Occupy Wall Street activists march during a tour of foreclosed homes in the East New York neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, December 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
As Occupy encampments across the country come under attack and are raided or threatened by local authorities, everyone is asking what’s going to happen now that protesters have been forcibly expelled from public space. On December 6, we saw a preview of what many believe is the movement’s next phase: occupying the home front.
Occupy Our Homes was a national day of action designed to underscore the connection between Wall Street and Main Street by focusing on the central role banks played in the housing crisis—a crisis experts say is anything but over. Around 6 million homes have been seized since 2007, and over the next four years an estimated 8 million more are predicted go into foreclosure. Meanwhile, evidence abounds that mortgage fraud was and remains endemic—from the revelations of a whistleblower at Countrywide that forgery and manipulation of information and documents was “systemic” at her organization (which merged with Bank of America) to a recent FBI report that shows that schemes targeting troubled borrowers are on the rise.
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 more than 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.
Around 11 am, three hours before the tour was set to start, I made my way to Atlantic Terminal Plaza in Brooklyn to join up with a group planning to use the subway as a storytelling and outreach platform. As we waited for a critical mass of people to arrive before heading into the station, a young security guard came over and said a few words to the protesters. A middle-aged passerby wasted no time rallying to occupiers’ defense. “Don’t mess with them, son!” he shouted, hardly breaking his stride. “They’re fighting for you!”
After the guard left we were invited to share personal tales through the people’s mic. Organizers asked if anyone had lost a home to foreclosure—no one spoke up. They asked if anyone had a family member effected by foreclosure and, again, were met with silence. “How many of you are gentrifiers?” someone asked, inspiring nervous laughter. With the ice broken, people began to talk about why they had come out. One of the first speakers said he was only 17 years old but already anxious about his future. Others complained of greedy landlords, of being forced out of the neighborhoods they had grown up in and of real estate development schemes designed only with the 1 percent in mind. “This movement isn’t just about homeowners,” said a woman with a small child. “It’s about all of us.”