Occupy Mac brings faces of foreclosure to campus

By Sam Baker

If the national movement Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for one thing, it is a lack of concrete, unifying goals. However, Occupy Mac, Macalester’s chapter in the movement that started in October, demonstrated Tuesday at its Faces of Foreclosure event that they have no shortage of goals for Macalester, Minnesota or the country. Tuesday’s event drew speakers and performers from around the Twin Cities, including hip-hop performer and community activist Brother Ali, for reflection on the recent foreclosure crisis and surrounding economic issues on both local and national scales. 32,000 homes have been foreclosed since 2005 in Hennepin county, 21,300 homes were foreclosed in Minnesota in 2011, and the Minneapolis Public Schools have lost $150,000 in property tax revenue from these foreclosures. With Macalester students being affected at home and school, Occupy Mac saw a need for Faces of Foreclosure to expose the grim realities of foreclosure in the Twin Cities and the nation, while bringing a message of hope to participants and removing shame around the issue. The event was also meant to prompt student involvement through anti-foreclosure action, such as occupying homes that are being foreclosed on with other organizations like Occupy Homes Minnesota, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) and Occupy MN. “I think part of the goal is to bridge that gap between the Macalester bubble and what’s right outside of it,” said Occupy Mac member Miranda Adams ’15. Occupy Mac also unveiled its Cut the Contract with Wells Fargo Campaign Tuesday night. Wells Fargo has foreclosed on more homes than any other bank in Minnesota. Occupy Mac hopes the school will move funds away from Wells Fargo “until they change their unjust loan and foreclosure policies in the Twin Cities,” according to an op-ed submitted to The Mac Weekly by Occupy Mac member Sarah Knispel ’15 last week. A pledge was presented at the end of the event for students and faculty to sign. It said, “We pledge that unless Wells Fargo agrees to a reduction of principal on all underwater home mortgages to current market rates in the Twin Cities Metro Area, essentially enacting a moratorium on foreclosures, Macalester College will end all business relations with Wells Fargo.” The pledge was presented to President Brian Rosenberg by a delegation of Occupy Mac at a meeting Thursday afternoon. As of press time, the results of this meeting were not available. In an email before the meeting, Rosenberg said, “In general, I am very, very cautious about boycotts… I hope that [Faces of Foreclosure] proves to be helpfully informative.” Macalester’s Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton has already told Occupy Mac that it would be easy to make the changes the group is requesting, like moving Macalester p-cards to another bank, as they are not contractual demands. “Faces of Foreclosure” Tuesday’s event in Weyerhaeuser Chapel really began before the 7 p.m. start time as speakers, performers and Occupy organizers talked to students and community members outside the chapel. Anthony Newby, an organizer for Occupy Homes MN and NOC explained that Macalester is the first school Occupy Homes MN has visited and that he believs it is a great place to start because of its activist reputation. “It is a revolution that’s happening. The question is: how far are we going to push it?” Newby said. “There’s an opportunity right here on the Macalester campus to plug in to some really powerful things.” Brother Ali was also available before the event to talk with students, a group he sees as vital to what he called the “high-powered, electric” Occupy movement. To open Faces of Foreclosure, Brother Ali and Silvia Gonzales Castro performed the song La Caña (The Sugar Cane), which mixed Gonzales playing folk music on a jarana and singing in Spanish with interspersions of Ali rapping about current economic problems facing the United States. Real Faces of Foreclosure Monique White, the event’s first guest speaker, explained her experience fighting eviction and foreclosure since she lost her job due to budget cuts in February 2010. After White had lost a significant portion of her income she went to US Bank to get mortgage relief through the Obama Administration’s “Making Homes Affordable” program. Turned away on the basis that she did not meet all the criteria for the program, she found support in Occupy MN. The organization is trying to help her keep her home by having almost 100 people occupy her house and yard. Occupy MN member and speaker Gerardo Cajamarca, whose own home is in foreclosure, began his Tuesday with negotiations with US Bank CEO Richard Davis about White’s house. “It’s something like going from hell to heaven today,” said Cajamarca, a resident granted political asylum from Colombia. “We were demanding that he give back what he stole,” he said of the negotiations, but was glad his day was ending at Macalester. “We are here in heaven appealing to the critical conscience.” Cajamarca went on to criticize social and ideological ideas like the American Dream and explain the problems of the 2000’s housing bubble. “We’re truly in front of a very well organized mafia,” he said as he continued to denounce bankers and politicians who he feels stole from the American people when they were bailed out by the US government in 2008 and 2009. “That’s how the man at US Bank could say he wasn’t going to give out money, without realizing it’s our money.” After sharing his views of what is happening economically in the US, Cajamarca turned to students for their help in solving these problems. “To change the law, we have to change the system,” he said. Occupy Homes MN organizer, Nick Espinosa also explained how his family was currently facing foreclosure. Though his mom was ashamed, when he brought her to an Occupy Homes meeting “it really transformed her.” Espinosa asked students to text “@OccupyHomes” to 23559 in order to receive text messages about occupying homes when residents are about to be evicted. Alejandra Cruz’s family is also facing foreclosure. She was met with a warm applause from the audience. Cruz said that it requires a little more risk for the immigrant community to stand with Occupy Homes MN, but that she and her brother are doing so to save their family’s home. “I really invite you guys to do something in your community – anything,” Cruz said. Brother Ali on Foreclosure Ali spoke about his experience growing up and being taught by his mother to value the investment. “Because a lot of our families didn’t own homes, we didn’t understand the language,” he said of friends who had adjustable rate mortgages and were evicted from their homes. “[The bankers] understood very well what was going on; we didn’t.” Ali, who is known for his activism addressing racial and economic injustice, pointed out injustices in the foreclosure crisis as well, saying that those facing foreclosure did not get a voice until the “mainstream group” of Americans began losing their homes as well. “The reality is we’re joining a movement that’s been going on for a long time,” Ali said of whites joining communities of color in the Occupy Homes movement. Reinforcing Positive Goals The night ended on a hopeful note, as Ali commended members of local Occupy chapters for occupying spaces and designating places for people to meet and have national conversations. “We have a great opportunity now,” Ali said. “I think it was incredible. Every single person that spoke… really moved me,” said Occupy Mac organizer, Jonas Buck ‘13. “I hope that, from this, foreclosure becomes a more salient issue among Mac students.” Occupy Mac has also been in contact with organizers at New York University, who are running a similar campaign called “Cut the Bull” in which they are boycotting Chase Bank, the bank responsible for the most foreclosures in the state of New York. Leewana Thomas ‘14 explained that Macalester’s campaign to pres
sure Wells Fargo is a “sort of pilot project” in that, along with NYU, it is one of the first schools pursue disinvestment. If the project is successful, she said, it could start a country-wide student movement. refresh –>