One year ago today we held a huge march in East New York, and took control of a house. At the time we were told that we were taking a long-foreclosed house away from a predatory bank, and were going to fix it up and give it to a poor family. Things did not work out so neatly, and in fact we eventually failed, but it was a good idea — one that has been successful for other Occupys and other organizations. I think we should do it again, but this time do it like Occupy Portland and other places did it.
The organizers of our action at 702 Vermont Street are totally to blame for the failure. First, the house was not foreclosed, and the bank did not own it. Second, the poor family was actually one of the organizer families (of Vocal-NY, our partner in this action). Third, when things got tough the organizers split quick with the money, the tools and the contractors — leaving hard-grounder Occupiers with a dream but no support. We tried to evolve the action, but were met at every turn with opposition from OWS organizers. It seemed to us that we needed to be true to our word — to do what we told the community we were going to do. The organizers, however, realized they didn’t do their homework, and were not willing to get their hands dirty or to correct their mistakes. The end result is that the neighborhood turned against us because in their perception we lied to them.
“We” did not lie — the organizers lied . . . and ran away with all the stuff.
I spent much of last winter at 702 Vermont Street. I had high hopes for the action, and even when the organizers pulled everything out from under us I still thought we could pull it off. We tried, but we had no money or tools or materials. We scavenged some tools and materials but not nearly enough. Making matters worse was the New York Post and their fictional articles about what was going on at the house. The organizers believed the Post articles (when do we ever believe the Post?), and made sure to use their influence to block every attempt we made to get work done at the house.
Despite all that, some people need to be commended for the support they gave us. Members of the Kitchen, Comfort, Medical, Livestream and Sanitation (yes, we were all still working back then) kept us afloat for the three to four months we were there. One by one the working groups themselves pulled out, but individual members kept supplying us on their own. Hard-grounder Occupiers never give up. We’d have finished the job by now if the police hadn’t raided and boarded the place up again. Maybe we would have finally gotten the neighborhood together with us, and we all would have finished the job on our own. That’s what we were trying to do when it all finally fell apart.
There is an action today to “kick off Year Two” but Occupy Wall Street and New York City are not involved. There will be actions in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, Richmond CA, Lake Worth FL, Greensboro NC, Mendham NJ, and other cities to be announced. I support the actions wholeheartedly. If we here at Occupy Wall Street had the wherewithal to be involved with this project I would be the first to volunteer. Taking homes away from predator banks, fixing them up and giving them to poor families is a good thing. I am always interested in good things. If we ever do try it again, please leave out the organizers this time! We don’t need no stinkin’ bosses!