“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” How often have we heard that expression? I guess you could say that I took that message to heart as far as my work with the Occupy Homes Minnesota group.
My family went through foreclosure and a successful modification in 2010. It truly was one of the most stressful and difficult times I have ever gone through. Back then, I would never have thought that I would now find myself talking with and fighting the banks for others, but in fact, it is now a very important part of my life.
Last October, a co-worker at another job was very close to losing her home. I had told her what we had done in our successful battle with our bank, but the strategies that had worked for us had no positive effect for her situation.
With her belongings packed, she had come to reluctantly accept the fact that her family was about to be homeless. I couldn’t think of any new ideas that hadn’t already been tried. In a last chance I told her to go down to the “People’s Plaza” at the Hennepin County Government Center and talk to the people about this dilemma and its relation to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Little did I know, a seed would be planted that has changed many lives for the better.
As she told her story at a general assembly, the members of Occupy Minneapolis made a decision to move some of the camp to my co-workers home. In doing so, we would set up a human shield to stop any attempted eviction of this family from their home.
So on a cold early November evening, myself and about 70 new friends and community allies transformed this home in North Minneapolis into a symbol of what would be a new face of the Occupy movement.
As I addressed the crowd, I had a myriad of emotions running through me. Fear, anger, depression, joy and so many other feelings. It was as if I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this moment. But the one thing I did know is that we were not going to allow another vacant home to appear in our neighborhood in North Minneapolis.
Many people ask me; “Why do you want to stay in North Minneapolis? Aren’t you afraid of the violence?” Well, I always tell them that this is my home, and no one is going to run me out until I am ready to go. I love my neighborhood and my neighbors, and the real violent people seem to be the ones in the big office buildings dressed in the nice clothes, who call themselves bankers. These are the people who have done more to destroy the fabric of not only North Minneapolis, but also in countless other communities around the nation.
As time went on, we had community meetings and Bar-B-Q’s to get her neighbors aware of what this rag-tag group of people were trying to accomplish. Not everyone was supportive of the signs and tents, but they did understand that another vacant property was not acceptable either.
At some of these meetings, others would come up and ask us for help in their situation. We were a last ditch effort in fighting off these foreclosures, and they saw an opportunity to make a statement to society that we as people will not go away quietly as you try to steal our homes.
Word spread about the crazy happenings in Minneapolis, and how we were actually in communication with the banks. It is amazing how much power a few people yelling and chanting outside of a bank president’s home can have.
It was not all fun and games though. Besides being an agitator and supporter of our homeowners, I am also an intake interviewer. I go out to the homes of people who have contacted us, and ask the tough questions about what caused them to enter into foreclosure. Some of the questions are uncomfortable to ask, and often times tears and anger find their way into the conversation. Often times I end up crying right along with the homeowners. Even though my family survived our battle, the emotional toll is still fresh and hurts just as much now as it did then.
My co-worker went through many highs and lows during the process. On more than a few occasions, we saw victory seem very close, only to have some other hurdle being placed in front of us. It also became frustrating that some other homeowners were winning modifications, while her situation seemed to be going nowhere. With tears in her eyes, she was ready to give up. “I can’t do this anymore. “I’ve done everything that they have asked. I’ve filled out all their damn forms. I’ve been respectful to the banks in the interviews, and they won’t move! I’m just gonna give them the keys. I can’t handle this!”
I gave her a hug and assured her; “You can’t quit! You’ve come this far, and I think a decision has to be soon. They know you’re frustrated. We are going to win your house for you.” I said all this knowing how I had felt the same way when they almost took my family’s home.
Within a week, she received a call from the bank with an offer of modification. We had won another home, but more important another family would stay in their home, and a neighborhood would not lose the property taxes from another vacant home.
Every foreclosure has a detrimental effect on a community. Not only is the homeowner affected mentally and physically, but families can be torn apart by the stress it causes. Neighborhoods are also hurt because often the properties sit vacant for a prolonged period, which can attract crime and the home can fall into serious disrepair. More importantly the reduction in property taxes can affect the entire community by reducing money available for schools, police and fire, roads, and even hospitals. This can lead to reductions in workers and wages.
Knowing first hand the hurt and fear that a foreclosure can cause is why I continue to fight and volunteer for Occupy Homes Minnesota. Another reason is we must work together to bring about a positive change. I wake up each day and say; “If not me, who? And if not now, when?” Our union; SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, has honored my endeavor by awarding me with the Social and Economic Justice Award. It is an honor that I will cherish forever, and I will continue to work towards improving our communities to the best of my ability.
If you or anyone you know is going through this nightmare of home foreclosure, Occupy Homes can help. We ask only that you fight for your home and help us help others. Please call us at 612-460-STAY (7829)
Stay strong brothers and sisters, and keeping fighting to improve all of our lives and our communities. We as a Union have that power!
And, as always:
Solidarity Today! Solidarity Tomorrow! And Solidarity Always…
In ALL Ways!!!