Many people have asked me why I was recently arrested in Philadelphia at the regional headquarters of the mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
I went there along with others to support two women whose families faced unjust evictions by Fannie Mae. I was also there to call attention to the plight of the eight million other families caught up in the foreclosure nightmare.
One of the women we were supporting, Rhonda Lancaster, has lived in her home for 35 years. She took out a second mortgage to pay her ailing mother's medical bills. After her mother died, a bank moved to take the house and throw Lancaster out on the street. She is still fighting a potentially imminent eviction.
The other woman we were supporting is also a victim of predatory lending. She had lived in her home for 23 years. In 2008, after the financial crash wiped out its value, she was forced to file for bankruptcy. A bank was able to block her bankruptcy filing, evict her, and foreclose on her home. She was supposed to be able to contest the eviction in court, but her right to do so was repeatedly violated. She is now homeless.
There were plenty of lawyers, hearings, and rulings in each case. But in the end, the law was stacked firmly in favor of the banks.
The financiers who have engaged in predatory lending, deceptive sales practices, forgery, illegal "robo-signing," and many other deceitful tactics have been treated gently by the law. Instead of going to jail or being ordered to return their ill-gotten profits, they got massive bailouts from the Bush and Obama administrations. It took $189 billion just to keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in business.
When our laws are unfair, we are told we should ask our legislators to reform them. Well, we have asked. And we have discovered that our legislators are under the thumb of the financiers. They play golf with the financiers, they allow the financiers' lobbyists to write legislation, and they take jobs with the financiers when they leave office. Because of this, they have little interest in making the laws fairer to regular people.
Our nation was founded by revolutionaries whose rallying cry was "No taxation without representation." But today our laws, taxes, and regulations are being decided without our representation. Banks were fully represented in the writing of our mortgage laws, but no one was at the table to represent homeowners. We shouldn't allow such laws to toss families into the street.
The banks that were "too big to fail" are now bigger than ever thanks to massive bailouts funded by taxpayers. We need to break up those banks and replace them with public banks whose mission is to help people, not exploit them. And while we're straightening out this mess, we need a moratorium on home foreclosures.
If we keep going down the path being set in Washington, the share of the economic pie taken by Wall Street will continue to grow until the real economy and working people are sucked dry. It's time to purge the economy of Wall Street exploiters and restore it to health.
I was arrested along with Cheri Honkala, a leading advocate for the poor based here in Philadelphia. She was once a homeless mother who slept in abandoned buildings with her son because she had no other place to go. Since then, she has dedicated her life to keeping people in their homes, and she has often stood between bankers and frightened families facing eviction. Cheri has a kind of courage and moral vision that is missing in the politicians who say they care about foreclosures but keep passing laws to favor exploitation by the banks. I was proud to go to jail with her in Philadelphia.
The support I've received after the Philadelphia arrests proved to me that millions of Americans believe that its time to stop passing and enforcing laws to protect the banks, and start protecting our families instead. We can solve this problem if enough people stand together to demand real solutions.
Jill Stein is a medical doctor from Massachusetts who has won national recognition as an advocate for protecting children from toxic exposures. She has been an active champion of campaign finance reform, community empowerment, and civil liberties. In 2012 she was selected as the presidential nominee of the Green Party of the United States, with Cheri Honkala as the vice presidential nominee.