Wow. We’re exhausted. Many of us have blisters on our feet and hoarse voices . . . but the smile just will not leave our faces. Yep, SUN is back from another power-packed National People’s Action conference in Washington, DC with 600 of our organizing brothers and sisters, from 24 neighborhood groups from across the country.
NPA was created to fight the redlining of home mortgages by financial institutions, aided and abetted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. NPA has expanded over the years to include issues such as education, immigration and access to health care–the issues that residents of poor neighborhoods face every day.
The conference is equal parts leadership training, strategic planning, accountability meetings, legislative briefings and direct action protest. No time for sightseeing, the work starts when you sign in at 4 PM on Friday and isn’t over until you pull out of DC at 4 PM on Monday (although there is a party on Sunday night.)
This year, a leadership team of residents met with Ben Bernanke and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Last year we protested at his home and office. This year we were at the table. He agreed to a series of meetings in our cities to discuss plans to ease the burden of mortgage foreclosures. We’ll let you know when he comes to Syracuse!
NPA also released a report on the discriminatory lending practices of Wells Fargo, a company that targets African-Americans for high interest, high fee loans. For example, 41% of African-American borrowers in Syracuse who received a loan from Wells Fargo received one of these sub-prime loans.
The direct action protests were high energy and always a highlight of the trip. Check out some footage taken by SUN member (and chair of our Board) Dick Breland. These videos were in the lobby of the building housing Wells Fargo’s top DC lobbyist, Ted Doremus. The firm agreed to receive a copy of the NPA report on Wells Fargo’s lending discrimination. We are still working to get a meeting with top Wells Fargo officials–this was just the first step.
Then we moved on to the American Banking Association and its president Edward Yingling. The A.B.A. is lobbying furiously to gut all the programs proposed by President Obama to help rescue families in danger of foreclosure, while pushing for ever increasing amounts of money for bailouts of bankers. As The Hill newspaper reported on its website, NPA’s protest forced a lockdown of the entire office building housing their offices. A leadership team met with top officials and are working to schedule a formal negotiation meeting in the near future.
After the actions on Monday, we went up to Capitol Hill to participate in meetings with agency and Congressional staff. SUN member Amanda Pascall was a part of the leadership team that met with the chief advisor to the new HUD secretary to discuss both mortgage foreclosure prevention and more funding for programs such as the Community Development Block Grant. SUN member Maria Johnson was part of the team that briefed Congressional staff about a proposed bill that would fund a pilot program for rust-belt cities with populations under 150,000 struggling with economic decline and increases in vacant housing.
Our intrepid band of SUN folks are back home, energized to continue our mission of improving our neighborhoods.