Take Back the Land

Recently departed Jazz Musician Gill Scott Heron’s seminal piece was a song called “Winter in America”. I think Gill Scott saw the destruction of the American Dream years before it reached the crisis point.

Something is really, really wrong here – and other than a few intrepid groups like “Take Back the Land” – there doesn’t seem to be anyone in power doing a damn thing about it.

The right wing in this country is spending a lot of time defending the banks, the major corporations, and the rich by foisting one Trojan Horse issue after another upon the public airwaves.

A $15 a year tax break isn’t going to save you from being foreclosed on your house.

Protesters ‘Liberate’ Foreclosed Homes

protesters foreclosuresWhen Virginia Henry bought her boarded-up and abandoned Rochester, N.Y., home in December 2007, she saw potential where others were blind to it. The house, a short sale, became her home to live in and care for, she said. She plopped down her $20,000 and filed her paperwork for a loan program that would pay the balance — $43,000 — to rehabilitate the property.

But what followed was a series of unanswered calls and letters to Bank of America, Henry says, eventually culminating in her arrest Friday for a charge of trespassing on her own front lawn. The arrest, like much of this story, is the source of a dispute. Henry asserts police officers shoved her to the ground during the arrest, police claim she fainted from the intense heat. She has a court date for the trespassing charge July 28.

The facts of the short sale are also at issue. The bank has told Henry that the short sale never closed and that the house at 5 Appleton St. — with all her worldly possessions trapped inside — is no longer hers. A Bank of America spokeswoman, Jumana Bauwens, said she would investigate the claims.

“This is my home,” Henry told AOL Real Estate in a phone interview after the arrest. “How can I be trespassing in my own home?”

Protesters Step In

While the facts of the case may be murky, one thing isn’t: Henry’s plight is a perfect opportunity for Take Back the Land to step in. The group, founded by Miami activist Max Rameau (who’s pictured above being arrested there in June 2010) is a small but growing movement that aims to change the way the public views housing. TBTL accomplishes this by taking over government- and bank-owned properties and putting otherwise homeless people in them. And they also fight homeowner evictions, like that of Mrs. Henry (pictured at left in front of the house in question) and her family of four.protesters foreclosures

The group has some notable experience on this front. Last spring it helped Catherine Lennon, also of Rochester, N.Y., stay in her house of seven years. Bank of America began foreclosure proceedings shortly after Lennon’s husband died of cancer. Fannie Mae took over the home and proceeded to evict the extended family of 11 last March. Take Back the Land blockaded the home for two weeks, preventing the family from being forced out. It ended with a police team physically evicting them and arresting seven people, including a 70-year-old neighbor still in her pajamas.

Still, the point was made. And Lennon by the way, is back in the house, which is just a few blocks away from Henry’s.

Rameau says, “We are challenging corporations’ right to own thousands of homes that they keep vacant while human beings are left homeless. The fundamental purpose of housing should be to house humans. Right now, housing is a corporate profit center.”

Call it civil disobedience with a roof. The thrice-arrested Rameau spearheaded taking over an empty lot in the Liberty City section of Miami in 2006, where he erected a tent city known as Umoja Village, an urban shantytown for dozens of Miami’s homeless. (“Umoja” means unity in Swahili.) After celebrating six months of existence, Umoja Village burned to the ground in a suspicious fire on the very day work was to have started replacing the wood shanties with more durable structures. What came of the experience was a book by Rameau and a renewed commitment to turn up the flame on his mission to reform how we view housing in the United States.

Now Rameau has his sights set on the foreclosure crisis. Take Back the Land has installed homeless families in about 20 government- and bank-owned homes, and he’s helped homeowners fight evictions during the foreclosure process…

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