Together, we own the bank. Picture credit: debtcollective.org

Tools, Clinics, Platforms: The Power of Debt

Hannah C. Appel, Anthropology, UCLA

The Debt Collective is organized around the possibility for radical action within and against finance capitalism. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis it was often hard to understand how finance intersected with the everyday lives of ordinary—and especially, poor—people. But in the years since, it has become increasingly clear that mass indebtedness—from the mortgage crisis to student debt, criminal “justice” fines and fees to municipal austerity—is a direct effect of the conflict between debt payments generating value as securitized investments (mortgage backed securities, municipal bond offerings) vs. their role in providing shelter, food, and the ability to merely get by. In the age of finance, debt has become an immersive, systemic problem; but it is one that, in its ubiquity, may hold the seeds of its own solutions. As oil tycoon JP Getty famously quipped: “If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.” Student debt alone stands today at 1.5 trillion dollars. Together, arguably, we can be the banks’ problem. This is the provocation of the Debt Collective: how can we reframe debt from an issue of isolation and shame to a platform for collective action and political mobilization?

The Debt Collective’s first union of for profit college debtors has won over $1 billion in debt discharge to date. There is power in a debtors’ union!

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