Saturday, December 29, 2012

Community Clean-Up

Occupy Our Homes Atlanta cleaned up another unoccupied home in the Pittsburgh neighborhood. Folks came out to clear trash from an eyesore area with residents on Hugo Street. 

The trash in the yards had been identified by the residents of the street as a priority issue for them. While there are city codes that prohibit trash and overgrown lawns that depress communities those codes are rarely enforced when it comes to bank/investor owned homes in low income communities. Sadly those codes are regularly enforced on the working poor and no one else.

With less then a dozen volunteers working for a little over an hour we were able to clean the whole street, filling about 12 large bags of trash and clearing tons of disregarded lumber, fencing , and mattresses.

AFSC was on hand to provide clean-up materials. 

Celebrating A Year Of Housing Justice Work In Atlanta

A week ago the Atlanta Friends Meeting House played host to Occupy Our Homes Atlanta's holiday party. It was a space to celebrate and reflect on the all of our work. Occupy Our Homes Atlanta has brought has managed to bring the Occupy movement into some of the hardest hit communities in Atlanta and built real momentum through tangible victories for those in housing crisis.

At the party several residents shared their transformative experience with folks and we were all treated to a beautiful film screening of a short look at some of the work we've engaged in over the year put together by Rob Call.

It was a time for me personally reflect on the role Quakers have played supporting the movement in Atlanta. Not only has American Friends Service Committee provided tangible support in countless ways, but the Atlanta Friends Meeting House has provided space when needed and many of it's members have made considerable contributions to the work.

I'm proud to know that the AFSC and the larger Quaker community in Atlanta has lived up to it's legacy of quietly nurturing the grassroots that grow resistance to systems of violence and oppression in a way that lifts up those most impacted.

A big thanks to the Atlanta Friends Meeting House for hosting, and Erik Voss for all the beautiful pictures which you can see here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Help Deliver a Message to Bank Of America

A couple of weeks ago, Joself penned a heartfelt letter to an executive at the bank, pleading with them not to take his home. He sent the letter off, and has yet to hear a response back from the bank. We think he deserves a reply. Can you help us make sure they get the message? We’ve included the letter at the bottom of this post, but you can also download a version for easier printing by clicking here. You can choose to do one or all of the options below!

1.) Print a copy of this letter and deliver it to your local Bank of America branch. Get a group of friends together, or go by yourself. Speak to a teller, or if you can, ask to speak to a branch manager. Tell them you’re concerned about the way they are treating Mr. Freeman, and that you want to make sure this letter gets to where it’s supposed to go. 
2.) Like Bank of America’s Facebook page (we know, it hurts, but you can unlike it later).
Copy and paste the letter on their wall, or post it on your own timeline and tag Bank of America in the post. Post it in the comments of their posts. Let’s blow up their Facebook page with the letter. 
3.) Email the letter to the following addresses at Bank of America:

4.) Fax a copy of the letter to 1-866-449-4515. In the cover letter, explain your concern and that you want Bank of America to work out a deal that keeps Joself in his home.

With your help, we can get Bank of America’s attention and help JoSelf stay in his home for the new year and many years to come.

Mr. Brian Gertz
Specialty Servicing Advocate
Office of the CEO & President
Bank of America Home Loans
475 Crosspoint Parkway
Getzville, NY 14068
Bank of America account ending: 6422
Dear Mr. Gertz,
For many reasons, I ask that you abandon your quest to remove me from my home. This is very difficult for me. You are so persistent, I’m beginning to believe that you have discovered oil on this property. What’s up?!
My son, Burundi-Soweto, is 14 and made his school’s basketball team… now, how do I ask him to leave to go to another school? How do you move from a house, with a garage and storage, into an apartment? What do you do with the lawn equipment and thousands of tools for home maintenance? How do you justify your actions when you know that this process is illegal?
I’m too old to move. I don’t have the energy and I’m scheduled for knee replacement surgery. I must have shelter, so I can’t think of a better place than where I am. This is the first time I’ve had neighbors in the true sense of the word. Don’t ask me to leave! My son and I are happy with our neighborhood! Put yourself in my place.
Think about it?
Respectfully submitted,
JoSelf Freeman
395 Highway 279
Fayetteville, Ga 30214
(404) 210-5472

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thoughts On My Occupy Atlanta Arrest

I'm on trial this week, and likely to take the stand today to testify about my October 25th arrest in the park. I've been reflecting a lot about my choice to stay in the park that night, and my reasons for joining the Occupy movement last year. Below are some of my thoughts:

There’s more than on reason I chose to remain in the park after 11pm October 25th last year.
First the obvious, I don’t believe the freedom of speech has a curfew, and our freedom to assemble applies at 12pm and 12am.

Both of these rights clearly trump a fairly recent Atlanta municipal code targeted at keeping the growing number of our cities homeless out of sight.

To be clear, the reason I joined the Occupy Movement was not too simply invoke my constitutional rights.
It is the unprecedented, historic wealth inequity that brought me and thousands into the movement.
Never has there been a stronger need to dramatize the injustice of our false economic crisis, never has there been so few who control and own so much and the symptoms are clear; from the explosion in the homeless population, lack of good jobs, plummeting wages for regular people while CEO compensation is at an all-time high, schools defunded, and more Georgians locked up than ever.

Occupy presented an opportunity to highlight, in a very visible way, our cities, our countries economic injustice which sees 1% of the population controlling an overwhelming amount of our resources.

I was called to the park because I believe we are not in a crisis of economic resource, but rather a crisis of economic priority. We are not broke, there is no fiscal cliff, it’s a moral one. There’s plenty to go around.
I was in the park because I believe we need a shift, a revolution of values. The sparks of the Occupy movement were very intentionally put out by heavy handed police tactics, infiltration of the movement on every level, targeted arrests and surveillance of individuals seen as leaders, and the eviction of our freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Occupy Atlanta Trials

This week I've been in court everyday from 9am-7pm every day along with over 80 other defendants in the Occupy Atlanta trials. It looks like some of us will be in court through Friday evening.

It's been eventful. On day one, during our first lunch break, about 50 of us marched to the mayors office demanding that he answer the subpoena to appear in court, which he ended up refusing to. Mayor Reed instead sent his lawyer and had the subpoena quashed on the grounds that his role in the charges against us was irrelevant/The irony is that Reed clearly had everything to do with the charges, and that he took a very hands on  approach with occupy Atlanta.

I personally, along with Joe Beasley, was pulled into Mayor Reed's mobile command unit during the part occupation where it was made clear the Mayor Reed was not as concerned with the issues that brought on park occupations all over the country(wealth inequity, corporate greed) as he was his image. Mayor Reed wanted the visible demonstration to go away.

Whether it's evicting a movement that aims to challenge historic wealth inequity, or pushing our cities homeless into the darkest corners of the city, Mayor Reed seems bent on making the symptoms of poverty invisible instead of dealing with them.

On day one we also had a number of defendants make plea bargains for a variety of life circumstances. All the folks that plead out were basically let of with community service and almost no one got a fine.

Today around a dozen folks were dismissed for lack of evidence. It seems that the APD failed to document any of the arrests correctly, which can likely lead to every arrest being dismissed. We'll see. Looks like this trial will go on through Friday.

American Friends Service Committee was proud to provide headquarter space for Occupy Atlanta during the park occupation. We also provided a series of nonviolence workshops for the movement.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

M&T Eviction Leaves Another Vacant Home in Pittsburgh Community

Yesterday M&T bank representatives, police and a local organization raided a home in the Pittsburgh area of Atlanta. On December 6, Occupy Our Homes Atlanta and members of the Pittsburgh community decided to give the vacant house to a family that needed a place to call home. OOHA Immediately contacted the bank to ask them to donate the house to a non-profit organization for a tax write-off. Calls and emails to the bank were never returned.

Atlanta, which has been shredded by the foreclosure epidemic, is now home to a growing population of displaced citizens. Instead of putting some of these homes into use, their actions showed that M & T Bank, along with the Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association (PCIA), want to keep these homes empty. M&T Bank, in Buffalo, New York, spent the money to fly down a bank representative. Accompanied by countless APD squad cars, the fire department, and the PCIA., he arrived at the house with no notice, and issued a criminal trespass warning. As volunteers loaded the family’s valuables into the OOHA bus, Renika, a resident of the house, was arrested for refusing to leave. Her partner, Michelene, and two members of OOHA were later arrested for criminal trespass. Renika and Michelene’s two children were picked up by an assigned guardian.
Occupy Our Homes Atlanta has set out to address issues within the housing crisis that led to massive foreclosures and plunging home values that stripped communities of homes and wealth. Pittsburgh is among thousands of neighborhoods that have been the preying grounds for banks, investors and even community organizations to distribute wealth and capital between themselves, while ignoring the needs of those that have true investment in the community. There is no reason for the City of Atlanta to loan police officers to M&T Bank for forced evictions when there are 7 vacant homes for every shelterless person. 

One cruel irony is that the cost of the plane tickets to fly the M&T executives, the overwhelming police presence, the private contractors, and the PCIA CEO, was likely more than enough to buy the house outright.
It's truly sad the PCIA, which presents it's self as an organization that lifts up the community, clearly worked closely with the bank and law enforcement to execute the eviction. The PCIA CEO who came hand in hand into Renika and Michelene's home came off as insincere being that he waited till a media spotlight was on the house before any assistance was offered to the family.
What happened yesterday at 1043 Windsor is more evidence that our city and country's economic priorities have driven over a moral cliff. When an out of state Bank's right to toss out a family and board up a house commands thousands of dollars of city and community resources and the overwhelming number of displaced people on Atlanta's streets goes unaddressed it's safe to say we're not in a crisis of resources; rather a crisis of priority.

The American Friends Service Committee believes housing is a human right, and that there are more then enough resources to ensure a roof over everyone's head. We're not broke, in fact there's never been so many resources in the world.

There's a better way, and it starts with looking at our local and national budgets not as a random shopping list, but a list of moral priorities. Do we spend more on systems of violence and oppression, or should we invest more in housing, education, and healthcare? Do we provide more resources to protect the banks, or do we invest energy into protecting struggling human being with beating hearts?

That better way is worth fighting for, it's worth making personal sacrifice. Yesterday I decided to take off my AFSC hat and join with others in an act of civil disobedience and refuse to leave the home. That decision landing me with a 14 hour shift at the Fulton County jail(something none of the bankers who crashed our economy have experienced) and a criminal trespass charge. It's a decision that was personal, it's something I'm deeply proud of, and It's something I will gladly do again. 

Tim Franzen

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dear Bank Of America

After fighting to stay in his home for over a year, JoSelf Freeman reached out to Occupy Our Homes Atlanta and American Friends Service committee for help. With JoSelf leading the charge we organized several demonstrations in front of the bank, we started an online petition, and hundreds of people across the country called and emailed the bank asking them to make a deal to keep JoSelf in his home.

Bank of America claimed that they would work on a modification for JoSelf, them turned around and offered him a cash for keys deal to get him of his home.

JoSelf just sent the following letter to Bank of America's Special Servicing Advocate Brian Gertz and hasn't yet received a reply:

Dear Mr. Gertz,

For many reasons, I ask that you abandon your quest to remove me from my home. This is very difficult for me. You are so persistent, I'm beginning to believe that you have discovered oil on this property.What's up?!

My son, Burundi-Soweto, is 14 and made his school basket ball, how do I ask him to leave to go to another school? How do you move from a house, with a garage and storage, into an apartment? What do with the lawn equipment and thousands of tools for home maintenance? How do you justify your actions when you know that this process is illegal.

I'm to old to move. I don't have the energy and I'm scheduled for a knee replacement surgery. I must have shelter, so I can't think of a better place then where I am. This is the first time I've had neighbors in the true sense of the word.  Don't ask me to leave! My son and I are happy with my Neighborhood. Put yourself in my place.

Think about it.

Respectfully submitted,

JoSelf Freeman

To sign JoSelf's petition Click here

Friday, December 7, 2012

Reclaiming Our Homes, Reclaiming Our Future!

One year ago today the Occupy Our Homes movement launched, signaling a fundamental shift in how homeowners responded to banks trying to take their homes.

As the new housing justice movement enters it's second year, with scores of homes saved and dozens of ongoing fights happening as you read this, Occupy Our Homes is celebrating the courage of every individual and family in housing crisis who has stood up and told the banks, “I’m not leaving.” 

American Friends Service Committee has been there every step of the way, exploring ways to provide resources and capacity to help Occupy Our Homes Atlanta build real power in some of the hardest hit communities. 

Last year on December 6th Atlantans severely disrupted three foreclosure auctions and began two home occupations.

This year Occupy Our Homes Atlanta recalled the actions of last year and pushed the envelope with bold creative actions.
The day started with a victory press conference we will be holding a press conference to announce the victory of the Pittman family. One year after they started their fight which brought together hundreds across the city, shut down multiple Chase Bank branches on multiple occasions, and included numerous acts of civil disobedience, the Pittman's have now wrested control of their home from Chase, just in time for the holidays. They faced eviction as recently as two weeks ago, now the home will be safe for generations to come. 

Directly after the press conference a group of us piled into a bus and paid a visist to Bank of America for a flash demonstration in solidarity with JoSelf Freeman, who's facing eviction.

Later in the day, people will gathered in Pittman Park to march to a vacant bank owned home and liberate it. A same sex couple, Michelene Meusa and Reneka Wheeler, that has spent months bouncing between shelters with their two children will be enforcing their moral right to housing by moving into and repairing a vacant one in a neighborhood where more homes sit empty than occupied. This is an act of civil disobedience that has support from surrounding residents, churches, and community leaders.

Banks and other financial institutions have wrongly foreclosed and evicted millions and millions of people from their homes after crashing our economy, neighborhoods in South Atlanta have been the hardest hit. For every homeless person in Atlanta there are seven empty homes, we believe that's a crime.

Today on this December 6th, housing justice actions have taken place around the country as part of Occupy Our Homes' second anniversary day of action. From Minneapolis to Atlanta, Baltimore to Los Angeles, Denver to San Francisco and in cities and towns large and small, communities are committing to reclaiming our homes and our futures from the grips of Wall Street greed. People around the country are standing up and saying:

“I’m not leaving because this is my home, not the bank’s.”

“I’m not leaving because Wall Street broke the economy, not me.”

“I’m not leaving because the bank can’t prove they have a right to foreclose.”

“I’m not leaving because housing is a human right.”

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Special Alert: We Are Not Broke!

Great news, readers: despite reports that the cupboard has gone bare and we simply lack the money to ensure a sound education, good jobs, a robust infrastructure, and a solid safety net for this generation and those to come, it turns out the money has been right here all along.

Hidden behind that big jar marked "Pentagon" and the supersized box of corporate tax breaks, we have all the resources we need to thrive as a nation — if we all pay our fair share and make sound choices that bring us real security in our homes and communities.

For years the idea has been cultivated that federal spending on everything but the military has been out of control, and we are coming down to our last crumbs of federal resources. Some of those pushing this narrative have insisted we must slash all but the military budget if we are to avoid dire collapse in our economic system.

Most recently, a number of groups have been pushing for a so-called “grand bargain” that would trade some concessions on taxes for fundamental changes that would cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and other programs that fund community needs while exempting the Pentagon’s bloated budget from the conversation. There’s something very fishy in this narrative.

Like a hard sell from a used car dealership, the numbers on this high pressure sales job just don’t add up. Don’t be fooled: the consequences of such a “grand bargain” are far worse than those of sequestration.
To be clear, there would be no “fiscal cliff” if some in Congress had not sought to force cuts to non-military discretionary programs through a series of manufactured crises over the past two years. Rather than pursuing sensible, reality-based budgeting by allowing misguided tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire and reversing the massive increases in military spending that largely fueled the current federal debt, those calling for cuts have focused on the parts of the budget that have grown least.

It makes no sense for Congress to spend over half of the dollars it has discretion to allocate on a military budget that has already doubled since 1998 — without even counting the $1.38 trillion in additional funds allocated to wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — even as millions of families struggle to find work, and to feed and house their families.

Pentagon contractors have raised an anguished outcry over potential impacts of the “sequester” on the military budget — yet these "dangerous" cuts of roughly 10 percent over 9 years would only return military spending levels to the dark ages of 2007, a time when the U.S. was waging two wars and military spending levels far outpaced those of the Cold War. And what about all those jobs at risk? Many of the military contractors most vocal about the likelihood of massive job cuts if military budgets are cut have actually cut more jobs in recent boom years than in lean ones. A battery of studies have shown that military spending is a particularly poor job creator, and most other areas of federal spending create much higher levels of employment.

Our current levels of military spending far exceed rational bounds. The U.S. accounts for roughly half — more than $700 billion — of all global military spending — and many of the other big spenders are our allies. We’re like a family hoarding a massive personal arsenal of weapons completely extraneous to any real threats we face – and when hard times come, we decide to spend less on food, medicine, heat, and home repairs so we can fill our neglected pantry with rocket launchers and grenades.

Instead, let’s make a choice to thrive once more, by moving our money to health care, clean energy or education, where any spending will support twice as many jobs and more fundamental security for our families and communities. One of the most effective ways to spend public dollars is on services to those who need them, like meals for children in poverty, cancer screenings, and unemployment stipends. Both our physical infrastructure — roads, bridges, buses, trains — and our communal infrastructure — hospitals, libraries, schools — deserve more funding, not just to keep them safe and functioning, but also to connect workers to jobs and neighbors to neighbors.

It’s also time to act on the other side of the federal budget equation — raising revenues from those who’ve benefited the most from unfairness in our tax code. If all corporations just paid the 35 percent federal tax they are supposed to, we’d have an extra $219 billion in the public treasury annually to cover the cost of fixing roads, hiring teachers, and helping families heat their homes.

Readers, we’re not broke. We remain a nation of abundance and opportunity if we make smart budgeting decisions. Real security for this nation comes in the form of jobs, schools, housing, and healthcare – not outdated weapons and extras the Pentagon hasn’t even asked for. The Obama Administration and Congress must get to work filling our pantry with the things we truly need to ensure a better future for all.

Arnie Alpert is the New Hampshire program coordinator and Robin Aura Kanegis is the director of the Office of Public Policy for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace and social justice organization with programs in 35 cities and 14 countries.

Former APD Officer Speaks Out Against Use Of Police Force In Evictions

As the housing crisis continues to put more and more people on the street we've seen a wave of brave housing justice organizers around the country that have demanded that banks be held accountable for their illegal mass felony fraud.

People are standing up to the financial institutions that have been using our homes as ATM's. Housing justice groups in Atlanta, DC, Minneapolis, LA, Oakland, Colorado, Portland, Nashville, St Louis, and other cities have stood with residents who are resisting foreclosures, evictions, and taking back bank owned properties.

Banks are only able to enforce these evictions by using local law enforcement officers on the tax payers dime. It's a sad irony that these banks have milked our economy for 16 trillion dollars and now we're forced to pick up the tab for the eviction process.

Today 20 Atlanta Police Department Detective Jacqueline Barber stood in solidarity with the 36 Occupy Homes MN activists who were arrested for peacefully resisting the eviction of the Cruz family last may. Who did the arresting? It was the Minneapolis police department. How much did the bank pay for this service? Zero.

Many of the Occupy Homes MN activists were charged with inciting a riot, which is considered a violent crime in MN. Off the record many of the officers who were given orders to enforce the evictions would prefer not to carry out the order, but forced between carrying out the order and losing their jobs is a tough decision.

It's time to start prioritizing the needs of our neighborhoods over the needs of the very financial institutes that continue to disrespect our communities and hold our economy hostage. Our homes are ATM's.

A community is stronger and healthier when it is controlled by those that live in it, not far removed entities that only seek to build their fortune on the shattered dreams of others.

The brave folks around the country that are putting their bodies on the line for their neighbors are heroes  and should not be persecuted.

The Long Road To Justice For Jacqueline Barber

After joining Occupy Our Homes Atlanta and standing up publicly to GMAC and US Bank against her eviction, Ms. Barber was told by representatives of GMAC to make an offer to buy back her home, which she can afford at current market value.
Following their direction, Jacqueline put in an offer and GMAC sent an appraiser to her home. After saying they would report back about the appraisal, they instead backed away from negotiations, built a wall of silence, and have since pushed strongly ahead in the process to get Ms. Barber evicted.
The stress of facing eviction has already brought Jacqueline's cancer out of remission. Recently, Ms. Barber went to her doctor who told her that she will have to resume aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments if she is unable to relax and stay stress free while undergoing her current treatment.
Not only have US Bank and GMAC blatantly lied to Jacqueline, her supporters, and even members of the media regarding their willingness to negotiate, it seems that they are keen on the idea of pushing a cancer patient into worse condition. Not only is Jacqueline having to fight to save her home, she is now fighting to save her life as well.

To let GMAC and US Bank know we don't take such issues lightly, Jacqueline Barber, Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, American Friends Service Committee, and some of Jacqueline's friends made the bold decision to make the journey  to Minneapolis on Sunday to pay them a visit.
The fine folks at Occupy Homes MN greeted us at the airport and hosted a meet and greet dinner. There Jacqueline was introduced to a number of local residents that were fighting for their homes as well.

 Today Jacqueline marched on US Bank and GMAC-RFC with allies from Occupy Homes MN, and the Home Defenders League.  The solidarity in the emerging housing justice movement was amazing and inspiring !The goal was to keep Jacqueline in her home, in good health, and to shine a light on the unjust illegal fraud at the hands of the financial institutions that continue to hold our communities and our economy hostage.

We were able to force  meetings with both US Bank and GMAC and deliver over 20,000 signatures on petition urging US Bank and GMAC to do the right thing and make a deal that would keep Jacqueline and her family in the home. We also delivered pay stubs and bank account statements that prove Jacqueline could afford the home.

Add your name to the petition to keep Jacqueline Barber and her family in the home.