Debt Community Gathering - 19 Nov 2012

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Around 25--30 people came out for tonight's community gathering.

Notes courtesy of Steve and Joe.


Our guest is Ann Larson from NYC's Strike Debt group. Ann is doing a story on public transit. She thought Boston would be a good place to visit, since we have more public transit debt than any other city in the nation. Strike Debt came out of a collection of OWS groups.

Debt is not your fault. We are living in a debt economy, where Wall Street uses debt to suck the life out of everyday people. Even if you don't have personal debt, the debt economy affects you.

Occupy Wall Street had a group called Occupy Student Debt. They put together a pledge of student debt refusal; if a million people sign, then everyone refuses to repay their student loans. Only 10,000 or so people signed. Our culture teaches us that debts need to be repaid, so the idea of a debt strike created a moral hurdle that was difficult for many to overcome. Occupy Student Debt was not very successful, but it taught us a lot.

Private colleges should open their books, so that the public can examine them.

Strike Debt works according to these principles:

  1. You are not a loan. Debt is structural, not personal.
  2. There's already a debt strike going on. People aren't paying their loans because they can't afford to. 27% of student loans go into default. 10% of credit card debt will never be repaid.
  3. We're inspired by global anti-austerity groups.

The Debt resistors operations manual [1] talks about all kinds of debt, and how to resist it. We're working on the second edition of this manual. We've also put together an organizers manual, which describes how our group works.

Symbolic debt burning is one form of protest.

Strike Debt has worked on the rolling jubilee idea for over a year. Banks routinely sell distressed debt to buyers, for pennies on the dollar. Debt buyers purchase these debt obligations, and try to collect on them. It's a multi-million dollar industry.

The rolling jubilee fund buys distressed medical debt and abolishes it. So far, we've raised $350,000 to buy distressed debt. Our original goal was to raise $50,000, so we think it's been very successful. This effort has shown us that people really want to help each other.

Every day people may payments to banks, on terms that are dictated by the banks. If you owe the bank $10,000, then the bank owns you. If you owe the bank $10,000,000, then you own the bank.

We're big fans of mutual aid networks, and alternate economies. Our obligations are to each other, and not to the bankers. To the financial elites, we owe you nothing. To our friends and communities, we owe you everything.


(We move into a question and answer session. I didn't get all of the questions and answers, but I got most of them.)

What's next?

We're looking into different kinds of debt. We can't work with student loan debt, because it's guaranteed by the federal government. Strategic law suits could be a useful way to fight this.

Lenders get tax writeoffs if they sell unpaid debt.

Can abolished debt cause tax liabilities?

We're working with a group of lawyers, to make sure we aren't creating tax liabilities for people.

If we buy enough debt, could we effect the price of distressed debt?

No, the market is too big for us to affect the price.

I'm considered resisting, but I'm concerned about how this would affect my co-signers.

The choice of medical debt is super, and it could become a way to demand universal health care.

Education is a big part of the movement. Many people aren't aware that debt is commoditized, bought, and sold. Debt assemblies, like what we're doing now, are the first step. These assemblies help form communities.

Student debt is the most protected form of debt there is. You can't get away from student debt, even through bankruptcy.

City Life/Vida Urbana runs on a model of empowerment. They bring together people who are all in the same situation.

Interoccupy is really interested in planning ahead. Can we start to plan debt actions around college commencements?

Could there be a class action lawsuit, brought by students who piled up college debt and cannot afford to repay it?

Has anyone ever tried to go against student loans on the basis of merchantability? In MA, we have a lemon law; when you buy a car, it has to be suitable for use as a car. Could you bring a merchantability suit if your college degree didn't allow you to find a job?

When a creditor loans you money, you should ask them where they got the money to lend.

Florida is proposing a law whereby humanities degrees would cost more than non-humanities degrees.

Actions that are the easiest to organize might not be the most effective of the most successful.

Collection of Questions

During the discussion, we wrote questions on large sheets of easel paper. Here's the list of questions.

  1. How to generate publicity around a campaign?
  2. What creative ways are there to repay debt?
  3. How to create an alternative economy?
  4. How do we draw the medical community into this issue?
  5. How do we involve more mainstream groups in a radical debt campaign?
  6. How do we keep pressure on financial institutions as a part of a debt campaign?
  7. How do we get all of the students in Boston involved?
  8. Is there a particulaar debt that is most strategic to address?
  9. How do we address the issue of shame?
  10. How do we establish alternative debt counseling?
  11. Does talking to college donors make sense?
  12. How do we make the case for this issue as a world-wide, systemic, as well as local issue?
  13. Should we counsel students on how to stay out of debt?
  14. How do we get into the streets around debt?
  15. How do we reconcile individual help with systemic action?