When: Saturday, August 4th at 11:00am

Where: Utica Bank of America branch on the corner of Mohawk and South

Occupy Utica shut down the Mohawk Street branch of Bank of America on Saturday June 9 with an informational picket demanding justice for a local homeowner who was fighting the foreclosure of her home. Like the last actions at the bank to find justice for local Afghan War veteran John McDevitt in obtaining over $25,000 owed him by the bank, all it took was a small picket.

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Narcisa Mendez (second from left) accompanied by Occupiers.

The homeowner, Narcisa Mendez, first heard of Occupy in the news and learned about the movement helping homeowners fight foreclosures across the country. She decided that she was “a part of the 99%” and decided to reach out to the group when she found herself fighting the foreclosure of her home.  Ms. Mendez bought a home in 2006 in South Utica, using Bank of America to finance her mortgage. She was always on time with her monthly payments, but when the Great Financial Crisis erupted, Ms. Mendez lost her job and with it her medical insurance. She immigrated to the US in 1988 from Ecuador and became a citizen but was forced to travel back to her home country after she lost her job to get something she could not find in the US – medical treatment. When she returned and as the economy worsened, she found it harder to find work and in August 2010 had no other choice than to stop paying off her mortgage.

She sent a letter in January 2012 accepting Bank of America’s arrangement of a Deed in Lieu of foreclosure in order to satisfy what she owed on the mortgage. A Deed in Lieu stipulates that a borrower conveys all interest in a real property to the lender to satisfy a loan that is in default and prevent foreclosure. It is a better situation than a foreclosure but the homeowner still loses the home in the end. While she was away visiting in Long Island on April 14 she was notified to vacate her home. Bank of America used the company Cyprexx Services to vacate her and her belongings. Instead of giving her the notice weeks in advance so she could have time to move everything out, Cyprexx gave her 24 hours. She took what she could carry and the rest of her property was collected as “debris” by Cyprexx Services. Cyprexx was careless in removing the belongings from the house and securing the property. Mendez fears that the home will go into foreclosure if any damages are blamed on her. To add insult to injury, Bank of America only offered Mendez a mere $3,000 for a South Utica property that has an estimated market value of $100,000.

Narcisa Mendez is not alone in losing her home. She joins a growing population of millions of Americans that have lost their homes through foreclosure or similar processes. Bank of America, an institution labeled “too big to fail” and “too corrupt to fail”, is partly responsible for careless speculation, predatory lending to homeowners, and creating the housing bubble that eventually burst and triggered the Financial Crisis the country and world is still reeling from. Narcisa Mendez’s home now sits empty and joins the sea of nearly 20,000,000 vacant homes like it in this country. Foreclosures are only expected to rise as President Obama and the US government remain motionless in creating financial regulation, or reigning in any of the behemoth financial institutions like Bank of America that profit off of people losing their homes.

Unlike many who have lost their homes, Mendez decided to stand up and fight back. She reached out to the only organization in town that is part of a national movement actively fighting and successfully preventing evictions and foreclosures. It was after all the foreclosure of an Iraq War veteran’s home that Occupy Atlanta prevented that drew Occupy Utica activist John McDevitt into the Occupy Movement. To assist Mendez Occupy Utica got advice from Occupy Our Homes and decided to confront the Bank of America manager and leaflet outside the branch.

The demand letter detailed the irregularities in the process the bank went through to take Mendez’s home away, and made these demands: “We request that you provide assurances to Ms. Mendez that she will not be held liable for any damages caused by Cyprexx workers, that she will get the full $3,000 agreed upon, and that the Deed in Lieu process will go forth and the foreclosure process stopped with expediency.” It ended by giving the bank two weeks’ time to find closure to the situation, or else they would hear from Occupy Utica again. At this point, Mendez wants the nightmare to be over with. “I just want them to take the house and let me be free of all these problems. I cannot afford to pay for it.”

Occupy Utica organizer Diane Berry who was present at the action heard several stories of passersby that were wronged or cheated by the bank. She insisted that “there is something fundamentally wrong with how they run their business. I was just struck by the number of stories by the people that got screwed by Bank of America.” In a severe overreaction to the peaceful six person picket, the bank manager called the police on the scene and closed the bank an hour and a half early, creating yet another inconvenience to the bank’s customers.

Occupy Utica won a major victory against the bank over John McDevitt, but the financial giant has been stalling in getting back to Occupy. After the last picket, Mendez has become involved with the Occupy Movement and attended a number of meetings. She stated, “I want to participate and learn more from [Occupy] and do more for Occupy and work for people in need.” Both Ms. Mendez and Occupy Utica put Utica on the map of places where Occupy is actively fighting foreclosures. Activists across the country have occupied homes, interrupted foreclosure auctions, and shut down bank branches and have found that direct action has been more effective than asking for politicians’ interventions.

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The sign management put up after Occupy Utica shut them down.

In the nation’s last foreclosure crisis during the Great Depression of the 1930s, activists, radicals, and labor agitators were so effective in disrupting and preventing foreclosures through “penny auctions” where they would buy foreclosed homes and farms by force, intimidation, or the sheer mass of an angry crowd, for a penny to a dollar and gave the properties back to the original owners, that a moratorium on foreclosures was declared in over 30 states. Although the Occupy Movement is not at that point yet, Occupy Utica did its part in making the reality of a moratorium a little more likely.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn

This article originally appeared in The Utica Phoenix