On Tuesday I got a phone call from my buddy Guillermo. "Hey man," he said, "You should come down to the Attorney General's office this afternoon. Some friends and I are going to come over and have a little action there." Guillermo's a community organizer with the Home Defenders League, a project of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). He's always after me to show up at events, both because he likes seeing me but also to try and get coverage. Which is part of why he's a great organizer. Which is part of why I told him I'd be there.
For some reason, the phone call left me with the impression that Guillermo and two or three buddies were coming into town wearing slacks and blazers, armed with papers and documentation and perhaps even a list of demands. So when I got to the AG's office one hour later than planned - and after spending fifteen minutes wandering through the Federal Building before learning that there's actually a State Building on the other side of the street - I was a little taken aback to walk in to something of a scene.
As I walked in, I quickly saw that I had been dead wrong in my predictions. Guillermo's 'action' seemed to have turned into a bit of an impromptu demonstration. Assorted about the room were nine or ten people, most wearing yellow shirts emblazoned with the ACCE logo - and these people were quite clearly angry. Some were flat-out furious. Office staff, protected by a wall of safety glass, were peering out quizzically at the protest and supporting the lone desk jockey manning the window. Members of the group were demanding from an impressively composed staffer, bravely standing in the midst of the petitioners, that she tell them exactly when they could have an appointment to speak to someone. Meanwhile, two highway patrolmen stood silently on either side of the room. In short, it was a little intense.
Right when I walked in the room, Guillermo came up to me, greeted me with a dude-hug and loudly announced me to everyone. He proceeded to introduce me to everyone in the group, and then gave me a short summary of what had gone down thus far.. The message was clear: the press had arrived. Once again, not exactly what I had expected when I headed down. I was quite conscious of the eyes of the highway cops on me, and I was painfully aware of the office staffers were shooting me quizzical glances. Not only that... but I know some of the staffers in the AG's office. These people are friends. Not to mention I support Kamala Harris and voted for her in November. Awkward...
At first I tried to diffuse some of the tension: at first I tried to act relaxed and jovial, mainly so as to differentiate myself from the protest, what with acquaintances being behind the glass and all. I was also struck by the crazy, slightly embarrassing, only-in-San-Francisco-ness of the situation; rather than be annoyed at Guillermo for putting me in such a spot, I was trying to just chuckle away my frustration. But very quickly I realized that my attitude was wildly inappropriate and my frustration was positively petty. I realized this was no laughing matter. These angry people weren't just pissed off; they were also scared. And justifiably so; their very livelihoods are at stake here.
Having a confrontation was not a part of the plan. The Home Defenders League planned to walk in, show strength in numbers, request and set up an appointment, then walk out. Bing bang boom. Maximum time: thirty minutes. They wanted to get on about their day. But the plan changed when they were told that at that moment there wasn't anyone working in the office to whom they could speak. Considering it was 2:45 pm on a Tuesday, this did not sit well with the group. Then they were told the only person available was an intern. This did nothing to assuage their growing frustration.
These people have absolutely no idea where they'll be living in three months. Or two. Or next week. They're appealing to AG Harris for aid because her office set up a loan modification task force and website. However, the ACCE protesters don't think Harris is going far enough - mainly because they're still losing their homes and getting fleeced by vultures. Their futures are completely uncertain, and they have to live with that uncertainty and instability every single day. And there I was, starting to be annoyed for being dragged down to the DA's office to be emotionally blackmailed into writing some story. In fact I was being granted the privilege of writing these people's stories and drawing attention to their struggle.
One man has been waiting for a response to his letters and calls for over eight months. One woman had already been evicted, but had since broken back into her home and was still living there. One couple was fleeced for over five thousand dollars by shady lawyers who preyed on their desperation, lack of financial sophistication and their limited use of English. One woman could lose her home in less than a week. Another may be homeless in two weeks. They all have their stories, and in the coming days I'll be telling you those stories.
These people don't expect me to solve all their problems by writing a blog. They don't think I'm going to save all of their homes with the stroke of a pen or tap of a key. They just want others to know what's going on. They want people to be able to better understand the impact of the mortgage crisis, especially on minorities, and the repercussions and implications for our nation's productivity and collective soul. And yes, they want just a little bit of help. Is it really so hard to give them that help? Every little bit helps their situation - even if it's something as minor and simple as self-indulgently blogging about it.
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