Activists gathered at the foreclosed home of Rosemary Williams in south Minneapolis yesterday, vowing to stay as long as necessary to prevent her from being evicted.
Williams has lived on the same block for fifty-five years. Twenty-six years ago, Williams and her mother purchased her current home. When her mother died six years ago, Williams had to refinance twice into an adjustable rate mortgage. When the monthly payments shot up from $1,200 to $2,200, she could not afford to pay. Her home was sold at a sheriff's auction and she received notice that she needed to vacate the property by March 30.
"Rosemary is our front-line troop to fight back against this epidemic," activist Karen Redleaf said. She vowed that local activists will help Williams save her house "by any means necessary."
"It's a crime," Williams said during a press conference outside her house, which has been draped with American flags and a large sign proclaiming "Save This House!" Williams said that the process has become so confusing that she cannot even figure out which bank owns the house. Every bank she calls, Williams said, says that another bank owns the property. Williams said she wants to renegotiate her mortgage with a monthly payment she can afford and is ready to take her case to court if needed.
Activists from the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, Minnesota Coalition for a People's Bailout, Economic Crisis Action Group, the Welfare Rights Committee, the Palestinian rights group Opposition to War and Occupation, and others are staying with Williams in her home to fend off the sheriff and other officials who might try to force her to leave.
On the first day of what activists are calling "the takeover," about fifty people packed into Williams' home, shared food, and expressed their outrage about the foreclosure and the general lack of resources for low-income people.
Neighbors, notified of the situation by a door knocking campaign conducted over the weekend, stopped by to offer support and share their own foreclosure stories. Several people pointed out that there are already four vacant foreclosed homes on Williams' block.
Russell Daye sat down on the couch and joined the conversation. "This is really powerful," he said. "If it was me, I'd want people to come help me out, too."
As it turns out, Daye, his brother, and mother might be facing a similar situation. The family lives one block away in a rental home subsidized by a Section 8 voucher. About seven months ago, the landlord stopped coming by. A few months later, "for sale" signs appeared on their lawn. Now they are worried that the house might be in foreclosure.
Daye's eyes started to tear up when he related his family's story. His mother is HIV-positive, diabetic, and uses a walker. "If they come in and move us out, something bad is going to happen to her health," he said.
Elizabeth Ortiz quickly entered the conversation. Ortiz, a veteran organizer from the Philadelphia-based Kensington Welfare Rights Union, came to town to help out with local activist efforts. She talked about her own struggle being evicted from Section 8 housing in Philadelphia and her efforts to place homeless families in abandoned houses there. She advised Daye's family to get a lawyer and "start documenting every conversation, every phone call you make."
As she spoke, Ortiz leaned forward in her chair and her voice grew louder. "I'll be an advocate for the rest of my life," she said. "We're all suffering together and we'll all fight together."
Their conversation was interrupted by an announcement. "A ‘Funk the Foreclosures' dance party will be going on tonight," Redleaf said. "We'll also be having bedtime stories of resistance."
"Yeah, Howard Zinn bedtime stories!" chimed in Brigid McDonald, a 76-year-old woman who said she was furious with the banks receiving bailout money while low-income people are still being evicted from their homes.
Activists said they will take the struggle to other homes, if needed. They also demanded that the state legislature pass the "People's Bailout" bill, which would impose a two-year moratorium on all foreclosures.
"I think this will spark something," McDonald said. "It's about time."
Madeleine Baran is a freelance journalist, specializing in labor and poverty issues. Her articles have appeared in The New York Daily News, Dollars & Sense, Clamor, The New Standard, and other publications.