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Foreclosure | Occupied Stories

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A Story of an Eviction, Part 2


Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part story. Part one may be found here; the story was originally published here.

Washington, DC–Having set my alarm for 6am at 4:30am the morning of June 5th, I went to sleep on an air mattress that fit the entire area of the foyer.  The banners were set to dry and the blockade was most of the way complete.  It only needed to be attached to the fence, gate and bar; tightened; and padlocked on the inside.

The plan seemed foolproof.  They would have no choice but to spend hours cutting apart our insane barricades or to simply walk away thinking that we were insane.  It may or may not have been a rumor, but we were working off of the assumption that the US Marshals only had an hour to execute a court order before they had to move onto the next.

We intended to give them at least two hours of work through an initial soft blockade and then the hard blockades we were erecting.  We estimated that the soft blockade would take a half hour while the hard blockade would take an hour.

When my alarm rang an hour and a half after I had lain my head to sleep, I set about waking the others up after I hit the snooze button a couple of times.  It took until about 7am before everyone was up.

I finished rigging up the barricade while Hippy Brian finished the banner.  Marshall rigged up the first banner which read “Eviction Free Zone” in all capital letters with rope and connected it to the fence outside while Ricky and Marc fashioned their makeshift Sleeping Dragon.  Melissa contacted media inside while Anne wrote a statement for the court for Dawn’s hearing that day.

I finished what I could of the crate-astrophe while still allowing the front door to be operable since Marc had glued the locks of the gates to the back door the night before.  Ben, who had done much of the legwork in setting up the crates the previous night, went to get breakfast from the 7-11 down the street.  He would later lead the soft blockade.  Marc and I followed soon after.

When we came back, I did my part to hurry Anne in writing her court statement.  The pressure to finish before the US Marshals were scheduled to arrive forced her to belie her sentimentality with her home. She wanted to remain inside, to go down with the ship.  Although I was optimistic that the Marshals would never get inside for one of several reasons, I insisted that she must be out by 9am, that being out of the purview of any cameras or witnesses gave the officers a license to act with impunity, that they know that in a courtroom it is her word against theirs.

The house was empty of people by 8:52am.

***

We were all rather disappointed and somewhat appalled by the resulting media from the day.  Nearly every story apart from one article on the Washington Times blog section led with clashes between US Marshals and protestors.

An article on WAMU seemed to imply that protestors assaulted law enforcement.  The aforementioned Washington Times article stated that one protestor “became unconscious.”  Social media talked of wounded warriors and displays of state militarism.  Media left and right roiled in exaggerated tales of martyrdom and hooliganism.

By June 7th, Dawn was receiving calls from relatives reacting to certain news pieces that made it seem as if she was unable to make her rent payments.  Marc and I both found ourselves misquoted in OccupyDC’s own newspaper, the DC Mic Check.  If it wasn’t already, it became glaringly obvious:  In the face of controversy, there is no such thing as truth.

Beyond the anti-state propaganda, tales of irresponsible radical rebellion, willful ignorance of fact, and stretching of truth, that we were fighting for the right to housing was almost invisible.  Pictures of US Marshals with M-4 assault rifles circulated the internet while pictures of Anne Butler’s broken sake glass collection were distributed only by a few of us within Occupy Our Homes-DC.

Commenters poked fun at pictures of the US Marshal sitting on the ground dumbfounded at his self-inflicted injuries.  Occupiers spewed calls for vengeance at pictures of Marc lying unconscious on the street, having been repeatedly strangled, pulled by the head, and having his head pinned to a wall by the leg of a US Marshal before passing out and being thrown into the midst of his comrades.

At least we could vent our collective frustration to each other on the Occupy Our Homes-DC list serv.  This marks probably the only time that a list serv has ever actually calmed its members down and made them grow closer.

***

According to those who did not have themselves chained to the house, the US Marshals did not want to proceed with eviction given what they saw.  The representative from Chase Bank which stole the house from the Butlers insisted that the eviction proceed.

The Marshals asked MPD to intercede with the blockades of people as such a task was not within the purview of the authority of the US Marshals in eviction orders.  The MPD refused, insisting instead on doing crowd control on the sidewalk.  According to our lawyers, the US Marshals had unlawfully assaulted everyone whom they touched that day.

The front gate had been padlocked with one of the Brinks locks and lashed closed with nylon rope.  Marshall, Brian and I were attached to the milk crate blockade with a roller bar of a thin PVC pipe woven with wire rope.  Marc and Ricky were braceleted downstairs with Marc outside so he could smoke cigarettes.  Ricky realized he would not be able to roll cigarettes with one arm lassoed inside the PVC pipe.

Everyone who was part of the hard blockade was expecting to be arrested.  The US Marshals moved in, pushing aside people who sat on the front steps.  As they were pushed, they ran around to the neighbor’s yard in order to hop the fence to set up a second wave of blockades, much to the chagrin of the media who had posted up in the front yard.

Eli with a sprained ankle rejoined the soft blockade at least twice. Kelly at least once.  Lash was thrown down the front steps.  Melissa was thrown across the front lawn.  Insults and expletives were hurled at the mostly silent Marshals.

Finally the Marshals got to the hard blockade.  Brian wrapped his arms and legs around Kevin.  Eli was pushed off of the stoop onto a rock in the neighbor’s yard.  Kevin was pulled out. Brian’s arm was twisted through the gap between the PVC roller bar and the wire rope by a Marshal who appeared intent on breaking Brian’s wrist.

The US Marshals began frenetically pulling on the roller bar.  Some of the milk crates began falling on our heads.  Then a crack.  The door came loose, and with it, the entire crate-astrophe tumbled over our heads into the line of Marshals.

Marshall was pushed over the side fence.  Brian was dragged out of the yard.  I was left sitting on the steps until the US Marshals hoisted me up and carried me upside-down across the yard.  When my head was in a milk crate, the officers hoisted my upper body and carried me gently to the street.

Minutes later I saw Marc laying in the street unconscious.  A US Marshall walked by with a bloody ACE bandage wrapped over his eye. Several occupiers were sobbing over Marc’s body. His head beet red.  His eyes shut. His breathing shallow.  Jeremy led us in a poorly worded but heartfelt prayer.

We harangued the MPD officers to call for an ambulance.  When they said that they’ve called for one, we decided we didn’t believe them and make our own call.  After 10 minutes of Marc being unconscious with his head in Kelly’s cross-legged lap, I impatiently made room in my hatchback for Marc’s body, lined it with my sleeping materials, and pulled the car around.  I yelled for them to put him in.  Everyone insisted that we can’t move him because we don’t know what damage has been done.

Fifteen minutes after being thrown into the street, Marc came to consciousness as the ambulances pulled up.  A wave of relief swept over all of us.  After the EMTs arrived, they helped Marc up and tested his mental well-being: “Do you know where you are?”

With a smile, he said, “Uh, DC?”

-ArchAngel-

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A Story of an Eviction, Part 1


Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part story. Part two may be found here. The story in full was originally posted here.

Washingto, DC–It was supposed to be a serendipitous tale of the American Dream:  A tenant, through a combination of luck and hard work, purchases the home she had been renting for six years.  Dawn Butler was willing to buy the house, her landlord was willing to cede the house, and even the bank at one point was willing to let her take over the mortgage.

However, real estate lawyers Rosenberg & Associates insisted on forcing a foreclosure.  Butler was denied a court hearing at every turn. When she got with the Occupy Our Homes-DC lawyer, her case was heard but quickly dismissed.

***

On June 6th, the day after the eviction, I found myself bawling outside of National Tire and Battery waiting for repairs to be made on my car.  The reality of these kinds of things always takes about a day to sink in.

It wasn’t the reality of my friend having been choked by a US Marshal into unconsciousness, nor was it the reality of many more of my friends having been thrown down brick stairs.

It was the reality that these people had lost their home.  It was the reality that six years of their lives, catalogued in a house full of personal possessions, had been tossed onto the curb like piles of Wednesday refuse after a spring cleaning.

The leather couch I had sat on the night before while planning our insane milk-crate experiment being dragged down the stairs upside-down.  The grandfather clock still ticking at 12:35pm.  A US Marshal personally handing a crystal vase to Anne, Dawn’s mother.  I wondered what had happened to the years’ worth of Mother’s Day cards on the mantel.

***

One June 5th, the night of the eviction, we had our regular Occupy Our Homes-DC meeting on the front lawn of the boarded up house.  The front door, which had broken in half horizontally when the US Marshals tore me and two others from our makeshift blockade, was wedged back in place behind two large planks of particle board.  The remainder of the milk crate blockade, our crate-astrophe, was lying in a heap on the lawn.

Despite the new location, I think the routine gave us all a sense of calm and resolve.  The tone of our conversations was hopeful and proud. There was not a trace of defeat in anyone’s voice.

Triumphantly, it was announced that we had stopped nine other evictions that day.  We discussed the reality of having to prepare for the next potential eviction.  How we weighed the value of property and human life.

Sitting on the steps at the auto shop the next day I would wonder how we could possibly manage a nationwide call to camp out at the headquarters of a certain banking institution.  How can we treat these throngs of people as more than a number?  More than a spot in line?

***

Dawn Butler has lived as a tenant in a house since 2006.  The lease she has had with the owner is based on sweat equity.  Over the course of those six years, Dawn and Anne have put over $200,000 into the home – an average of $27,77.78 a month.

In 2009, the owner of the house fell ill and fell behind on his mortgage payments in order to pay his medical bills.  Until she got with our lawyers at Occupy Our Homes-DC, she was castigated in every court hearing or was denied a hearing altogether.

While I was getting to the first defense of Dawn’s home on April 2nd, our lawyer Ann Wilcox won a stay of eviction.  The Marshals left; everyone rejoiced; I came late from an appointment for my car in Virginia.

A lot of this struggle has involved auto care for me.

***

At 8pm on June 4th, I was sitting in the Occupy DC Resource Center with Rooj when I got a call from Laura telling me that the US Marshals were due to evict Dawn at 9am.  Rooj and I immediately went to work texting everyone we knew in the city to be at Dawn’s house at 8am the following day.

She created an event on Facebook and blasted it across social media.  I drafted an announcement for an email blast on paper with a pencil since I didn’t have my laptop with me, having just come from a demonstration at the Freddie Mac Public Policy Office and the Washington DC Chase Mortgage Modification Center.

We called for an emergency meeting at 9pm at the Butlers’ home to plan the morning’s defense.  I stopped by my apartment to grab sleeping materials for the night.  I’m not sure if I’ll be spending the night, but I assume that it’s a pretty good possibility.

Marc threw his backpack in my car as he met me on Colorado Ave.  Having slept at my house the night prior, he was on the same amount of sleep that I was.  Having marshaled the march with me earlier that day, he was just as drained.

I think he took a nap on the way.

***

Four occupiers, Lash, Britta, Eli the Medic, Kevin, and Marshall piled into my car to visit Marc at Howard University Hospital at around 1:30pm on June 5th.  Lash had his shirt off and was leaning sideways in the front seat to avoid allowing the square foot scratch from being thrown down the bottom set of stairs by the US Marshals.

Eli the medic told us how she had offered to provide treatment for the US Marshal who had hit himself in the face while trying to pull me off the milk crate barricade even though she hates cops.  Britta talked about how she used how she was stereotyped as a womyn as a weapon in order to remain behind police lines, acting daft when given police orders.  Kevin and Marshall were silent as they had been all day.

I texted and then called Sean who had become Marc’s brother after his family took him in following the eviction of the OccupyDC camp at McPherson Square.  We pulled up to the hospital parking lot and sat in the waiting room as Marc went through several CT scans.  I laid on the floor in the hopes of adding to the one and a half hours of sleep I was running on.

I couldn’t get any.

***

By midnight on the 6th, we had resolved to erect a barricade out of milk crates collected from the remains of the OccupyDC library connected with whatever kind of chain we could find at Wal-Mart which we decided was likely our only bet for such material at such an hour.  Rooj had sent out a press release, and Melissa had sent out an emergency home defense announcement to our email contacts.

Marc and I set out to get the materials necessary for setting up the barricades: 3 padlocks, two hundred feet of chain, 2 U-locks, at least 20 crates, and superglue.  I pulled my car around and emptied it of the banner making material that had been taking up my trunk space for the past week.

We returned with what we could find: three Masterlocks, three Brinks locks, 180 feet of 30-foot sections of wire rope, superglue, and 18 milk crates.  Marc was dead set on a Sleeping Dragon or Tootsie Roll or Bracelet or whatever.  We didn’t have handcuffs, but he resolved to make do with the nylon rope that we had and the carabineer from his keychain.

I went back to McPherson Square to retrieve 12 more crates, a three foot section of wide PVC pipe, a 6 foot section of thin PVC pipe, and a tent pole that unfortunately did us no good.  By the time I got back, Hippy Brian was working on the second banner that read “Save This Home” in yellow spray paint outlined in black marker.  He had begun to outline the letters with black latex paint, but decided to help us rig up the crate-astrophe.

The crates would be chained to each other, the door handle, the fence on the right side of the yard, the gate to the basement under the stairs, and the bars over the basement window.  Marshall, Brian and I would be chained to the barricade while Marc and Ricky would be roped in a Sleeping Dragon through the gate to the basement under the stairs.

A Sleeping Dragon is a pretty ingenious means of slowing the dismantling of a human hard blockade.  Instead of merely locking arms or handcuffing to each other, two people’s arms are chained together inside of a length of PVC pipe.  In order to be detached, law enforcement must carefully saw through the PVC pipe and then cut the chain.  It’s a delicate process that’s usually very time-consuming.

***

At our regular Occupy Our Homes-DC meeting on May 29th, a week before the eviction, our lawyer Ann Wilcox briefed us on the meaning of the motion that was dismissed the day prior.

Despite both Dawn Butler’s and the landlord’s acknowledgement of the lease, as well as Chase Bank’s acknowledgement of the lease in their written testimony, Judge Wright decided that the work and material value that Dawn and Anne had put into the house did not constitute payment for a lease.  What do you expect from someone who doesn’t have to lift more than a pen or a gavel for an income?  Such is the illusory value of money over labor in capitalism.

According to Ann, the Marshals executed court orders in a different quadrant of the city every day.  The eviction was in a matter of days.  Ann had already filed another motion to reconsider to be heard the following Tuesday morning.  With a motion pending, we assumed that there was little to work on.  Plus, we had a barbecue and a rally with a secret march to plan by the end of the week.

And so we sat on it.

– ArchAngel –

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Photos: Second Eviction Defense of the Cruz Family Home


Minneapolis, MN–At approximately 4am on Friday morning, 20-30 law enforcement officers from the Hennepin Country Sheriff’s Office raided the Cruz family home in South Minneapolis in order to follow through with an earlier eviction attempt two days before. Sheriff’s deputies rammed the front door open and quickly moved through the home. They created a large perimeter around the home, not letting anyone near on the sidewalk or on the street. They blocked traffic for the entire block and would not allow anyone near the home in the alley behind it.

For almost a month, the local Occupy Homes movement has maintained a presence in the foreclosed home. The house belongs to the Cruz family who are staying elsewhere since receiving their eviction notice. With the consent of the family, Occupy Homes has been using the house as a local social center while occupying the home and protesting an impending eviction.

Some people staying inside the home left willingly, while five people locked themselves to various objects throughout the home. The sheriff’s deputies used saws, jack-hammers and other tools to remove the remaining protesters. Ultimately, all five people were removed from the home and arrested.

Approximately 50 supporters arrived to protest the raid and eviction. The scene was tense at moments when people confronted the police line or when the police decided that the protesters should move further from the home. Eventually, a group of people ran around back to outflank the deputies. Some of them jumped the back fence in order to link arms and surround the home. Around this time, with all people removed from the home, and the doors boarded up, the sheriff’s deputies left the scene.

After all law enforcement left, the home was reopened for further occupation.

– Peter Leeman –

Editor’s Note: This is only a sampling of Peter Leeman’s photos of the eviction defense. To view the full series, visit Leeman’s website, which also features images from the first eviction defense. You may view the photos from the slideshow above at our Flickr page.

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Joy and Misery in the Valley


Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Ryan Rice’s blog.

“I began revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I’d do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action.” —Fidel Castro

Los Angeles, CA–Occupy Los Angeles began with 50 people in Pershing Square. There are now nearly 50,000 “likes” on the Facebook page, yet it was Castro’s scenario that occupied Bertha Herrera’s backyard in Van Nuys in early January. Fifteen people with absolute faith that knew a part of changing the world was to be found in a two-bedroom house in the valley.

Bertha had been a resident of this cozy slice of home for over thirty-one years. She was blindsided by trouble when she was denied her workers’ compensation and found herself with no alternative except a second mortgage. The cold and indifferent bank floored Bertha with an illegal notice to evict after mishandling her payments.

There will be ten million more cases like Bertha’s this year. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, Latinos make up the majority of loans delinquent or in foreclosure in California. When examining completed foreclosures, African-American and Latino rates in Los Angeles County are double those of whites. The report, titled Lost Ground 2011, states, “Minority borrowers were disproportionately targeted for mortgage products that were inherently more difficult to sustain, which has resulted in higher foreclosure and serious delinquency rates in communities of color.”

It is clear that Bertha’s situation is far from unique. City, state, and federal government programs have failed to offer real relief, characteristically choosing giveaways to banks and empty rhetoric. The L.A. City Council extended protections for renters but ignored homeowners. Bertha paid an advocate $1,500 but was left unrepresented in court and handed a default judgment. The state legislature failed to pass SB 1137, which would have prevented this robbery. Had those in Sacramento truly cared about struggling Americans, they certainly would have passed this bill to require servicers to make contact with borrowers before initiating foreclosure action.

This brings us to D.C. and the shortcomings of federal foreclosure protections. A total of $29.9 billion has been set aside from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to go towards the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Of the 1.2 million California homes foreclosed upon in the last three years, only ten percent have seen that funding and help. What is abundantly obvious is that our elected officials care more about the banks’ bottom lines than homes for their “constituents”. It was with this realization that Bertha Herrera reached out to Occupy Los Angeles for help.

This writing was partially complete when the sheriffs cut the dead bolt and cleared Bertha’s house room by room. I was feeling a child-like euphoria over occupying a foreclosed home. The movement was transitioning from the symbolic to the real. We all agreed that housing was a human right as we sat cross-legged in our respective tents at Occupy LA, funky protest music thumping from the South Steps. Now we were doing something about it beyond raising awareness on the issue and “changing the national dialogue”. If occupying City Hall had been boot camp, this was our first mission.

The Joy was written before the police came with their guns, before the realtor measured for remodeling, and before the carpenters scurried in the darkness to board up the home.

The Joy

It was Day 97 of Occupy Los Angeles and Day 111 for Occupy Wall Street. For Bertha in Van Nuys, this was day one of her occupation. Her nephew watched us make signs, erect tents, and talk into the night as her patio became a microcosm of Solidarity Park. We were experts at occupying by now. Tents materialized out of thin air and were arranged in a community-oriented circle. A smoking zone was designated for a far corner of the yard as cell phones and cameras occupied the charging station. We were livestreaming the action, tweeting for pizza, and grinning.

Sitting on her back porch as crickets chirped, I noticed a marked absence of noise at this special occupation. In the silence, I was struck by the differences and similarities between occupying public space as a statement versus a foreclosed ninety-niner’s home as a measurable act. I knew I was part of a revolution when I was at Solidarity Park. The drums, the mic-checks, the sirens, and the honking horns told me so. But this quiet suburb, in all its normalcy, was also now a focal point to this movement.

The goals of a public occupation are attacked as oftentimes oblique. This critique has incessantly confused me. I simply want all the things dismantled. I want health care for all, an end to war, fair and just fiscal policy, free education, immigrant rights, and an end to foreclosures. By the way, I also want to abolish capitalism and radically redefine how we live and what our values are. How does one pragmatically go about this? The raw truth is that I want to take down every facet of the oppressive power structures… and that’s daunting. How does one raze the structures of subjugation?

As it turns out, we start at Bertha’s two bedroom house in Van Nuys. Among the multitude of issues, the foreclosure scam has risen to the top as a primary weapon of the one percent. Our marches and rallies are uplifting and empowering, but what do they do, really? If we’re lucky, a frightened security guard locks the doors as we wail and scream;

Bank of America!

Bad for America!

I sometimes question just what a march accomplishes, other than hindering business for a few dozen annoyed ninety-niners. It doesn’t stop the robo-signing on the twentieth floor, the derivative deals on the ninth floor, the slashing of thirty thousand jobs on the forty-second floor, or the decadent million-dollar bonuses in the board rooms.

Foreclosures, however, can deliver guerrilla victories and win the ‘hearts and minds’ of America. This fight offers that same inspiring message of defiance and People Power. It gives the same opportunity for pitching tents, communal living, and battle with the Vampire Squid. What foreclosures do so uniquely is cause real economic harm to the banks that manipulate capitalism to seize and control. They have spun a wonderfully clever web of public losses and private gains that is now, finally, being exposed.

Occupying a home in danger of foreclosure has a palpable goal, a digestible morsel of triumph. The protest encampment was filled with dreamers, drunkards, and die-hard policy wonks. So it is with Bertha’s home. But now there is a resolute tightening of the jaw on all these activists. Now we’re seeing a grandmother’s home in danger of being stolen from her and sold to the highest bidder. And we’re seeing this elusive idea of resistance spread to a woman who has instructed her two adorable dogs to treat these unwashed and penniless occupiers as family. We’re witnessing someone stand up and say, “NO!” I feel honored to shrug off my pack and call this house my home, too.

The Misery

“Wow. What the fuck happened today?” I asked to no one in particular as I finished a cigarette on the decrepit back stairwell of the “Occupartment”. It was midnight, and I was at a loss for words. Our collective has a painfully clear view of the skyscrapers and banks that make up the Los Angeles skyline. As I exhaled the smoke, I wondered just how much resistance it was going to take to have those behemoths rendered obsolete and seized by the people.

The day began with a conspicuous locksmith’s truck across the street. Bertha had just made me a cup of coffee and we were tip-toeing around the house as occupiers lay sprawled on the floor, the couch, and the yard in the back. I had just finished talking with public radio about foreclosures, general strikes, and the future of the occupy movement. Bertha and I were both nervous that the police would show up. This action had been hastily thrown together and we had not had a chance to discuss the diversity of tactics open to us.

Did she want us to chain ourselves to the fridge?! Blockade the doors?

Or did she want us to pack up and exit, providing court support and raising neighborhood awareness instead?

Before we could form any kind of plan, sheriffs began banging on the door, threatening arrests to anyone inside. Having no instructions from the distraught homeowner, I decided to just sit and put the onus to act on the police officers. They cracked the door and came in with guns drawn. We met them with defiance and our cameras. Once they saw the tents and the camera-phones, they holstered their weapons with an awkward acknowledgment that made clear they knew about the occupy movement. The sheriffs still cuffed all three of the men in the house, prodding and pushing the women out the door as well as they struggled to regain their alpha status in the home.

I was cuffed and as the deputy walked me into the driveway, I could feel his whole body shaking with adrenaline. We were all oddly calm though, resolved to spend more time in jail for… whatever they felt like smearing us with. As only a protester can, I was absentmindedly comparing the weight and feel of these metal cuffs to the cutting plastic zip-ties I’d previously been detained in. This occupation was over before it really began, and I was talking with another cuffed comrade about the lost opportunity.

I had plans to turn the palm tree in front into a totem pole devoted to social justice!

I couldn’t wait to meet the neighbors and hold block party teach-ins as we radicalized the street!

I was ready to set up Occupy Lemonade Stands and neighborhood day care and, and, and…!

But then I saw Bertha. She was being forcibly removed from her home. A bank with zero claim to the house was ordering the police to evict this grandmother of five. They gamed the system to seize yet another property. Disgustingly, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent was on hand to take measurements for remodeling. This was really happening. Our bold new front in the Class War was being squashed. Bertha was now without a home.

The sheriffs eventually calmed themselves down and released us, allowing us to get our occupy gear as we gathered, groggy and tense on the front lawn. We comforted Bertha and held an impromptu assembly to decide what to do. The nearest Coldwell Banker branch was just a short ride away, so it was settled that picketing the real estate company’s role in selling stolen homes would be a solid action in response to the eviction.

The action was a success, with a police presence symbolically guarding the bank, drivers honking and waving, and occupiers marching with a tent and signage. We got some of our spirit back, shouting chants at the employees and the police. It was a kind of therapy for the failure at Bertha’s, a medicine to restore our indignation. The valley hadn’t seen much occupy action so far, and it was a welcome boost to see the bank manager flustered and worried by our presence.

We reconvened at Bertha’s home, where occupiers had helped her draft a letter that they were now distributing throughout the neighborhood. The letter was a cry for help that acknowledged the occupy movement had answered her plea. Behind each door was a friendly face, supportive of Bertha and of the foreclosure work occupiers were doing. It turned out I would not have to wait long to find other foreclosed homes to occupy. Six – SIX – in the neighborhood were facing foreclosure in the near future.

As the sun set, we vowed that the day was not yet over. A political debate was going on, so about half of us went to fill out comment cards to demand what each candidate was going to do about the foreclosure crisis. I stayed behind and witnessed one of the saddest moments to date of this movement. Under the cover of darkness, eight LAPD officers showed up to “keep the peace” as a construction crew came in to board up the house. Bertha’s nephew pleaded in Spanish to the workers, asking them in their native tongue if they had a grandmother, if they had a heart. We stared in disbelief as the front door’s Christmas wreath and “Jesus Loves You” sign were covered by plywood.

Thankfully, Bertha had not stayed around to witness the travesty. But as I stood there, I was granted a healthy dose of perspective. Here I was, traumatized and enraged that we had been evicted from Solidarity Park after a mere sixty days. The Fascist Fence continues to separate me from the public space I used to live in and love. It makes me cringe in anger that the thugs dared to lock up our home. I tear up every so often when I look beyond the fence at that hollow expanse.

This movement is so much bigger than a park. We must desperately defend Bertha and the millions of families that see that same thing happen to their homes! We all knew Occupy LA was a fleeting and temporary beauty, sure to be shut down by the elites and the pigs they order around. However, this is a home of thirty-one years. It isn’t a provocative display of the First Amendment, its a place to be warm, to hang pictures on the fridge, and place inspirational quotes by the coat rack.

To see the home boarded up meant the property values of every house on the street instantly fell by the thousands. To see those plywood sheets nailed across her windows was proof that the corporations and the puppets they control do not give a shit about us. Another American was joining the ranks of the wretched refuse and capitalism marched on. I was miserable. We were all miserable over the blatant pillaging the morally bankrupt oligarchy is doing to the 99%.

Everything For Everyone, And Nothing For Ourselves

The spirited occupiers in Solidarity Park roundly rejected a facade of city support in late 2011. In a series of closed-door ‘negotiations’, City Hall and the Mayor awkwardly offered a small building space, too few beds for the houseless, and an undetermined corner of farming land somewhere (eventually). Instead, we audaciously crafted a response that we felt best supported the ninety-niners in Los Angeles. We didn’t need to be placated with 100 beds when Angelenos need 18,000. It is in this vein that the occupy movement will take the power from the oligarchs.

The above Zapatista slogan, “Para todos todo, para nosotros nada,” has been emblazoned across each of our hearts. However, there is a fascinating muddling between us and the “everyone” we’re helping. In the radio interview that morning, I was questioned about the existence and role of the homeless within Occupy Los Angeles. I answered simply, “You’re talking to a homeless person.”

This is the dichotomy inherent to the movement. I am fighting for a person who was denied health care coverage, drained of her life savings, and kicked out of her home. The fact is, I have no health insurance, am penniless, and houseless. Under most assumptions, a Latina grandmother living in the suburbs would have nothing in common with a young white man floating around the urban sprawl of downtown Los Angeles. This is what class war is, though. The erosion of the middle class and the oppression we’re all facing is blurring the line between occupiers as activists and victims.

So is the Occupy Movement the megaphone or are we the ones needing amplification? Under the umbrella of Money in Politics, we are oftentimes both. An individual’s struggle may be over foreclosures, but it could just as easily be over skyrocketing tuition, a relative lost to the Drug War, a friend killed in wars for profit, or a vaporized retirement plan. Omar Barghouti, a human and Palestinian rights advocate, said connecting the issues “is not a nicety, it is a necessity”. The absurdity of profits over people as standard operating procedure is deplorable. If we are going to stop any one injustice, we must come together to stop them all.

I’m reminded of a few quotes from the inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said:

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

And, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The point is that we the ninety-niners are facing an existential threat and if we hope to not just survive but thrive, it means occupying every home, boycotting every exploitative corporation, and re-learning to lean on our communities. Like occupiers across the globe, we must take charge of our lives and be incessantly indignant at the oppressions we each face.

Despite being unable to prevent the erection of some fences and boards, the fight is just beginning. One day soon these foreclosures are going to stop and we’ll finally acknowledge housing as a human right. This is because there is no stopping Bertha, my fellow occupiers, or this global movement. We’ve taken the Wall Street bull by the horns and there’s no going back. If anyone falters in their resolve for breaking these heinous chains, they can just look to someone like Bertha Herrera. She thanked us, saying, “I wouldn’t have been able to get through this without you (all). I know I’m not alone in the fight, and that gives me the strength to fight for others who are going through the same troubles.” Let’s give her what she and the rest of the ninety-niners deserve. Each day will continue to be filled with both joy and misery. Yet each day is worth it as we continue to see victories where before there were none.

– Ryan Rice –

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