A Year Out, Occupy Emboldens the 99 Percent

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Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and spread to thousands of cities and public gathering places around the world. Occupy’s message catapulted issues of economic justice and fairness into the forefront of the political conversation, and they remain prescient today as a presidential election looms just weeks away. This week, The UpTake will unveil a series about the local Occupy Homes movement, and what it has accomplished in the past year.

TheUpTake has covered the Occupy movement and Occupy Homes — and how they’ve impacted the political conversation — over the past 12 months. Here’s a timeline of our coverage:

Here in the Twin Cities, a devoted group of several hundred activists arrived last Oct. 7 to pitch tents in Hennepin County Government Plaza — across the Light Rail train tracks from City Hall in downtown Minneapolis. Day four of the occupation at “People’s Plaza” featured an Indigenous People’s Day Cultural Ceremony with drums, dancing and rain. Meanwhile, The UpTake sent a crew to New York City to livestream from Zuccotti Park.

The following week, Occupy Minnesota marched on corporate banks telling them “Don’t foreclose on the American dream” even as Hennepin County Sherif Deputies removed the activists’ tents from the plaza. On Oct. 24, Occupy MN offered a preview of the larger role it might play in the budding movement, as organized labor and those opposed to public money for a new Viking stadium joined the fight.

By early November, Occupy MN saw the writing on the wall: Hennepin County wasn’t going to let protestors stay indefinitely on the “People’s Plaza”, and though activists won a free-speech battle with the help of the ACLU, the movement made a strategic shift to focus on embattled homeowners facing foreclosure. This would enable Occupy activists to help people with concrete needs, and give them a place to stay when the Minnesota winter arrived.

In early November, Occupy activists moved into the North Minneapolis home of Monique White, a single mother working two jobs in the Twin Cities’ toughest neighborhood who wanted to stay in her home even though US Bank had foreclosed on her the previous January. White’s battle with Occupy by her side would last for six months. During that time, she became a catalyst for the movement.

Occupy MN held on to “People’s Plaza” a bit longer by playing cat-and-mouse with sherif’s deputies, celebrating Veterans Day in the square, and shutting down bridge traffic, but Occupy Minneapolis was quickly becoming “Occupy Homes” — a group with more specific and achievable goals.

Occupy Homes was dealt a setback on their second home defense, when police evicted them from Sara Kaiser’s home in South Minneapolis, but soon found Bobby Hull, an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran whose home had been a beacon for the entire neighborhood. On a snowy cold Dec. 7, dozens of activists rallied behind Hull. The national media followed suite, as MSNBC’s Ed Schultz broadcast a live feed on Bobby Hull’s lawn. Allies, including local clergy and religious leaders, seemed to line up behind Hull, White and Occupy Homes. The optimism carried into the New Year, and on MLK Day, hundreds marched through Minneapolis while chanting slogans of racial and economic justice.

But late February brought a thaw, as Bobby Hull’s lender showed signs of negotiating with him. At a rally on his behalf, five more embattled homeowners mustered the courage to speak out and pledge to stay in their homes and fight. Hull won his house from Bank of America on Feb. 29, but Monique White’s forecast wasn’t improving at all as US Bank refused to budge.

With help from the National Lawyers Guild, White won the right to a foreclosure trial, which succeeded in stalling her ultimate eviction. Meanwhile, Occupy MN attempted to retake Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, but faced a police assault on Easter Eve, and took their fight to Mayor RT Rybak’s office. On April 18, Monique White snuck into a US Bank shareholder’s meeting and confronted CEO Richard Davis, who ultimately agreed to meet with, and help her keep her North Minneapolis home.

A new chapter began in May when Occupy Homes began defending the Cruz house in South Minneapolis, which was owned by an undocumented but hard-working immigrant family who claimed they had been victimized by a bank computerized payment error. Occupy activists showed their devotion to the cause, chaining themselves to both entrances of the house. The Minneapolis police and Hennepin County sherifs proceeded to launch five raids against the Cruz house in late May, and Occupy Homes activists transported the front door broken in by cops straight to City Hall.

Minneapolis police and Mayor R.T. Rybak found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, as they pledged they were finished doing the bank’s and the lender’s bidding. Rybak granted The UpTake this exclusive interview about his position. But when Occupy attempted to re-take the Cruz house, the raids and arrests continued. Meanwhile, Occupy activists and City Council members asked how much the raids on the Cruz home had cost the City in public expenditures. The Cruz family would travel to Chicago and Pittsburgh to confront PNC Bank and pressure them to work with the homeowners, to no avail — while arrests continued at the Cruz house in South Minneapolis. Even famous hip hip artist Brother Ali joined the home defense.

Meanwhile, five other homeowners, who were inspired by Bobby Hull and Monique White’s fight eventually won renegotiated mortgages from their banks, including Occupy organizer Nick Espinosa’s mom Colleen, Frank and Christina Clark, Ruby Brown and Paul Leili. Remarkably, the banks switched to using social media representatives instead of lending officers when dealing with homeowners, apparently out of fear they were losing the public messaging war with Occupy. This perhaps more than anything proves the effect that Occupy Homes has had on banks within the past year.

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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