When I decided to run for president of the United States, spending the night in a Philadelphia jail cell was not part of my strategy. But I and my running mate on the Green Party ticket, Cheri Honkala, found ourselves in handcuffs this month after we refused to leave the Philadelphia building housing the regional headquarters of the mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
We were there to support two women whose families faced unjust evictions by Fannie Mae, as well as the eight million other families who have faced foreclosure at the hands of Wall Street.
One of the women we were supporting, Rhonda Lancaster, has lived in her home for 35 years. She took out a second mortgage to pay her ailing mother's medical bills. After her mother died, a bank moved to take the house and throw Lancaster out on the street. She is still fighting a potentially imminent eviction.
The other woman we were supporting is also a victim of predatory lending. She had lived in her home for 23 years. In 2008, after the financial crash wiped out its value, she was forced to file for bankruptcy. A bank was able to block her bankruptcy filing, evict her, and foreclose on her home. She was supposed to be able to contest the eviction in court, but her right to do so was repeatedly violated. She is now homeless.
There were plenty of lawyers, hearings, and rulings in each case. But in the end, the law was stacked firmly in favor of the banks.
The financiers who have engaged in predatory lending, deceptive sales practices, forgery, illegal "robo-signing," and many other deceitful tactics have been treated gently by the law. Instead of going to jail or being ordered to return their ill-gotten profits, they got massive bailouts from the Bush and Obama administrations. It took $189 billion just to keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in business.
When our laws are unfair, we are told we should ask our legislators to reform them. Well, we have asked - and we have discovered that our legislators are under the thumb of the financiers. They play golf with the financiers, they allow the financiers' lobbyists to write legislation, and they take jobs with the financiers when they leave office. Because of this, they have little interest in making the laws fairer to regular people.
Our nation was founded by revolutionaries whose rallying cry was "No taxation without representation." But today our laws, taxes, and regulations are being decided without our representation. Banks were fully represented in the writing of our mortgage laws, but no one was at the table to represent homeowners. We shouldn't allow such laws to toss families into the street.
The banks that were "too big to fail" are now bigger than ever thanks to massive bailouts funded by taxpayers. My Green New Deal would break up those banks and replace them with public banks whose mission is to help people, not exploit them. And I would order an end to home foreclosures.
If we keep going down the path set by Bush and Obama, the share of the economic pie taken by Wall Street will continue to grow until the real economy and working people are sucked dry. It's time to purge the economy of Wall Street exploiters and restore it to health.
My running mate, Cheri Honkala, is a leading advocate for the poor based here in Philadelphia. She was once a homeless mother who slept in abandoned buildings with her son because she had no other place to go. Since then, she has dedicated her life to keeping people in their homes, and she has often stood between bankers and frightened families facing eviction. Cheri has a kind of courage and moral vision that is missing in Washington today, and I was proud to go to jail with her in Philadelphia.
Cheri and I aren't like the major-party candidates. We don't take money from corporations, and we are not beholden to them. We represent ordinary people in very hard times.
We need leaders who haven't made a career out of doing favors for the superrich - leaders who will stop foreclosures, get the banks off the backs of our families, and take care of the people whose mortgages are underwater.
The outpouring of support my running mate and I have received since our arrest has made it clear to us that millions of Americans share our views. In this day and age, going to jail for justice is presidential. Tolerating eight million foreclosures isn't.
Jill Stein is a medical doctor from Massachusetts and the Green Party nominee for president of the United States. This op-ed originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirier. To share your views on their website, click here.