Where we are rooted: Why Macalester needs to Face Foreclosure

By Sarah Knispel

The foreclosure crisis scarcely brushed my upper-middle-class hometown, and for me “foreclosure” was more of a buzzword, more political jargon than a tangible issue for anyone. But when I arrived in the Twin Cities and began volunteering off-campus, I saw just how much foreclosures devastate the communities surrounding us. The numbers alone are staggering. 51 percent of the homes in Northern Minneapolis are under foreclosure. According to Amnesty International, there are more than five times as many vacant homes in the US as there are homeless people. Even more troubling than the statistics is the human impact. Increases in foreclosure and homelessness also lead to increases in high school dropout rates, crime, and levels of anxiety and depression among youth. In March, I went with a few other Mac students to a barbeque at the home of a family in Minneapolis facing foreclosure. The daughter of the homeowners, Alejandra, told us that her parents had bought this home immediately after moving to the United States, and had worked multiple jobs for her entire childhood to pay for it. In tears, she told us that the modest house was their “version of the American Dream.” And now the bank is trying to throw them out. For a while, I felt like there was nothing I could do to help people like Alejandra. I watched Occupy Wall Street unfold from my laptop, and I went to OccupyMN marches, but demonstrating in front of the banks didn’t create real change. And in the fall, the Occupy movement was criticized for just that – it couldn’t amount to change, because Occupiers didn’t have any real demands. They just wanted an end to systematic greed, and corruption and wealth disparities. They wanted some accountability. Mostly, they were the people’s symbol. They wanted to be heard. The Occupy movement did a fantastic job of raising awareness, but that turned to apathy for most Americans within months. This semester, Macalester’s branch of Occupy got involved with OccupyHomes. OccupyHomes branched out from the Occupy movement, because they did have a demand – stop foreclosures. OccupyHomes works with homeowners facing foreclosure and their neighbors to renegotiate with the banks. They use a combination of direct actions, such as blocking the door when bank representatives and police officers come to evict families, and legal assistance in court hearings. This Tuesday, 50 Occupiers flooded the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office where the sheriff’s sale of John and Lucinda Vinje’s home was taking place, chanting and singing so that no potential buyers would enter, until US Bank was forced to delay the sale for seven weeks. Through OccupyHomes, members of communities being torn apart by foreclosure have been able to stand up to the big banks which can seem so unstoppable. We are not helpless. Not only do we have the power to flood sheriff’s offices and courtrooms and front yards, but also direct influence on bank policy. Big banks would not exist if not for the individuals and organizations that invest in them. We can use that leverage. For this reason, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, or NOC, have asked Minneapolis Public Schools to divest from Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo banks have created more foreclosures in Minnesota than any other bank. Despite a dramatic drop in the values of homes, the bank continues to demand mortgage and loan rates based on the original value of properties. NOC found that the foreclosure crisis cost Minneapolis public schools $150 million in funding. Wells Fargo alone was responsible for $28 million of that, and the public schools are only giving them the power to ravage their community by doing business with them. We at OccupyMac want to join NOC’s efforts. We can’t stand by while the community around us is devastated by foreclosures. Macalester professes to stress social justice and civic engagement. According to Mac’s mission statement, a Macalester education should develop people who “make informed judgments and interpretations of the broader world around them and choose actions or beliefs for which they are willing to be held accountable.” That includes being held accountable for where our tuition goes. It’s great to be a global citizen, and worldwide problems deserve our attention and our work, but the Twin Cities community is where we have the power to make the most change. It is where we are rooted, and it’s important not to overlook that. We influence the Twin Cities just by going to Macalester, and many of us will continue to live in here even after graduation. This Tuesday, at 7:00 in the Chapel, OccupyMac will be hosting Faces of Foreclosure. The event will feature Brother Ali, which is thrilling, because he is an absolutely incredible speaker and a powerful presence. Those inspired and honest lyrics come through when he speaks, too. But we will also hear from some crucial, lesser-known voices—homeowners in the Twin Cities facing foreclosure. Gerardo Cajamarca is a labor activist living in Minnesota on political asylum from Columbia. He is facing foreclosure, which is often a much scarier process for immigrants to the US. Our third speaker, Monique White, is a single mother living in North Minneapolis. She lost her job as a youth counselor when the state made budget cuts, and she has been struggling through multiple jobs in order to make her mortgage payments. OccupyHomes succeeded in delaying Monique’s eviction hearing, and winning her a jury trial, which is set to take place in May. Finally, we’ll kick off our Cut the Contract campaign, joining schools like NYU, who recently began a similar campaign against Chase Bank, which is ravaging New York City with foreclosures. Solidarity with other schools is crucial to telling big banks that we won’t stand for injustices. We will fight to move Macalester funds from Wells Fargo until they change their unjust loan and foreclosure policies in the Twin Cities. I hope you’ll join us and engage in conversation about what we can do to keep this crisis from destroying our community.