Eviction Free Zone: Foreclosure Activism in Seattle
A coalition between Backbone Campaign, SAFE (Standing Against Foreclosure Eviction), and City Life/Vida Urbana from Boston held a training session on Beacon Hill in Seattle Tuesday evening. The training was followed by an action at PacMed Building involving projecting “Eviction Free Zone” onto the side of the building.
Activists from around the country attending Backbone’s training camp on Vashon Island participated.
For me attending such an event was a new experience. I experienced my first “mic check” moment (in which everyone shouts “mic check”), participated in chants (“Were gonna beat, beat, beat back the banks”), and sat with people of color and young people whom I rarely associate with. But there were others my age too, and I was warmly accepted.
A foreclosed Seattle resident, Jane, told about losing her home to greedy bankers. She had paid 17 years of her 30 year loan; then she got injured, her mother had a stroke, and the housing market crashed. Moderator Josh (former Seattle Occupy member) shouted, “Jane, are you willing to fight for your home?” “Yes.” “Then we’ll fight with you.” (Everyone joined in.)
Activists told stories of how the banks mistreat homeowners. For example, for months the homeowners are harrowed by threatening letters from different bank divisions demanding bank statements, rental agreements and other forms. After the homeowners send in the forms, the bankers claim not to have received them.
Load modification procedures were a sham. Bankers seemed unwilling to come to an agreement, and even after foreclosure the bank perversely is unwilling to let the homeowner buy back the bank at a lower rate or to rent. So the house sits vacant.
Renters sometimes arrive home to find a yellow paper informing them they have 48 hours to vacate the property, despite a lease.
We watched videos of eviction blockades in which community members stand with arms interlocked around a house, chanting chants of solidarity in an effort to stop the police from evicting the homeowners. For example, they chant to the police: “Who do you server? Who do you protect?”. Some people get arrested. A Philadelphia activist said that the police are sympathetic and even bring the activists water to drink.
Next Saturday, Aug 11, on Beacon Hill in Seattle activists will stage an event in which they construct 200 toy houses and set them up on the median strip of Beacon Street (similar to the way anti-war protesters set up crosses representing dead soldiers). Eventually they plan to set up 2000 such toy houses. (I wonder what materials they will use, how long it will take to make them, and how they’ll store them.)
I spoke with Bill Moyer, organizer of Backbone Campaign, and with other activists of the need for us lefties to build our own media, so we’re not dependent on the Seattle Times and other conservative outlets for coverage. I also spoke about the need for top-down coordination among progressive groups, but one activist said she’s skeptical of such coalitions, because it’s hard for everyone to agree and so nothing gets done. I said that it’s ironic that the Right is more coordinated than the Left, despite righwingers’ supposed devotion to individualism and opposition to communalism.
Most participants in the Vashon Island training sleep in tents. I’m glad that there are different ways to contribute to the cause, because I’m not cut out for roughing it like that.