Idaho Springs, CO–Yesterday a highly militarized police force arrived at the home of 63 year old Sahara Donahue to evict her from her residence of 24 years. She was petitioning US Bank for an additional 60 days to remain in her home, so she could have some time to find a new place to live, secure her belongings and leave her home with dignity. She came to the Colorado Foreclosure Resistance Coalition and Occupy Denver General Assembly to ask for our help. She knew no one in Occupy Denver prior to reaching out. We immediately started mobilizing to try to get her the assistance she needed and a group went up to her house for the first rumored eviction on Thursday 10/25. When that eviction didn’t happen, we planned an in-town action at US Bank on Monday for Sahara to try to find someone to speak with about her situation, with carpools up to her house later that day as the eviction was said to be scheduled for Tuesday 10/30. Occupiers laid barricades from fallen trees to prevent moving trucks and workers from entering the property and were able to stave off the eviction for a few hours.
At 2:45pm ten or more truckloads of police in full combat gear armed with live-ammo AR-15’s, and grenade launchers arrived on the scene & forced occupiers to the ground at gun point. Police then made their way to the house, broke down the front door, threw Sahara to the ground in her own kitchen and pointed their guns at the heads of a mother and son who were in the house with Sahara along with others. They continued to break items in the house as they searched it. They unplugged the modem, which was the only mode of communication as there was no cell phone coverage in the area, in order to stop the livestream and all communications.
After the livestream cut out, the Occupy Denver legal team spent a harrowing hour in communication blackout wondering if they would be receiving calls from the hospital instead of the jail this time. This psychological violence did not stop one brave activist from jumping into the bucket of the bulldozer that was going to tear through the barricades and forced the operator to stop for several minutes. Three arrests were made, two activists were assaulted and all have been released. Many of the people on the ground have survived multiple occupations and riot cop lines but all agree that this was the most surreal and violent state repression they have experienced protesting. There has been overwhelming community support as other activists and concerned people watched the unnecessary militarized drama unfold online. Everyone is asking “Seriously, why are they in military gear?” All captions for the following photographs are actual comments made on the Occupy Denver Facebook Page.
Sheriffs, SWAT, and Assault Rifles – A Foreclosure Story by Michael Steadman
Idaho Springs, Colorado may seem like a quiet, peaceful, and even quaint little town off I-70 in the mountains west of Denver. However, in the early afternoon of October 30, 2012, the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that looks can be extremely deceiving. Make no mistake; this is not a kindhearted Mayberry RFD type of law enforcement. This was a tactical, military style assault against unarmed, peaceful protesters.
But first, let’s go back a bit in order to give you a little better understanding of the events leading up to, as well as during their demonstration of excessive use of force.
Sahara Donahue has lived in her home for over 20 years, has been a volunteer in her community, and was a decent law abiding citizen. She suffered injuries from a near-fatal accident, including a head injury that was not properly diagnosed until over a year after the accident. She could no longer perform the duties of her job, and therefore was forced to rely on the generosity of friends to help pay her mortgage for several years. She made every attempt to communicate and work with the banks, and even retained the services of an attorney, in the hopes of finding some resolution to keep her home. However, the banks (as well as a corrupt realtor) apparently had different plans.
These are protestors they are standing over with machine guns???? -L.R.
After she was given a run-around by US Bank, several of us made our way up the canyon to stand with her and support her in case the eviction went through the following day. Later in the day we were informed that the only compromise offered to Sahara involved her immediate eviction – BUT – they would be magnanimous enough to store her things for 30 days. Those of us at the house began planning our course of action for the remainder of the night as well as for Eviction Day.
We barricaded the driveway with fallen trees in order to limit access to the house, and held several impromptu meetings in order to discuss our tactics. Sahara’s wishes were for us to be respectful when the Sheriff arrived, since she has a history with this community. We agreed that we would all respect her wishes and approach the situation in a peaceful manner. We were led to believe that the realtor would be arriving with a crew of workers to remove items from the house, and the Sheriff would be there to “keep the peace.” Sahara had also asked one of the group’s members to be a spokesman. He would speak directly with those who arrived and deliver legal letters to the Sheriff. This way things would proceed smoothly and help eliminate any unnecessary escalation.
As night closed in we shared stories, discussed ideas, and enjoyed each other’s company in a very peaceful positive environment. Eventually people began to settle down for the night. Most were sleeping in the house on couches or on the floor, while I and another went out to sleep in our tents beside the barricade in case of any unexpected late night surprises.
The following morning we all began to stir as coffee was brewing. There seemed to be an overall sense of optimism among the group. We received word of some more people coming up to join us, and we had another meeting to determine tactics regarding the expected arrivals for the eviction. Several of us collected more timber to fortify the barricades, others were making food, and everyone was ready for whatever was coming (or so we thought).
The first arrival of the day was a truck hauling a dumpster that was apparently to be left there for the workers to put her things in. Seeing the barricades, he got out and spoke with us. He was very friendly and supportive towards us, and then called his supervisor who after several minutes instructed him to bring the dumpster back. We had our first victory of the day and the excitement filled the air.
A while later a white van filled with workers from a “day labor” company pulled up and stopped. These were the men who were supposed to remove her belongings from the house. They needed to wait for the Sheriff to arrive, and since there is no cell phone service in the area, they just relaxed and spoke with us for a while. We even tried to recruit a few of them to stand with us, but to no avail. Finally they decided to leave in order to go back down the mountain to find a place with better reception to make calls. We all began a second celebration as we filled the air with singing, “Na na na na, hey hey hey, GOOD-BYE!”
Things were really starting to look up for us. We felt we had made some incredible progress. Then we heard a vehicle coming. Around the corner I saw a Sheriff’s vehicle through the trees as it was approaching. Then I saw behind it another, and another, and another. About 10 vehicles filled with men in what appeared to be full battle gear (and assault weapons already in hand) began to fill the road in front of the house. In all our planning and meetings, we never expected this kind of response. After all, we were led to believe that the Sheriff was only going to be there to “keep the peace.” And don’t forget to keep in mind that we were unarmed, peaceful demonstrators.
The spokesman of our group got on the megaphone and began trying to get everyone to converge up at the house, but it was already too late. The Tactical Response Team had already reacted. As we were rushing up the driveway, we were cut-off by several men gripping their assault rifles as they began shouting at us to get on the ground on our knees. To my left, the spokesman was coming up, shouting on the megaphone, attempting to discern who was in charge since he had the letters to deliver. The officers didn’t care, in fact as the spokesman was telling them he had letters, one of the officers shouted back, “No, you don’t have letters!” and they continued ordering us to get on our knees. We remained standing and continued trying to open up some kind of conversation.
At this point, I was standing there with the spokesman, and a few others. Mind you, I am about 6’2” tall and about 200 lbs. The others standing with me were as big, if not bigger, with the exception of an older gentleman to my left. Since none of us would get on our knees, these fully armed, militarized officers decided to arrest the smallest and oldest person there. With all their firepower and intimidation techniques, they targeted the least imposing person there. They put him face down in the dirt and gravel, and cuffed his hands behind him with their zip-tie handcuffs.
Finally, the man in charge came forward, but when he was presented with the letters, he informed us that he would take them but it didn’t matter. He then folded them up without even really looking at them. It was obvious that those with the money and the guns couldn’t have cared less about the injustice taking place, and they were ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to shut us down.
I was offered a ride by one of the activists, since the Sheriff was so gracious to let some of us go without further incident. As we made our way down the private drive, we saw at the bottom of the hill the bulldozer that was just waiting to tear through our barricades, and the van of day labor workers ready to fulfill their job descriptions. After a couple turns down Hwy 103 another realization occurred to me. There on the shoulder of the road was an ambulance waiting on stand-by. Maybe I am mistaken, but it would appear that the Sheriff’s Department was prepared to do, and had every intention of doing, whatever was necessary to obey their bank’s wishes.
We pulled into a local convenience store after making it into town. As we sat collecting our thoughts, and trying to decompress after the events that had transpired, I was struck by something else. I watched the people of the town as they nonchalantly passed by and it occurred to me that this was a sort of metaphor about our entire society today. Just up the hill, innocent people were having guns shoved in their faces, people were being evicted from their homes, and much more. At the same time, the rest of the town went about its daily routine, completely oblivious as to what was going on just around the corner.
“Military tactics, Military equipment, Military mindset. Looks like this nation is occupied by the bankers military.” -K.Y.
Later around 6:45pm Occupiers and other residents returned with Sahara to help her sift through her things which were now thrown in piles on the outskirts of the property. Many of her possessions were destroyed by the movers. One Occupier who was there for the armed raid, and stayed to help said, “Seeing these things that represented a large cross-section of this woman’s life strewn across the front yard was one of the worst things I have ever had to witness in my life. Why is the general population letting the big banks do this to us?” As the temperature started to drop as night set in, the only thing people could do was to cover her piles of belongings with tarps, as there was nowhere for her to take her things. Sahara was only able to take her two dogs, Rodeo and French Fry, and what ever she could fit in her small vehicle. She is currently staying in a motel, and is uncertain as to where she will be able to live next. Occupiers will continue to assist her until her living situation has stabilized.
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.]]>
“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.
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.
“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 –]]>