This post has been updated.
About three dozen people marched down U Street NW on Thursday morning to protest the pending eviction of a local pastor from his Northeast Washington home.
Friends of the Rev. Michael Robert Vanzant, the outreach pastor for Faith Temple and a vocal supporter of LGBT rights, joined members of D.C.’s Occupy movement for a noisy rally outside a Bank of America loan office on U Street, near 14th Street.
“They say eviction, we say no. Michael Vanzant will not go,” protesters chanted as they stood outside the loan office, knocking on the front door and posting cardboard “Eviction” signs on the windows.
Vanzant, who protest organizers said recently suffered a minor stroke, did not march or join the rally on his behalf. Staff at Washington Hospital Center confirm that he is undergoing tests.
Occupy members were joined by three of Vanzant’s friends, including Isaiah Poole, who had served as a church elder at Faith Temple with Vanzant in the 1980s.
According to Poole, Vanzant had to go on disability from his job as a Metro employee about two years ago. Vanzant reportedly contacted Bank of America, which inherited his mortgage when it bought Countrywide, to modify the loan on his home of 24 years. Poole said that the bank denied his request.
“For some reason, he just hit wall after wall after wall,” Poole said.
While passersby complained that the group was blocking the sidewalk, the only acknowledgment from inside the office was the closing of window blinds.
“Success today would be if Bank of America calls him and gives him his home back,” said Mike Haack, one of the organizers. “More realistically, this will put Mr. Vanzant on Bank of America’s radar.”
When Poole learned of his friend’s “saga,” he reached out to an acquaintance who worked with Occupy Our Homes D.C., an offshoot of the Occupy D.C. movement that aims to “resist” foreclosures and bank seizures in the District. The group successfully helped another local homeowner, Prince George’s County resident Bertina Jones, reclaim her foreclosed home earlier this year. Poole hoped Occupy could help his friend.
About 8:30 a.m. Thursday, as Vanzant lay in Washington Hospital Center, protesters gathered at the Reeves Municipal Center, at 14th and U streets. They walked a half-block east on U Street, led by a regiment of news cameras, to the loan office. Protesters carried signs with slogans such as “Stop foreclosures now” and “Save Vanzant’s home.”
Poole said that Vanzant’s house is more than just a residence. Because Faith Temple does not have its own facility — the congregation worships at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church — Vanzant’s home has become the church’s parsonage, Poole said.
“We hold Bible study there. We hold church events there. Our old church organ is in his house,” Poole said. Vanzant has even opened his house as a shelter on occasion.
Poole made an appeal to the Bank of America workers inside. Knocking on the door, he called out, “We are asking you to come to the table and do for him what you are obligated to do.”
No one inside responded, but three police cruisers pulled up beside the protesters. The officers asked why they were there and how long they intended to stay.
“Maybe 15 more minutes?” an organizer responded noncommittally.
But without a response from inside the loan office and with the rain outside growing heavy, the rally lost its momentum. The protesters marched away, chanting, “We’ll be back.”
Thursday afternoon, Occupy D.C. organizers reported that Bank of America had reached out to Vanzant after the rally to schedule an appointment to discuss the pastor’s mortgage.
Neither Vanzant nor Bank of America representatives could be reached to confirm the appointment.
Vanzant remains hospitalized and is expected to recover.