(MintPress) – More than 200 people representing a broad coalition of faith-based groups, labor unions and student activists marched to Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Center in Minneapolis, Minn. Wednesday, demanding an end to home foreclosures and unjust lending policies. Demonstrators with Occupy Homes Minnesota hand delivered thousands of petition signatures to bank representatives demanding Wells Fargo hand over vacant properties to community control.
“The demonstration was the culmination of a week of actions supporting the striking janitors, security guards. It was a gathering of labor, faith and community organizations coming together to challenge the 1 percent and some of the biggest corporations in Minnesota,” said Nick Espinosa, an Occupy Homes Minnesota spokesperson in a statement to Mint Press News.
Demonstrators directed their march toward the headquarters of Wells Fargo, the 4th largest bank in the United States and the largest bank in Minnesota in the largest demonstration advocating for housing rights in the state this year.
Thirteen people were arrested in the peaceful demonstration after several protesters sat on the 26th Street bridge over I-35W, briefly blocking the flow of traffic.
“There are 18.5 million vacant homes in the U.S. and 3.5 million homeless. We need to start matching those two up. It makes sense, especially in a state like Minnesota, where people are at real risk of freezing to death during the winter. Homelessness is at a six-year high in Hennepin County and shelters are overflowing,” Espinosa said.
The march was organized by Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, a coalition representing dozens of smaller groups working to support housing justice.
In a dramatic scene described by demonstrators, Patrick Russell, an employee at the Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Center, joined the ranks of the protesters and spoke out against the practices of his employer.
“I know people who’ve been stuck in prisons that Wells Fargo owns, seen communities wracked by poverty, homes foreclosed on, to stand vacant like weeping sores,” Russell said. “It is embarrassing to see that Wells Fargo as an institution has been so unwilling to work to rebuild our communities, but if that’s the case, maybe it’s time for the individuals within Wells Fargo to step forward.”
“It shows a lot of courage putting his job on the line to speak his mind, speak his conscience,” Espinosa added.
As the weather continues to warm, Occupy Homes Minnesota has been reinvigorated, helping a single mother reclaim an abandoned home last week. Jessica English, a mother of four, worked with Occupy Homes to take over a vacant home owned by Wells Fargo in South Minneapolis. The property had lapsed into disrepair, becoming a blight to the community when the house became a hangout for drug users.
“As a homeless mom, it’s sickening to see all the vacant homes Wells Fargo owns that attract crime in Minneapolis,” said English as she addressed the crowd. “Wells Fargo abandoned this home, letting it turn into a drug house that brought blight on the community.”
This week’s demonstration also featured a 20-minute musical performance by award-winning hip-hop artist Brother Ali, who entertained the crowd from the back of a pickup truck. Ali has been a frequent participant in Occupy Homes Minnesota rallies.
In a June 2012 demonstration, the rapper and 12 others were arrested in an act of civil disobedience while helping to defend a home in south Minneapolis facing foreclosure.
Members of the SEIU 26 union helped swell the ranks of the protesters as local security guards and janitors stood in solidarity with those fighting to change the policies of Wells Fargo.
Union representatives have been negotiating with the management of major corporate buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul, attempting to secure pay raises and essential health care benefits for employees.
The union represents some 6,000 janitors and security guards working in buildings that rent space to Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Target Corp. and other multibillion-dollar companies.
Negotiators for the 4,000 janitors reached an agreement on a new contract Saturday that includes pay raises and health care benefits. The security guards have yet to reach an agreement and decided to stage a one-day strike on Thursday to signal their discontent with the stalled negotiations.
Despite ensuring the safety and security of some of the most valued corporate space in the Minnesota, security guards earn on average just $12.30 per hour.
“The campaigns that we are doing is not going to slow down. The petition for a forclosure-free zone is gaining momentum. We are excited to continue this,” Espinosa added.