Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Organizing Against Bank of America


This week, thousands are descending on North Carolina for the Bank of America shareholders’ meeting. The protest comes on the heels of the successful Wells Fargo shareholder event in San Francisco, where thousands of protesters shut down the conference, and the U.S. Bank meeting in Minneapolis, where dozens of homeowners spoke out against foreclosures. A sequence of direct action trainings and spokescouncils will culminate in three marches at 8 a.m. on May 9, which will converge on the doors of the shareholders’ meeting. There, thousands will protest Bank of America’s laundry list of abuses: funding mountaintop coal removal, perpetuating student debt that has now surpassed $1 trillion nationally, laying off more than 100,000 workers in the last few years and, of course, foreclosing on millions of homeowners across the country. In anticipation, the Charlotte City Council has already passed laws criminalizing protest, as well as camping and carrying permanent markers.

Organizers are thinking about much more than just the shareholders’ meeting, however. Just as important as the mass action are the homeowners across North Carolina who are building a grassroots resistance network that will keep the pressure on the banks long after the May 9 action.

A month before the shareholders’ meeting, North Carolinian homeowner Nikki Shelton went face-to-face with an armed, 20-person SWAT team during the first home reoccupation in the state’s recent history. The action, organized by Mortgage Fraud North Carolina and bolstered by Occupy activists, is part of a growing wave of home takeovers occurring across the country, one that has spread from major urban centers all the way to enemy territory: the suburbs of North Carolina, mere hours from the international headquarters of Bank of America.

The foreclosure battle is both physical and psychological in North Carolina. People won’t talk about foreclosures outright; they tend to mention it evasively, as if in code. In the conservative suburban and rural regions of the South, housing developments exploded after World War II and homeownership is a way of life, both economically and culturally. For African Americans, homeownership is a particularly powerful symbol of freedom and upward mobility, and many tell stories of grandparents who grew up as slaves and, after emancipation, saved money to purchase a home for their family.

One fall afternoon in 2010, Nikki Shelton’s 17-year-old son broke the cultural gag order on the foreclosure crisis in a moment of unintentional organizing. Their neighbor, Marcella Robinson, was visibly pregnant and gardening in her front lawn, and Shelton’s son stopped to express his surprise at a pregnant woman doing manual labor. Robinson explained that it was soothing and that she was feeling pressure from being under constant threat from Bank of America and its subsidiary, Countrywide Financial. Shelton’s son told her that his mother, who lived only a few doors down, was going through the same thing. After making that connection, Robinson and Shelton started knocking on doors and learned that many of their neighbors were struggling not only with Countrywide’s adjustable-rate mortgages — a loan so dangerous that Countrywide executives revealed it to their staff only in a meeting in an underground bunker — but also outright fraud.

By the following May, Shelton and Robinson had assembled a group of more than 50 homeowners, Mortgage Fraud North Carolina, and held their first meeting in Shelton’s backyard. They had to meet outside because she and her family had been evicted from the home that Easter Sunday. A year later, the group would break the locks and reoccupy the house.

Shelton believes that the fight over foreclosures will require radical reeducation to completely transform how people think about the mortgage crisis. She’s tired, for instance, of reporters asking her how many mortgage payments she missed. (The answer is only one, in April of 2008.) Reporters never ask questions, meanwhile, like whether the bank illegally foreclosed on her through robosigning (it did) or whether crooked local lawyers and court clerks are aiding and abetting its fraud (they are).

Shelton sees all foreclosures as “fictional orchestrations,” a performance of greed and illegality that requires what she calls collective “conservative ignorance” in order to continue. The banks, lawmakers and the media reinforce the shame and silence that perpetuates this ignorance through intimidation (like the bank contractors sneaking around Robinson’s home taking pictures), violence (like the SWAT team that removed Shelton from her house) and the blaming of victims (like debates about whether principal reduction is a “moral hazard” for homeowners when the $7.7 trillion federal bailout doesn’t appear to pose such problems for banks).

As the efforts of Shelton and Robinson demonstrate, community building and education can spark direct action even in corners of the United States without long histories of housing organizing and where home ownership is deeply entrenched. The combination of large-scale protests, such as what is taking place at the Bank of America shareholders’ meeting, and on-the-ground homeowner organizing can turn symbolic actions into meaningful victories. In Minneapolis, for example, Occupy Our Homes combined a six-month grassroots campaign for the house of a woman named Monique White with a highly successful protest and speak-out at the U.S. Bank shareholders’ meeting. The result: Monique White won her home last Thursday — offering hope of similar victories for Shelton and other homeowners in North Carolina.

“Wall Street was not banking on the American citizens getting educated,” Shelton says. “They were not counting on us saying, ‘I know what’s going on.’ And now that they are starting to realize that we’re getting educated, that’s when the chaos starts.”

Laura Gottesdeiner is author of A Dream Foreclosed: The Great Eviction and the Fight to Live in America forthcoming from Zuccotti Park Press. She has organized with Occupy Wall Street and other anti-foreclosure organizations, and has lived in homes, apartments, tents and in Zuccotti Park. Laura is currently a precarious renter and has no aspirations to own a home.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases