FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Organizing Against Bank of America

by LAURA GOTTESDIENER

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:
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Renee Parsons
Blame It on the Russians
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is it the Cops or the Cameras? Putting Police Brutality in Historical Context
Russell Mokhiber
Dems Dropping the N Word: When in Trouble, Blame Ralph
Howard Lisnoff
The Elephant in the Living Room
Pepe Escobar
The Real Secret of the South China Sea
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Yarmouk: A Palestinian Refugee’s Journey from Izmir to Greece
John Laforge
Wild Turkey with H-Bombs: Failed Coup Raise Calls for Denuclearization
Dave Lindorff
Moving Beyond the Sanders Campaign
Jill Richardson
There’s No Such Thing as a “Free Market”
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Moves Against the Gulen Movement in Turkey
Winslow Myers
Beyond Drift
Edward Martin - Mateo Pimentel
Who Are The Real Pariahs This Election?
Jan Oberg
The Clintons Celebrated, But Likely a Disaster for the Rest of the World
Johnny Gaunt
Brexit: the British Working Class has Just Yawned Awake
Mark Weisbrot
Attacking Trump for the Few Sensible Things He Says is Both Bad Politics and Bad Strategy
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Think Three’s a Crowd? Try 2,000
Corrine Fletcher
White Silence is Violence: How to be a White Accomplice
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail