Occupying Freddie Mac to Save a First Responder’s Home
Deborah Harris wore pink, she said, because she felt like Rosa Parks.
Harris, who worked as an EMT for 23 years before an injury on the job forced her into early retirement, was dressed up for an Occupy Our Homes DC rally last month at the offices of Freddie Mac. She was there to save her home from foreclosure.
Harris was struggling with an impacted molar that caused searing nerve pain—or rather, struggling to function under the Oxycontin she’d been prescribed when her insurance wouldn’t cover X-rays to get the tooth properly taken care of. But she showed no signs of fatigue at the rally.
“Speak up for what’s yours. Speak up for your rights,” she implored the crowd of a few dozen protesters over a megaphone.
Harris didn’t always feel brave like Rosa Parks, she told Campus Progress. “A little person like me fighting against the banks? Come on now,” she said. “I was just a regular person going down to landlord-tenant court trying to get help. And they’d be looking at me, like, ‘Why are you fighting? You have no hope.’ You can imagine how surprised I am to have people coming out to help.”
Harris didn’t have a lawyer or money to fight her case, but she contacted Occupy Our Homes after a friend in her choir mentioned news reports about it.
“Occupy came and held me up, gave me the courage to fight,” she said.
According to Harris, her lawyer Ann Wilcox, and Occupy activists, Harris fell behind on her mortgage by two months when she hadn’t received the proper workmen’s comp for her injury and subsequent back surgery. When she came up with the money, JP Morgan Chase told her that her house had been sold to Freddie Mac. Although Chase seemed prepared to give her a loan modification and asked her to send in papers, Harris heard nothing back once she did so. Then, says Harris, Freddie Mac representatives said they had lost her paperwork, but that everything would be fine. And then Freddie Mac went to court to evict her.
“They just lead you along, and meanwhile they’re trying to take your house through the courts and resell it,” said Wilcox.
Freddie Mac has not returned requests for comment.
With a huge banner and chants of “They say eviction, we say no, Deborah Harris will not go,” protesters circled in front of the offices of Freddie Mac for about half an hour before a representative from Freddie Mac agreed to speak with Harris. That representative turned out to be the head of corporate security—nobody with any decision-making power on her case—but he accepted Occupy DC’s petition delivery.
This fight is far from over. Activists have put up a new online petition asking Anthony Williams, former mayor of DC and current board member of Freddie Mac, to stop eviction proceedings against Harris and help her modify her loan.
As for legal recourse, Wilcox says the next step is going to landlord-tenant court to prove Harris still legally owns her home because of robo-signing and other improprieties that would render the foreclosure illegal. Once that's done, Freddie Mac will need to issue Harris a new loan.
If Freddie Mac won’t comply, Occupy DC won’t be quiet. “If they dare send even one federal marshal to Deborah Harris’s house, we will be there, linking arms,” said one Occupy Our Homes organizer over the megaphone.
Occupy DC activists have tried that tactic before, and U.S. Marshals responded with a violent crackdown. The protesters are hoping it won’t come to that this time, and that it will end more like the successful case of Bertina Jones, who was able to stay in her home following Occupy protest actions.
Harris doesn’t want to risk arrest, but she won’t stop speaking out.
Just before the rally, a fire truck happened to roll by. The drivers recognized and greeted her, and Harris proudly shouted: “I’m down here protesting for my house!”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Harris was on probation. Campus Progress regrets the error.
Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.