By Kris Hamel
WW photo: Bryan G. Pfeifer
Activists fighting to stop the ongoing epidemic of home foreclosures came together here on March 31 at a national conference initiated and organized by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions & Utility Shutoffs. The endorsement and participation of other organizations was reflected in the speakers and presentations at the gathering, held at the historic Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit.
Conference organizers said 130 registrants attended. Beside Detroit and other cities in Michigan, people came from Los Angeles, Central Point, Ore., Chicago, Milwaukee, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New York City. International guests registered from Paris, Jerusalem and Austria.
The entire conference was broadcast live via Ustream. The recording can be viewed at nationalmoratorium.org.
Steve Babson, of the local People Before Banks Coalition, kicked off the meeting with an informative Powerpoint presentation. Babson vividly outlined the foreclosure crisis in Detroit and around the country, its origins, the criminal scope of the banks’ actions, and why a national moratorium to stop foreclosures is necessary. Babson’s presentation is being posted for viewing at peoplebeforebanks.org.
A strong theme throughout the event was the criminal and racist role played by the banks and financial institutions in the capitalist economic crisis that laid off millions, lowered wages and spawned the home foreclosure epidemic in the United States. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, 7.5 million homeowners have faced foreclosure since 2007, with a projected 10 million foreclosures yet to come.
Participants discussed the criminal role of the federal government in bailing out the very banks and financial institutions that created the crisis for workers and the poor. Activists demanded an end to the silent but continuing bailout that occurs with every loan owned or backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Housing Administration. These add up to approximately 75 percent of all mortgages in the U.S.
Homeowners and their families get foreclosed by the banks and thrown out onto the street. Meanwhile, the government rewards the banks, reimbursing them for 100 percent of the inflated loan value, plus the banks’ exorbitant fees.
Detroit, the banks & takeover threat
Abayomi Azikiwe, a leading anti-foreclosure organizer and co-founder of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, chaired the first session. Azikiwe welcomed the attendees to Detroit and reported on the banks’ attempted takeover of the city through an emergency manager.
Throughout the conference speakers’ comments showed that the struggle to stop Michigan’s governor from imposing the emergency dictator was paramount on the minds of Detroiters. Residents have already suffered waves of destruction as the auto industry closed plants, and the predatory banks and lending institutions targeted the city with racist subprime mortgages, devastating whole neighborhoods.
Detroit has lost one-quarter of its population in the last 10 years due to these factors. The conference demanded repudiation of the government’s debt service to the banks, and for government to use taxpayers’ funds instead to pay the workers and keep city services going.
Speakers included Detroit City Councilperson and people’s representative JoAnn Watson; Wayne County Commissioner Martha Scott, author of a county moratorium bill; Michele Finley, who led the fight to save the home of her parents, Bertha Garrett and William Garrett, from Bank of New York Mellon Trust; Belva Davis, a Detroit homeowner who defeated Ocwen and Wells Fargo’s attempts to evict her from her home; and Vanessa Fluker, a leading anti-foreclosure attorney and fighter against the banks.
The second session was chaired by Andrea Hackett, a Detroit city worker who lost her home to foreclosure. The session focused on reports from around the country on direct actions to stop foreclosures and occupy homes.
Speakers included the Rev. Ed Rowe, of Central United Methodist Church, a longtime leader in struggles for social and economic justice; Occupy Los Angeles and Occupy Fights Foreclosures activists Cheryl Aichele, Carlos Marroquin and Matt Ward; and Occupy Detroit anti-eviction committee organizer Joe McGuire.
Also Brittany Scott, housing coordinator of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative; U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke, author of state and federal moratorium legislation; Nancie Koerber, of Project REconomy, which has brought homeowners and attorneys together to challenge foreclosures across the Northwest; and Jerry Goldberg, a Moratorium NOW! leader and long-time advocate for a national moratorium on foreclosures.
Among other speakers were Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign organizers J. R. Fleming and Patricia Hill; Steve Wyatt, coordinator of the United Auto Workers’ social unionism education project; Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement activists Bryan Pfeifer, Tommy Cavanaugh, Cody Misiak and Brian Woods; Bob Day, Detroit attorney and anti-foreclosure fighter; Shawndrica Simmons, Secretary-Treasurer of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO; Cecily McClellan, Detroit city worker and union activist in the Association of Professional and Technical Employees; and Mike Shane of Moratorium NOW!
Tactics, actions & furthering the struggle
Among the many tactics used and discussed were home occupations; home defenses and blockades; eviction stalling methods; disruptions at auctions of foreclosed homes; protests and actions at banks and loan service providers; email and telephone campaigns directed at bank executives; turning back eviction dumpsters; training homeowners to assist others in obtaining loan modifications and sustainable workouts; antibank campaigns and pulling money out of banks; establishing eviction-free zones; and putting people in vacant homes.
U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke announced that he has drafted and will soon introduce legislation in Congress for a three-year federal moratorium on foreclosures, along with mortgage loan principal reductions to reflect true market value for underwater homeowners — those who owe more on their mortgage than the current market value of the home.
An open mic allowed other participants to ask questions and make comments.
Chicago activist Jill Hill chaired the third and final session on action plans to fight for a foreclosure moratorium. Speakers included Debbie Johnson, of Moratorium NOW!; Larry Holmes, of the national Bail Out the People Movement and Occupy 4 Jobs; and Andy Koch and Lamont Lilly, activists from North Carolina, who announced plans to demonstrate at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September.
Action proposals adopted included supporting all May Day actions and the call for a May 1 general strike; organizing to protest the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20 and supporting the call by the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign to occupy 100 homes during the summit week; holding an international tribunal during the Democratic National Convention in September to investigate the criminal actions of the banks; and organizing a march on the DNC to demand President Barack Obama use his executive authority to impose a national moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.
Following the conference, participants adjourned to 1515 Broadway, a popular coffee house and theater that was recently saved from foreclosure thanks to a broad-based community struggle against Citibank. Dinner, cultural presentations and lots more discussion rounded out the day-long event.
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