Occupy’s Impact: Homeowner Victory Plants Seed for Others Facing Foreclosure

Click on Photo to Hear How Bobby Hull Helped Galvanize a Homeowner Rights' Movement

In early December, the upstart Occupy Homes MN movement — which had all but moved off the local government plaza and shifted its focus to helping foreclosed homeowners the month before — began defending Vietnam Veteran and former Marine Bobby Hull’s house in South Minneapolis. On Dec. 7, dozens of activists braved the bitter cold to hold a spirited rally outside his home.

The action was fortuitous. Hull’s booming voice and passionate cries for homeowner and veteran rights — and the popular pot of cajun gumbo that he made for his activist friends — turned him into an instant catalyst for the growing movement. Hull’s bright star illuminated other struggling homeowners around him, and inspired many to take the pledge to stay in their homes.

This is the second in a four-part series about the impact Occupy Homes has had in the past year, as Occupy Wall Street marks its one-year anniversary. See Part 1 — Monique White’s David vs. Goliath victory, here.

“You take an oath that you’re going to defend our country, foreign and domestic,” said Bobby Hull during the launch party of his campaign to keep the home where he had lived since 1968. “We need to fight right here in the United States for our rights today. That’s what our forefathers put down in the constitution.

“People are ashamed about the predicament that we’re in. Nobody wants to admit that they’re going through a foreclosure. Nobody wants to say that they’re a deadbeat. I had to come to grips that I’m not a deadbeat. This is something that has been done to the entire nation.”

Soon after Hull teamed up with Occupy Homes, he began to attract national media attention. MSNBC’s Ed Schultz broadcasted a show from his front lawn, which gave Hull’s campaign, and the Occupy Homes movement, a national shot in the arm.

In February, Bank of America called Hull and told the veteran that it would renegotiate his mortgage and he could likely keep his home. Before any papers were signed, Occupy held a block party celebration. At that block party, six more homeowners facing eviction felt empowered to speak out and pledge to stay in their own homes. They included a Bloomington veteran named John Vinje, a union laborer named Frank Clark who had once been homeless on the streets of Los Angeles for nine years, and a North Minneapolis church and civic leader named Ruby Brown. Bobby Hull’s fight and victory had planted a seed, and the Occupy Homes movement was growing.

“These individual cases were inspiring people to stand up, and hopefully build a mass movement across the country of people doing this,” said Occupy organizer Nick Espinosa.

Inspired by Bobby Hull’s victory, Espinosa’s own mother, Colleen McKee Espinosa, who faced foreclosure and eviction from her home in Northeast Minneapolis, also stood up and spoke out during the block party in February.

“She had initially told me, ‘you’re not occupying my house’,” Espinosa recalled, “but once she saw the likes of Bobby, Monique White and Ruby Brown stand up, she started to think, ‘you know what, maybe I shouldn’t be ashamed of this, maybe it’s not my fault, maybe 10 million other Americans are going through foreclosure right now. Maybe it’s the banks’ fault that this is happening, and maybe I need to do something about this’.”

“Because of Bobby’s fight and victory, that night she decided to go public.”

Following Hull’s victory, Occupy went to bat for five homeowners struggling to keep their homes in the face of Bank of America. Within 48 hours of the movement releasing a video campaign, a representative from Bank of America’s social media department called an offered to fix the loans.

“It wasn’t an attorney, it wasn’t a loss mitigation specialist, it wasn’t a collection agent, it wasn’t a mortgage broker, it wasn’t even an executive — it was a social media liaison.” explained Occupy organizer Anthony Newby. “They’re paying very close attention to this public narrative. What they haven’t figured out is how to combat it, how to effectively neutralize what’s becoming an outcry of public opinion around the country.”

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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