There Will Be No Reform Unless There is a Fight

To The ROP Community:

Below is a message from Mike Edera – longtime ROP leader, volunteer and strategic thinker.  For years Mike ran the West County Council for Human Dignity in Western Washington County and has recently been organizing with homeowners in foreclosure.  Read on for some analysis on what comes next in this moment….

Alan Grayson, the progressive Representative from Florida, had this to say about the recent elections:

“Now it’s clear to people that they have to vote to defend themselves.”

This is another example of the spirit of “taking things into our own hands” that the Occupy movement tapped into in October 2011. Then, people decided that they couldn’t wait for the politicians to address the grand canyon of inequality and corporate greed that is distorting our lives so they took to the streets in generalized protest. At election time, people looked at the Republican candidates and said, “we’ve been to this movie before. Sitting on the couch will be dangerous.” So they voted for the other guys. But now what?

You cannot win on defense. The politicians have gone back to Washington where the people’s agenda goes to die. The traditional progressive response is to build up pressure on politicians through lobbying, petitioning, and demonstrations. The history of the last forty years shows clearly that this is an insufficient approach.

Another strategy is necessary, and fortunately, people have been test-driving new models. The logic is simple:

The economic crisis in the US and Europe was kicked off by a real estate crash. Home mortgages had become the raw material of an economic bubble.  Mortgages were bundled as collateral for bonds. These bonds were purchased by institutional investors as  ‘can’t lose’ deals, since it was thought that housing prices can only go upwards. Insurance ‘bets’, called derivatives, were taken out on the bonds, supposedly to reduce risk. Instead risk was spread throughout the economy, and when housing prices actually started to fall, the whole structure of the FIRE economy (Finance Insurance Real Estate) cracked up.

At the bottom of the pyramid scheme were people holding mortgages for their homes. Suddenly, many owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. As the economy crashed, people lost jobs and health insurance, incurred unpayable debt, and a wave of foreclosures broke over our heads. Today, virtually every neighborhood has families facing foreclosure, although working class neighborhoods and people of color are experiencing the brunt of it.

Project REconomy has done a great job explaining the devious and fraudulent methods that the banking /real estate industry uses to guide people down the path of foreclosure. What to do about it is now the strategic question on the table.

The strategy that I have been involved with this last year is the direct action approach. In Portland, We Are Oregon has been organizing homeowners and allies to resist their foreclosures. Through careful neighborhood canvassing, a foreclosure committee was formed during the first half of 2012. This committee consists mainly of people facing foreclosure on their homes. They have come together to share support, information, and to break out of the isolation that people feel when facing off against the big corporate banks.

Lately, several families have declared that they will refuse to obey eviction notices. We canvass the neighborhoods of the resisting families to let neighbors know what is happening and to sign up supporters. We do outreach to other progressive organizations. So far, a support list, called a ‘rapid-response list’, of over one thousand people has been built.

This fall, there have been six mass actions at the homes of resisters.  These actions have ranged from press conferences, neighborhood gatherings and coffees, to direct confrontations with Multnomah County deputies and the Portland Police serving eviction notices. The police have escalated and used violence on two occasions, and the movement has responded with mass actions at the Sheriff’s office and at City Hall.

Already, this movement has made the foreclosure crisis a visible hot potato issue for the local powers-that-be. It has also taken the issue out of the hands of the hand-wringing well-intentioned liberal mediators and intermediaries who seek individual solutions and are powerless. The movement has fielded a new team – mortgage holders, debtors, and their allies who are using three effective sources of power:

First – they are physically occupying the asset that the banks are claiming for themselves.
Two – they are acting in solidarity as threatened homeowners, neighbors, and community members.
Three – they are acting on the feelings of a vast majority that the banks are the source of the economic crisis. People know that these banks have already been paid for all non-performing loans through massive government bail outs, and still want more by refusing to re negotiate the principle on inflated mortgages.

This is a movement that has a huge potential to grow, and to actually do something to heal the economy and benefit everyone. It by-passes the bought-out political process and simplifies and clarifies the issues at hand, like when a loud argument in a bar suddenly changes as people push back chairs and grab some cue sticks. We have been waiting for four years to confront the banks that crashed the economy, causing an untold amount of human suffering. There will be no reform unless there is a fight. If the fight is to succeed, it must get bigger. If resistance can happen in urban working class neighborhoods, it can also happen in rural communities.

This is a movement that needs resources. Resistance is incredibly hard on the resisters. If the progressive movement puts a fraction of the resources and energy into this fight that we routinely lavish on our elected so-called friends, there is a real chance for positive change and reversing the rush to permanent economic inequality.

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