Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein Arrested at “Occupy Fannie Mae” Protest in Center City Philadelphia [VIDEO]
Rhonda Lancaster was one of the first to speak at yesterday’s “Occupy Fannie Mae” event, a Green Party-sponsored sit-in at the Fannie Mae office in Center City to protest unjust home foreclosures. Lancaster, a musician and fitness instructor, has been dealing with foreclosure since 2009, when her mother passed away shortly after signing a reverse mortgage on their Germantown home. Thus far, she’s managed to fight off the banks; she’s even met with the president of Fannie Mae during her process, and says she’s been in discussions to buy back her home for a negotiated price. “We hope to use this as a litmus test for all the other folks who are going through this process,” Lancaster told a crowd of about 50 protesters and activists. “Because the bottom line is, when you don’t know how the process works, you’re basically swatting in the dark at flies.”
Despite the protest’s “Occupy” nomenclature, the audience for Lancaster’s story went considerably beyond the familiar crowd of local protestors to include some national VIPs: namely, the Green Party’s candidates for president and vice president of the United States, Dr. Jill Stein and Philadelphia anti-poverty advocate Cheri Honkala.
Yesterday’s event was organized for people like Lancaster, who members of the Green Party and others say have been duped by the big banks in the mortgage crisis, which began in 2007, the year before the financial crash, and persists today. The crowd began in the plaza outside the Fannie Mae office at 1835 Market Street; speakers, including Stein, Honkala and Lancaster, revved up the crowd before beginning a picket line in front. Organizers huddled in the middle of the large circle, introducing another local resident dealing with foreclosure, Miss Fran, before they all joined in a group prayer.
“If democracy has anything to do with it, this is what the future of America should look like,” said Stein, referring to the diverse crowd. “It should look like keeping people in their homes. It should look like jobs that actually pay living wages and which are available to everyone. It should look like health care for everyone as a human right, through Medicare for all. It should look like affordable, higher education, which is a free, tuition free … instead of bailing out the bankers who got us into this crisis to start with, we should be bailing out the homeowners and the students.”
A summary of Stein’s presidential plan—which she dubbed “A Green New Deal for America”—was circulated among the crowd. As we’ve previously and partially detailed here at PhillyNow, the Green New Deal is a comprehensive economic, environmental and political plan to transform the American landscape according to Green Party values. It includes an Economic Bill of Rights, a transition to a “green” economy, financial reform (which includes breaking up the banks) and a Voter Bill of Rights, among other things.
“The jobs coming back,” she said, “are low-wage, insecure jobs. They’ve cut wages for even manufacturing jobs so they, too, are now insecure … six million … had their homes stolen from them and basically that many in the pipeline, so we’re here to say enough is enough; there is a better way forward; it’s time to stop bailing out the banks and to start negotiating with the homeowners to keep them in their homes.”
After speaking and praying, organizers asked everyone in attendance to take out their cameras or phones, noting that they wanted documentation of what was about to happen. They attempted to enter the building but were refused admittance by security guards.
So the crowd moved to the Conestoga Bank in an adjacent building, hoping there was an accessible entrance from there to Fannie Mae. There was not. So they sat in at that bank instead; Honkala, Stein and their supporters announced that they wouldn’t leave until they were able to speak with a representative of Fannie Mae. The sit-in would go on for several hours.
Lancaster stayed outside, admitting she did not want to put herself in a position where she could potentially get arrested. She told Philadelphia Weekly about her situation: While confident that, through her talks with Fannie Mae, she will be able to keep her home, she knows that’s not the case for many more people in the United States today.
“[Fannie Mae and I] were in a discussion about doing a buy-back,” she said. “We already know it’s negotiable, and until we sit down and have a clear and concise discussion, not just about the systemic problem but having the consumers at the table and having a dialogue—it can’t just be between the lawyers and the banks because the consumers are taking these loans out.”
Her idea, which she seems to share with the Green Party’s New Deal: Give consumers a seat at the table, “have a sensible dialogue and let’s treat the consumers like people.”
Larry Petkov stayed outside at the protest with his yellow sign reading, “Democrats, Republicans: Wall Street Controlled,” and said he supports third-party politics. “I’ve been involved in the political movement since the ‘60s,” he said, “and I think the main struggle in the United States is we need a third party independent of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. So I think Fannie Mae foreclosing homes as part of the mortgage crisis—they should be giving credit to the homeowners—in other words, they’re giving all these bailouts to the banks and not giving credit to the homeowners.”
He added the U.S. would be better off to “go in a more FDR direction like we did in the 30s,” and seemed to blame President Harry Truman’s tenure on the current direction of the United States.
He called the modern Republican and Democratic parties “no better than the Krips and the Bloods.”
The police and Fannie Mae representatives eventually let some protesters upstairs along with Lancaster and Miss Fran, to talk about their current situations. Upon coming back downstairs, both Stein and Honkala said they were not satisfied with what’d gone on (though Lancaster told PW the meeting gave her some more hope) and continued their sit-in with other organizers of the gathering
They were arrested.
“I am extremely honored that they would go out on a limb for myself and everybody else,” Lancaster said, “because they have families just like everybody else, and they have obligations.” She added, with a laugh, that “no man” she knew would have ever gone to jail for her. Foreclosure, she said, “is a systemic problem, and no one is moving fast enough to fix it— so we’ve got to continue to make a statement that a million families that are scheduled to by put out of their homes have to be accounted for. They can’t just be put off the rolls.”
Honkala, Stein and all arrested at yesterday’s demonstration were let out of jail earlier today.