Occupying a House Auction

I’d never been to a house auction before, so when I heard about a “Stop the Sale” action to save the home of two Oakland residents, I went to the Alameda County Courthouse, entered the building, and looked all around. But I didn’t see any protesters. Finally, I asked at the information desk and was told the auction was being held outside on the south steps overlooking Fallon Street. Outside, on the steps? Really? 


Exiting the building, I heard a din from around the corner. As I turned the corner, I stepped into a world of beating drums, banging pots and pans, and the rhythmic chanting of people. Demonstrations are often loud, sometimes very loud, but this was beyond loud. Over 100 people were gathered on the steps, pressed tightly around a man clutching a fistful of documents. He was clearly the auctioneer and he seemed to be reading from the documents. His lips were moving, but no words could make their way through the din.  


“Occupy Oakland” read a large sign being held above the auctioneer’s head. All around were signs and banners declaring “Stop the Sale.” Many people were wearing red shirts with the words “Causa Justa” and “Just Cause.” 


No buyers seemed to be present. Perhaps they’d been driven away by the noise. After a few minutes the auctioneer left, presumably giving up, and a woman took up a bullhorn. “It’s not over,” she yelled, urging us to stay. Speaking both in Spanish and English, she told us the auctioneer was likely to return and make the sale if we left. 


The home we were there to save belonged to Nell Myhand and Synthia Green. Synthia had suffered a stroke, resulting in blindness. They’d gone through lengthy loan modification applications and, in the midst of these procedures, Chase Bank—which may not have had legal title—put it up for auction. The speaker explained that if the house were not sold this afternoon, it would take the bank a month or more to schedule another auction. The bank would be forced back into negotiations with the women. 


On the street below, cars drove by, some of them honking and waving to us. “We need noise over here,” someone yelled, interrupting the speaker and directing us to the corner. A second auctioneer had appeared, this one black. I guessed that they’d substituted him for the previous one, who was white, thinking such a tactic might work. But the protesters were color blind and this auctioneer got the same reception as his predecessor. 


“Not for sale,” began a chant. “Not for sale, Not for sale.” Someone at the edge of the gathering was beating a drum. Soon the chant—and even the drum—were drowned out as pots and pans went into action. The auctioneer stepped out onto the sidewalk and began walking along 12th Street, with the crows hot on his heels. Sheriff’s deputies didn’t interfere with us, but cautioned us to stay off the street. 


“Banks got bailed out—we got sold out,” we chanted, following the auctioneer down the street, carefully remaining on the sidewalk. The auctioneer sometimes spoke to the deputies, presumably asking them to intervene, but they were only concerned with keeping us off the street. “Mic check,” someone called out. The pots and pans were silenced. “This man works for Lender Processing Services,” a speaker told us and explained that to be auctioning houses, the law required that the auctioneer be bonded. “This man is not bonded.”  


The procession resumed with the un-bonded auctioneer walking up and down the sidewalk, attempting to escape us and get back to selling the house. More people were arriving. There looked to be about 200 people now. Up and down the street, we dogged the auctioneer. This went on for an hour until, finally, the auctioneer gave up and left. 


We stopped the sale, and if they tried to put the home back on the auction block, we’d show up again. We gathered around Nell, who thanked us for our support. Rarely at a demonstration do we see immediate results. This day we did. Foreclosure disproportionately affects women and since this all happened on International Women’s Day, it was an appropriate day for this action.  


Daniel Borgström is an occupier at Occupy Oakland. He writes about progressive actions; his website is at http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com.