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An Ode to the Debt Resistor

In honor of The People's Bailout, a variety show and telethon being held in NYC on November 15, we are  publishing an excerpt from Strike Debt's The Debt Resistor's Operation Manual.

The People's Bailout will launch the Strike Debt movement's groundbreaking new Rolling Jubilee initiative. With it, they will buy debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it – abolish it. They cannot buy specific individuals' debt, but will instead  help liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal.  All proceeds from the event will go directly to buying people's debt and cancelling it.

Everyone is affected by debt, from recent graduates paying hundreds of dollars in interest on their students loans every month, to working families bankrupted by medical bills, to elders living in “underwater” homes, to those taking out payday loans at 400% interest to cover basic living costs, to the teachers and firefighters forced to take pay cuts because their cities are broke, to countries pushed into austerity and poverty by structural adjustment programs.

Everyone seems to owe something, and most of us (including our cities) are in so deep it’ll be years before we have any chance of getting out—if we have any chance at all. At least one in seven of us is already being pursued by debt collectors. We are told all of this is our own fault, that we got ourselves into this and that we should feel guilty or ashamed. But think about the numbers: 76% of Americans are debtors. How is it possible that three-quarters of us could all have just somehow failed to figure out how to properly manage our money, all at the same time? And why is it no one is asking, “Who do we all owe this money to, anyway?” and “Where did they get the money they lent?”

At the same time, we keep hearing about financial capitalism: the fact that most of the profits on Wall Street no longer have much to do with producing or even selling anything, but are simply the fruits of speculation. This is supposed to be very complicated—“Somehow they have just figured out a way to make money out of thin air; no, don’t even try to understand how they do it”—and very distant from our everyday concerns.

In fact, bankers are allowed to make money out of thin air—but only if they lend it to someone. That’s the real reason everyone is in debt: it’s a shakedown system. The financial establishment colludes with the government to create rules designed to put everyone in debt; then the system extracts it from you. Overseas it operates through financial scams that keep cheap goods flowing into the United States in a way that would never be possible if not for the threat of U.S. military power.

Here at home it means endlessly making up new rules designed to put us all in debt, with the entire apparatus of government, police and prisons providing enforcement and surveillance. Instead of taxing the rich to generate money to build and maintain things like schools and roads, our government actually borrows money from the banks and the public pays the interest on these loans. As we’ve learned through scandal after scandal, this process is riddled with fraud, rigged from the start to steal money that should be going to social necessities. Financial capitalism is mafia capitalism.

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.

The fact is, most debtors dare not reveal their names nor show their faces. Those who struggle to stay afloat or who have fallen into default are told that they are failures, inadequate and abject, and so they do not speak out. There are literally millions of people who cannot pay the enormous sums that the financial elites claim they owe. They are the Invisible Army of Defaulters. Instead of a personal failure, refusing to pay under our current system is an act of profound moral courage. We see our situation as connected, and we can look for ways to step out of the shadows together. The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual is an attempt to assist this invisible army and all other debt resistors in this struggle.

To learn more, download The Debt Resistors' Operation Manual

Art by Joe Alterio

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The Rolling Jubilee - People's Bailout