2012-12-13Everybody's Home: An Unlikely Alliance Challenges the Financial BorgIn the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Van Nuys, houseless people have barricaded themselves for more than a hundred days inside the property line of the home of the aspiring middle-class Hernandez family to prevent the family's imminent foreclosure eviction.http://www.opednews.com/articles/Everybody-s-Home-An-Unlik-by-Leslie-Radford-121213-884.html
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It's about the homes that are being lost in Detroit, it's about the homes being lost in New York, you know, it's about the grandma that lost her home in Florida, it's about the nurse who lost her home in Charlotte, it's about everybody. There's no borders when it comes to foreclosure. There should be no borders in foreclosure defense fighting. If a family reaches out to me from North Carolina, and I can get out to North Carolina to help him, then I'll be there. And that's what it's about. I don't want to limit myself just to the U.S. This is a worldwide problem.
Wall Street, man. All this money being washed through Wall Street.
What you feel behind the barricade is as tense as the picture is sanguine. Inside the one-story, three-bedroom suburban tract house, along with the bustle of business and playfulness, is a sense of urgency and significance. When you enter the back gate you pass a sign that reminds you that by being on the property, you are subject to arrest. The guests who've joined the Hernandez family, along with the Hernandezes themselves, have spent nearly three months working, eating, and sleeping in anticipation of the alarm warning that the bank has sent the sheriff's deputies to evict them. They joke about it, they tease each other, but they all wait for the day that together they will weather whatever force the gargantuan Bank of New York Mellon decides to wield against them and their wall.
Police repression began in earnest in September, and with it the defense against the repression. A day after the family received a call from the Bank of New York Mellon and filed a qualified written request to untangle the web of titleholders (to which they still haven't received a response), the LAPD called to complain about the couches in front of the barricade, followed hours later by an unannounced midnight visit from the LA County Department of Children and Family Services, ostensibly to check that the house had running water. Then came the Los Angeles Police Department, one of the world's largest paramilitary forces, circling the block day and night. The family and their friends responded at a police commissioners meeting with a complaint against the ongoing intimidation.
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The complaint succeeded only in provoking the LAPD. In a bizarre, late evening visit, Sergeant Gavin arrived alone and tried in vain to provoke someone to break the disciplined silence of the copwatchers who met him. The visit cost him a revealing Youtube video promptly posted from one of the computers on the pool table. On the 45th day, Ulises Hernandez, the family spokesperson, walked outside the barricade, and six narcotics officers leaped out of unmarked cars, pinned and cuffed him, and took him to the Van Nuys station for allegedly not paying a bus fare. He was bailed out that night.
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LAPD posted a notice to remove the barricade, claiming it was on the sidewalk (although this block has no sidewalks), and a week later, 40 LAPD officers in riot gear stormed down the street to the home in a pre-dawn raid to issue a sanitation ticket. A week later, the sanitation department brought a bulldozer and a phalanx of police officers, batons drawn, and they plowed through the barricade , scooped it up, and dropped it into a waiting dump truck.
The barricade was rebuilt again, in 24 hours, set back a few feet from its predecessor. This latest barricade is covered in a mural of "Government of, by and for the people" and a mechanistic bank with spider legs and teeth, painted by local artist. Last week, Ulises was arrested again, this time by the Pasadena Police Department, after a peaceful demonstration of solidarity with the Zapatistas was attacked by the police, and he faces charges of inciting a riot.
Jesus, a perceptive guy who bounces among friends' couches when he's not at the Hernandez home, speculated on the cops' motives: "This is the first step, survival programs, clear examples of open rebellion. This is one of them, and this is why they want to take it down. This is like a miniscule version of society. These cops want to arrest us, harass us, but it's not happening. We're empowering ourselves, and we're attacking them at every level we can in the legal sense. We can't do their tactics because we are criminalized, we're attacked, we're murdered, and we're not trying to do that."
Looming invisibly over this assault on a family's tranquility and the expenditure of city resources is Bank of New York Mellon, claiming to be the title-holder. Last month, the bank requested and then rejected the Hernandez family's fourth application for a loan modification. Bilal, a legal assistant, offers a Constitutional perspective on the police involvement: "This doesn't have anything to do with the police. It's a political action, which we're protected under the First Amendment, to gather peacefully, assemble peacefully, to bring grievance. I don't see any justification to surveil us, criminalize us, just because we're doing these activities. It begs the question, "Why are they here?', and it also makes it very clear who their bosses really are."
La familia Hernandez's situation is the same one that has decimated the dreams of working class families, disproportionately Black and Latino families, and it could not have done so more thoroughly if it had been planned. According to the U.S. Census, in 2006, Latino and Black families began closing the middle-class income gap with white families. Ten years earlier, in 1995, about 20% of white families were making between $50K and $75K, compared to just more than 14% of Latino and Black families. In 2006, that figure for white families had slipped to slightly under 19%, while it rose to over 15% for Black families and to more than 17% for Latinos.
Similar small but significant gains for Latino and Blacks extended across income groups until 2010, when the backward slide became apparent. Companies like Countrywide, the originators of the Hernandez mortgage, lured these newly-minted middle-class Latino and African-American families into subprime mortgages that were only viable if both income and housing values increased markedly in the first years of the loan. When the economy flipped, families of color suffered foreclosure at twice the rate of white families, according to a 2011 report by the Center for Responsible Lending.
Fuerza Hernandez is a new threat to the hypercapitalist structure that buffets families in the maelstrom of economic machinations. The American Dream has propelled two centuries of people to align with those more privileged than they, and to push those behind them off the economic ladder. In the United States, advancement is measured in material gain, and it is propelled by rivalry.
The Hernandez family has met their opponents: a system of repression that, at one end, is police harassment, and, at the other, suppression from the core of capitalism. But when the Bank of New York-Mellon and the police met the Hernandezes and their friends, the capitalist elites might just have pushed their system of avarice and alienation too far.
In an economic climate that forces families economically downward, the Hernandezes have found security and their most faithful allies among the unemployed and houseless. It is an alliance that defies political wisdom, and it's one that intimates at a coalition that might dismantle the American nightmare of prosperity at the expense of the less fortunate. It's a coalition that United States capitalism can not allow to spread. The sheriffs are expected to tear down the barricade that protects the people at Fuerza Hernandez in the next week or two.
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