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Melissa Hill arrested at Occupy MN

Hennepin County Sheriff

Occupy MN protesters began setting up tents and shelters on the grassy knoll of the Government Plaza Saturday afternoon with full knowledge that they were defying the orders of the Hennepin County sheriff.

However, cops approached Melissa Hill as she stood on the sidewalk just outside the park, far away from the tents. Occupiers noticed and crowded around in what quickly became a circus-like atmosphere.

Hill is a well-known local activist who once ran for City Council. She is also, interestingly, the creator of "Kitten for Sheriff," a Facebook campaign trying to unseat Sheriff Rich Stanek by electing an adorable kitten in his place.

Hill was wearing a neon-green National Lawyers Guild hat and standing on the sidewalk outside of the park, away from the action at Tent City, when officers from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department informed her she was trespassing. She'd previously been banned from the premises by county security for writing political slogans in chalk on the property. As she was led away a huge crowd of occupiers followed, shouting, "Let her go!"

She was booked by the sheriff's department for trespassing and refusal to depart.

This week, we also told you the story of Malcolm LeFever and Cheryl Downey and their struggle with Wells Fargo over their underwater mortgage. They received a foreclosure notice this month despite two years of trying to work out a loan modification with the bank.

Well, it appears the story caught someone's attention at Wells Fargo corporate.

"I was so surprised to get the call," LeFever told City Pages. "I wasn't even thinking clearly."

LeFever and Downey have lived in their house for nearly 20 years and raised a family there. Then, at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, LeFever lost his job and by 2010 stopped being able to make his mortgage payments on time. At that point, the couple requested a loan modification from Wells Fargo.

But two years later, no progress had been made. LeFever says he submitted all his paperwork repeatedly, but has never even talked to someone in person about his situation. Earlier this month, he received a foreclosure notice from the bank, with a sheriff's sale date of November 22.

Frustrated, LeFever and Downey agreed to go public with their story as a part of the "Don't Foreclose on the American Dream" march on Wells Fargo. Protesters from Occupy MN and several labor organizations including SEIU, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, and Minnesota AFL-CIO met in Peavey Plaza and marched to Wells Fargo at Seventh and Marquette. One of the group's demands was to fix the LeFever-Downeys' mortgage.

But after City Pages profiled the couple last Wednesday, LeFever received a call from Wells Fargo headquarters in California. It was the executive office of the bank, and the caller promised to get in contact with whoever had been handling his modification.

"Getting a phone call like that makes me very hopeful," he says.

Kevin Whelan, who reviewed LeFever's case for Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, was encouraged by the news, but points out that the foreclosure is still scheduled and that nothing is fixed until LeFever gets a modification offer in writing.

"This isn't a victory, that's just customer service," he says. "You need a worldwide uprising against the banks and an article, and you get a phone call."

Roughly 1,000 protesters marched from Peavey Plaza to Wells Fargo and attempted to storm the Wells Fargo Center lobby. But when they arrived they found the doors to the bank were locked, with Minneapolis police guarding all entrances.

In a spur-of-the-moment decision by organizers, 20 members of the group who'd already committed themselves to getting arrested sat in the middle of the intersection of Sixth Street and Marquette, blocking traffic, while the rest of the marchers swirled around them. Minneapolis police directed traffic and milled around the edges of the protest as the marchers attempted to send a delegation into the bank building. They were repeatedly rebuffed, so the protesters remained seated in the intersection, chanting and listening to speakers.

The protests brought to a head a week's worth of marches and demonstrations as Occupy MN continues to evolve and grow. We'll keep you posted as the action unfolds.


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