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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. 

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“We are not looking for a confrontation, but rather are trying to negotiate a peaceful solution,” says Newby. But if it comes to legal force, “we are prepared to defend Bobby’s home.”

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He says that could involve hundreds of neighbors occupying the Hull home, possibly forcing law enforcement to move against all of them. “We are hoping the local police, who we think are part of the 99 percent, too, won’t take part in such actions against Bobby,” he adds.

To Peggy Mears, a Riverside, Calif., activist working with a local family to reoccupy their foreclosed home, the banks aren't holding up their end of the bargain. “The banks were bailed out, and they were supposed to use that money to help homeowners, but they have not,” she says.

The phone message at the Los Angeles chapter for the National Lawyer’s Guild seems to acknowledge the prospect of increased arrests. It tells any member of the Occupy Los Angeles movement: “We accept all collect calls from jail.” 

But for the guild, jail “is not our goal, either,” says Executive Director James Lafferty. As a human rights bar association that facilitates public demonstrations, the job of the guild “is to use the courts to keep people in the streets.” 

While legal decisions such as Roe v. Wade or Brown v. the Board of Education can make a difference, “the pressure that led up to those decisions came from people protesting in the streets,” he adds. 

Indeed, extended legal struggles are not necessarily a desirable outcome for Occupy. They can drain money and momentum crucial to the long-term viability of any movement. If confrontations go too far, “they can also turn the public off to the movement," says University of Nebraska law professor Rick Duncan. "Who is going to be sympathetic to people who are obviously breaking the law by trespassing on private property?”

Implicit in the new Occupy struggle, however, are concerns about the loss of public space in which to protest, says Greg Magarian, a constitutional law expert at Washington University in St. Louis. “The privatization of public spaces where people can be seen and heard is a very dangerous shift,”  he says.

He points to the origins of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the privately owned Zuccotti Park in New York City: “Whoever chose that park understood the importance of that symbol."

IN PICTURES: Occupy LA and other Occupy protests

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