Check out this exceptional explanation of debt from the September 17th NYC email list:
I’ve been organizing around debt for almost a year now, but as others point out, debt is one theme among many in Occupy. We are facing and fighting many problems, with many different angles. As it should be. Debt is just one. We need and should continue to maintain many other fronts without a doubt.
But I am very glad this was brought up - thank you “A”. I think it highlights some very important points about debt, and is a great chance for some clarification and discussion around the issue, at least coming from one perspective organizing in Strike Debt.
I have to address this recurring topic: we’re taught to see debt as an exclusive problem of the eroding middle class. But it’s not. It’s anything but. The middle class being forced into indebtedness is just the tip of the iceberg in a much bigger story.
So why focus on debt, especially since so many don’t have debt – and many don’t even have access to debt? It appears that debt is some weird kind of privilege. But it’s more complicated, and for me it’s becoming more and more clear: the economic system we live in runs on debt, in all sorts of ways that we don’t see at first glance. When we look carefully, we see that global capitalism in its current form is a system that uses debt to
channel money and wealth from the 99% to the 1%. This has been happening for centuries — globally. The IMF and its structural adjustment programs are a great example. Sovereign debt is basically an imperial tax that keeps most countries in the world poor, servile and dependent on rich countries. Debt is a primary economic tool for keeping the imperial structure in place, and it only works because of militaristic bullying and the threat of violence, exclusion and exile. Greece is a perfect example. It’s being held hostage and civil society is being completely dismantled because of its sovereign debt. Big, rich countries are telling Greece: pay your debts or we’ll kick you out of Europe, your currency will lose value, you’ll lose access to global credit, etc. But it’s a big bluff. Argentina and Iceland are great examples – there are other ways. Continued growth and production in order to pay debts is killing the planet, and taking us all down with it.
It’s only recently that this same structure (which we call austerity) has been forced upon the 99% within the rich countries. And it affects us in all sorts of ways, not just people who are actually in debt. Municipal debt is a great example. Municipalities are broke, owe tons of money, and have to cut services all over the place. Schools get closed, universities become privatized, hospitals lose services, welfare structures get axed, because somehow every town and city in the country is in deep debt. We never ask: to who? Non-debtors are screwed and manipulated by debt just as much as debtors; it’s just not as obvious. Countries and cities owe money to the banks, so instead of taxing the banks they make us pay for basic social goods, which often means many of us go into debt to the very same banks.
Even when it comes to actual debtors in the rich countries, it’s not as privileged or middle class as it seems. I BEG everyone to look at the numbers in predatory lending: sub-prime mortgages, insane interest rates and outrageous default rates at for-profit colleges that purposefully prey on low-income communities. It’s horrifying. Payday loans, which are a huge problem across the country, especially in low-income communities, regularly charge 400% interest without shame or regulation.
In Strike Debt, we are not trying to build a debtor’s movement, but a movement to resist and transform the debt-system. Debt is personal for many people, but above all it is deeply structural. Only some of us are debtors, but we are all debt resistors. Debt resistance comes in many forms: fighting for free education, defending a foreclosed home, fighting for basic services, fighting for free healthcare, offering mutual aid (so people don’t have to go into debt), refusing payments to the banks, fighting for higher wages (so people don’t have to go into debt), etc.
We don’t need to focus on debt, but it is a powerful framework to be very practical and also offers sharp global analysis and connects many dots. Those in debt know how horrifying it is – especially those in default. Those who don’t have access to credit/debt know how frustrating and disempowering that can be too. The whole system needs to change. All people need and should have access to fair credit… whole societies which were fairly equitable have been run on fair, accessible credit and networks of trust and not violence. We need to figure out ways to offer each other types of credit that don’t disenfranchise and disempower. It’s a huge task, but I think it’s a great first step to a more just, humane and equitable world.
For me, it’s been helpful to break it down like this:
Objectives: transform economic structure, rebuild community ties & solidarity
Themes: Debt affects everyone; it’s a major way the 1% takes the wealth of the 99%. Resisting debt is a way of fighting our global economic system.
Types of debt: sovereign, municipal, consumer, education, medical, housing
Ways people are affected: cuts in services, cuts in wages, indebtedness, exclusion from (low interest) credit, missed opportunities to avoid being in debt
Possible Tactics: debt strikes, debt refusal, labor strikes, foreclosure defenses, fights for free education, fights for cancellation of debt (individual, household, municipal & sovereign), occupations, community building and mutual aid, other direct actions
Sorry for being over-didactic, I just love talking about this shit. I’ve been trying to make sense of this for months, and I finally discovered the language to share it (due of course to help and coordination with my comrades).
We are all debt resistors. Tell others: join the resistance :)
Strike Debt / All in the Red have been doing great organizing around debt for the last few months and plan to coordinate one of the morning actions on Monday, September 17th — Occupy Wall Street’s first birthday. They recently also issued this first Communique:
Don’t sleep! Stand with us in Lower Manhattan on September 17th.