In January, AFSC staff and Occupy Atlanta organizers mobilized to prevent the eviction of the congregation of the 108-year-old Higher Ground Empowerment Center, a church in the Vine City neighborhood.
That victory helped spur Occupy organizers nationwide to create Occupy Our Homes, which is fighting against wrongful home foreclosures and evictions. It was also the start of a series of successes protecting people’s rights to housing and free speech.
When Occupy Atlanta asked to use the Service Committee’s office as their headquarters last year, Tim Franzen, director of AFSC’s Peace and Conflict Transformation Project in Atlanta, readily agreed and provided support, including trainings in nonviolent civil disobedience. But the question remained: What would be the long-term strategy for getting more people active in the Occupy movement?
A focus on the home foreclosure crisis provided one answer.
“How can more people connect with Occupy? They can go two doors down and help their neighbor whose house is facing foreclosure,” says Franzen.
Since the Higher Ground victory, several other families have been able to keep their homes thanks to the intervention of Occupy organizers, who set up camp around homes to prevent evictions. Those encampments become hubs for community meetings during which the group brainstorms solutions to neighborhood problems.
“It’s about inspiring people to fight,” Franzen says. “Every house we take represents part of our nonviolent resistance.” That resistance chalked up another notable victory in April: the defeat of SB 469, a bill introduced in the state assembly that sought to criminalize actions such as protests in front of private residences.
Franzen says it was an attempt to discourage further Occupy actions.
“It challenged our right to identify and speak out against injustice,” he says.
Thanks to the efforts of a broad coalition of partners—including the Georgia Tea Party—the legislature dropped the bill.
Organizers are building on the momentum of these victories, with the focus now on teaching homeowners to start their own home occupations and prevent further evictions and foreclosures.
“What we have is an untapped base of 350,000 people in the Atlanta area,” Franzen says. “If we can mobilize 10 percent of them to protect each other’s houses, then we have a legitimate movement here.”