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How Occupy's anti-foreclosure drive could sink the movement

Protesting in public spaces is protected speech. But occupying homes and lots to protest foreclosures, while dramatic, could result in many lawsuits, robbing Occupy of money and momentum. 

By Staff writer / December 6, 2011

Occupy Wall Street tape hangs across the door of an abandoned foreclosed upon property where demonstrators protested in the East New York section of Brooklyn in New York City, Tuesday. Protesters in several American cities demonstrated in a day of action billed as 'Occupy Our Homes' to stop and reverse foreclosures demanding that banks keep families in their homes.

Mike Segar/Reuters

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Los Angeles

The Occupy movement's national call to action Tuesday – occupying foreclosed homes in at least 20 cities from New York to Los Angeles – seems guaranteed to expand the legal tussles that have dogged Occupy almost since its inception. 

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First Amendment speech is clearly protected in public places, legal experts say, but laws about the right to protest on private property are much less forgiving, meaning the new Occupy action will court a much harsher response from legal authorities.

For activists, the tactic is a powerful way to take on banks, which are unfairly foreclosing on homeowners, they say. But a ramping up of legal action against Occupy could sap the movement of money and energy, some experts say, and potentially alienate Americans by casting the protesters as law-breakers. 

“You can speak your mind on a public sidewalk or roadway in front of a person’s home,” says Timothy Zick, a law professor at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. “But you don’t have the right to do so on their property.”

Scuffles with the law have followed the Occupy Wall Street movement almost from its inception, when some 700 New York protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in September. Since then, as tent encampments have been razed and arrests have multiplied, legal challenges have steadily mounted on both sides, with lawyers for the activists filing temporary restraining orders and mayors ordering police crackdowns.

But protesters in Tuesday’s anti-foreclosure day of action say they are not doing it to be arrested. Instead, they want to spotlight what Minneapolis organizer Anthony Newby calls a critical situation. “We are hoping to create a national movement to defend against illegal foreclosure,” he says, suggesting that banks have not been forthright in foreclosure proceedings.

Neither Bank of America or JPMorgan Chase – two of the nation’s largest retail banks – responded to a request for comment on Tuesday’s call to action. 

Mr. Newby is working with a former Marine, Bobby Hull, who was foreclosed upon by Bank of America, who in turn sold the house at auction. Mr. Hull faces eviction by mid-February.

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