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September 17, 2012

Occupy Wall Street Begins New Organizing Campaign as Strike Debt Launches

Posted in: Uncategorized

OWSToday is the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and FDL’s team of reporters and citizen journalists will have you covered with all the on-the-ground activities. I wanted to add some coverage of this new offshoot of the Occupy movement, in the vein of Occupy Our Homes, the successful effort to fight foreclosures through direct action and pressure on individual banks. As you may know, this effort helped dozens of people all around the country save their homes and get loan modifications, through Occupy Our Homes groups in places like Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Rochester, NY.

Now, Occupy has another action-based offshoot that starts with the Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual. Over the weekend, activists handed out 5,000 free copies of the manual in the events prior to today’s anniversary. The group leading the way is known as Strike Debt. The idea is to give practical tips to people who have navigated a default event, either through housing, student loan, credit card or medical debt. The idea is to provide advice to people drowning in debt, some of it from insiders in the lending industry, to help navigate and resist. The ultimate goal is to help people renegotiate and restructure their debt, which is related to Occupy Our Homes, but with a much broader focus. This is from Strike Debt’s initial press release:

Everyone is affected by debt, from recent graduates paying several hundreds of dollars in interest on their students loans every month, to working families bankrupted by medical bills, to the teachers and firefighters forced to take pay cuts because their cities are broke. 76% of Americans are serious debtors. At least 1 in 7 are being pursued by debt collectors. Debt is the tie that binds the 99%.

Whistleblowers have revealed a widespread pattern of immoral and illegal activity on the part of lenders and collection agencies. Yet our elected officials have proved that they are unwilling to rein in the finance industry or provide debt relief to the citizenry. The Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual is the first of several Strike Debt projects aimed at helping debtors evict Wall Street from their lives and take the first step towards creating a credit system that serves the people and not the profit margins of the 1%.

The manual, available here, offers practical tips on how to challenge debt collectors, errors on credit ratings, and bankruptcy laws. This goes well beyond a simple helpful hints manual, however, moving more into a history and ethnography of debt in the 21st century, a peek behind the curtain at how the lending industry targets and bleeds dry those in need of short-term funds. It looks at the institutional forces behind services for the unbanked like check cashing outlets and payday lenders, noting that these cost much more than traditional banking for the same services.

Overall, this will make someone saddled with debt more aware of their circumstances and armed with more tools to fight their way out of trouble or just survive. It’s partially a manifesto against the cruelty of the debt apparatus and a vision for a world without it as well. The writers argue that debt connects to so much of our lives and public policy. For want of universal health care, we have medical debt. For want of affordable education for all, we have student debt. For want of a living wage, we have credit card debt. The benefits flow to intermediaries who get rich off the lack of provision of these services and needs, increasing their take as financialization spreads. It’s a subtle yet powerful argument.

It also hits at the deep well of shame around debt, something I’ve seen repeatedly in talking to those drowning in an underwater home. The message is ultimately empowering. Here’s a sample:

We gave the banks the power to create money because they promised to use it to help us live healthier and more prosperous lives—not to turn us into frightened peons. They broke that promise. We are under no moral obligation to keep our promises to liars and thieves. In fact, we are morally obligated to find a way to stop this system rather than continuing to perpetuate it.

This collective act of resistance may be the only way of salvaging democracy because the campaign to plunge the world into debt is a calculated attack on the very possibility of democracy. It is an assault on our homes, our families, our communities and on the planet’s fragile ecosystems—all of which are being destroyed by endless production to pay back creditors who have done nothing to earn the wealth they demand we make for them.

To the financial establishment of the world, we have only one thing to say: We owe you nothing. To our friends, our families, our communities, to humanity and to the natural world that makes our lives possible, we owe you everything. Every dollar we take from a fraudulent subprime mortgage speculator, every dollar we withhold from the collection agency is a tiny piece of our own lives and freedom that we can give back to our communities, to those we love and we respect. These are acts of debt resistance, which come in many other forms as well: fighting for free education and healthcare, defending a foreclosed home, demanding higher wages and providing mutual aid.

Astra Taylor, a founder in Strike Debt, has an article explaining the movement in The Nation. While Occupy Wall Street has been criticized for lacking “one idea” around which to organize, this issue of debt, and the resistance to debt, could actually be it. Mike Konczal has an excellent review of the Operations Manual as well.

Photo by DoctorTongs under Creative Commons License


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