Occupy protests take banks battle to US home front

PROTESTERS have "reclaimed" foreclosed properties, shouted down foreclosure auctions and waved banners outside banks as part of a nationwide day of action by the Occupy movement to draw attention to the plight of home owners.

PROTESTERS have "reclaimed" foreclosed properties, shouted down foreclosure auctions and waved banners outside banks as part of a nationwide day of action by the Occupy movement to draw attention to the plight of home owners.

"The basic message of the 99 per cent is that everybody deserves a place to stay, everybody deserves a place they can afford," said James Vann, an Oakland architect.

Vann was holding a protest sign on the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse while about 40 protesters chanting, "Shame on you!" surrounded auctioneers attempting to sell off homes in arrears.

"The courthouse steps are a dramatic, shameful place where a home is passed by anonymous people to anonymous people," said Tony Wilkinson, a retired warehouse worker who lives in Berkeley. "Each one of these transactions represents a family and lives. This may be legal, but it's criminal."

The "Occupy Our Homes" events, a series of direct actions and gatherings held in more than 20 cities across the country, including Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose, represent a new phase for the Occupy movement.

It came as demonstrators marched on Capitol Hill to occupy the offices of members of Congress in Washington, DC.

Occupy encampments locally and nationally were recently evicted by city governments. Now, in claiming common ground with home owners facing foreclosure and challenging big banks on their lending practices, the movement is focusing on an issue that highlights economic inequality.

More than 6 million homes have been seized by banks since 2007 and another 8 million are likely to undergo foreclosure over the next four years, according to a report by Michelle Meyer, Bank of America Merrill Lynch senior US economist.

The Obama administration's attempts to address foreclosures through voluntary programs for banks to reduce mortgage payments have helped only a fraction of struggling home owners, according to banking regulators.

But President Barack Obama has picked up on the protesters' message, venturing into the conservative heartland of Kansas to deliver his most pointed appeal yet for taxes and regulations to level the playing field.

"This country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules," he told a crowd packed into a school gymnasium.

Mr Obama warned growing income inequality was undermining the middle class. He said it "gives lie to the promise that's at the very heart of America: that this is the place where you can make it if you try".

"At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement," Mr Obama said.

It was the President's third trip out of Washington in three weeks to press for passage of the payroll tax break set to expire next month. Under the Democratic proposal, which Republicans have blocked, the cut that would go to most working Americans would be offset by a surtax on people earning more than $US1 million a year.

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