An offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement launched last Tuesday reveals the injustice--and striking inefficiency--of a system that kicks the poor onto the streets and boards up perfectly good houses. Occupy Our Homes is a campaign intended to call attention to the ongoing foreclosure crisis and its victims, and it offers clues to how OWS may evolve now that it has been evicted from Zuccotti and become largely decentralized.
I was on the ground in the foreclosure-addled East New York for the inaugural event, where at least 500 protestors gathered for a march through the Brooklyn neighborhood. The central action of the day, after occupiers took a 'foreclosure tour' around the block to visit foreclosed-upon houses and their displaced, erstwhile owners, was to help a homeless family move into another long-vacant home. Spirits were high, and the fact that hundreds of protesters were willing to head to East New York in the rain, on a weekday, speaks to the power and persistence of the movement.
Watch this video, produced by OccupyTVNY, to get a sense of the day's action:
It was, needless to say, a moving, emotional day for many involved.
And the foreclosure crisis is a disturbingly straightforward issue to highlight: There are thousands and thousands of foreclosed houses across the nation and thousands and thousands of homeless families. Those families, such as the Carrasquillos, the family pictured moving into the house with the occupiers, are not homeless by choice. And those houses are just sitting there, vacant, slowly decaying.
Which is why Occupy Our Homes is a such a smart campaign: If you're paying attention, you can't help but acknowledge that a society that lets families suffer on the streets while banks board up homes has some deeply systemic problems. The house that the Carrasquillos are now occupying was foreclosed upon three years ago; Bank of America reportedly owns the property. A society that has both a surplus of empty houses and too many homeless people is suffering from not just injustice, which, first and foremost it is, but a problem of stark inefficiency as well.
Now, OWS activists are renovating and fixing up the house, though they stopped after police ordered them to halt work without a permit. Ideally, by drawing attention to this issue, pressure will mount on the government to address this crisis, which has persisted for far too long. Serious reforms should be undertaken to help folks with underwater mortgages stay in their homes (it's better for the banks, too). There's no reason that every vacant home shouldn't be occupied.