Nick Espinosa ’08 lectures, receives Genesis Award
December 8, 2013 • 1,669 views
On Monday, Nov. 18, Nick Espinosa ’08 gave a talk at St. Olaf about his approach to community organizing. Espinosa graduated with a degree in social work and a concentration in American racial and multicultural studies (ARMS). Espinosa lectured in recognition of National Family Week and Homelessness Awareness Week. At the lecture, he was presented with the Genesis Award by Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Mary Carlsen ’79. Carlsen described the winners of this award as individuals who “are the first to recognize some sort of need and, using their relationship to social work, move to create a solution to make the world a better place.”
When Espinosa was 15, his father was deported without warning. This traumatic experience turned out to be a turning point in his life.
“I really look back at that moment, as terrible as it was for a 15-year-old to lose their father that way, I look at that as the genesis of a lot of the drive that has pushed me to do the work that I have done,” he said.
Since graduating from St. Olaf, Espinosa has worked with Occupy Minnesota, an economic justice organization. Much of his work focuses on aiding people who face foreclosure and eviction from their homes. The recession has made foreclosures an issue in many large cities across the U.S., and the Twin Cities are no exception.
Specifically, Espinosa’s job is to try to get modifications from banks that allow homeowners to avoid evictions and stay in their homes. He also described how the Occupy Homes Movement has expanded its mission to include aiding homeless people.
“There are 18 million vacant homes and three million homeless people in this country,” said Espinosa, “so there are about six vacant homes for every person who doesn’t have a roof over their head…What we’ve begun to do is pair up homeless people with people-less homes.” Occupy Minnesota accomplishes this by working with banks to get previously homeless families into vacant houses in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In the past year, Espinosa and his colleagues have found homes for eight families who had previously been homeless. Espinosa said that the Occupy Homes Movement would attempt to expand this program to include more families in the coming year.
Of his many accomplishments, Espinosa spoke with particular pride about a Homeowner Bill of Rights that the state of Minnesota passed earlier this year.
Occupy Minnesota was a strong voice of support for this bill. Regarding the Homeowner Bill of Rights, Espinosa said, “It offers foreclosure protection for families….It has outlawed some of the worst and most deceitful practices.”
Espinosa is now focusing on a policy change in Minneapolis regarding eminent domain which would give local government the power to seize vacant homes and put them under community control. These houses would then be used as affordable housing options. This policy would also help homeowners who owe more on their houses than their houses are worth.
Summing up the Occupy Homes Movement’s message, Espinosa said, “Housing is a human right, and we believe that housing is something that should be controlled by the communities in which it exists.”
In addition to his work as a community organizer, Espinosa has become famous as a political protester. Never one to shy away from controversy, he has made headlines with several high-profile stunts. A video on YouTube shows him infiltrating an anti-immigrant Tea Party rally.
In his most famous stunt, he poured a box of glitter on the head of Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. This was a protest against Gingrich’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Espinosa’s action, now called “glitter bombing,” made headlines across the country. A story about Espinosa appeared in the Huffington Post, and he was interviewed by MSNBC. Glitter bombing has now become a popular method of protest, especially for those who support same-sex marriage. In fact, glitter bombing now has its own Wikipedia page.
Espinosa ended his talk by stating, “Getting people together and building community is an incredibly important first step towards making social change happen, but without taking action, and sometimes confrontational action, we’re not going to get the change that we need, so sometimes you need to rock the boat a little bit.”