Occupy Oakland and Foreclosure Defense: Canvassing West Oakland

Foreclosure Defense in Sarasota, FL in May of 2010

We met for the first time about two weeks ago, the Foreclosure Defense Committee, in a member’s apartment on 35th street. There wasn’t enough furniture, so we sat on the floor. We heard a training presentation from a representative of ACCE, the Association for California Community Empowerment, about the legalities of re-entering foreclosed homes, about non-violent resistance and what it means to be standing your ground when the sheriffs show up. We rationally discussed illegal things in legal terms. ACCE has been doing this kind of thing for a while. They know what they’re doing. They know what they’re talking about. Professional activists, whose cause is suddenly mainstream, or at least closer than it ever has been before. This is the real thing. This is a real fight. It’s fucking electrifying, scary and invigorating. No one’s playing around here. People’s lives are going to be changed. And, if we are successful, it will be for the better

Today, we went out into the community, that clichéd place of which many of us would have to be reminded we are in fact a part, to canvass for support. I was so glad to discover that even despite all that had happened downtown, it seems that Oakland hasn’t given up on us.

Occupy has identified its first distressed homeowner. I can’t divulge her name or address, because that is to be done on Tuesday during a rally at DeFremery Park, when the home will be re-taken. We have identified the neighborhood of focus. West Oakland, South of Ghost Town and West of the freeway, a mostly well-kept grid of bungalo apartments interspersed with huge and shockingly beautiful Victorians. We met at DeFremery Park, and split up into teams of two bearing talking points, clip-boards, and sign-up sheets. Our mission: to enlist neighborhood residents for text and e-mail alerts about Foreclosure Defense actions in the area and updates on the status of the homeowner, in the hope of drawing them into our cause. Sort of a meet and greet from Occupy to the average folk.

And I’m so glad to say that our reception was a warm one. We knocked on maybe 15 doors, and we got 10 individuals signed up. Only one person slammed the door in our face, and only two apartments refused to open them. Everyone else at the very least spoke to us. While not everyone agreed, and, understandably, not everyone was keen on giving us their contact info, everyone listened and engaged in discussion. I felt no hostility, from anyone (the front wheel of my teammate’s bike got stolen, but I’m not sure that that counts). One man engaged us in a minutes-long discussion on tactics and philosophy. He told us that he had been through a foreclosure himself a few years back, and had managed to get the banks to write down the principle, and while the details seemed a bit hazy, he said that his training as a foreclosure lawyer certainly helped. I bet. He wasn’t convinced that Occupy’s strategy would work. However, it already has, in L.A., Minneapolis, and Atlanta to name a few. Much depends on the homeowner, their willingness to endure a media circus, and the potentially lengthy presence of a large number of unfamiliar Occupiers. But people have been having these fights for years, and if this is the first step in the next phase of Occupy, I think it will be a major one, because if there’s one thing that Occupy has proven it can provide, is numbers. And that’s all it takes.

Now that the camps are gone, I think this is just about the most natural extension of the movement there is. There is nothing negative about this. No squalid tent camps. No opportunity for violence or vandalism except on the part of the police. Mayors and police departments around the country will have to subject themselves to forcibly removing families from their homes, so that a house in an already crumbling community can lie vacant until the buyers come back, so that the banks who largely got us into this mess in the first place, and made off so handsomely since, can preserve the sanctity of their balance sheets. I just can’t imagine that this will be an argument to stand on.

The last person we spoke to was a middle-aged man in a house on Myrtle Street. He spoke to us from behind a screen door, and when we told him about the woman only a few blocks away who had enlisted Occupy Oakland in re-taking her home, he quietly told us that he really did appreciate our work, and, that he might need the same kind of help himself. Of course, this is exactly what we’d been hoping to hear. I gave him the Foreclosure Defense Committee’s e-mail address (oohousingnetwork@gmail.com), and when I returned to the de-briefing, I pointed out his name on the list. The ACCE people noted him down with interest.

Occupy is far from over. In fact, dare I say, it might just be beginning. All it takes is 30 people, per foreclosed home, who are willing to stand their ground. And imagine the difference that can make. Would Mayor Quan really be willing to face them down? Would Obama? Hopefully, and in my opinion, probably, time will tell.

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