“My brothers and my sisters are stranded on this road, a hot and dusty road that a million feet done trod;
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door, and I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.” (Woody Guthrie)
Pittsburgh, PA is the focal point this month for two separate social justice movements — each growing in strength and gaining momentum in their struggle for human rights and to stop the destruction and loss of homes. One movement uses occupation as a main tactic to save homes in the United States, while for the other movement it is the occupation 6,000 miles away in Palestine that is destroying homes.
On June 21, Alejandra Cruz, her brother, and supporters from Occupy Homes marched to PNC Bank headquarters in Pittsburgh to protest the bank’s unjust foreclosure on their family’s home. Occupy groups in more than 15 cities nationwide held support rallies, and almost 200,000 people have signed an online petition to PNC.
The Cruz family had owned their home in Minneapolis for seven years before they missed a payment due to a glitch in the online payment system. When the next payment came due, the bank insisted the family pay for two months, which the Cruz’s couldn’t afford, and the situation spiraled into foreclosure from there.
“My parents had to work so hard for this house,” Alejandra said. “It’s unjust for the banks to take away our dream. My parents brought us here really young, and we’ve learned how to fight against injustice ever since we came to this country. It’s been a struggle for us every single day since we got here.”
Occupy Homes was formed by the Occupy Wall Street movement coming together with families who were standing up to the banks and fighting to keep their homes. The movement believes everyone deserves to have a roof over their head and a place to call home, and that the Wall Street banks should negotiate with homeowners instead of foreclosing on them.
Divestment from the Occupation
On June 30, the Presbyterian Church will convene in Pittsburgh to decide whether to divest from three companies that profit from the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. One of those companies, Caterpillar, provides Israel with weaponized bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes.
In the 45 years of the Occupation, Israel has demolished more than 25,000 homes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza to collectively punish Palestinians and seize property for the expansion of settlements. Amnesty International has condemned these human rights violations.
“We were standing in the alley and watched two bulldozers destroy the house. It took just a few minutes. There was no warning, no announcement. When I yelled at the bulldozers [to stop], the tanks pointed their canons towards me . . . I lived there for over forty years.” (Nadia Sha’er, who saw a Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer destroy her house in Rafa)
In the Occupied Territories, activists would physically block bulldozers to prevent home demolitions. Caterpillar bulldozers have killed and maimed nonviolent protesters, including Rachel Corrie, a 23 year old American. In order to avoid protests, the government now carries out the demolitions without warning to the home’s occupants and often in the middle of the night.
In the United States, activists have been occupying foreclosed homes, disrupting bank auctions, and blocking evictions. The Occupy group in Minneapolis had been defending the Cruz’s home for a month after the family received an eviction notice. Then one morning at 4 a.m., police smashed through the front door and used a chainsaw to cut through a PVC pipe protestors had used to lock their arms together.
In the last few years, a global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has emerged to confront Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The movement is gaining power and support, including among Israelis who recognize that BDS is one of the most effective ways to bring about non-violent political change. The Presbyterian’s decision about whether to divest comes on the heels of the movement’s biggest victory to date. Just last week, retirement fund TIAA-CREF divested $72 million from Caterpillar.
The Occupy Homes movement has also claimed several victories recently in Minneapolis, achieving what many thought impossible. Monique White, an African-American single mother who works two jobs, and Bobby Hull, a Marine and former Vietnam veteran, were able to successfully renegotiate mortgages with their lenders, with the help of Occupy Homes, even though both their homes had already gone through foreclosure, and they were facing eviction.
Both the Occupy Homes and BDS movements are up against insurmountable odds, but they have not let that deter them. As Rabbi Tarfon is quoted as saying in the Talmud, “It is not your duty to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Both movements are continuing the work that other activists started decades ago. The fact that they have gotten as far as they have and are in Pittsburgh this month for their respective missions is in itself a huge victory.