Excerpts from a talk given by Mike Shane, from the Detroit branch of Workers World Party, at the WWP Nov. 17-18 conference in New York. See video at youtube.com/wwpvideo
Millions of families have lost their homes over the past six years. This foreclosure crisis is spurring the growth of a militant movement across the U.S. and the globe. This week in Spain, a moratorium on evictions was won in the midst of a general strike sweeping across Europe.
And here in the U.S., the growing movement against foreclosures and evictions is coordinating nationally, raising political demands and winning victories. It is uniting around the idea that housing is a human right.
A year ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement launched a national day of action in almost a dozen cities, including Detroit, joining with families and groups in the fight to save homes. The Occupy movement has truly energized and spurred the emergence of a national movement that is increasingly anti-capitalist, direct-action oriented and against the banks.
Detroit is 143 square miles in area, a little smaller than the Gaza strip, with an estimated 40 square miles of open area today. In the recent crisis, Detroit was hit with somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 foreclosures, due, in large part to the banks’ racist subprime lending practices. The banks targeted African-American and Latino/a communities with the most expensive, lowest quality, but highly profitable subprime loans, which are almost impossible to pay off. In the last census, Detroit lost a quarter million residents, largely due to foreclosures.
In March, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, in which the party plays a major role, organized a national conference to fight for a moratorium. Over 130 activists from a dozen cities attended. Action proposals included organizing for the march on the Democratic National Convention to demand that President Obama use his executive authority to impose a national moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.
In early August, housing rights groups, including Moratorium NOW!, held a national meeting in Minneapolis, organized by Occupy Homes. A major concern at the meeting was the increasing role of the government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in foreclosures and evictions. Fannie and Freddie were taken over by the federal government in 2008, in order to prevent the complete collapse of the U.S. banking industry. Since then, almost $200 billion of taxpayers’ money has been given to these entities, in order to reimburse the banksters for any and all losses.
The Minneapolis meeting called for regional and national actions against Freddie and Fannie in September. These demonstrations represented the movement’s qualitative leap forward. In addition to demands to stop all foreclosures and evictions and for a principal reduction, the movement is now demanding “a people’s takeover of the people’s bank,” a reference to the government control of Fannie and Freddie. The demonstrations also demanded that the empty, foreclosed homes be returned to the evicted families or to their communities. We need to pay attention to this development.
In Detroit, since the rise of Occupy, we are in a much broader coalition, known as Occupy Detroit Eviction Defense, that also includes union activists and neighborhood groups. In the past year, we have stopped around a dozen evictions through grassroots mobilizations that included packing the courtroom, demonstrations at banks and homes, and daily vigils to guard homes under threat of eviction.
More and more families are coming to Eviction Defense meetings to fight for their homes. We are almost beyond our capacity to do home defenses one at a time. This problem is not unique to Detroit. This is happening in other cities, as well.
This calls for a national mass struggle for an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, in combination with a general reduction in mortgage principals to current market values. We need to do what the workers in Spain just accomplished this week. And we need to make this a part of the People’s Power Assemblies.
Detroit is also facing severe austerity measures, caused by the foreclosure crisis, due in part to an unprecedented decline in property tax receipts. Just last year alone, Detroit lost $118 million in property taxes on bank-owned properties that the banks refused to pay. So what we have done is tie the municipal debt to the foreclosure crisis.
Last spring, we held a demonstration against Bank of America, calling for a moratorium on foreclosures and municipal debt payments. It was probably the first of its kind in this country during this crisis. Over 80 persons participated, and to our pleasant surprise, the chants turned from a demand for a moratorium on debt payments to a demand to cancel the debt! This is a sign of things to come.
Fight for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, and public debt payments!
Make the banks pay!
Build the People’s Power Assemblies!