John Nichols: A Presidential Candidate Willing to Get Arrested to Fight Foreclosure Abuse

John Nichols

A Presidential Candidate Willing to Get Arrested to Fight Foreclosure Abuse

John Nichols on August 2, 2012 – 11:26 AM ET

It is not quite true that a third-party presidential candidate has to get arrested to get attention from the media. Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee for the presidency this year, has gotten her share of attention — in part because she is a genuinely impressive contender, in part because her campaign has been strikingly focused and professional in its approach.

But Stein got a good deal of attention Wednesday for a good reason. She was busted with fellow Greens and activists from the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign outside the Philadelphia office of Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage lender that is foreclosing on precisely the people it is supposed to help.

Most politicians avoid saying — let alone doing — anything of consequence regarding the foreclosure crisis. But Stein, her vice presidential running-mate (Cheri Honkala, who last year mounted a campaign for sheriff in Philadelphia as part of an anti-foreclosure fight), labor lawyer James Moran and Sister Margaret McKenna of the Medical Mission Sisters were arrested after attempting to gain access to the Fannie Mae office through an adjacent financial institution on Philadelphia’s “Bankers Row.”

The charge was one that any activist would be proud of: “defiant trespassing.”

Why get aggressive with Fannie Mae?

At a point when an estimated eight million American families face eviction from their homes due to the threat of foreclosure, and when roughly one third of all mortgage holders are “underwater” — that’s the term for when a homeowner owes more to his or her lenders than their property would be worth if they attempted to sell it — the answer is obvious enough.

But what makes Stein put things is perspective Wednesday when she explained that: “The developers and financiers made trillions of dollars through the housing bubble and the imposition of crushing debt on homeowners. And when homeowners could no longer pay them what they demanded, they went to government and got trillions of dollars of bailouts. Every effort of the Obama Administration has been to prop this system up and keep it going at taxpayer expense. It’s time for this game to end. It’s time for the laws be written to protect the victims and not the perpetrators. It’s time for a new deal for America, and a Green New Deal is what we will deliver on taking office. ”

Stein says she would:

issue an executive order establishing a moratorium on foreclosures of occupied dwellings

encourage local governments to help homeowners get out of underwater mortgages by seizing mortgages through eminent domain and letting non-profit community development organizations — not Wall Street banks — reissue the mortgages.

That may sound like radical talk. But older Americans will hear echoes of Franklin Roosevelt, from whom Stein has taken inspiration with her “Green New Deal” campaign.

Even if Stein does not take office — and she’s realistic about the challenges facing third parties — she is putting important ideas on the agenda. And she doing more. She and Honkala are securing ballot positions nationwide. Stein’s making a big push for inclusion in this fall’s presidential debates (along with Libertarian Gary Johnson). And Stein is getting arrested to focus attention on the issues.

That’s a vital role in American politics, as vital as the role played by Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas in 1932, when he used big ideas and big activism to place many of the ideas that would form the New Deal on the agenda.

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