkay report from New York City on the "Occupy Our Homes" day of action to return homes seized by the banksters to working families.

THE OCCUPY movement took another step on December 6 as protesters in more than 25 cities took action to occupy foreclosed homes and resist evictions as the start of an ongoing national campaign.

Many occupiers see this effort as not just one day of action, but a new, ongoing front in the Occupy movement. As a protester in New York City explained via the people's microphone on the Franklin Avenue platform of the 2/3 subway line in Brooklyn: “Today, the Occupy movement will move into the neighborhoods and communities that need this movement the most. Occupy Wall Street is going home.”

Occupy Wall Street protesters teamed up with community groups in East New York, a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood in Brooklyn that has a foreclosure rate five times higher than the state average. The day began with a march presented as a kind of alternative real estate tour, highlighting “homes available for occupation”—vacant, bank-owned properties that have the potential to be reclaimed.

Protesters march through Brooklyn on their way to help a homeless family reclaim a foreclosed home
Protesters march through Brooklyn on their way to help a homeless family reclaim a foreclosed home

The tour stopped at four houses in the neighborhood, but maps were passed out that showed 45 vacant homes in the 10-block radius the march passed through. At each stop on the tour, neighborhood residents spoke about what the day meant to them and why they were there.

One formerly homeless man, now an organizer with the advocacy group Picture the Homeless, said: “It took years before I could get housing. There are more empty houses than homeless people in New York City. Today, we’re taking back our houses. We are not going to stop until we occupy every neighborhood in New York.”

There were protests in more than two dozen other cities. In Los Angeles, demonstrators marched to a house where Wells Fargo is attempting to evict cerebral palsy sufferer Ana Casas Wilson, her husband and son, and her 72-year-old mother. "My daughter tells me, don't give up, Mom," the mother, Becky Casas, told a reporter.

In the Bay Area, around 100 protesters marched to a West Oakland house and moved Gayla Newsome, a single mother of three daughters, back in. Newsome's home had sat vacant for six months. "I hope to bring visibility to this issue and get the bank to have a conversation with me," she said.

In Atlanta, Occupy protesters gathered at a county courthouse and attempted to disrupt an auction of homes.

The protests, large and small, are showing how the Occupy movement can continue to challenge the banks that wreak havoc on the lives of the 99 percent. One of the most obvious ways is the foreclosure frenzy--more than 6 million homes have been taken over by banks since 2007, according to a recent Merrill Lynch report, and 8 million more are likely to go into foreclosure in the coming four years.

THE NEW York City protest had a profound effect on local residents. At another stop on the march, a neighborhood resident named Quincy announced he was scheduled to be evicted that afternoon. A contingent of about 100 protesters broke off from the march and occupied his home, successfully resisting at least one attempt by the cops to remove them.

Despite intermittent rain, the numbers on the march quickly swelled from a couple hundred to over 1,000. The loud, multiracial protest took over the street for whole blocks, as neighborhood residents leaned out of windows, waved and frequently shouted support.

Akhenaton Burgess hadn't heard about the day’s actions before the march stopped at a foreclosed home across the street from his house. After listening to some speakers, he said "I think this is great, It's excellent. I hope you keep doing this. Somebody has to try to find people homes instead of kicking people out."

At the last stop on the tour, a woman addressed Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, who took her home away from her and her family:

Hey, Jamie Dimon! Come out and tour with us! You're going to see those foreclosed homes. The homes where you threw out the kids. The homes where you threw out the children and the senior citizens...So, Jamie Dimon, we are inviting you to come out to Queens. Come out to Brooklyn. Come out to the Bronx. Come out to Harlem. Come out to Staten Island.

Marchers held signs that read “Affordable housing now” and “Foreclose on the banks, not the people.” New York City Council member Charles Barron, a former Black Panther and community organizer who represents East New York, was in attendance, along with City Council member Ydanis Rodríguez, who was beaten and arrested by the police on the night of the eviction of Zuccotti Park.

When the march stopped directly across from Jefferson High School, protesters cheered as high school students waved at them from a top-floor window and joined a chorus of “We are the 99 percent!”

ALTHOUGH THE exact address of the march’s final destination had been kept secret from all but a small team of organizers, everyone seemed to know that the last stop was a block party where we would celebrate the occupation of a vacant, foreclosed home by a homeless family who had moved in with the help of activists.

When we turned the corner onto Vermont Avenue and saw that number 702 was decked out with balloons and a huge rooftop sign reading FORECLOSE ON BANKS, NOT PEOPLE, cheers erupted.

The announcement was made that Occupied 702 Vermont Avenue was the new home of single mother Tasha Glasgow and her two children. The children’s father, Alfredo Carrasquillo, was also present and committed to risking arrest to stay in the house. He was moved to tears as he stood on a ladder to address the crowd of hundreds by people’s mic.

As a lively block party kicked off, a cleaning team quickly went to work on making the house—which had been vacant for three years—suitable for human habitation. A generator was soon running, and Christmas lights were added to the front gate. The Occupy Wall Street kitchen served food, and volunteers from OWS’s People’s Library appeared with crates of children’s books for the kids.

An emergency response team stood by, ready to defend the home from a police attack, using large shields featuring pictures of the family. At least while the crowd and the media were present, police kept their distance. However, around a dozen activists planned to sleep inside the house with Alfredo that night to defend the de-foreclosed property. Activists are committed to developing a routine of ongoing support for the family, and lawyers are helping them pursue legal avenues to make the home their own.

December 6 in New York City was highly successful in uniting the spirit and energy of the Occupy movement with community groups that have been working on housing issues and eviction resistance in Brooklyn for many years, often in obscurity.

Activists from New York Communities for Change, Organizing for Occupation, VOCAL New York, Make the Road New York, FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality) joined forces with a subcommittee of the Occupy Wall Street Direct Action working group to plan and execute the action, including building support through two canvassing days on which over 400 people from the neighborhood signed up to help the occupation in some way.

Everyone involved hopes this will be the first of many more occupations, de-foreclosures and eviction defense campaigns to come in the neighborhood. As one East New York resident said, “We are the 99 percent. Step back 1 percent. Move Aside, we're here, and we're here to stay.”

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