Last Tuesday night I attended a teach-in hosted by NYU for Occupy Wall Street (NYU4OWS), with the theme “Housing is a Human Right.” Activists from Organizing for Occupation (O4O) told us about their tactic of singing at a foreclosure auction to disrupt the unjust selling of people’s homes. I was inspired by the idea of singing as a form of resistance. I was even more inspired by the fact that it works, that this was keeping people from losing their homes. It was evidence that collective resistance against injustice can actually combat the devastation of families and their communities.
Organizers from New York Communities for Change shared their experience with foreclosures, how they are responding and how the housing crisis is connected to financial institutions. They told us that the Village of Hempstead recently removed $12.5 million dollars from its J.P. Morgan Chase account in protest of the assault on New Yorkers’ human right to housing. I personally bank with J.P. Morgan Chase, and while I plan to soon close my Chase account, my personal act of protest would not have the same significant effect as an entire community standing together in protest.
Inspired by Hempstead's example I thought of what an enormously powerful message a large private institution such as NYU could send were to stop doing business with a bank as corrupt and unethical as Chase. Since NYU is supposed to be “a private university in the public service,” it should not maintain financial ties with the bank that has the worst track record of keeping people in New York in their homes. My fellow activists from NYU4OWS and I thus have launched a campaign calling on the administration to cut its ties with Chase until the bank stops foreclosing on families.
Still energized from our teach-in the previous night, on Wednesday, twenty members of the NYU community brought a letter addressed to NYU President John Sexton explaining why we oppose NYU’s connections to Chase and demanding financial practices that prioritize human rights. By presenting this letter, we hoped to open communication with the administration. However, we were not permitted to enter Sexton’s office or speak to his staff, but we were assured by the security guards that he would receive the letter. We will definitely follow up and continue to pressure the administration to implement just financial practices.
There are currently more than five times as many vacant homes in the US as there are homeless people, and I believe we need to address this. As an NYU student, I hope that my university reflects my ethics. I’m not okay with being a part of an institution that enables suffering in the community that it inhabits. NYU is one of the largest property-owners in NYC and it’s not fair that while our university continues to expand, we’re supporting a bank that daily strips families of their homes.
This campaign is extremely relevant, especially to NYU students, because many of us hope to make this city our home, and institutions like Chase are hurting the community we are, and want to continue to be, a part of. Even if we, as students, are not homeowners, we need to hold institutions like JP Morgan Chase accountable for its practices, which helped cause an economic crisis that, as we express in our letter to President Sexton, causes students to “face an even more insidious form of foreclosure, of opportunities, of life chances, of their future.”