Occupy’s Impact: Forcing Mayor to Confront Lender

Click on Photo to Learn How Occupy's Cruz Struggle Forced the Mayor to Confront Freddie Mac

In early May, the Minnesota Occupy Homes movement began defending the Cruz house in South Minneapolis, home to a hard-working but undocumented immigrant family from Mexico who claimed that a glitch in PNC Bank’s system had cost them their American dream. The children of the family, Alejandra and David Cruz, were dreamers, actively campaigning for the Dream Act that would help children of undocumented immigrants.

Occupy defended the home for three weeks until raids by Hennepin County sheriffs — who were acting under a court order — forced the eventual eviction and arrest of protestors. Occupy and its political allies responded by holding a spirited demonstration in front of Minneapolis City Hall, with the Cruz family’s front door (kicked in that morning by deputies) used as a dramatic backdrop. Demonstrators called upon Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak to stop doing the bank’s and the lender’s bidding. The movement succeeded in putting Rybak between a rock and a hard place, forcing him to call Freddie Mac and try, unsuccessfully, to convince the lender to negotiate with the Cruz family. That an undocumented immigrant family and a ragtag group of activists could force the mayor of a major American city to call Freddie Mac was a testament to the power of Occupy.

This is the third 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 Monique White’s David vs. Goliath victory, and Homeowner Victory Plants Seed for Others Facing Foreclosure.

“My parents had to work so hard for this house that it’s unjust for the bank just to take it away,” said a teary-eyed Alejandra Cruz. “My parents brought us here really young, and we’ve always learned how to fight against injustice ever since we came to this country.”

“This home doesn’t only symbolize the material aspect, but it symbolizes memories, it symbolizes hard work of an honest family just trying to make a living, trying to make a dream come true,” added younger brother David Cruz. “We all dream, we all believe, we all cry, and we all work hard.”

“This is where the banks, and Freddie Mac, and the City of Minneapolis decided to draw a line, and they put all their resources into making sure that this family could not get back into their home,” said Occupy organizer Nick Espinosa. “There were five raids in one week on the home even while we had made it public that PNC was working with the family to come up with a solution, Freddie Mac and the City and the sheriffs department decided to go forward and push for an eviction.”

“We know what caused the economic crisis in this country,” Minneapolis City Council member Gary Schiff said at the Cruz rally at City Hall. “It was banks that were unregulated and were allowed to take advantage of low-income people who dreamed of a home. Don’t let the breaking of this door break your resolve to fight back.”

Mayor Rybak freely admitted that Freddie Mac appeared to be the obstacle to keeping the Cruz family in their home.

“We as cities can’t be expected to be the lightning rod for tough foreclosure practices that often are not responding to folks,” the mayor told The UpTake. “The current situation with lenders isn’t working. It’s putting cities in positions where we’re spending huge amounts on police resources. That challenge is with Freddie, so that’s where I’ve put my energy, and frankly, I’m disappointed in their response.”

Occupy openly questioned why Hennepin County sheriffs and Minneapolis police would spend tens of thousands of dollars to do the bank’s and lender’s bidding.

“This is costing money — money that could be used for roads and schools, especially after we’re told repeatedly that there is no money for public services,” said Occupy organizer Anthony Newby. “If that’s the case, why are we using public funds to arrest peaceful protestors? In the Cruz case, it cost over $40,000 in public money to pay police overtime and fees to carry out these evictions.”

With PNC Bank seemingly unwilling to budge and Freddie Mac unwilling to help, Alejandra and David Cruz and Occupy activists traveled to Chicago and Pittsburgh this summer but were unable to secure a deal. After that, Occupy toned down the campaign and attempted to work backchannels with PNC Bank to resolve the situation, but without success they’ve decided to ramp up the campaign again.

Occupy will head to Freddie Mac’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 27 with more than 100 homeowners from around the country who are facing eviction at the hands of Freddie Mac.

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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