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Students rally against foreclosures

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2011

Over 60 protesters gathered to challenge Bank of America and rising home foreclosures in front of the bank’s building in downtown Providence yesterday afternoon.

The rally was organized by Jobs for Justice, Direct Action for Rights and Equality and Service Employees International Union, Local 615 — three organizations dedicated to workers’ rights. It was coordinated with other rallies occurring across the country, including one scheduled for Friday in Boston. The ultimate goal of the rallies is to stop the bank’s foreclosures, said Eliza Sparkes, labor organizer for Local 615.

“Bank of America essentially refuses to negotiate,” Sparkes said.

“We’re being screwed by the banking system,” Christopher Currie, council coordinator for the Rhode Island branch of, told The Herald. “And I’m not okay with that.”

The bank — led by CEO Brian Moynihan ’81 P’14, a trustee of Brown’s Corporation — became embroiled in a scandal last year when documents came to light revealing that Bank of America and its competitors engaged in robo-signing, a process in which bank employees improperly approved mortgage and foreclosure documents without reviewing them. The scandal has significantly decreased the rate of foreclosure across the industry, but the bank resumed more active foreclosure activity last month.

Bank of America has modified — that is, negotiated a lower rate to avoid foreclosure — over 900,000 mortgages since 2008, including over 19,000 in Rhode Island, said T.J. Crawford, a spokesman for the bank. He said the bank only resorts to foreclosures after it has already “exhausted every other option.”

A group of undergraduates enrolled in the first-year seminar HIST 0970X: “Gandhi’s Way” attended the rally as part of an assignment that tasked them with taking part in civil disobedience and observing community action.

“We’re doing this in the spirit of Gandhi and civil resistance,” said Emilio Leanza ’15. For “many of us, this is the first protest we’ve been to.”

The rally featured speakers who had been impacted by the bank’s foreclosures.

“It was our dream to own this house, and now we’re at the risk of losing it, thanks to Bank of America,” said Laura Caceres, a local community member. She and her husband, a janitor at the bank, are $30,000 in debt.

Local resident Michael Crichton described himself as “one of many Rhode Islanders being displaced by big banks’ bad lending policies.”

He and his wife bought their home during the housing bubble and are now left with a house worth less than half of what they paid. “We felt punished for a crazy housing market that we had no control of,” Crichton told the protesters.

“We work for a living, but instead we earned a cage,” he added.

Union representatives of janitors being laid off by Bank of America also spoke at the rally. Crawford noted that those janitors are employed by an independent facilities management firm at the building the bank leases.

The rally coincided with negotiations between janitors and their employers taking place in 22 cities. The goal is to “make these jobs not poverty jobs, but jobs that can sustain a family,” Sparkes said.

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