debt strike must happen

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Doug Noble

Nov 17, 2011, 8:55:29 AM11/17/11
Hello. I'm with Occupy Rochester and Metro Justice and also with Take Back the Land, engaged in (successful) direct actions stopping home evictions. I'm very interested in particpating in any online meetings around debt strikes, but I need to know how that works. Meanwhile, here (below) is a piece I recently wrote ( a version is on Counterpunch) that might be of interest.
Doug Noble


Doug Noble

“It’s not that we don’t have demands... We speak them with our struggle. Our movement is made up of people fighting for jobs, for schools, for debt relief, equitable housing, and healthcare... We are ... democratic, fierce, and unwavering.” And "we aren’t going home.”

These statements by Occupy Wall Street (OWS) activists remind us that while there's no shortage of policy demands from the left, what’s been absent is the power to make these policy ideas a reality in corporate America. The growing Occupy Wall Street movement now offers an opportunity to seize that power. This is its greatest significance.

I propose that we use that power, not by lodging futile demands on unresponsive governments or corporations, but instead by taking control of what we can control ourselves within this political economy: the repayment of our own debts.

Consider this from David Graeber, anthropologist, author of Debt: the First 5000 Years, and OWS activist:
"A debt is just a promise... It has no greater moral standard than any other promise that you would make." Yet politicians insist that they can’t keep their promises, their political debts, to the public for education, jobs, or healthcare because they can't break their sacred monetary debts to the bankers, with interest.

But in the history of world religions and social movements, what was sacred was not monetary debt, but the ability to make debt disappear, to forgive it, as in redemption. In the ancient Middle East, new kings would simply declare a clean slate and cancel all debts. The Biblical “Jubilee” was a way of institutionalizing that, to refresh a stalled economy of lending and borrowing. More recently, Saudi Arabia, in reaction to the Arab Spring, declared a debt cancellation. So there are precedents. Debts can be renegotiated. Trillions of dollars of debt can be made to disappear. The European Union has just arranged for banks to cut Greece’s debt in half, in order to save it from default.

How about doing the same for student loans and home foreclosures in this country? Graeber explains: "Debts between the very wealthy or between governments can always be renegotiated and always have been throughout world history. They’re not anything set in stone. It’s, generally speaking, when you have debts owed by the poor to the rich that suddenly debts become a sacred obligation, more important than anything else. The idea of renegotiating them becomes unthinkable." And yet, insists Graeber, “if democracy is going to mean anything now, we’re all going to have to be able to weigh in on what sorts of promises are made and what sorts of promises are adjusted.”

So let’s weigh in! Let’s we the people decide what we will pay and what we won’t pay on our debts. And let’s do so with heads held high, with no greater moral stigma than that affixed to the billion-dollar defaults of the banks and bankers.

Besides, as William Greider writes, “Debt forgiveness is not just a moral imperative; it’s also an economic necessity.” Bad debt is suffocating the nation’s economic activity. Morality aside, even finance industry insiders argue that general debt reduction schemes make economic sense: write down loan principals, reduce interest rates, set manageable monthly payments. That way homeowners under water and students burdened by impossible loans can begin to spend money on new things, encouraging companies to hire more workers to meet new demand for goods and services.

But if the government won’t take these steps itself, we must do it ourselves. And if the government won't honor its societal obligations or make corporations pay their debts to society for the mess they made, then let's not honor our own debts. As the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The government has certainly forgiven our creditors their debts, so it’s high time that we start forgiving our own debts. Occupy Wall Street activists decry, “THEY GOT BAILED OUT, WE GOT SOLD OUT!” So let’s bail ourselves out. Let’s declare ourselves a Jubilee of debt relief and forgiveness.

One possible place to start, already getting traction nationwide, is a debt strike – a massive collective default – on student loan debt. Such debt now totals one trillion dollars, surpassing all credit card debt. Student loans, both federal and private, are especially egregious, offered to 18 year olds under the premise that education will help them earn more money to pay off their loans. Yet the jobs aren’t there, and education itself has become insidiously more expensive, requiring still greater loans.

Meanwhile, a student loan is the only type of loan that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. It stays forever, is virtually impossible to discharge, and piles up fees when in default. Incredibly, creditors can garnish anything, even Social Security checks, to get repaid. The Truth in Lending Act – which requires full disclosure of terms and costs associated with borrowing from lenders – does not even apply to these usurious student loans. Interest on student loans, typically around 7%, is many times greater than the interest that banks charge each other. The lifetime burden of insurmountable student loan debt has led to individual defaults, diminished expectations, even suicides. One such debtor speaks of being “under permanent house arrest.”

Building on the collective potential of Occupy Wall Street, student loan debt is clearly one prime target for serious, organized direct action. A debt strike would have a much greater impact than moving personal savings accounts, but it would take coordinated grassroots organization, buttressed by networked technology, to succeed. Steps taken by individuals will require assurance that they are backed by a massive act of collective default. But such a collective action is possible and it is in fact already happening. Readers are encouraged to check out these links:, , and

Greg Belvedere

Nov 18, 2011, 4:49:37 PM11/18/11
to Debt Strike /Kick-Stopper
Hi Doug,

Thanks for the arcticle. I heard David Graeber on the radio the day
after you posted this, I got really excited when he started talking
about debt and I also enjoyed your article. At least one other person
on this group has expressed an interest in attending remotely. While
the logistics of this are tough I think we have two, maybe three
options. We could have someone keep notes for the meeting and post
them on a dedicated thread where people could add their input. We
could also host a google hangout if there are not too many people.
This would let remote attendees hear and see the events live, though
getting their input might prove tricky if we don't enough laptops. The
third option would be organizing a livestream of some sort. I don't
know how this works so anyone who has some experience with that please
chime in.


On Nov 17, 8:55 am, Doug Noble <> wrote:
> Hello. I'm with Occupy Rochester and  Metro Justice  and also with Take Back the Land, engaged in (successful) direct actions stopping home evictions. I'm very interested in particpating in any online meetings around debt strikes, but I need to know how that works. Meanwhile, here (below) is a piece I recently wrote ( a version is on Counterpunch)  that might be of interest.
> Thanks.
> Doug Noble
> ___________________________________________________________________________­____
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