OccupyHomesMN: The Battle of 4044 Cedar Ave.
By Ginger Jentzen and Ty Moore
“What is unusual, in fact to our experience utterly unprecedented, is the level of aggression and defiance of the law by these activists.” – Brad German, spokesperson for Freddie Mac.
The battle over the Cruz family home, nestled in a well-kept working class neighborhood in south Minneapolis, emerged in May and June as the central struggle in the burgeoning nationwide anti-foreclosure movement.
All members of the Cruz family work, and for years they paid their mortgage in full and on time. But when their online payment to PNC failed to go through due to a bank computer error, the bank unapologetically demanded two mortgage payments plus penalties. When they were unable to pay what PNC demanded in time, the house fell into foreclosure, and the mortgage was sold to Freddie Mac.
Sheriffs posted an eviction notice on Alejandra and David Cruz’s door in late April, and the Cruzes invited Occupy Homes MN to begin a 24/7 eviction blockade of their home. For a peaceful first month, the Cruz family home served as a community hub, hosting teach-ins, neighborhood barbecues, and Occupy Homes meetings. But the long-awaited battle eventually began.
Wednesday, May 23
Hennepin County sheriffs made their first major eviction attempt. Several occupiers immediately hooked into concrete lock-box barrels to delay the deputies. A text alert went out, and 100 supporters arrived within a short period, blockading busy Cedar Ave during rush hour until the sheriffs retreated.
Friday, May 25
Deputies returned at 4am with a jackhammer and a battering ram. While sheriffs jackhammered through the concrete lock-box barrels to arrest the activists whose limbs were locked inside, the delay allowed 40 people to mobilize in the pre-dawn hour.
For the occupiers, the situation appeared desperate, until someone suggested flanking the sheriffs that were guarding the front of the house. Activists ran through the alley, jumped the back fence, and re-occupied the property. Faced with the audacity of the protesters, and fearing the political consequences of mass arrests, the sheriffs again retreated. Occupiers removed the flimsy plywood from the doors and reclaimed the Cruz home.
75 activists marched into the sheriffs’ headquarters, then the mayor’s office, presenting them with the Cruzes’ front door, mangled by the battering ram. Mayor Rybak pledged police would not take further action until the following Tuesday, and the five arrested in the morning raid were released on minimal bail.
Tuesday, May 29th
Forty police swooped in, surprising activists. They rapidly cleared the home, arresting the one activist who managed to lock down. Dozens of Cruz supporters gathered, repeatedly rushing police lines. But with police securely holding the house, protestors marched down Hiawatha Ave., shutting down the major highway, then moved on to shut down a big intersection by a local police precinct.
Wednesday, May 30th
With only three private security guards protecting the house, Occupy Homes again tested the Mayor’s statement that “the City is not in the foreclosure business.” Linking arms, over a hundred occupiers linked arms around the Cruz home, ignoring the security guards’ objections, and again removed the plywood over the doors.
By nightfall, police again amassed around the house, arresting 14. Confrontations continued into the night, with occupiers linking arms, pushing up against police lines, and sitting down around the paddy-wagon filled with arrestees.
Since that night, the house sits under constant police surveillance. Heavy metal barriers were put over the windows and doors. Protests, prayer vigils, and other actions continued.
Thursday, June 21st
Alejandra and David Cruz led a caravan to Pittsburgh and, alongside supporters there, they marched into PNC headquarters to demand a meeting with the CEO. Their requests for a real negotiation were still rejected.
A national day of solidarity called by Occupy Wall Street drew protests outside PNC bank branches in 19 cities. In Minneapolis, fifteen were arrested – including internationally famed rapper Brother Ali – for crossing police lines at the Cruz home. A national call-in campaign targeting the leaked cell phones of top PNC executives was unleashed, and a change.org petition is nearing 200,000 signatures.
Win or lose, the battle of 4044 Cedar Ave has already emerged as a national model for home defense, and exposed not only the profiteering of the banks but also the role of the sheriffs, police, and city officials as frontline defenders of the 1%.
Marine Veteran Arrested Standing with the Cruz Family
Annetta Carman is a Marine Veteran and member of Socialist Alternative living in Madison Wisconsin. She was among 13 arrested at the Cruz Family Home in Minneapolis during the #J21 Day of Action on PNC Bank. HERE is a video link which shows Carman giving a short speech (at 13:25) before her arrest at the event organized by Occupy Homes MN. Occupy Homes is a coalition of community members, faith groups, neighbors, homeowners, students and organizations standing together to stop foreclosures and evictions. For more information on the Cruz campaign, check out the Occupy Homes MN facebook page here. Socialist Alternative in Minneapolis has been participating in Occupy Homes work since it started last year.
Spring Fever Grips Occupy Homes
By Kenny Guenther
The early spring weather has everybody out and about and feeling good, and Occupy Homes activists are no exception. On Saturday March 10th, a team of sixteen gathered at the North Regional Library in Minneapolis and set out to knock on doors and spread the message: we intend to stop big banks and their servants in government from taking our homes and destroying our lives and communities. Bright sun, blue sky, and temperatures near 70 degrees had everyone in high spirits, and canvassers met with much success. Concerned neighbors were eager to talk and pledge their support for Monique White, John Vinge, and the ever-growing number of homeowners who have asked Occupy Homes to help them stand up to the banks. 120 signatures were collected—nearly a quarter of our goal for the month!
With Monique’s eviction held up in court and sympathetic politicians flocking to support her, a sense of momentum and possibility has energized the movement, and the weather just keeps getting nicer. On Wednesday afternoon, March 14th, nearly fifty people gathered in Loring Park and prepared to peacefully march on the Kenwood mansion of US Bank CEO Richard Davis. Under the watchful eye of an unusually large number of city and park police officers the march got underway, snaking through the park and across ten lanes of Hennepin Avenue with chants of “Whose homes? Our homes!” and “Hey Richard Davis, what do you say? How many homes did you steal today?” Our voices echoed through the streets of Kenwood, announcing our arrival to the black-suited private security guards and city police officers standing ready to defend Davis’ home.
Several people gave moving speeches, amplified by enthusiastic Mic Check, elevating the crowd’s excitement until the energy could be felt crackling in the air. Davis was invited to attend an Occupy Homes community meeting to discuss the situation face to face with those who are directly affected by the foreclosure crisis, homeowners and community members. Nick Espinosa offered Davis a choice—“we’ll see you on April 7th at noon (at Zion Baptist Church in North Minneapolis), or we’ll see you that night, here at your home!” The crowd went wild.
As we prepared to leave, a cry of “Mic check!” sounded from behind, and the protesters turned and responded en masse. Two “Stop Foreclosure” signs were prominently displayed on the stoop of the house across the street. One protester had been speaking with Davis’ neighbor and found out that she has a daughter in Atlanta whose home is in foreclosure. “She says all Richard Davis does is brag about how much money he has! Well guess what?”
“What?” roared the crowd.
“TODAY SHE STANDS WITH US!”
The crowd jubilantly marched back to the Walker and split up. Some went to the footbridge over Lyndale and the freeway to hang their banner and wave signs, receiving a steady stream of honks, cheers, and thumbs-up. Eventually the marchers dissipated, but the positive energy of the action did not. Occupy Homes is ready for a long, hot summer.
(1933 vs. 2012) MORATORIUM ON FORECLOSURES NOW!
By Nick Shillingford
South Minneapolis Homeowner and member of the Canvassing Sub-Committee of Occupy Homes
The call for an immediate moratorium (government imposed suspension of activity) on all foreclosures is not a new idea. In fact a moratorium was put in place by the Minnesota legislature to halt foreclosure proceedings in 1933 during the Great Depression. In the mid-west this movement was lead by radical farmers in the Farmers Holiday Association. But ultimately a total of 27 states would enact some form of foreclosure moratorium by the middle of 1934 for both urban and rural home owners. (Wheelock 2008)
In 1932 it became clear that “sharply falling incomes made it increasingly difficult for farmers to pay the interest and principal on their outstanding debts, but falling property values made it less likely that farmers could sell their properties for more than the outstanding balance on their mortgages. The result was a sharp increase in farm mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures.” (Wheelock 2008)
Similar to the 1930’s today many families have seen their incomes shrink while dropping property values have put their homes actual market worth well below what they still owe the banks on their mortgage. Unemployment, wage pressures and market pressures are now squeezing families across the country.
In Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin the Farmers Holiday Association, which was made up of farmer radicals played a leading role in activating the wider community and pressuring the legislature to act. According to a paper by Kim Neilsen presented to the Minnesota Historical society “In the fall of 1933, Konrad K. Solberg, Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, told frustrated Douglas County farmers, ‘If you haven’t got 50 [cents] for the [Farm Holiday] membership, steal one of your mortgaged pigs and sell it!’” (Neilsen 1988) In addition to calling on farmers to join the Farmers Holiday Association he was also telling them to committee an act of non-violent civil disobedience in stealing a mortgaged pig back from the bank.
Years of movement building accompanied by other direct action had been crucial in bringing about the situation in 1933 that ultimately resulted in the passage of the moratorium bill of that year. One popular direct-action technique that was widespread was the penny auction. “The concept was simple. Farm families gathered in large numbers at a foreclosure sale and quietly but confidently informed any prospective buyers that they were not to bid…When items came up on the auction block, only designated bidders were allowed to speak. Cars, tractors, and livestock were purchased for sums ranging from about 10 cents to 50 cents. At the end of the auction, all the goods were returned to the original owner.” Just the threat of this tactic in some cases was enough to convince the banks to renegotiate with the farm families before the date of the auction came. (Neilsen 1988)
All the while the Farmers Holiday Association and other farm member organizations were also drafting and publicly speaking about legislation to halt foreclosures all together. It was the pressure on the banks that won gains for individual families but ultimately national public pressure on the politicians that brought about a moratorium in many states. Just days before the Minnesota moratorium was passed in November of 1933 Milo Reno, the original organizer of the Farmers Holiday Association, said “We have been patient and long suffering. We have been made a political football for jingo politicians, who are controlled by the money-lords of Wall Street.” (Neilsen 1988)
Once again many Americans are now becoming aware of the stranglehold Wall Street and big banks have on our communities. We must seize this opportunity to call for a moratorium on all foreclosures while also making it difficult, if not impossible, for banks and the police to forcefully take us and our neighbors from our homes.
“Stop Foreclosures! Stop Evictions!” Occupy Homes Is Winning
By Ty Moore, Minneapolis
“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 5th, 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 Monique’s predominantly African American neighborhood, half the homes have been foreclosed since 2006, the hardest hit zip code in Minnesota.
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 judged 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%.
The 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.
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.