Where to Occupy Next?

Against the Current, No. 156, January/February 2012

Antonio Venegas

I TRULY DON’T want to be another sob story. But when the rare opportunity comes along to tell my story and affect many, like a stone cast into the water, it is necessary to at least attempt to grab the hearts of people who will listen.

As I constructed the presentation that I was going to show my social justice organizing class at St. Mary’s College about my experience with the organization Causa Justa (Just Cause), I ran across something that froze me. I searched for “foreclosure” on Wikipedia in hopes of finding a comprehensive definition, and like most articles on that site, its words were displayed accompanied by an image.

The picture was of a house with a foreclosure sign in front, but underneath it was the name of my home city. I wish I could show you the image and somehow cause you to feel as I felt; I realized this was that stone cast into the water. All who came to that page would feel the ripple and have the image engraved into their minds that Salinas, California was the “foreclosure” town.

My house, once said to be worth half-a-million dollars, declined to a quarter of that amount. At the time I did not know how it was possible, but that resulted in the foreclosure of our home. I now know that my father had been deceived by a bank’s predatory loan and fallen victim to a market, in which he had no say and that gave people false perceptions.

Of these times I remember most that he didn’t sleep very much. Some days I would wake up early and he would be reclined on the sofa with the television on, but he wouldn’t be looking at it. The number of mornings that I found him doing this told me clearly that he didn’t know a way out, or that there existed a way out, of his situation.

Through Just Cause I learned that my father didn’t know that there was such a thing as a loan modification, much less that its denial could be appealed. I think this is the case with most Americans.

People don’t have any idea that they have power to defend themselves against banks. They assume that because they signed a contract, a contract that most don’t even fully understand, especially for those who can’t easily read English, they have no option but to lose their homes.

I want more people to know that it is not their fault and that they are not worthless because they can’t pay their bills. That there is hope, hope that is found through organizations like Just Cause who agree with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the “American Dream” once proclaimed, that housing is a human right.

It was at the first event in which I volunteered that I had my eyes opened to the possibility of change. I met many others who had endured similar failures as my family had, and some who had found success and regained their homes. But most importantly, I learned that the members of the organization had plans to occupy homes, bringing back people unjustly evicted, and telling the banks that they would not return the home until it was restored to its proper owner.

Robbie Clark, an active member of Just Cause, told me that it was the best place to hit the banks because not only did it affect the profits of banks directly, but also directly helped people have their lives again.

I recall telling my seminar professor, Ms. Meneses, about what Just Cause was doing and how she lit up, agreeing that this was the natural direction for the Occupy Movement to go. I mention her opinion because I think there are many who wonder what will happen next and worry that the power of the movement, in which they have placed so much hope, may stray from serving those who have been most afflicted.

So I say to those who Occupy and are looking for the next step: Join an organization like Just Cause and continue to occupy.

But I must say, as Cesar Preciado told us in class, don’t come thinking that you will help save someone else. It may well be that you will be the one saved. It may well be that you will do something, see something, meet someone, who will save your life — not from death, but from living without purpose as far too many have done before you.

January/February 2012, ATC 156