Occupy Minnesota fights the banks

Organization builds a tight-knit national community while preventing foreclosures

Before any papers were signed, Occupy held a block-party celebration. At that party, six more homeowners facing eviction felt empowered to speak out and pledge to stay in their homes. They included John Vinje, a veteran and security guard from Bloomington, a union laborer named Frank Clark, and a north Minneapolis church and civic leader named Ruby Brown. Bobby Hull's fight and victory had planted a seed, and the Occupy Homes movement was growing.

"These individual cases were inspiring people to stand up," says Espinosa, "and hopefully build a mass movement across the country of people doing this."


Among the new crop of homeowners empowered to speak out that night at Hull's house was Espinosa's own mother, Colleen McKee Espinosa, a nurse and single mom who had received a sheriff's sale notice from Citibank informing her that she could lose her north Minneapolis home in June.

David and Alejandra Cruz confronted PNC Bank executives in Pittsburgh in an attempt to save their home in south Minneapolis
John Stockton
David and Alejandra Cruz confronted PNC Bank executives in Pittsburgh in an attempt to save their home in south Minneapolis
Hennepin County sheriffs kicked in the door of the Cruz house during a May 25 raid, prompting Occupy Homes to stage a demonstration at City Hall with the door as their dramatic prop
John Stockton
Hennepin County sheriffs kicked in the door of the Cruz house during a May 25 raid, prompting Occupy Homes to stage a demonstration at City Hall with the door as their dramatic prop

"Seeing these homeowners going through the same thing, that's when my mentality shifted where it was more, maybe the banks should be ashamed rather than the people that they're taking advantage of," McKee Espinosa says. "I decided that I'm not leaving my home until we get a good-faith negotiation. I'm fighting to send the message to other people not to give up, because if you're isolated you can't fight these people. The banks had better watch out because people are catching on to their game and a lot of people are going to fight back now."

Following Hull's victory, Occupy went to bat for McKee Espinosa and five homeowners battling Bank of America to keep their houses. No more than a day before the sheriff's sale, McKee Espinosa receive a deal from Citibank to stay in her home.

Meanwhile, Occupy unveiled a video campaign supporting the "Minnesota five." Within 48 hours, a "customer relationship manager" from Bank of America's social-media department called union worker Frank Clark and his wife, Kristina Darrington, who were struggling to keep their home in the northern suburb of Coon Rapids, and offered to help fix their loan.

It appeared that Bank of America, conscious of losing the public-relations war, had created the social-media team — what the bank calls its "customer-related escalation group."

"It wasn't an attorney, it wasn't a loss mitigation specialist, it wasn't a collection agent, it wasn't a mortgage broker, it wasn't even an executive — it was a social-media liaison," says Occupy organizer Anthony Newby. "They're paying very close attention to this public narrative. What they haven't figured out is how to combat it, how to effectively neutralize what's becoming an outcry of public opinion around the country."

Clark and Darrington kept their home thanks to Occupy's public campaign, as did two other members of the "Minnesota five" — north Minneapolis resident Ruby Brown and St. Paul attorney Paul Lelii.


By the end of February, Bank of America had given Hull a loan modification. But Monique White's forecast wasn't improving at all, as US Bank — the original servicer of the loan — refused to budge, instead deflecting responsibility to lender Freddie Mac, which currently owned the mortgage.

Occupy Homes mounted sporadic protests at US Bank offices throughout Minneapolis, which occasionally led to arrests. Then an eviction notice from Hennepin County arrived in White's mailbox, informing her that she could be evicted by March 2.

Into the breach stepped the National Lawyers Guild, which represented White pro bono and won four consecutive cases in housing court to stall an eviction. Her defense team hoped to move the case out of housing court and into district court, where White would get a jury trial.

"We want the facts to be decided by Monique's peers," says Lawyers Guild attorney Rachel Lang. "Not necessarily by people who are in a privileged situation and who have a very different cultural background, and a very different amount of power."

Meanwhile, back in north Minneapolis, nervous Occupy activists were certain that a police raid was imminent if a deal wasn't worked out in court, and they prepared to physically protect White's house — and face certain arrest.

"The amount of energy that Freddie Mac and US Bank were putting into this eviction for a house that literally was worth about $35,000, according to our own comparative market analysis that our realtor did," begins Newby. "The amount of money that they must have spent to pursue this eviction was certainly tens of thousands of dollars, and my guess is that it far exceeded the actual value of the home. They would expend any amount of resources to get this person out of this house so that Occupy Homes couldn't claim victory in what had become at that point a national and an international case."

Neither the jury trial nor the police raid ever materialized. Instead, with the help of Occupy and Minnesotans United for a Fair Economy, White purchased a tiny share in US Bank and snuck into the shareholders meeting on April 17 to confront CEO Richard Davis, who ultimately helped her with a loan modification after US Bank claimed for months that only Freddie Mac could do that.


Occupy Homes took on a new and greater challenge in late April when it began defending the Cruz house in south Minneapolis.

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8 comments
d34cav
d34cav

Robert Hull is not a Vietnam veteran. He never served outside of the USA. check your facts.

Patricia
Patricia

I am so grateful for your courage and persistence!! 

stevelovesyanks
stevelovesyanks

Wow, even Minnesota losers are doing the "occupy" (lazy) thing?!!!

bjumbeck7
bjumbeck7

These people piss me off really. Here is a quote that got me "Occupy and its allies, including Schiff, openly questioned why Hennepin County sheriffs and Minneapolis police would spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to do the lender's bidding." 

 

Hmm lets see if you breaking into HOME THAT ARE"NT YOURS obviously police have to take people out. How can they have the nerve to question the spending of tax payer dollars when they are the cause of it. Its just sickening what america has come to these days. They should be careful what they wish for cause if all the big business and banks go away KISS AMERICA GOODBYE!

urbanite
urbanite

 @stevelovesyanks yes. anyone who doesn't make millions of dollars a year by stealing from the middle class must be "lazy" right? I'm surprised that even Minnesotans are doing the "let's listen to fox news" thing...

Patricia
Patricia

 @bjumbeck7 Yah, because business and banks ARE the USA. It's good to be very clear about that. 

bjumbeck7
bjumbeck7

 @Patricia So what do you think would happen if banks and big business go away? Lets see if the banks go bankrupt or just up and leave the US who will give you loans? All your retirement money and 401K and whatever you have in the bank is gone. If all the big business in america is gone so are all the jobs. There would be no america cause we would have nothing... we would be a third world country not a super power like we are.

So keep wishing and keep saying they are the devil but without them there is no america no matter how much you hate to admit it. And yes I agree there are corrupt people in big business and banks but there are people like that in all classes. 

flyhalf2002
flyhalf2002

 @bjumbeck7  @Patricia Uh, perhaps a Credit Union? Maybe an institution that can answer to its customers first and not to shareholders demanding higher % of profit. Think a little harder next time

 
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