It may not be Cairo, but we've had our share of protesting lately, too.
Last Friday a throng of activists assembled at the entrance of the downtown branch of Bank of America in support of foreclosure victims and made an attempt to storm the bank. The group was blocked by a security guard, but an individual member successfully made it inside to deliver what the group called a "summons" to bank leaders, inviting them to another gathering -- "the People's Hearing," scheduled for March 5 -- during which foreclosure victims will testify about their agonizing experiences.
The activist who entered the bank attempted to hand over the summons to a bank teller, who refused it. Another attempt to give it to a manager was unsuccessful as well. But the underlying message was delivered, say group leaders; after the rally, one of the group's members was able to reach a bank representative by phone, and both parties worked a deal to put a stop on the sale of her foreclosed home.
The group behind the protest, known as Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, or MORE, made news back in December, when it assembled at the steps of the Clayton branch of Bank of America in support of a couple who'd fallen victim to shoddy loan-modification handlings, costing them thousands of dollars and more than a year of grief. The event, which was well covered by the media, led to the arrest of six people.
"The banks will have to answer for their crimes; we need to take our economy back," Hannah Allison, one of the leaders for MORE, tells Daily RFT. Allison says her group has saved about 12 foreclosure victims, more than half through direct-action tactics like protests and sit-ins. "If you're interrupting their business, confronting the power at its roots, they tend to be a little more flexible," she says.
Missouri, like much of the rest of the country, has been devastated by the foreclosure crisis, which is now experiencing its second wave. The first wave occurred a few years ago, when the housing bubble burst and subprime mortgages were exposed. Now, a new class of homeowners is being hurt, not by subprime loans, but by loss of jobs, bank errors and inability to modify their monthly premiums. The foreclosure rate in the St. Louis region is at an all-time high, with hundreds of homes being taken over each month.
The problem has multiple roots. Many banks no longer own the deeds of homes bought in the last decade. Oftentimes, those deeds were purchased by the government or other banks, sliced and bundled, and sold to buyers who traded them on the market as mortgage-backed securities. Some victims have been foreclosed upon by two separate parties. In addition, many banks have resorted to faulty tactics, like robo-signing of foreclosure documents and submitting false affidavits.
On top of that, Missouri is a state that goes through non-judicial foreclosure proceedings, which means borrowers being foreclosed upon cannot fight their cases in court. "That means the lender or pretender-lender can send out a letter 20 days prior to the sale and say, 'hey, I'm foreclosing on you, and we don't have to file a lawsuit to prove anything,' " foreclosure attorney Rusty Reinhold tells Daily RFT.
MORE's Allison warns the banks that the March 5 people's hearing will provoke more outrage. "They know they need to be ready," she says. The hearing will be held at College Church at 3628 Lindell Boulevard at 1 p.m. Allison encourages victims to call MORE's hotline at 877-59-HOME-9.