As the Occupy Wall Street movement enters its seventh week of protest against income inequality, some Midwestern Occupiers are zeroing in on housing issues affecting their communities.
Occupy Minneapolis successfully pressured U.S. Bank this week to postpone a Twin Cities woman's eviction. Now they're planning "Operation F," a campaign pushing for a foreclosure moratorium by occupying foreclosed homes.
"What we started to do was to make preparations, digging in and taking the occupations to peoples' homes," said Ben Egerman, a protester at Occupy Minneapolis. The protesters will go to houses where the homeowners face eviction and 'occupy' the homes to highlight the ongoing mortgage mess.
And in Iowa, Occupy activists met Thursday with state Attorney General Tom Miller, who is leading a nationwide investigation of bad faith foreclosure dealings by big banks, to voice their concerns.
Homeowner advocates fear the attorneys general will reach a settlement that is not tough enough on banks, despite the potential for it being the largest multi-state settlement since the agreement with tobacco companies in 1998.
"I'm still not sure if the settlement committee is going to require the banks pay anywhere near as much as they should, but that's a hard number to get your arm around," Ed Fallon said after he left the meeting with Miller and his staff. Fallon, a onetime gubernatorial candidate, was a state legislator for more than a decade. Now he's active with Occupy Des Moines.
When Fallon first proposed an ad hoc "Attorney General Bank Settlement Committee" at an the group's General Assembly, the protest's governing body, activists worried the settlement would be too small compared with the amount of abuse suffered by homeowners. But they felt since their Attorney General was leading the case, they had a shot at national influence.
Some of the protesters involved with Occupy Des Moines said they were on hand when Miller said last December that he "would put people in jail" as a result of the investigation. They said they worried Miller wouldn't follow through thanks in part to increased campaign contributions from the financial sector he's brought in since taking the helm of the investigation.
But Fallon said he left this week's meeting feeling a little more at ease that the investigation would not be the be-all-end-all of the mortgage crisis.
"We are focused on homeowners, not investors," Geoff Greenwood, communications director for Miller, told HuffPost on Friday. "This case is about foreclosure and servicing issues, including robo-signing, and we do intend to leave the door open for attorneys general and others to pursue issues beyond the scope of this settlement. This case will not address everything connected with the housing crisis. There are many other pieces."
Twin Cities resident Ruth Murman connected with Occupy Minneapolis, and by Wednesday she was thanking them at a rally outside of downtown Minneapolis banks for helping push back on her eviction, according to the Star Tribune.
Murman was trying to get an extension on her eviction by U.S. Bank. She had financial trouble when economy tanked and her business, day care and convalescence center for pets, lost money.
Egerman said Murman's case energized their members. And after hearing about Murman's story, he said, dozens more people facing evictions and foreclosure asked them for help.
"Members were potentially interested in this and there's no question people were incredibly interested in helping people as much as possible," he said.
Egerman said they're trying to help people who have been "screwed over by a bank" and are being kicked out of their homes.
In the case of Murman's eviction, Egerman said it showed the small concrete victories they could win as Occupy Minneapolis. While in Iowa, Fallon said "Our primary goal to make Wall Street pay," adding with caution: "It looks like Wall Street is going to pay."
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more