President Obama’s star-studded fundraiser at George Clooney’s house went off without a hitch. But before the event, about 50 activists with the Campaign for a Fair Settlement, mostly low-income victims of foreclosure or predatory activity by the financial sector, made their appeal to the President in a protest on the motorcade route to the residence, asking for Obama to “light a fire under the Department of Justice” and step in to help homeowners stay in their homes. One homeowner at the protest claimed that a Wells Fargo executive told her the company won’t do any principal reductions, in violation of the foreclosure fraud settlement.
Coming from Campaign for a Fair Settlement, a coalition of progressive groups which basically hewed to the party line during the foreclosure fraud settlement and construction of the task force on securitization, a direct action protest means a bit more. It signals that the forces previously backing the moves of the Administration on housing policy have started to shift, believing they need to resort to pressure to get the accountability and relief they feel their constituents deserve. CFS said that they would have representation at every campaign event and fundraiser from now on, and they also expect to engage in direct action outside Obama for America campaign offices across the country.
“We want to give Obama his FDR moment,” said Peggy Mears, a leader in ACCE, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a key part of the Campaign for a Fair Settlement coalition. “We want to make him do it.” Mears, who described the banks as “modern-day criminals,” said that they caused the financial and economic crisis, and now want to fix it on the backs of homeowners. “You restored the banks to their pre-2008 profit levels,” Mears said to Obama in a short press conference before the motorcade arrived. “Now you need to restore homeowners to their pre-2008 homes.”
Mears in particular pointed out the lackadaisical start to the RMBS working group, the task force supposed to be investigating Wall Street. “The investigation needs to be faster and stronger,” she said. “This foreclosure crisis started in 2008 and there have been no arrests. In the Savings & Loan crisis there were 1,000 arrests and a 90% conviction rate.” She wants to see a stronger effort on the working group. She also wants all foreclosure fraud settlement money to go to homeowners rather than state budgets. And she wants the President to fire Ed DeMarco, who has dithered on allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to participate in principal reduction programs.
Several of the attendees of the protest, carrying signs that said “Big Banks Are Not Too Big To Jail” or “Save Our Homes And We Will Keep You In Yours,” were foreclosure victims themselves. All of them were minorities, low-income African-Americans and Hispanics victimized by the banks. “I was late one day on a payment and (the bank) said it was declined and they would sell my home at auction on December 24. Christmas Eve,” said Sylvia Tinoco, one of the participants. She had the locks changed on her home while she left it for a doctor’s appointment, and she eventually lost it. She works with the Campaign for a Fair Settlement to provide support and encouragement to others living through the same struggle. “It seems like only the President can do anything about this because we can’t. He needs to find out what’s really happening,” Tinoco said.
Another attendee made a startling accusation. Melvina Bogen, an underwater homeowner who has been trying to get a modification from Wells Fargo for years, said that she spoke directly to a Wells Fargo executive in a direct action protest not long ago. She said that “the executive told me they aren’t doing principal reductions. I said ‘Why?’ He said ‘We’re concerned about how we look on paper.’” Wells Fargo has agreed to a certain, though unspecified, level of principal reductions in the foreclosure fraud settlement. Mears said that it’s time for the President to step in on these banks who are, in her words, in violation of a signed agreement. “That bank executive needs to be put in his place,” Mears said. “I’m tired of banksters robbing people and kicking them out of their homes.”
Other homeowners made similar comments. Beverly Roberts, a 75 year-old grandmother facing foreclosure, said that “the banks are not doing what they’ve committed to do.” Mercedes Torres of Norwalk, a mother of five, said she wanted the President to “make sure the banks approve the modifications we are eligible for.”
Others were more blunt. When asked what they would say to the President if he stopped his motorcade to talk to them, one said simply, “Help us, please.”
But the motorcade whizzed by. And in fact, it only carried support staff and the press. The President reached the fundraiser site in a helicopter.