Some Occupiers just want the banks to act more reasonably; others want to abolish capitalism. Most cruise to meetings on two wheels; others hate bike lanes. In Minneapolis, as in places across the United States, Occupy Our Homes has brought union members, anarchists, lawyers, grassroots organizers, democrats and veterans all under the same roof, united by a common goal of saving homeowners from eviction and full neighborhoods from displacement. They might not all share the same vision of utopia, but housing justice work is demonstrating that, for today’s era of activism, humanity can trump ideology.
Last Saturday, more than 25 community members celebrated with Monique White, a resident of north Minneapolis, who had recently won a new mortgage from US Bank. They were all packed into White’s small kitchen, eating spiced chicken legs barbecued by Bobby Hull, a homeowner and Marines veteran from south Minneapolis who had won back his own home three months earlier.
“If anyone needs to use my bathroom, it’s — ” Monique White began to say, then stopped herself. The crowd laughed; everyone in the room not only knew where her bathroom was, they’d slept on her living room floor, marched with her to US Bank, sat beside her in court and helped water the cabbage in her backyard, which White planted a mere two weeks before her scheduled eviction.
The seven-month campaign brought together activists and community members across entrenched and often irreconcilable political and ideological lines, unifying those pushing for a complete overhaul of the capitalist system with those advocating for reform such as widespread principal reduction. The coalition itself is no small victory. Nationally, various housing campaigns can be divided on strategies and goals, with some groups focusing on home takeovers to radically redefine land control and ownership, while others advocate for mortgage renegotiations as a first step to reigning in the banks.
In Minneapolis, the organizing strategy has thus far fallen into the latter camp, with both Hull and White winning renegotiated mortgages. But the campaigns have relied on the work of people with a diversity of ideological positions.
“I’m not a huge advocate of private property,” said an organizer who asked to be called T.K. He missed the barbeque at Monique White’s house, not because he didn’t support the victory but because he was helping coordinate a 24-hour eviction defense at Occupy our Homes’ newest campaign: Alejandra and David Cruz’s foreclosed house across town.
“If the United Nations says housing is a human right, and people are in need and there are a plethora of homes, then there is a disconnect here,” he said. “At that point, in my mind, private property is invalidated by the human need.”
The Cruz family is asking for a renegotiation with PNC Bank — a demand that, as T.K. said, “doesn’t challenge capitalism.” Yet he and the rest of the eviction defense team are still willing to put their bodies on the line in what many believe to be the first hard-lockdown eviction defense since Occupy began.
As at White’s house, the Cruz family’s home is a space of unity and coalition-building. Direct-action activists defend the house around the clock. Labor groups supply copious brown paper bag lunches. Faith groups like the church across the street are reaching out to their congregations. Neighbors up and down the block display signs demanding an end to foreclosure on their front lawns. Even the house itself speaks of the team’s willingness to pursue multiple paths to win: Directly above a lockdown barrel on the front steps that will physically prevent the police from carrying out the Cruz’s furniture hangs a sign that says, “Negotiations, Not Evictions.”
Occupy our Homes Minneapolis is now looking to spread to tenants and underwater homeowners who are not yet in default in order to break down the stark class divisions of housing and build a unified coalition. Some members, inspired by Take Back the Land, are also looking at the possibility of home takeovers. Even more broadly, Occupy Our Homes has partnered with the city’s large Somali and Latino communities because they all share a common enemy: the big banks.
Last Friday, hundreds marched through the streets to protest Wells Fargo. Women clad in full burqas carried signs declaring that they had closed their accounts because Wells Fargo blocks money transfers to Somalia. Spanish-speakers denounced the bank for investing in private prison corporations whose lobbyists are behind some of the worst anti-immigration laws, such as Arizona’s SB 1070. Union members wearing orange vests screen-printed with the words “Labor’s Back” blocked traffic for the non-permitted march. Alejandra Cruz and other Mexicans led the march after performing a traditional Aztec dance. Behind them was a large Occupy Our Homes banner.
“For me, coalition building around issues is the best way to get shit done,” said Rachel E. B. Lang, the lawyer who worked on Monique White’s case and has been involved in Occupy Minneapolis since the beginning. “Historically, revolutions happen when a series of reforms are won, and it’s not good enough. From that momentum comes total change.”