Strike Debt Logo
(Image courtesy of Strike Debt)

Strike Debt

* * * * * 3 votes

Robert R Sauders


A Grassroots Debt Resistance Movement

You are not alone. You are not a loan.

Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), is a loose network of activists seeking to build a movement of debt resistors engaged in establishing economic justice and democratic freedom. The origins of Strike Debt can be traced back to the spring of 2012 when members of Occupy Wall Street held a series of assemblies to re-evaluate the strategy and plot a future direction for the movement. These conversations, occurring contemporaneously with an increase in student protests over tuition increases in Quebec, eventually coalesced around the issues of access to education and the common burden of debt. From these discussions, Strike Debt was born and, in homage to its connection to the Quebec protests, adopted the student’s red felt square as its logo and symbol of solidarity.

Debt is a unifying and common thread that connects the majority of people throughout the country and across the world, regardless of their social, political and economic standing or geographic location. Whereas Occupy Wall Street was often criticized for its lack of a narrow focus, Strike Debt offered a clear and defined issue for activists to organize around. As Susan Meany, a member of Strike Debt’s organizing committee, explains:

“We realized that student debt, medical debt, housing debt, credit card debt – these are all necessities of life, and people are stuck.”
 
“It’s a systemic problem. It’s not because [Americans] don’t know how to handle their money. There’s a system in place that keeps them that way. We wanted to open up a conversation and let people know they are not alone”.

Strike Debt’s Principles of Solidarity, adopted by consensus at the January 6, 2013 general meeting of Strike Debt NYC, holds that most individual debt an illegitimate, unjust and immoral consequence of a fundamental inability to acquire the basic necessities of life: education, health care and housing. More broadly, Strike Debt argues that even if individuals carry personal debt, we as a society are connected by a financial system where sovereign debt, municipal debt and the fallout from speculator-driven crises are foisted upon the population at large.

In order to counteract the predatory financial system and systemic consequences of debt at all levels in society, Strike Debt seeks to facilitate actions that weaken culpable institutions and undermine the power of the creditor class. To that end, Strike Debt has engaged in the following actions.

Rolling Jubilee

In late 2012, members of Strike Debt began collecting small donations in order to purchase debt on the consumer debt collection market. Consumer debt, part of a 12.2 billion dollar debt collection industry, is bundled and sold on this market for pennies on the dollar in order for financial institutions and creditors to clear bad debt from their books. While collection agencies often purchase these bundled debts and doggedly pursue debtors in order to turn a profit, Strike Debt’s Rolling Jubilee program purchases the debt in order to erase it.

Recipients of Rolling Jubilee letters are informed that their debt has been purchased by Strike Debt and that the group will not collect; the persistent hounding by collectors is over and the debt is forgiven. 80-year-old Kentucky resident Shirley Logsdon described her experience with Rolling Jubilee in an Agence France-Presse report published in Raw Story.

“I was dumbfounded but delighted, of course. (…) We got a letter saying that everything had been resolved — finally it is over, you don’t have to worry, you don’t owe us anything. (…) I didn’t know these people. It was a godsend.”

To date, Rolling Jubilee has used $645,207.00 in donations to forgive $14,734,569.87 of debt; freeing 2,693 Americans from the burden of unpaid medical bills. Often, Strike Debt purchases the debt for as little as 2 cents on the dollar and many of the debts erased by Rolling Jubilee are associated with health and medical expenses.

Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual

An anonymous collective of Strike Debt and Occupy Wall Street activists wrote and published the manual to offer practical techniques, strategies and resources for individuals who are frustrated by indebtedness and desire collective action to combat the system of “mafia capitalism”. Part financial system primer – part survival guide – part call to action, the manual provides accessible information to debtors about how the system functions and what they can do about it.

Reaction to the manual has ranged from the laudatory to the deprecatory. Natasha Lewis, writing for Guernica, sums up the manual as a challenge to “the notion that repaying debts is a moral duty; in fact (…) debt resistance is the moral choice.” Alternative, Business Insiders’ Mandi Woodruff called the manual “some of the dodgiest financial advice we’ve ever seen”. To support her critique of Strike Debt’s advice, Woodruff enlisted the input of credit expert John Ulzheimer who contends “whomever is in charge of OWS’s “credit strategy” doesn’t understand credit. And you can quote me on that one.”

A Grassroots Debt Resistance Movement

Yet Ulzheimer and others of his ilk apparently miss the fundamental point that Strike Debt makes in the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual. Credit experts and advocates scoff at the manual because it is incompatible with the existing credit-debt system; however, this is precisely what Strike Debt and its allies are attempting to realize – a systemic redefinition of the credit-debt system through massive grassroots action. As the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual states:

There is strength in numbers. Individually our debts overwhelm us; collectively our debts can overwhelm the system. There are ways of fighting back and reclaiming our lives and our communities from the current state of affairs. We are not looking for debt “forgiveness”; what we seek is the abolition of debt profiteering and its replace­ment by a society that nurtures the common good.
 
We should be clear: we are not against all debt nor are we against credit. Rather, we call for new, fair arrange­ments that help us exceed the boundaries of the present (as credit does) without burdening the future in chains of compound interest.

Strike Debt’s belief is that if enough people understand and experience the systemic inequities embedded within the current credit-debt system, then the possibility exists to build a broad movement that can effectively demand modifications and a renegotiation of basic financial tenets in society. With 77.5% of American households in debt and 1 in 7 Americans pursued by a debt collector, Strike Debt may be well on its way to accomplishing this goal.

A more in-depth version of the column and expanded look at Strike Debt and the economics of inequality in the United States can be found on Sauders.net or Storify.com.

Robert R Sauders is an assistant professor Eastern Washington U. His research examines the role of international activism in ethno-territorial conflicts. Robert is analyzing graffiti on the Israeli Separation Barrier as a means of understanding how international activism influences communication and narration of popular resistance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Strike Debt’s belief is that if enough people understand and experience the systemic inequities embedded within the current credit-debt system, then the possibility exists to build a broad movement that can effectively demand modifications and a renegotiation of basic financial tenets in society. With 77.5% of American households in debt and 1 in 7 Americans pursued by a debt collector, Strike Debt may be well on its way to accomplishing this goal.

This entry was posted in December, Opinion and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Comments on anthropology-news.org are limited to current AAA members as Anthropology News is supported by AAA member dues. There is a delay between submitting a comment and it posting while a person’s member status is confirmed.

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

© 2014 American Anthropological Association • 2300 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 1301 • Arlington, VA • 22201 • TEL (703) 528-1902 • FAX (703) 528-3546

%d bloggers like this: