Rosemary Williams’ struggles against foreclosure aren’t over yet
On Friday, Sept.11, Rosemary Williams’ house was raided and she and supporters were evicted for a second time after a five week resistance.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, Rosemary Williams, neighbors and supporters gathered in front of her boarded-up home at 3138 Clinton Ave. S. in Minneapolis.
At the press conference, Rosemary Williams, the Minnesota Coalition for a People’s Bailout and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
announced future plans to fight against foreclosures and evictions. The groups will also provide more details about the events of Sept. 11, when seven people went to jail for protesting the eviction of Ms. Williams.
To say the house is simply boarded up is an understatement. GMAC ordered the installation of thick metal shields over the windows and
doors, giving the house a prison-like appearance. Police used plastic handcuffs to lock the gate.
Ms. Williams has been waging an epic battle to keep the family home in the family. Her frustrations in dealing with GMAC’s stonewalling has been repeated a million times over across the country, resulting in boarded up houses like Rosemary’s. Meanwhile, families go homeless and neighborhoods crumble as banks and financial institutions sit on billions in bailout dollars.
The events of Friday night have strengthened the resolve of many to keep
up the fight against this irrational situation. Best of all, it is inspiring others to join the struggle.
GMAC, the main servicer of Ms. Williams’s mortgage, tried to evict her bodily from her home on Aug. 7. They tried to buy her off with $5,000 and an
order to “leave quietly.” They asked her to be a renter in the home GMAC took from her. Ms. Williams has been declaring for a year that she intends to keep the home in the family. And the community is behind her.
This isn’t over!
I first met the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) and Rosemary Williams on a spring night meeting in the living room of Cheri Honkala’s then South Minneapolis residence. Besides myself, the room consisted of women, homeless in order to flee abusive relationships, single moms living in shelters, youth activists of color leading the PPEHRC organizing effort in Minneapolis and Rosemary Williams, fighting to save her home from foreclosure. That would be the first of many humbling meetings and time spent with the people of PPEHRC—affected people organizing themselves to fight poverty and discrimination and me an ally supporting it.
These have been heartbreaking yet inspiring meetings and encounters, people worn upon by a system designed against them yet still struggling for respect and community. It has been an honor to be embraced in these circles. One such source of embrace is Rosemary Williams herself.
For those who have heard of and met Rosemary, the story becomes repetitive, but what she represents becomes inspirational: a single woman, grandmother, elder, deeply involved in her community and resident of the same block for 55 years. Due to the predatory lending practices of such companies as GMAC, Lehman Brothers, Wells Fargo, US Bank and the entirety of the tangled web of subsidiaries they weave, Rosemary, like so many thousands of others in the U.S., is fighting to save her home, and like so many of these others, this tangled web leaves Rosemary without even knowing who owns the mortgage to her home. For a year Rosemary has been engaging GMAC with the understanding they held her mortgage and were the ones empowered to work with her on a modification. A month ago, GMAC started saying Lehman Brothers actually owned the mortgage and they, GMAC, were simply the mortgage servicers, and now, GMAC is suddenly naming US Bank, Aurora Loan Services and the “ investors” as the responsible parties. So now it becomes clear that even to attempt negotiation is impossible for lack of clarity on who to even negotiate with.
Condemned to a mortgage unaffordable from the start and signed due to manipulations and lies, Rosemary now, weeks after her eviction, reoccupation of home, and now eviction again sits exhausted waiting for the next move. In this ridiculous nature of corporation represented as individual, the banks, financial institutions and their conglomerates have swindled thousands out of their homes that now sit empty, a blight to our neighborhoods. It feels a certainty the CEOs of these institutions are not fighting to save their homes nor do they live on a block akin to Rosemary with five empty and boarded homes. What do the banks and their conglomerates want with Rosemary’s house anyway? It seems unclear how owning empty house after empty house can be a good capitalist venture. And even if ‘good capitalist venture’ isn’t the oxymoron it sounds to be, it remains unclear how making Rosemary Williams homeless after 55 years on the same block will fulfill that venture, whatever it may be.
The struggle that Rosemary wages and the support she receives is astounding. Word went out on Aug. 7 that the Sheriff’s Department had arrived to evict her. Within an hour, community support had mobilized dozens of supporters to help Rosemary safeguard her belongings and stand guard against further attack by local police. This first hour of response became what is now weeks old and still strong. The first week saw 20 people a night sleeping in Rosemary’s home and at least 75 people a day willing to risk arrest to support this struggle. Soups were made, games played, children entertained, and as is so often the case in situations such as this, community grew and obviously flourished, a space opened up in defiance of law and business, people prevailed and resistance took root.
The Obama administration has pumped so called stimulus money into the mortgage industry in order to avoid situations just such as Rosemary Williams being foreclosed on and evicted. The mortgage companies and “community organizations” have taken the money but have done nothing for the people. Most anyone going through or nearing a point of defaulting on their mortgage tells the same story of getting nothing but the runaround from these same mortgage companies and “community organizations” that have accepted Obama’s money. So the CEOs and nonprofit workers get the money and folks like Rosemary Williams get the boot.
Even folks like Ann Patterson, who knows when her adjustable rate (ARM) goes into effect this winter she will no longer be able to afford payments and will get foreclosed on, can get no help from the supposed places that are deemed to help. Ann has spent six months trying to do the right thing—trying to access these organizations and talk with her bank about Obama’s modification program only to be denied time after time because she supposedly makes too much money (even though her income does not cover her mortgage) and because she has not actually defaulted. Despite the fact that Ann is trying to responsibly avoid default on her mortgage and subsequent foreclosure, she is being given no option but to do just that.
And our own local politicians, like Mayor Rybak who does not support a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, and Keith Ellison who publicly proclaims the foreclosure crisis is over because the national average of homes being bought is on the rise (even though from a grassroots perspective, the majority of those buying homes are contractors buying on the cheap and flipping for a huge profit), offer nothing save the same old line: Contact the community organizations pumped up by Obama’s stimulus money and they will help. It is apparent, though, that unless you work for the mayor (like his policy aide who is one of the only people MN PPEHRC has come across whose bank has actually been willing to modify), these organizations offer nothing and the banks won’t even answer your call.
And so the route folks like Rosemary and Ann turn to is organized resistance and nonviolent civil disobedience—staying in their homes when ordered to leave, refusing to let the mortgage companies and their cronies quietly get away with these robberies and human rights abuses, and inspiring others to do the same. There have been demonstrations at the banks and mortgage offices, sit-ins at the Sheriff’s and Mayor’s Offices, phone calls, letters written, local politicians engaged and prayers offered. These tactics are not going to end until the mortgage companies stop their practices of greed and abuse. It remains unclear how these particular situations will unfold but what is without question is the fact that companies like Wells Fargo and GMAC and their backers—our elected politicians—aren’t being allowed to screw over the people without a fight.
K. Flo Razowsky is a Twin Cities based activist, organizer and community member joining documentary photography, writing and no-compromise solidarity to the international struggle for human rights, dignity, freedom and respect for the Earth in the face of U.S.-led imperialism, racism and attempted world domination.