Occupy Minnesota fights the banks

Organization builds a tight-knit national community while preventing foreclosures

The face of this campaign was the children of the family, Alejandra and David Cruz, who were campaigning for the Dream Act, which would grant immunity from deportation for the children of undocumented immigrants and make them eligible to attend college in the United States.

"My parents had to work so hard for this house that it's unjust for the bank to just take it away," cried Alejandra Cruz. "My parents brought us here really young, and we've always learned how to fight against injustice ever since we came to this country."

Occupy defended the Cruz house for three weeks with an elaborate network of activists locked to concrete barriers at both the front and back doors, and a rapid-response text-message system so the home defenders could mass there quickly once the police arrived.

Monique White
Peter Leeman
Monique White
Bobby Hull
Peter Leeman
Bobby Hull

The Hennepin County sheriff's raid came on May 23, 25 days after the Cruz home defense began. About 100 activists quickly arrived and held the house.

Two days later, at 4 a.m., sheriff's deputies launched a second surprise raid, using jackhammers and electric saws to remove protestors from the balcony and the roof, kicking in the front door, and arresting five protestors. Fifty activists arrived as reinforcements and again held the house.

Occupy responded by holding an impromptu and spirited demonstration in front of Minneapolis City Hall, with the Cruz family's damaged front door used as a dramatic backdrop. Since Minneapolis police resources were now involved, demonstrators called upon Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak to stop doing the bank's bidding. The demonstration then moved to the basement of City Hall, where Alejandra and David Cruz pounded on the door of Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek's empty office.

Joining the Cruz rally at City Hall was Minneapolis City Council member, and Occupy supporter, Gary Schiff.

"We know what caused the economic crisis in this country," he proclaimed. "It was banks that were unregulated and were allowed to take advantage of low-income people who dreamed of a home. Don't let the breaking of this door break your resolve to fight back."

The following week, Hennepin County sheriffs and the Minneapolis Police Department collectively launched a third raid on the Cruz home, and this time they secured the house and boarded up doors and windows to prevent Occupy from reentering. Deputies once again used a jackhammer to break an activist out of a cement barrel, and made three arrests.

"We're advising [Freddie Mac] that we're done here," Police Chief Tom Dolan told reporters outside the Cruz house. "I think there's a responsibility on [Freddie Mac] to take care of securing their property. The police department doesn't want to be involved in these actions, but legally when we get a call from an owner on a trespass, we have to respond."

That afternoon, the mayor's office issued a statement, confirming that the police had secured the foreclosed home, but that "at the direction of Mayor Rybak, Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal reached out to Freddie Mac to say that the city is not in the foreclosure business. 'The city plays a limited role to protect public safety. The property is the responsibility of its owner,' said Segal. In this case, the city has fulfilled its legal obligation to secure the property."

The very next day, Occupy Homes opened the boarded-up front and back doors and temporarily recaptured the house, only to be raided that night by Minneapolis police for a fourth time. While activists sat down and linked arms on the front steps of the home, police officers, including Chief Dolan, trampled over them to enter the house. Fourteen protestors were arrested, including Nick Espinosa, who was reportedly thrown on his back and dragged through the front door. Espinosa and several other Occupy Homes activists faced riot charges from the incident. Espinosa's were later dropped, but the others still face charges.

"This is where the banks, and Freddie Mac, and the city of Minneapolis decided to draw a line," says Espinosa, "and they put all their resources into making sure that this family could not get back into their home."

Despite police intimidation against Occupy Homes, the movement succeeded in putting Rybak between a rock and a hard place, forcing him to call Freddie Mac and try, unsuccessfully, to convince the lender to negotiate a new mortgage with the Cruz family.

That an undocumented immigrant family and a ragtag group of activists could force the mayor of a major American city — and a rising star within the national Democratic Party — to call Freddie Mac was a testament to the burgeoning power of Occupy.

Mayor Rybak freely admitted that Freddie Mac appeared to be the obstacle to keeping the Cruz family in their home.

"We as cities can't be expected to be the lightning rod for tough foreclosure practices that often are not responding to folks," the mayor told TheUpTake.org. "The current situation with lenders isn't working. It's putting cities in positions where we're spending huge amounts on police resources. That challenge is with Freddie, so that's where I've put my energy, and frankly, I'm disappointed in their response."

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.

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