Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, the largest in US history, on Sept. 15, 2008. Days later as world capitalism continued convulsing, George W. Bush, looking dazed and bewildered as if heâ€™d just finished a test in quantum mechanics despite never having mastered his multiplication tables, declared in his inimitable eloquence, â€œThis sucker could go down.â€
Since then, 16 million American homes have fallen underwater â€“ owing more on their mortgages than the homes are worth â€“ and four million families have been evicted from their homes by the banks, with millions more waiting for the hammer to fall. By the time the dust settles, if it ever will, over 20 percent of all Americans â€“ men, women, and children â€“ will have been directly affected by the foreclosure crisis. If we count the friends and extended families that have taken in the dispossessed, the percentage is even higher.
What has been the response of our politicians? Nationally, as we all know, theyâ€™ve taken the money of those who had nothing to do with the economic collapse and given it to those who caused it. The result: millions of us continue to lose our homes, but â€“ Praise the Lord â€“ the stock market is up!
On the state level, our legislators have occasionally thrown us a bone. In Washington State, we have the Foreclosure Fairness Act, which requires the banks to sit down with homeowners facing foreclosure (after the homeowners pay a mandatory mediation fee), but the act does not require the banks to lower your mortgage principal and interest. This is like having a law requiring an assailant to join you for tea before he attacks you.
On the city level, Nick Licata, the president of the Seattle City Council, decided to hold hearings this month â€“ four and one-half years after Lehman went down â€“ to study the matter. The City Councilâ€™s emergency crisis response time is breathtaking.
Meanwhile the chair of our County Council, Larry Gossett, candidly told us heâ€™s too busy to support an eviction moratorium, but would consider it. When asked how long that would take, he said the Council will do nothing on this issue until heat in the media and in the streets forces their hands.
The King County Sheriff, John Urquhart, told us last fall he would not support a moratorium on evictions. Disappointing as this was, it was actually an advance over the position of his predecessor, Steve Strachan, who didnâ€™t even bother to reply to our inquiry.
Throughout the country groups have tried to pressure local, state, and national politicians to enact sustained moratoriums on evictions. Not one legislative body in the US has been willing to do so.
When the San Bernardino County Council had the audacity to consider a proposal to exercise eminent domain to take over mortgages of underwater homes in their jurisdiction, Wall Street and the real estate lobby gave the council members an offer they couldnâ€™t refuse: You touch our mortgages, and the words â€œSan Bernardinoâ€ and â€œcreditâ€ will never again be used in the same sentence. The council executiveâ€™s reply: â€œNever ever did we say this is something we want to do or intend to do.â€ After all, who likes waking up with a horse head in your bed?
Of course SAFE members are free to lobby their elected representatives. At the very least we should have each representative declare for the record that s/he supports or opposes a moratorium on evictions, and then publicize their positions accordingly. If politicians support our proposal, fine. If not, we wonâ€™t be surprised. But my contention is that as a way to stop bank evictions, lobbying is a diversion and a sham. Politicians aspiring to national office are entirely beholden to, and the beneficiaries of, big money, while local and state representatives, who also rely on campaign contributions, do not have the clout to change the system.
Asking politicians to fix the foreclosure and eviction crisis is like asking casino managers to change the odds in favor of the bettors. That the system allows us to vote once every two or four years for the next casino manager, will never change anything. The entire system is geared to help the richest (0.1%) get richer at the expense of the rest of us.
Our only hope is to rely on ourselves. We have two very powerful weapons: the righteousness of our cause and our numbers.
When Annette Steele, the 80-year-old great-great-grandmother from Portland refuses to leave her homeâ€¦
When Luisa Telefoni and her 20-member extended family says â€˜noâ€™â€¦
When Evonne and Jose Martinez, who had to choose between paying their mortgage and paying for their sonâ€™s brain surgeries, objectâ€¦
When these brave people, together with their neighbors and the SAFE membership, resistâ€¦
This rigged and unjust system will start to unravel.
Nonviolent direct action is not a walk in the park. The police will arrest us. The media will smear us. Wall Street will sue us. And years later the politicians will study the matter. We can either lobby our representatives, reminding them of all the stirring promises they made to our faces while they campaigned for office on our front lawns, or we can mobilize our neighbors to stand between the sheriff and the next family on Wall Streetâ€™s eviction hit list. If we do the former, millions more will lose their homes; if we do the latter, we will obstruct the circulation and accumulation of finance capital â€“ Wall Streetâ€™s bottom line, its lifeblood, its reason for being.
— Stephen, SAFE Volunteer
Housing is a Human Right!
We are focusing on door-to-door canvassing, with a special and continued emphasis on South Park. Later this month we will be inviting South Park residents to a community event to discuss their feelings about the 40 foreclosures that have occurred in their neighborhood in the last five years (10% of South Park’s homes).
This Past Week:
Our new SAFEinSeattle.org website is now live! Please visit us.
We continue to prepare for the imminent eviction of some of our members from their homes.
Other Upcoming & Ongoing Events:
Tuesdays, 7:00 – 8:30 PM: Weekly SAFE Meeting: Bethany UCC, 6230 Beacon Ave S (NE corner of Graham St). All are welcome!
Saturdays, 1:30 PM: Outreach Working Group at SAFE House: Door-to-Door canvassing: We will train you, and you’ll travel by car with an experienced volunteer.
You can reach us at info@SAFEinSeattle.org or 206-203-2125. Please visit our web site: www.SAFEinSeattle.org.