Occupy’s Impact: Making Foreclosures an Election Issue

Less than six weeks before the presidential election, the upstart Occupy Homes movement is sending 200 activists and embattled homeowners this week to Washington. D.C. On Thursday, they’ll appeal to national lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — and their stubborn overseer Edward DeMarco — to cut homeowners like John and Lucinda Vinje from Bloomington, Minn., a break and work with banks to renegotiate their mortgages.

DeMarco, who directs the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said he won’t allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to participate in a White House program that provides principal reduction for troubled homeowners. In response, liberal groups and Democratic politicians last month called for President Barack Obama to fire him.

John Vinje, an Air Force veteran currently employed as a security guard, has been a fixture of the Occupy Homes movement since last December. But this trip to the nation’s capital is much bigger than Vinje, or other homeowners seeking DeMarco’s ear. This is a deliberate bid by the Occupy movement to thrust the issue of home foreclosures into the national election.

This is the final story 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 previous stories about Occupy forcing Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak to call Freddie Mac, Monique White’s David vs. Goliath victory, and Homeowner Victory Plants Seed for Others Facing Foreclosure.

“We need to make housing an issue in this election, because right now it’s not,” said Occupy Homes organizer Nick Espinosa. “Both Democrats and Republicans have essentially the same housing policy, and both parties are in danger of alienating (the public) if they continue to serve the banks and not the people.”

The Minnesota delegation that left early Tuesday morning en route to Washington, D.C., include the Vinjes, homeowner Sara Kaiser, who was evicted from her South Minneapolis house despite Occupy’s support, Occupy organizer Anthony Newby and victorious homeowner Bobby Hull. In the capitol, Newby said they’ll meet homeowners and activists from cities including Atlanta, New York, Boston and St. Louis, and states including New Jersey, California, Florida and Arizona.

“People from all over the country, are converging in DC to deliver a very direct message, which is to get rid of Edward DeMarco, and that they need to change the way they’re doing business,” said Newby.

“One of the most exciting things about this movement is that it’s not only the people who are facing eviction, it’s people who have won their house, and are still fighting for others,” Newby added. “Bobby Hull’s as excited as anybody to go to D.C. and deliver a direct message. Bobby says ‘I want my money back’. That’s become his trademark quote. What he means by that is, we’ve bailed out the banks, we’ve given them billions of dollars to help keep them afloat when they had a crisis. We need that same bailout.”

With all eyes on the showdown between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Occupy seeks not to field candidates for office, but to implant the issue of home foreclosures into the public discourse.

“It matters less who you put in office, than where you push them,” said Occupy organizer Ben Egerman. “Politicians respond to pressure, and if we can put the pressure we want on them, then it doesn’t really matter who you elect.”

Has the Occupy movement had the impact it hoped to when a ragtag group of activists began camping out in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan one year ago?

“Occupy was a high-tide moment, and there was a lot of activity and energy,” reflected Espinosa. “Now that tide has retreated a bit, and what we have left are tide pools. But these tide pools are filled with the same water, and there’s been an intermingling of networks and movements, and I think the next time the tide comes in, we’re gonna be better prepared to take advantage of those opportunities.”

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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