Detroit has seen almost unparalleled economic devastation in recent years, with an unemployment rate around 18%, childhood poverty rates topping 67%, and a population down roughly 25% as residents flee the city for more prosperous areas.
On top of that, roughly 1 in every 242 Detroit properties were foreclosed on in January alone. Foreclosed residences in Detroit sell for, on average, roughly $11,000-- compared to the national average of $85,000.
In response, the Occupy movement has teamed up with others sympathetic to its cause, such as the United Auto Worker's Union Local 600, Moratorium Now, and People Before Banks, to counteract the foreclosure epidemic in Detroit, using familiar leftist tactics. Much like protesters in Greece, the protesters often form a "blockade" around the property and refuse to let bank officials or police officers pass, until their opposition either tires or relents.
And now, the the pro-Occupy site In These Times is hinting that there's more to come.
First, a little background.
In one of the coalition's first successful endeavors, which was widely covered in the press in late January, activists surrounded the home of Bertha and William Garrett with rows of people and dozens of cars after the bank allegedly raised the price at which the couple could buy back their home, rendering it out of their financial reach.
A YouTube video recounts the event, and includes a discussion with the Garrett family (See 2:11-2:35 for images of the protest itself):
Waging Non-Violence described the interaction once the dump truck -- where the family's belongings were to be put -- arrived on the scene:
Suddenly, a car screeched to a stop in the middle of the street between the house and the [dump truck]. A young man ran down the road and jumped onto the driver’s side of the truck, shouting for him to turn around. An older man with Parkinson’s planted himself in front of the bumper and shook his fist. The coalition of neighbors and activists...all knew that by city ordinance an eviction must occur within 48 hours of the [dump truck] arriving in front of a foreclosed home, that without a dumpster there would be no eviction. Blocked and confused, the driver left.
That afternoon, 65-year-old Bertha Garrett lay down on the floor in front of the office of the Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, and refused to leave until the bank agreed to negotiate her eviction. The next day, the Garretts’ lawyer received a call from Mellon Trust’s lawyers asking the family “to call off the dogs.” Less than a month later, Bertha Garrett signed papers to buy back her home for $12,000. [Emphasis added]
The couple's daughter spoke at the rally, where she said she sleeps better at night because a union leader assured her he would not forget about her parents (1:25):
However, while the blockade strategy has seemingly worked thus far in Detroit- with banks or police often capitulating in some way- it would be wise to note how similar protests in Greece often end.
With hundreds of activists joined together for a common cause, a lone activist may become reckless and after others follow, it often becomes a full-fledged brawl between protesters and police.
Moreover, protesters in Greece have embraced the strategy so strongly that they have even blockaded government buildings, like the Finance Ministry, ahead of austerity talks.
However, In These Times is reporting that American activists are heralding the tactics and promising much more -- particularly now that members of the UAW Labor 600 actively involved, and Occupy's "Spring Offensive" is right around the corner.
"Local 600’s activism in fighting foreclosures has the potential for energizing other locals of the UAW and other unions," he said.
And "with many Americans fed up with bailed-out banks forcing families out of their homes," the author continued, "unions like the Local 600 could be a part of the Occupy movement's spring offensive focused on preventing foreclosures."
The question remains: even if the blockades don't descend into violence, as is often the case overseas, is it right for Occupiers and unions to prevent banks from doing their business?
And really, with the Occupy movement so deeply involved, what are the odds that it will remain peaceful and under control?