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
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
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
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
“[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
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.
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