Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, addressing the National Conference for a Moratorium on Foreclosures in Detroit March 31, 2012. Azikiwe outlined the economic crisis that has evolved over the last four decades. (Photo: Bryan Pfeifer), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Opening Talk at the National Conference for a Moratorium on Foreclosures
An event held in Detroit on March 31, 2012 at the Central United Methodist Church
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Editor's Note: The following comments were made at the opening plenary of the National Conference for a Moratorium on Foreclosures which took place in Detroit on Saturday, March 31, 2012.
Other speakers during the opening session included Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, Martha Scott of the Wayne County Commission, Michelle Finley, who fought and won the battle to prevent the foreclosure of her parent’s home in northwest Detroit, Belva Davis, who also successfully defeated attempts to seize her home, Atty. Vanessa Fluker and Steve Babson of the People Before Banks Coalition. The conference was attended by delegates from around the state of Michigan and from throughout the United States.
There were international observers from France and Austria also in attendance.
Welcome to all the delegates of this timely and important conference. The City of Detroit has been the hardest hit major urban center in the United States as it relates to housing.
We were impacted as early as the mid-to-late 1970s with the massive restructuring of heavy industry and the recession between 1973-1977. By 1979, a concerted campaign aimed at the further outsourcing of tens of thousands of workers was well underway.
During the period of 1979-1986, the bosses devised and enacted an even more ambitious plan that would lead to more job losses and consequent draining of the tax base of the city. In 1986, General Motors announced that hundreds of thousands of its employees would be eliminated creating an extreme burden for municipal governments throughout southeastern Michigan.
Of course housing would be seriously affected by these decisions. When people lose jobs, they cannot maintain their homes, flats and apartments. Other jobs in the service industry dry up along with small-to-medium size businesses as well and also the closing of schools.
If this was not bad enough, the scrooge of predatory lending took hold in the late 1990s.
Banks and their subsidiaries embarked upon schemes to defraud hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes, many of whom had owned their properties outright for decades.
Detroit was a city where many workers, even from oppressed communities, owned houses. It was a social characteristic that distinguished the city nationally.
African Americans and working people in general had fought tremendous battles to gain decent jobs, incomes, employee benefits and the right to own homes where ever they could afford them.
The Role of the Pentagon Budget: ‘Money for Cities, Not War’
Another aspect of the economic crisis of the cities that impacted the housing industry was the policy of permanent war. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs grew out of the struggles waged by the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) which was formed in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion in September 2002.
Our slogan was ‘Money for Cities, Not War.’ The Pentagon budget has grown by over 200% in the last decade. This growth in aggressive military action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Colombia, Libya and other areas of the world has drained trillions in resources and human capital from working people in the U.S.
By early 2007, it became obvious that the foreclosure and eviction crisis was reaching epidemic proportions. Both Jerry Goldberg and Vanessa Fluker, through public demand, began to take on foreclosure cases.
When the-then Gov. Granholm was politically confronted at a televised town hall meeting in March 2007, avoidance of the crisis became the order of the day.
That year MECAWI began to travel to Lansing for the annual “State of the State” address raising through protest the need for a moratorium on foreclosures.
This was done during the Great Depression of the 1930s when numerous states placed a halt on foreclosures. It was the work of the Unemployed Councils and other groups that actually won the moratorium through mass demonstrations and militant street actions.
In the summer of 2007, MECAWI developed its first mass leaflet. Later in November, the organization took on the task of working with Thelma Curtis in the successful struggle to save her home.
In the Spring of 2008, we, in alliance with the-then State Senator Hansen Clarke, set up the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs.
Over the last four years we have helped to place the Moratorium question on the local and national agenda. We have saved the homes of many people in Michigan through our legal and advocacy work.
Yet this is not enough. People are still losing their homes at an alarming rate. It is estimated that another 3-4 million may suffer this fate over the next two years.
Millions more will remain underwater for the unforeseeable future. This is why we need a national moratorium.
The banks must be held accountable for their criminal actions. The federal government, which controls most mortgages today, must impose a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.
Housing is a right! Welcome to Detroit.