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Danny Glover's Letelier-Moffitt Award Speech

October 17, 2012 ·

When the Great Recession struck, City Life/Vida Urbana was there, confronting bank power with people power.

I'm so sorry I can't be with you in person tonight. I would love to be there with my dear IPS friend Saul Landau, with whom I've been fighting hard for the freedom of the Cuban 5. I was honored when IPS asked me to present the LM HRA to another group of freedom fighters: City Life/Vida Urban. Here's why.

City Life/Vida Urbana is a grassroots community organization, led by low-income and working class people fighting for social, economic, racial justice and gender equality. Their struggle is focused on the right to decent housing for all of us. They fight slumlords, neglect, segregation, environmental hazards, gentrification. This is a group at the front lines of the fight not just against foreclosure, but against the entire economic model that started with Reagan and that deregulated Wall Street

You name it, they fight it. And they win.

With the Recession, came a big spike in foreclosures and evictions, hitting communities of color and low-income communities the hardest.

City Life/Vida Urbana was there, confronting bank power with people power.

City Life/Vida Urbana was there with their Shield and Sword.

The Shield they bring is their Legal Defense support for families facing evictions and foreclosure.

The Sword they bring is Direct Action. Using People Power, CityLife brings people together to create human blockades to obstruct and prevent home repossessions and evictions. Man, talk about courage. And guess what, when people have used their "sword and shield" strategy, 95% of the time they've been successful.

Here are two of their stories I found particularly moving:

  • Tenants Reggie Fuller and Louanna Hall were faithfully paying rent on their apartment when they heard rumors their landlord was in foreclosure. Now, after two years living in limbo as the only remaining tenants in the building, they've become leaders in the movement to support others facing displacement after foreclosure.
  • When Marshall Cooper couldn't qualify for a traditional mortgage, the bank referred him to an alternative lender who offered him a loan with twice the interest rate. As the expense of caring for his aging parents made it harder and harder to meet his increasing mortgage payments, he fell behind. After two bankruptcies and a failed modification, the house went into foreclosure. Now Marshall, 75, is fighting eviction by the bank and doing everything he can to hold on to his home.

Now CityLife/Vida Urbana is taking their successful strategy beyond Boston to help keep more and more families in their homes. They provide community education, organize vigils, marches, meetings, empower affected people to become the very leaders of this growing movement.

And they expose the banks, the very financial systems which use predatory lending practices, high interest rates, unethical eviction and foreclosure practices to increase profits even as families are stripped of homes that under fair terms, they could afford to keep. They partner with alternative non-profit financial institutions such as Boston Community Capital to ensure real and affordable valuations of homes, so people can stay in them. They use the court system to "slow down" the eviction process till the financial situation can be made manageable. These folks work hard to keep roofs over people's heads.

As A. Philip Randolph said, "Freedom is never given. It is won." And, City Life/Vida Urbana is fighting, and winning.

For their courage in doing what so many say cannot be done, for standing up to corrupt institutions and speaking truth to power, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome to the stage City Life/Vida Urbana's Executive Director Curdina Hill and Organizing Coordinator Steve Meacham, who will be accepting the Institute for Policy Studies' 2012 Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award on behalf of their organization and members.

Danny Glover — the actor, director, producer, and fearless activist — presented Curdina Hill and Steve Meacham of City Life/Vida Urbana with a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies.