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After court victory

Activists fight to stop foreclosures

Published Feb 23, 2008 10:13 AM

New statistics confirm the widespread crisis in Detroit and throughout Michigan caused by predatory lending and racist, subprime home mortgages. Wayne County, where Detroit is located, ranked first in the U.S. in 2007 foreclosures.

According to RealtyTrac, a California-based mortgage research company, 4.9 percent of homes in Wayne County are in some stage of the foreclosure process, a figure that is almost five times the national average. Stockton, Calif., ranked second at 4.8 percent while Las Vegas and suburbs, with 4.2 percent of homes in foreclosure, came in third.

The number of foreclosures filed in Wayne County in 2007 was 72,616, a 68-percent jump from 2006. Oakland and Macomb counties, which together with Wayne comprise the metro Detroit area, had a foreclosure rate of 2.1 percent of households, ranking them 17th among metropolitan areas in the U.S. and nearly double the rate in 2006.

Overall, the state of Michigan ranks third in the country for the highest rate of home foreclosures, with 136,205 foreclosures filed in 2007, or almost 2 percent of all homes. This rate is 68 percent higher than 2006, and a staggering 282 percent over 2005.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has failed to acknowledge the crisis, even though the state leads the country in unemployment and job losses and has been in a severe economic depression for years due to restructuring, outsourcing, plant closures and attempted union busting in the auto industry.

But grassroots political leadership is stepping up to the plate, taking on the inaction of the government and advocating a program that can provide real relief to Michigan’s working, unemployed and poor people. The Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI) has been engaged in a struggle demanding the governor declare a state of economic emergency and use her authority under the law to impose a moratorium stopping foreclosures.

MECAWI organizers have opened a broad campaign to popularize the idea of a moratorium and to show the basis for the governor to take such action. Thousands of people have signed petitions demanding the governor declare a moratorium. Victims of predatory lending and home foreclosures have become involved in this struggle. More and more activists are speaking out and organizing and have received an excellent response from the public.

MECAWI wins in court

Recently the campaign has taken on the reactionary, repressive state apparatus allied with the banks and financial institutions that want to squash this struggle.

MECAWI activists filed a complaint in federal court on Feb. 8 claiming their First Amendment rights to free speech were violated by the City of Detroit and the state’s attorney general in December.

On Dec. 13, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox had hosted an “avoid foreclosure” forum at Cobo Hall. More than 4,200 people came to seek relief.

The forum provided dozens of banks and lenders with a forum in which to talk to people and give supposed tips on how to avoid losing their homes. But MECAWI activists were ejected from Cobo Hall when they tried to leaflet and petition the attendees about the moratorium campaign.

The attorney general scheduled another such forum at Cobo Hall for Feb. 12. Jerry Goldberg, a MECAWI organizer and progressive lawyer, argued at an emergency hearing before U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson on Feb. 11 that plaintiffs should be allowed access to the forum attendees.

At the hearing, lawyers for the attorney general and for the city, which owns Cobo Hall, exposed their animus against the campaign for a moratorium on foreclosures.

In his 16-page opinion and order, which ruled in favor of MECAWI, Judge Lawson stated: “The [attorney general] contends ‘[p]laintiffs’ moratorium only delays the issues. It is not a solution. Further, plaintiffs’ position could disrupt the cooperation of the mortgage servicers who are participating voluntarily. Plaintiffs’ position is hostile to the servicers and focuses blame on them.’”

The court wrote further: “[I]t appears from the attorney general’s briefing that its restriction against the plaintiffs’ leafleting is not content-neutral, and limiting the plaintiffs from distributing leaflets violates the First Amendment. ... The Court finds that the plaintiffs’ proposed leafleting activity advancing [their] viewpoint and seeking ... political action is protected by the First Amendment. ...

shielding lenders and the public who will come to see them from this viewpoint certainly cannot be a governmental interest ... that justifies curtailing speech. ...

“[T]he plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim. The Court also believes that if the plaintiffs lose out on the ability to offer their message to the thousands of attendees, they would suffer irreparable harm.”

The court granted MECAWI activists the preliminary injunction and ordered that the defendants—the city and the attorney general—be restrained and enjoined from prohibiting MECAWI’s right to leaflet and petition inside Cobo Hall at the Feb. 12 “avoid foreclosure” forum.

MECAWI organizers, buoyed by this legal victory that sprang from their struggle, reported that people attending the forum “grabbed up literature and stood in line to sign petitions.” The following day in Saginaw, Mich., MECAWI activists were allowed to leaflet and petition inside another forum hosted by the attorney general, even though that wasn’t included in their lawsuit and injunction.

Jerry Goldberg told Workers World: “Activists felt great taking on the state and actually winning. While none of us holds any credence in the judicial system, and all of us know that the laws are stacked in favor of the capitalists, we felt that this victory was won because of struggle, because we have refused to back down from putting forward a solution to the foreclosure crisis that’s devastating the working class. The government and banks and lenders may hate our campaign, but it resonates with the workers and oppressed who are losing their homes in record numbers.”

Moratorium activists are also taking up direct actions and have begun organizing squads and preparing to defend homes when bailiffs and sheriffs come to foreclose and evict families.

MECAWI has called a demonstration for Feb. 27 at noon outside the HUD office in Detroit at the McNamara Federal Building to call attention to the federal government’s role in paying off banks and lenders, then foreclosing homes and throwing people into the streets.