The Sword and the Shield
Boston’s City Life/Vida Urbana is finding success by turning conventional wisdom on its head and entering the picture after a foreclosure has taken place.
It was a hot August day when more than a hundred people gathered outside Drusilla Francis’s home in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Signs emblazoned with “We Will Not Be Moved” and other candid sentiments regarding bank behavior were on display as two policemen looked on. A constable, equipped with a moving van and orders to evict the 60-year-old Francis and her two foster children, talked frantically on the phone to his client, U.S. Bank. Perhaps he did not expect to be challenged.
Several lawyers on Francis’s side explained to the constable that he did not have the appropriate paperwork to evict Francis, a Central American immigrant, and eviction was avoided that day. Had he brought the proper documents, the policemen would have walked through the marching protesters to arrest various the members and allies of City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU), an affordable housing and tenants’ rights organization, who had volunteered to stand peacefully in the way of eviction. The eviction and the arrests, had they occurred, would have been captured by news cameras and print reporters, and it would have been another devastating loss for a family in bank foreclosure. But all that was averted thanks to collective action and resistance that let the banks know that they could no longer easily upend peoples’ lives and avoid public relations debacles.
Tisa Taylor, whose home was saved by a similar action, but not before her father suffered a devastating stroke soon after the family home was foreclosed upon, explained why she took a day from work to attend the blockade: “I keep coming back to these actions to help because CLVU was there for us. I don’t want to see my neighborhood boarded up. I want to see my community flourish.”
CLVU has long employed a paired organizing-legal defense method known as The Sword and the Shield to save tenants from displacement due to harassment and attempts at gentrification. Recently, these tactics have been adapted and applied to prevent evictions of foreclosed owners and their tenants, creating public relations nightmares for large financial institutions.
Melvyn Colon works in community development as an activist, practitioner, and educator.
- City Life/Vida Urbana
- Bill Moyers Journal, “Profile: Steve Meacham, Fighting Foreclosures” (video)
- “Finding in Foreclosure a Beginning, Not an End,” The New York Times, March 22, 2010