If you can’t win in a court of law, try winning in the court of public
opinion. That strategy seems to be paying off for an activist group
helping Minnesota homeowners fighting banks who are trying to foreclose
and evict them.
“We’ve had a number of victories around the metro area,” says Anthony
Newby, organizer for OccupyHomesMN. “All of those wins have been as a
result of community pressure. It has been more effective than legal
action. When banks are presented with sort of their crimes by homeowners
and the community in a really direct way we’ve found they are really
motivated to fix it.”
Minneapolis homeowner Anita Reyes-LeRey hopes that strategy which has worked for others will help her too.
She has $50,000 equity in her home and was facing eviction from
Woodland’s National Bank of Onamia MN. The bank offered to let her rent
her home with a plan to buy at a later date, and then refused to honor
it because she was four minutes late calling the bank.
Reyes-LeRey contacted OccupyHomesMN (prompted by an email from a
friend in Alabama) and they organized a team. The team point person,
Nick Shillingford, lives about 2 blocks from her and he has helped
organize extensive community support. She also reached out to AIM
(American Indian Movement) which had not participated in very many
Occupy activities. AIM member Troy Amlee skateboarded to her home and
joined the support team.
On Thursday, AIM, OccupyHomesMN and other supporters visited
Woodland’s National Bank main office in Onamia, MN. They wanted to see
Vice President Cindy Koonce who has been Reyes-LeRey’s contact at the
bank. At first she was told that Ms Koonce was not available and would
have no comment. Then a bank teller said she was coming and the the bank
Representative said Ms, Koonce would not meet with Reyes-LeRey or any
members of the group.
The group visiting the bank included Mary Jane Wilson Medrano, one of
the Founders of AIM, her granddaughter Frybread and her great
After the attempted meeting Reyes-LeRey said, “Cindy said at one point
that she would meet with us, and then before coming down on the elevator
she she changed her mind. That’s sort of becoming the norm.”
Amlee said, “I don’t want to see another homeless out in the streets.
I’ve seen enough already.” He added, “I feel like we opened the bank’s
eyes of what we are capable of and they should watch what they do
because we can raise some hell if we want.”
The group moved to a local restaurant after chanting, “Who’s house? Anita’s house.” and “We’ll be back Onamia!”
After the first eviction notice Reyes-LeRey had stopped maintenance
and was packing and repacking so there was much work needed on the home.
OccupyHomeMN volunteer Ian Wilson estimates he’s spent about 100 hours
working on the home to bring it up to code.
Woodland’s National Bank wrote the mortgage in 2010. The original
mortgage holder was Bank of America. Woodland’s is headquartered in
Onamia, MN and has a number of branches around the state including one
in Minneapolis. It has deep Native American roots.
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