Les Miserables

By Katherine Tarbox, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

The “Occupy” movement on Wall Street and in cities around the country (and throughout the world) has drawn people with a wide range of grievances—signage shows protesters demonstrating against war, immigration policy, high unemployment, income inequality, corporate lobbying, and a host of other issues. At a recent visit to Occupy D.C., however, I saw two key areas of focus emerging: the high cost of education and the housing crisis.

Occupy D.C. protests are centered in McPherson Square park, about two blocks from the White House and less than two miles from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ D.C. building. A recent Huffington Post story estimated there were 120 tents, plus administrative facilities (a first aid tent, a meal area, a media tent, and so on). The group has a permit to occupy the park for eight months, according to one organizer who asked not to be named.

It’s a surprisingly well organized effort. There’s a daily schedule of events that starts with brainstorming sessions at 11 a.m. and ends with a general assembly at 6 p.m. In between is a sometimes incongruous mix of activities, including newcomer orientations and Tai Chi classes. (Saturday, a pumpkin carving party is planned.) Punctuating these activities are protest marches on various topics. Organizers are now planning a march, scheduled for Friday, to protest the student debt burden. Next week’s march focuses on affordable housing.

I talked with a group of protesters camped out near K Street who called themselves “the foreclosure group.” Their stories are familiar; they say they were bulldozed into mortgages they couldn’t afford. Since facing foreclosures, they say, they’ve felt like social outcasts; joining Occupy D.C. has given them back the feeling of being part of a community.

But while the protests are giving a sense of community and a voice to the disenfranchised, few of the people camped out at McPherson Square could articulate what they hoped to achieve. One recent college grad I spoke with said simply, “There are huge problems, and we’re not going to leave until the problems are fixed.” For now, he said, he’d rather be protesting than job hunting. “What job is there for me to get?” he asked.

Media attention is growing. Thousands of protesters are showing up at events both inside and outside the United States, and an “Occupied” Web site was recently launched to report on OWS activities around the globe. What’s your take on Occupy Wall Street and specifically on the message of the foreclosure protesters in McPherson Square and elsewhere?

  1. Brooks Colson

    Using the term “Bulldozed” into mortgages they couldn’t afford, smacks of lack of “Free Will”. Over my life I’ve had folks try to give me drugs, get me to make bad decisions, buy uneeded and unwanted items etc., I simply said “No”. If these folks are indeed unable to not be abused by every salesman on the planet (I bet most have nicer cars than they need as well) then the state should make them wards, or declare them mentally deficient to “protect” them from adulthood and the maturity they lack. That way they can’t legally enter into contracts and get in trouble.Whatever they do, do it without this adults tax dollars bailing them out…
    Brooks Colson

  2. Cindy

    Amen to Brooks Colson. The line that stood out was “bulldozed” into mortgages. We each have to be responsible for our choices, become educated before signing anything, including loans of any kind. Don’t blame your parents, lenders, teachers for your failings or mistakes. Take ownership.

  3. Toni

    I agree with Brooks. Aftger the fact many people are saying “I didn’t know my payments would be that high”. And “I didn’t know what I was getting into”. If they could not be responsible enough to ask a question to know what they were getting into they never should have bought. Is that our (the tax payer’s) fault?
    They complain about our system but when asked about what it is they don’t like they can’t give any specifics and many time can’t articulate anything but what they have been fed through the internet. Many of these people have quit their jobs to do this. How responsible is that?
    I do believe there are many people who have truly been hurt by this economy but I also firmly believe that there are many people taking advantage of our system. We need a President who can lead our country, who will work “for the people” again and bring people together not divide.

  4. Donna Janovsky

    Check out the movie, “Margin Call.” I think it gives some good insight about Wall Street;s role in this housing mess.

  5. Brian Summerfield

    Thanks Donna. I’ve heard good things about “Margin Call.” I would also recommend the documentary “Inside Job”:


  6. Taking personal responsibility is important and complaints of having been “forced” into unaffordable mortgages doesn’t bring much sympathy from me. But behind all that, was the idea that everyone could simply have everything they wanted. Greed has ruled the day.

    Greed and ignoring personal responsibility has not worked and now the economy has collapsed. But not for everyone. The rich have gotten richer even as life has gotten more difficult for the majority. It’s no surprise that that majority is ticked off and is letting the world know it.

    I tend to be a free-marketer and believer in letting the marketplace rule. But it has become evident that that does not work perfectly. Neither does over-regulation. That brings us right back to the brilliance of our Founding fathers who envisioned a sytem of checks and balances that promoted an equilibrium of power.

    Taking personal responsibility and putting a check on greed is for all of us including those in a position to create jobs and make the future a better one.

  7. Margin Call is worth watching. I hope that we see the market work itself out soon. But it appears it will take a lot longer than most people imagined.

  8. This actually isn’t as complicated as some are making it out to be.

    There may have been some ‘bulldozed’, but most went willingly to the wolves. The issue is not whether greed got the better of many of us. It did. The problem is that some of us are paying the consequences for the foolishness of our greedy acts and others are reaping benefits from theirs. Still worse, many who did not behave in greedy fashion – my mom for instance – have lost what they spent a lifetime building up.

    With Halloween fresh in my memory, I’ll use this analogy: if the banks were handing out money like candy and we all gorged ourselves on candy, the banks are not to blame.

    However, once the banks knew that we were poisoning ourselves and others with our candy consumption and they continued to throw it at us and everyone else (including incessant solicitations for re-fi’s at ridiculous values and HELOCs that have crippled most otherwise-solvent folks’ finances and ‘no doc’ loans) they took a prominent position in the line to accept consequence. Instead, however, the banks have a bad public image but continue to gorge themselves on sweets.

    On a residential block with 50 houses, if half are being foreclosed upon (and in many areas that’s about right) even the most responsible homeowner with the most conservative debt is affected. If the banks KNEW (and they DID) that this was going to happen they were complicit in the demise of the responsible homeowner’s equity. The more they corrupt the values, the more they get paid. Then the government (read that as ‘taxpayer’) pays them for their suffering. What?

    I just heard a commercial on the radio that was selling debt consultation that exhorted someone to take out a HELOC on an owned property to pay down the debt on an under-water property so they could sell at current value. That’s absurd, horrible financial advice and evidence that some still expect the masses, say 99% of us, to pay for others’ excesses.

    I think it’s fair to protest that inequity.

  9. Donna Jones

    No doubt it is not a perfect world. Some get ‘bulldozed” and others do the ‘bulldozing’…what ever you call it, things are bad. There needs to be change in the world and the 99% is off to a good and grueling start. The government and corporations need to begin with more transparency. Tax Payers need to be allowed to know where every tax dollar is going. We are funding more war than people know. The American dream is being co-opted because we are all allowing it to happen. Personally I say, I am ‘Insurance Poor’…. our health insurance alone, is more than some people’s mortgages. My mother’s health insurance is always moving the goal posts, long term insurance is only for so long, and will pay 100% up to….read the small print. Do you know what I mean?

    Notice we are in the bottom 5 countries, just above, Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey when it comes to the lowest in Poverty prevention, Health, Access to Education…We have election fraud, taxpayer waste, lobbyists that buy our politicians and the highest incarceration rate among ‘civilized and developed countries’, YES, it is time for a change. Enough is Enough and our politicians either have to work for us (we are paying them! and their benefits for the rest of their lives!) or we have the right to throw the bums out!

    It is not only young and unemployed people in the ‘Occupy Movement’… there are people in every walk of life, all ages, rich and poor alike. It is hard to educate people, and being a Realtor you all understand this, but, change has to start somewhere. Educate yourselves in the real life situation we are in, then start talking to your friends and family. Are you drinking the Kool Aid, or are you an independant thinker? Being Self Actualized can be a Reality, but, you can’t play the blame game and you have to work at it every day.

    It is our American Right to Protest, It is our American duty to fight for our freedoms, everyday. We have taken them for granted for too long! Good Luck or RIP,

  10. Boisegirl

    It is truly sad that so many lost home after losing jobs. I blame the tax system. Reason, plain and simple. If you have wants such as a car, big tv, atv etc you can’t use them as a tax deduction. But, wait, refi your home and then it is added into the loan amount and there you go now all the goodies are part of your home loan and home interest is a tax deduction. So now you have a loan that is high, the market drops and you already got your equity when you borrowed for all those things you thought you really needed. You may lose your home but you now have a car all paid for or atv. I think people are seeing the change necessary and the stores are now going back in time and doing layaway programs,maybe the Christmas saving club at the bank will come back too. Only buy what you can afford.

  11. People are outraged for good reason. And yes, some people went willingly into bad mortgages, but many, many were swindled. Check out this book: “The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One” at http://www.amazon.com/Best-Way-Rob-Bank-Own/dp/0292706383. And check out the credits at the end of the movie “Wall Street II” — factoids on the staggering growth in wealth inequality in America over the past two decades.

  12. Douglas Penrose

    I knew one of those “bulldozed” people who bought a home he couldn’t afford, and when I asked him why he would do it, he replied, “because I can.” It was in an overinflated market and he tried every little thing he could to get the loan, and he got it. The Bank did not twist his arm. As long as this occupy movement has been going on, I’d think these protesters time would be better spent looking for employment, no matter what it is.

  13. lisa girard

    what do they want? a handout, thats what. they have no unified message, they’re all over the place….and peaceful? yeah right. throwing stones, 20 ft bonfires, vandalism, rape, and public nudity and defacation is not peaceful. if they really wanted to protest jobs, big government and bank practices, they should be at the doorstep of the WH because that is where it all began, period.

  14. Roger

    I agree with many of the comments regarding those individuals who think they were “bulldozed” into mortgages they couldn’t afford. ‘Reality check: They signed the papers, they filled out the forms, they went to the closings and signed everything again…the fault (if one wnats to place it) lies with the borrower. No one twisted any arms to make them sign.

    As for student loans, where are the students who “work their way” thru college? Oh, wait…they don’t have time to work because they’re all out at the frat parties, school football games, or getting videoed for “Girls Gone Wild”. Such BS.

  15. C. Roger Hardin

    I agree with many of the comments regarding those individuals who think they were “bulldozed” into mortgages they couldn’t afford. ‘Reality check: They signed the papers, they filled out the forms, they went to the closings and signed everything again…the fault (if one wnats to place it) lies with the borrower. No one twisted any arms to make them sign.

    As for student loans, where are the students who “work their way” thru college? Oh, wait…they don’t have time to work because they’re all out at the frat parties, school football games, or getting videoed for “Girls Gone Wild”. Such BS.

  16. Margaret Martini

    go green …recycle Congress. They are the ones responsible for this mess and are aided by an inept leader…as we all are. Check out who you vote for and then monitor their actions and call them out. Publicly.

  17. Bill

    NAR played a significant role in the creation of the housing crisis/bubble! I remember participating in meetings of NAR’s Board of Directors as a National Director where the body was enthusiastic about the continued rise in the percentage US citizens who achieved homeownership and applauded the government programs and directives aimed at “making the dream of home ownership” attainable by those who, in the past, could not afford a home.

    More transactions equaled more income for the members and increased membership for the national trade association. A win-win-win course of events until the bubble burst and many homeowners faced the reality that they could not afford the homes they had been encouraged by many to purchase. To be sure, the ultimate responsibility belongs to those who made the decision to buy, but there is plenty of “blame” to go around, and our organization certainly has its share.