Coordinated protests thwart business as usual at Bank of America branches in DC

Photo by John Zangas

Simultaneous protests targeting Bank of America branches throughout the District of Columbia delayed openings and drew attention to the financial giant’s foreclosure practices. Occupy Our Homes DC coordinated the “reverse foreclosure” at eleven Bank of America locations on Saturday morning. They’ve taken up the case of Rev. Michael Vanzant, whom Bank of America is threatening to evict.

While customers were inconvenienced, they also learned about how Bank of America leads the pack in wrongful foreclosures. Unfair practices even extend to empty homes–the National Fair Housing Alliance recently accused Bank of America of maintaining foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods in better condition than in Latino or African-American ones. One woman reportedly closed her account on the spot when she heard how Bank of America is treating Rev. Vanzant.

UPDATE: Bank of America yesterday sealed its place in infamy when it announced the “largest securities class-action lawsuit settlement yet to arise from the financial crisis.” It will pay out $2.4 billion to avoid admitting that it misled shareholders when acquiring investment firm Merrill Lynch.

Related articles

Homeowner in foreclosure interrupts testimony of JP Morgan CEO responsible for $2 billion loss

Retired paramedic Deborah Harris (photo by coolrevolution.net)

A woman who disrupted a Senate Banking Committee hearing on June 13 was arrested along with five others from the housing advocacy organization Occupy Our Homes DC. Deborah Harris interrupted the opening statement of JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who was giving testimony on his bank’s recent $2 billion losses in hedge fund investments. Her home is being foreclosed on by Chase Bank.

The Raw Story reports that protestors yelled, “Stop foreclosures now, stop foreclosures now!” before being escorted out of the hearing by Capitol Police.

Though Dimon remained stone-faced, the demonstrators have numerous reasons to protest the financial institution for its history of questionable foreclosures.

JPMorgan Chase has been sued by state attorneys general and others for alleged foreclosure fraud. They have also been twice sued for subprime lending practices that led to the housing finance crisis in 2008, and for automating the foreclosure process through robo-signing, the practice of a bank employee signing thousands of documents and affidavits without verifying the information contained in the document or affidavit.

Last week Occupy Our Homes DC, which has publicized Harris’ case as part of its campaign to raise awareness of epidemic foreclosures in the area, conducted a sit-in of Chase Home Loan Modification offices in Washington, DC in an effort to gain a negotiation for the retired paramedic.

“It was powerful for Deborah to be able to confront and stand up to Jamie Dimon,” Rooj Alwazir of Occupy Our Homes DC said, “And tell her story of why he’s stealing her home of 17 years, [at the same time that] he’s trying to justify a $2 billion loss [as a result of] his own negligence.”

U.S. Marshals breach Occupy Our Homes blockade, evict DC tenant

by The Lucie and John Zangas

Activists with Occupy Our Homes DC blockaded the entrance to Dawn Butler’s home in Washington, DC today in an effort to prevent U.S. Marshals from evicting her. The “eviction defense” resulted in a dramatic and sometimes violent confrontation between activists and law enforcement in which the front door was ripped from its hinges and several people were injured.

Occupy Our Homes DC took up the case of Dawn Butler, a tenant in northeast DC whose landlord has been foreclosed on by Chase Bank. By blocking the path of marshals, Occupy Our Homes intended to delay them long enough for Butler’s lawyer to obtain a stay of eviction in court. This is the second time that Occupy Our Homes, part of Occupy DC, has “defended” Butler’s home.  On April 2, Occupy Our Homes successfully intervened and prevented the Butler family from being evicted.

Although preparations were last-minute–the eviction order was only issued late the previous afternoon–Occupy Our Homes managed early Tuesday morning to hang a banner saying, “Eviction Free Zone” and erect a large barricade made of milk crates, to which three activists secured themselves with PVC piping.

Marshals didn’t seem to expect the blockade. They conferred for almost an hour and a half as more than 20 more officers, additional vehicles and a K-9 unit arrived. Movers hired by mortgage-holder JP Morgan Chase milled about on the sidewalk. When armed marshals forcefully moved in at 10:15am, they ordered protestors to step aside. After a locksmith removed the gate lock, officers struggled with Eli Greer, who had tied himself to the gate, then wrestled him onto the lawn along with several others.

A violent confrontation ensued as officers rushed the barricade, tugging at it until the door was ripped from its hinges. Protestor Ryan Lash was thrown down the steps, suffering scrapes and bruises to his side. Marc Smith was knocked unconscious and lay on the sidewalk for several minutes before being transported to the hospital by ambulance. One U.S. Marshal sustained a head wound when the flying front door hit him in the head.

“There was a lot of yelling,” organizer Sophie Vick said. “A lot of the protestors were roughed up.” No one was arrested; U.S. Marshals have no jurisdiction to make arrests. Chanting “Homes Not Banks!” and other slogans, protestors taunted officers throughout the eviction. An antsy marshal brandished a taser during the height of the confusion, and later another stood guard on the lawn with an M-4 rifle.

Hired workers removed Butler’s personal belongings in totes and plastics bags. Her mother, Anne, remained remarkably calm all morning, saying she believed they would ultimately prevail. Her composure was only disrupted momentarily when the sound of broken glass was heard from shifting piles of belongings lining the sidewalk. She lamented the breakage of antique sake glasses.

Occupy Our Homes DC has been working with several area residents to prevent wrongful foreclosures and evictions. Occupy DC legal counsels have represented Butler at the DC Superior Housing Court proceedings, which began in 2008 when she attempted to buy the home from her landlord, who had gone into foreclosure. Under the right of first refusal, District residents have the right to buy a property in which they already live.

More photos of the eviction here.

When the police are Anonymous

Mike Isaacson and Jeff Light (Photo by coolrevolution.net)

Two police officers refused to provide names and badge numbers to protestors at the Occupy Our Homes action Monday at the Chase Bank offices on I Street. Fortunately for the protestors, they only had to cross 14th St. to reach the building where they could file a complaint.

The two police officers were wearing jackets clearly marked “MPD” (Metropolitan Police Deparment) but no badges.  They refused to identify themselves when confronted. One was video-taping the protest.

Mike Isaacson filed the complaint along with three witnesses in consultation with Occupy DC counsel Jeff Light.

One of the witnesses, Ryan Lash, explained why he felt identifying the officers and reporting their refusal was important, “It’s an issue of personal safety,” he said, citing incidents of impersonation by police.

Jeff Light agreed. Without identifying information, he said, there’s no way to hold someone accountable. “Police officers often test what they can get away with,” he added.

Occupy Our Homes DC: The right to housing

Retired paramedic Deborah Harris, after meeting with representatives at Chase Bank, with Ben Johnson (Photo by coolrevolution.net)

Occupy Our Homes–the offshoot of Occupy Wall Street working to prevent wrongful evictions and foreclosures–says on its website, “Everyone deserves to have a roof over their head and a place to call home. …We believe everyone has a right to decent, affordable housing.”

Child homelessness is now epidemic in the US. 2.3 million children are part of families who have lost their homes to foreclosure. Another 6 million children are in at-risk situations. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, 1.6 million children had no home at all, living on the streets, or in shelters or motels. The correlation with the financial crisis is unmistakable; child homelessness is up 33% in the last years.

“Home ownership tends to be the price of admission to top-quality public education,” writes Peter S. Goodman on HuffPost. But what chance does a kid have at an education if she doesn’t have a home at all?

From many of the activists behind Occupy Our Homes DC, I hear an underlying theme. The conversation always starts with stopping wrongful evictions and foreclosures, but it soon gets around to the right to housing.

“Before anything else, people need homes,” says Mike Isaacson, who risked arrest today when he refused to leave the lobby of the Chase Home Loan Modification offices. He sat on the floor and quietly texted to other Occupy Our Homes activists on the upper floors. They were trying to gain a negotiation meeting on behalf of Deborah Harris, a retired paramedic who faces foreclosure on her home.

“We’re stopping the eviction of tenants and homeowners fallen on hard times,” Isaacson continued. “But it’s really about housing in general. Everybody has a right to housing.”

In our society, the right to housing is a revolutionary idea. If you can’t pay, you don’t get shelter. That’s the way it works.

Laura Lising, also of Occupy Our Homes, put it this way in front of the Freddie Mac headquarters on 7th Street: “Banks don’t need houses.” Freddie Mac bought Deborah Harris’ mortgage from Chase and is still aggressively pursuing foreclosure. “There are more empty houses than homeless people by far. We believe that housing is a human right,” Lising said.

Gary Nelson, a Baltimore firefighter attending the protest in solidarity with his fellow emergency responder, said, “I think everybody has had somebody foreclosed on or in danger of it. These things must change.”

The human cost of mass evictions and foreclosures can’t be calculated. If 8 million children grow up homeless–without stability, community and safety–we’ll pay the price for generations.

For more information, about Deborah Harris and Occupy Our Homes’ effort to stop foreclosure on her home, go here.

Occupy Our Homes in the lobby of JP Morgan Chase offices in Washington, DC (Photo by coolrevolution.net)
  • Occupy Our Homes gains foreclosure negotiation with Freddie Mac (coolrevolution.net)
  • Occupy Our Homes, low-income tenants object to development plan in Alexandria (coolrevolution.net)

Occupy Our Homes, low-income tenants object to development plan in Alexandria

Children of members of Tenants and Workers United play outside Alexandria City Council meeting

Occupy Our Homes DC joined with Tenants and Workers United to voice their objections to a proposed development plan which could eradicate 2,400 units of affordable housing in Alexandria, VA.

The Beauregard Small Area Plan was on the agenda for Alexandria’s City Council meeting on May 12.

Alexandria City Council

(Photos by coolrevolution.net)

  • Occupy Our Homes gains foreclosure negotiation with Freddie Mac (coolrevolution.net)

Occupy Our Homes gains foreclosure negotiation with Freddie Mac

A tall, gray-haired African-American man bangs on the plexiglass doors of 325 7th Street. When officers approach him, I wait for an angry confrontation, an arrest. But following some chilly stares, there are only friendly handshakes.

The tall man was Rev. Graylan Hagler, a participant in a protest in front of the DC offices of Freddie Mac. Occupy Our Homes, which focuses on the foreclosures resulting from the 2008 mortgage-securities malfeasance, organized the protest. In conjunction with Occupy DC, Occupy Our Homes is fighting to save the home of Bertina Jones, a resident of Bowie, MD, from foreclosure.

Locked out of a banking institution’s marbled lobby. It seems appropriate. While Occupy Our Homes protestors circle the sidewalk, I ask Rev. Hagler why he was knocking on the door and what brought him here. He begins to answer, then suddenly darts off without explanation.

He follows a trench-coated man up 7th Street, who stops in a doorway to check his smartphone, then returns to the Freddie Mac office building. A few minutes later, the protest moves around to the side of the building to the entrance of the parking garage. Rev. Hagler explains that the police engaged in a little diversion to allow building occupants to enter and exit while the front doors were locked.

Bertina Jones

At the parking garage entrance, Bertina Jones speaks to the crowd, admitting to nerves in front of so many people. I admire her moxie. It can’t be easy to take your troubles out in the open and step into the limelight for a cause. The Fox News line is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the mortgage crisis with affordable housing policies–in other words, high-risk loans to minorities. In contrast, Occupy Our Homes points to Jones as someone who “did everything right.” In spite of falling behind in payments because of losing her job, she tried to work with Bank of America, the original mortgage-holder, and didn’t try to shirk her obligation.

“I cried a lot,” she said. She told Occupy DC, “Thank you for coming to fight for my house, but I’m just one of hundreds” of homeowners being foreclosed on, and added, “I’m so glad I stood up and fought, and I hope more homeowners will join us.”

At first denied entry, Jones was allowed in to deliver a letter to Freddie Mac, although officials wouldn’t meet with her today. On Tuesday, Occupy Our Homes plans to protest in front of Freddie Mac’s headquarters in Tyson’s Corner. They can claim a victory, however–what was a guaranteed foreclosure is at least now at the negotiating table. Following the protest, Freddie Mac says they have contacted Bertina Jones and are “working with her and Bank of America toward a positive resolution.”

Rev. Graylan Hagler

Meanwhile, counter-protestors on Freedom Plaza calling themselves Occupy Occupy DC objected to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for different reasons today–the taxpayer bailout of the GSE mortgage-holders. David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research said, “Through the quasi-governmental Fannie and Freddie, the federal government now has a virtual monopoly on home loans. As a result, those who made prudent lending decisions must now take on additional debt that they would have never sought on their own. That is not fair.”

UPDATE: OccupyOurHomes has won a victory for Bertina Jones! Freddie Mac says it will rescind her foreclosure and allow her to stay in her home.

(Images by coolrevolution.net)