Occupy Chicago Takes on the War at Home

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Occupy Chicago(Photo: Mario Garcia-Baeza)

In a week of action before the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit hits Chicago, activists are connecting the war abroad waged by NATO and its associates with the war at home, waged by some of the 1 percent that are welcoming and profiting from bringing the summit to Chicago.

“What we have is a war in our communities and that war is done by the global 1 percent,” said Brian Bean, an activist with Occupy Chicago. “The same people that will be meeting in McCormick Place [for the summit] in a couple of days drop bomb in Afghanistan and destroy our homes here in America. That is why we are here to fight back. Today we take back our homes, tomorrow we take back our world.”

Reports have been slowly coming out about the cost of the summit. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has repeatedly said that none of the burden will be on taxpayers – instead, corporate donations will cover the cost. JPMorgan Chase is among the companies on the board of the nonprofit World Business Chicago that is bringing together funding for the summit. The bank has also come under fire for illegal foreclosures that it carried out without the correct paperwork.

Occupy Chicago(Photo: Mario Garcia-Baeza)

In an action calling for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Occupy Chicago and Communities United Against Eviction and Foreclosure (CUAEF) set up a couch in a Citibank lobby and in a plaza in downtown Chicago. The groups also acted out an eviction order and then the public pressure it took to stop it.

Cook County alone, which includes Chicago, averages 3,700 evictions each year, according to CUAEF. The group says that in their work knocking on doors and canvassing communities, they’ve seen these issues affect primarily low-income families.

Underwater homes, where the mortgages is worth more than the house itself, is also a chronic problem in Chicago. According to the real estate firm Zillow, more than 42 percent of single-family homes in the city are underwater.

Sheriff Dart has called a moratorium on foreclosures in 2008 and on foreclosure-based evictions in 2010.

Occupy Chicago(Photo: Mario Garcia-Baeza)

“There is no serious action being taken to help keep people in their homes. Modifications always seem to fail. We need this moratorium,” said Virginia Morales, whose parents are facing wrongful foreclosure from CitiMortgage.

Sheriff Dart has put together his own petition “in support of legal protections for renters in foreclosed buildings.”

In a press release on the issue, he wrote that his office is “joining forces with a citywide coalition of community organizations, labor and policy groups known as the Keep Chicago Renting Coalition in support of an effort that aims to provide legal protections for renters in foreclosed buildings.”

But it’s not enough, said Jorge Ortiz, an activist with CUAEF. “We must continue fighting for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.”

The build-up to the summit has seen repeated fears about black bloc protesters coming to wreak havoc and break windows, but Occupiers are trying to bring attention to a different kind of violence.

“A couple of days ago, I was down on the South side and I saw a lot of broken windows,” said Bean. “If I was listening to the corporate media, I would have thought ‘man, there must be a lot of protesters around here.”‘

“But then I came to my senses and I started to think about what violence is and violence is when you kick people out of their homes. Violence is when people profit from being kicked out of their homes. Violence is racist predatory lending that aggravates the situation. Violence is the crisis that deprives us of the services that we need, and systematic and repeated violence is warfare.”

The march also gave an indication of what organizers have planned for the weeks to come.

“Our government does not have the will or commitment to help us,” said J.R. Fleming with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, who called for homeless families to reoccupy foreclosures homes. “It is our duty to help our neighbors in our communities by stopping blight, fighting foreclosures and evictions and keeping our communities safe.