End this Depression: Fire Ed DeMarco
It was one of the actions on the agenda of National People’s Action’s national convention in D.C. (held jointly, that day, with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, in an inspired act of bridge-building between two very different organizations). We were in the lobby of the headquarters of the FHFA (Federal Housing Finance Agency), the regulatory body which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We were there to see Ed DeMarco, the acting director (his appointment was never confirmed) of the FHFA. But we did not have an appointment, and some of us were carrying signs that made Mr. DeMarco look kind of bad, such as an oversized pink slip with his name on it. An officer shouted out, “These people are protesters, and they need to leave!” He started moving towards us, gesturing. A few of us tentatively started to back away.
Then someone called out, “I say, my people! I got a story!” It took us by surprise, and no one responded. So he started over, and this time we followed along.
“I say my people!” “What?” “I got a story!” “What?” “Tell the whole wide world this is people’s territory!”
We shook the walls with our voices. The officer backed away, meekly. There were, come to think of it, only 3 officers there, facing off against hundreds of us, packing the lobby. And now we were shouting out in unison. What could the officer really do about it? After he backed off, the next time we went through the chant we shouted out with even greater force. “THIS IS PEOPLE’S TERRITORY!” We were feeling it.
Why were we there to hand Ed DeMarco a pink slip? Here is some context.
We are in a depression. It’s a depression that means, among other things, that today’s college seniors are graduating into an economy which will plunge half of them into long-term unemployment and underemployment. That’s some way to start your working career. (Or does the notion of a “career” even make sense anymore?) And these college graduates are the lucky ones of their generation. Behold the future of the American middle class.
Why are we in a depression? In a familiar nutshell: Banks got bailed out, we got sold out. One of the main reasons why the economy continues to stumble along in this depression is that individuals and households are burdened by too much debt. Especially mortgage debt, and, in particular, underwater mortgage debt. (An underwater mortgage is where you owe more on your home mortgage than your home is actually worth.) According to new figures released just the other day, there is now $1.2 trillion worth of this excess debt in the country ($58 billion just in Cook County). This debt is a result of Wall Street’s predatory lending bubble, and now acts as a giant vacuum sucking wealth out of people’s pockets, out of our communities, out of the productive economy, out of job creation–and up into the already bloated pockets of Wall Street.
And this affects everybody, including students who have even never touched a mortgage.
So we need to write down the principals of underwater mortgages. (This means reducing the amount that people owe on those mortgages.) This will make life a lot easier for the people with those mortgages. But it will also lift up the entire economy, creating millions of jobs. This is a clear issue of justice, and a clear economic issue. Economists agree that this is a necessary step to economic recovery. The Federal Reserve agrees. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan agrees. And even the FHFA, the regulatory body charged with overseeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Which brings us back to our visit to the FHFA headquarters, and our business with Ed DeMarco. Although you may never have heard of him, Ed DeMarco ranks very highly on the list of people doing the most harm to the economy of this country. And that’s because DeMarco, a hold-over from the Bush administration, is blocking Fannie and Freddie from writing down mortgage principals–even though (to repeat) the agency he heads, the FHFA, has itself concluded that would be a beneficial move.
Ed DeMarco is one person in America who richly deserves to be unemployed. Obama needs to fire him, and replace him with someone who actually gives a damn about this country.
That was the message we went to the FHFA to deliver. We occupied the entrance to the building, we heard devastating stories from people struggling with underwater mortgages, we shouted, we chanted. Ed DeMarco did not come to meet us. We left behind the pink slip. And DeMarco is now on notice that community organizations from across the country know who he is and know what he’s doing to this country. We want him out. He’ll be hearing from us again.