Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Everywhere

Police nationwide having moved in, at this point (Police on Dec. 7 finally attacked and destroyed the Occupation in downtown San Francisco), the Occupiers in public spaces of dozens and dozens of American cities have been forced to leave. But is this the end, as many have feared?

Not quite. In what some have called the next logical and brilliant move, the Occupiers have shifted their locus (not their focus) to the core of the crisis: bank foreclosures of homes. As Stephen Lerner, an organizer with SEIU, says: “…we’ve occupied public space — now we need to occupy private space that’s been stolen by banks.” Sean Barry of VOCAL-NY adds: “One of our messages is that there’s more empty homes that banks are sitting on than there are homeless families.”

Still, some might think, ‘oh, foreclosures; that’s old hat, a story that’s over.’ But it isn’t. According to many insiders, the banks have yet to foreclose on the majority of homes in the U.S., perhaps as many as 4 million more. More than that, the AP reports in its story on foreclosure occupations that “Nearly a quarter of all U.S. homeowners with mortgages are now underwater, representing nearly 11 million homes” (CT Post, December 6). That’s 11 million homes, folks, 1 out of 4. Talk about the Great Depression. Which is what, by the way, Rachel Maddow did on a recent MSNBC show (well worth watching). As an introduction to her sympathetic segment on the Occupy Foreclosures movement, she showed news reports and movie clips of exactly the same kind of resistance during the early 1930s when millions of Americans were losing their homes and farms. Huge crowds would show up and resist not just passively or peacefully, but by first putting the furniture that had been removed by authorities back into the homes, and then by throwing rocks and utensils and farm implements at police arriving to enforce the evictions. These people were pissed off and they were serious.

So, it seems, are today’s occupiers. The AP report cited above claims that homes in more than 25 cities were involved in Tuesday’s protests. And more are on the way. Said one of the Seattle organizers: “It's pretty clear that the fight is against the banks, and the Occupy movement is about occupying spaces. So occupying a space that should belong to homeowners but belongs to the banks seems like the logical next step for the Occupy movement.” In response, Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb insisted that occupying private property represented the same violation—trespassing—that occupying public space did. The police response, and the penalties, would be the same. But the occupiers are unfazed. In Atlanta, protesters disrupted a home auction of foreclosed properties with whistles and sirens. Several individual home foreclosures have already been stopped, and the evictees given more time to try to work out a deal with the banks. One woman in Cleveland expressed gratitude to the occupiers, who came and camped out in tents in her backyard, frightening off officials who were supposed to come and evict her. She was still in her home on December 6 (see Maddow video). Moreover, the Occupiers have joined forces with groups that have been active for several years (Take Back the Land, Viva Urbana) in defending homes against evictions—supplying fresh and enthusiastic troops for the earlier efforts. The movement also derives encouragement and tactics from movements in other countries like Spain, where the 15M movement has stopped hundreds of evictions and occupied vacant buildings.

That this movement has moral authority can be seen by what NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in a recent interview with a Chase banker named Theckston:

He (Theckston) says that some account executives earned a commission seven times higher from subprime loans, rather than prime mortgages. So they looked for less savvy borrowers — those with less education, without previous mortgage experience, or without fluent English — and nudged them toward subprime loans.
These less-savvy borrowers were disproportionately blacks and Latinos, he said, and they ended up paying a higher rate so that they were more likely to lose their homes. Senior executives seemed aware of this racial mismatch, he recalled, and frantically tried to cover it up. (Kristof cited by Sarah Seltzer, Alternet, Dec. 5)

We’ve all heard accusations about this type of cruel and intentional fraud before, but to hear an admission of it of from one of the bankers involved is stunning.

This—the moral authority they have, both currently and historically—is why the Occupy movement has the powers-that-be scrambling for ways to de-legitimize it. I mentioned in my last blog the rumor about a public relations firm being hired by bankers. More recently, Republican talking-points guru, Frank Luntz, expressed his concern about it to the Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando: “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” he said, and offered 10 tips on what specific language to use to counter it. First and foremost, “Don’t say ‘capitalism.’ Use ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market’ instead.” Now this is really interesting: even the Republicans are admitting that the American public now thinks ‘capitalism’ is immoral! And if Republicans are seen as “defenders of ‘Wall Street’,” says Luntz, “we’ve got a problem.” (Yahoo News, Dec. 1)

Karl Marx must be smiling. Imagine, the Republican Party, that bastion of mindless boosterism, is running away from capitalism as a concept. Moreover, Luntz also advises Repubs not to say government ‘taxes the rich;’ instead say government ‘takes from the rich,’ because Americans respond favorably to ‘taxing the rich.’ By God, I sure hope the clueless, pusillanimous Democrats have read this. Because Luntz urges other verbal subterfuge as well, and all reflect two things: the Republicans are vulnerable and scared (as well they should be, their policies having brought this nation to the brink of disaster), and at the other end, have thoroughly absorbed the lessons of the TV age about framing a message properly, while Democrats have not. Now, finally, there’s a golden opportunity to hang the Republicans with the real message and practice they and their financial masters have been promoting for years: advancing the cause of the 1% at the expense of the 99%.

So far, the only element in the nation that has understood this, and been willing to act on it, are the Occupiers. We can only hope that the American people in ever greater numbers will begin to get it as well, and that the hapless talking heads they elect to public office will follow. The only question is, how much of everywhere has to be occupied and how many of the rest of us have to be jailed before the worm turns?

Lawrence DiStasi

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