Community Organizations Use Language of Occupy to Criticize Foreclosure Settlement

Allison Kilkenny

Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement took over a foreclosed home in East New York, Brooklyn, on Tuesday with plans to make it habitable for a needy family.

Class is going to be a big issue in this presidential election. Mitt Romney has already come under fire for hesitating to disclose his tax returns (he finally disclosed the forms, which reveal a 2-year income of $45 million,) not to mention that little tax haven rainy day fund (between $20.7 and $101.6 million) that helps Romney avoid paying further taxes.

But the accusation of being part of the one percent” hardly belongs exclusively to a single party. What Occupy Wall Street has been so successful at is framing the issue of class warfare as being the 99 percent,” whether Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, against a ruling plutocracy i.e. both political parties that are completely out of touch with the problems of average Americans. 

Since the beginning of OWS, one of the fears among protesters was that the Democrats would attempt to hijack the movement and use its momentum to reelect President Obama, or advance a narrow agenda.

What actually ended up happening was that Occupy waged a brilliant marketing campaign that permanently changed the political system’s lexicon.

By declaring We are the 99 percent,” the movement forced politicians to take a stance. Either one embraced the slogan, as many Democrats attempted (Rep. Honda called the 99 percent the great majority of hard-working, honest Americans,) or mocked it: Red State’s Erick Erickson’s We are the 53% campaign,” Rep. Tom Price calling the protesters misdirected,” Rep. Bachmann saying she completely opposes everything that they stand for,” etc.

For once, an overwhelmingly liberal movement was on the offensive. Here was a group that drew the line in the sand: either you stood with the people, or you stood with the plutocracy, and well, no politician on Earth wants to be labeled as standing with the one percent – not even Mitt Romney.

The annexation of Occupy by Democrats never fully went down, though a takeover of the group was hardly necessary when the language of OWS could be co-opted for political gain. 

Protests on behalf of the 99 percent” are a regular occurrence these days, most recently by a coalition of community organizations upset with a recent big bank foreclosure settlement that President Obama will likely reference in tonight’s State of the Union address as some kind of victory.

According to the organizations, including MoveOn​.org, Northside Power, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Lakeview Action Coalition, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Illinois People’s Action, National People’s Action and The New Bottom Line, the deal on the table is appalling, especially when compared to 2011 big bank bonuses.”

According to The New Bottom Line’s Pulling Back the Curtain report, big banks are set to award $144 billion in bonuses and compensation for 2011.

How much will those same big banks pay in restitution to the millions of Americans that were illegally foreclosed upon? Between $20-$25 billion.

It’s outrageous.

Today in Chicago, state Attorneys General and the White House are meeting with big banks, presumably to finalize the settlement ahead of Tuesday’s the State of the Union. Leaders from a number of community groups are on the front lines to make sure the 99% has a voice -if not at the table, at least within earshot of the negotiators.

The coalition’s official statement references Van Jones of Rebuild the Dream and George Goel of National People’s Action, who use the language of Occupy to criticize the foreclosure deal.

President Obama has the ability to stop and change the direction of this sweetheart deal. He should reject any deal that benefits the one percent and lets the big banks get away with their crimes. Instead, the president should stand with the 99 percent and push for real accountability and a solution that will help millions of people in this country.

Jones and Goel call for three things: First, the banks pay a minimum of $300 billion in principal refection for homeowners with underwater mortgages and/​or restitution for foreclosed-on families. Second, there be a full-fledged investigation into Wall Street’s financial fraud by the Department of Justice, and third, there be no civil or criminal immunity for the banks from future lawsuits.

Occupiers made similar demands, though consistently shied away from narrowing their grievances to a three-point plan like the one presented by Rebuild the Dream and National People’s Action.

It was Occupy’s long list of dissatisfaction that oftentimes made it the target of eye-rolling from Serious Pundits who claimed the protesters were naive or politically inexperienced. 

However, it might have been Occupy’s grand vision and its boldness to criticize not just specific policy measures, but an entire corrupt political and economic system, that allowed groups like Rebuild the Dream to step in and propose specific policy measures. Only within the frame of the 99 percent versus the one percent” is radical change possible. 

Previously, protest groups found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to lose as little ground as possible, or haplessly fend off utter destruction from a corporate interest only to have another business step in after a minor victory and destroy any progress. 

By refusing to go away, Occupy forced society to deal with its message – a highly successful message – and the most popular slogan of the year.

Now, Americans are talking about class in a country almost absurdly proud of the fact that no one usually discusses class because this is America and anyone can do anything, and where you come from doesn’t matter because George Washington and apple pie. 

The fact that Romney is now on his heels, desperately trying to conceal a fortune amassed at the expense of laid off workers, is extraordinary and in part thanks to Occupy.

That is a legacy which won’t go anywhere anytime soon. 

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Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.
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