Kshama Sawant: Standing With the Bartons, Standing with SAFE Activists

Kshama Sawant

(The following was originally published on socialist Seattle City Council Woman Kshama Sawant’s blog.)

Call to action for fellow Councilmembers:

Friday, July 18th, I participated in a home defense protest alongside Standing Against Foreclosures and Evictions (SAFE), Washington Community Action Network (CAN), and Socialist Alternative.  As you know, Councilmember Licata and I have supported SAFE in their efforts.  The activists have continued their struggle all weekend, and it is crucial that the city do what it can to support them.

Byron Barton has lived in his boyhood home for the last 61 years. He and his wife Jean made their home there, raising their children. Byron Barton is a decorated Vietnam Veteran who ran a remodeling company with Jean until the 2008 recession placed them and their business in extreme financial distress. Both Byron and Jean looked after Byron’s mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, in the same home until the day she passed away. Byron had a stroke in 2012 that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body with an atrophying hand and a severe speech impediment. Since the stroke, Byron has lived in a hospital bed, and can only be transported by wheelchair. In addition to carrying for her husband, Jean Barton works at Mary’s Place, a day center for homeless women and children. The Bartons have no place to go that can accommodate Byron’s medical needs.

Like millions of other homeowners around the nation, the Bartons fell prey to the predatory lending practices that crashed the economy in 2008.  Such practices include deceptive interest rates and forged signatures.  All that they ask for is for the chance to pay back their mortgage, but the developer who bought the property at auction wants to build swanky condos, and will not negotiate.

Unlike the millions of people who have given up when banks and developers drive them from their homes, the Bartons are fighting back.  They did some research, found many illegal steps in the foreclosure and auction of their home, and have taken the issue to court.  But position is 90% of the law, and if their home is demolished before they win their case, it will be a hollow victory.

So the Bartons and SAFE activists have been engaged in non-violent civil disobedience, and have continued to occupy the home.  They demand that the King County Sheriff and the Seattle Police Department take no action as long as the ownership of the house is in dispute.

I ask, who should the authorities be defending?  Should they defend Triangle Properties LLC, the developer that specializes in buying up foreclosed homes, profiting off misery, or should they defend Byron and Jean Barton who have given so much to their community?

Even if the police cannot legally refuse to carry out this eviction, I can think of any number of things that are more important for them to work on first.  For example, we know that wage theft is rampant in Seattle, and it will take all the resources of the SPD to investigate those cases.

I ask all my fellow Councilmembers to join me in asking Mayor Murray to instruct the SPD to focus on its other work, and not to get involved in this dispute.  A SAFE representative has committed to waiting in the Mayor’s office for however long it takes to get a meeting to talk about this.  These are not the usual channels of communication, but the situation is desperate.  I am available and willing to facilitate that meeting, and I would request support from all Councilmembers.

Status update:

Following a joint action including my office and a four hour sit-in, SAFE announced that the Mayor had reached out with an assurance that the police will focus on other more pressing matters, for now. Congratulations to the Bartons, and thank you to all of the activists and organizers, including members of SAFE, Washington CAN and Socialist Alternative, who played an active role in this campaign. When we fight against the corrupt financial system and the corporations that profit from it, we can win. But victories like this are just the beginning. We need a moratorium on foreclosures, and we need a broad-based fight for housing justice that should include rent control, publicly built housing and mandatory inclusionary zoning. We also need a massive program to address the growing problem of homelessness.

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