Strike Debt, Imagine Life

Published on Occupied Times.co.uk OT, by Nicole Hala/Society, March 1, 2013:

Why Strike Debt? Because today most debt is illegitimate and unjust. Most of us fall into debt because we are increasingly deprived of the means to acquire the basic necessities of life: health care, education, and housing. We are forced to go into debt simply in order to live. ‘We also oppose debt because it is an instrument of exploitation and political domination. Debt is used to discipline us, deepen existing inequalities, and reinforce racial, gendered, and other social hierarchies’ (Strike Debt Principles of Solidarity) …; 

How to Strike Debt? We don’t know for sure. Debt resisters all over the world, in diverse contexts, are trying to figure it out. We have no choice but to experiment. Since indebtedness involves areas of experience outside the ‘political,’ debt resistance will too. Understanding how debt has become entangled in our everyday lives — our social relationships, our hearts, psyches, and souls — is critical. If we are to challenge the institutions of the debt system, which divides us and benefits from that division, we must become conscious of how we have internalised its rules and assumed its values. Fundamentally, debt is a promise about the future. It shapes our collective imagination; it funnels our desires. Before we can even envision alternate possibilities, we need to survey the damage already done: We need to talk.

In New York City, clusters of the ‘Occupy Wall Street diaspora’ and others began gathering at regular open assemblies, which evolved into what we call ‘Debtors Assemblies.’ The basic idea is to come together and speak out about debt. Sharing our ‘debt stories,’ we come to understand life under debt and to imagine life after debt, building trust in the process. In the tradition of consciousness-raising groups, a guiding strategy of second-wave feminism, the gatherings are a space for learning and unlearning; processes with cognitive and affective dimensions. The Women’s Movement, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Gay Liberation Movement showed how in Western patriarchal culture emotions are a site of social control as well as resistance … //

… In the current face-off with finance, making the crisis visible, and exposing its immorality, injustice and unsustainability remains a challenge. Debt, as Holmes describes, is ‘part of the fabric of false promises and hyper-individualised coercion that we call neoliberal governance.’ Student loan debt and credit card debt, hovering at around a trillion dollars each, ‘are part of a continuum that begins with payday loans, moves through the concealed robbery of the stock markets and ends in the [US] Treasury’s extortion of trillions of dollars from the rest of the world to pay for bloody useless wars.’ The damage wrought by financial capitalism stretches across space and back in time. As Silvia Federici observes, neoliberal restructuring has been going on for over three decades, moving from the peripheries to the centre of the global economy.

It’s the same crisis that has brought women from the global South to the US, where they work as nannies, maids and sex workers, mostly informally, part of a subordinate population without rights. Women in North America and Europe who have been working an unwaged ‘second shift’ in the home have been living the crisis as well. Increasingly, second, even third ‘shifts’, have been insufficient to make ends meet. Relying on credit to make up the difference, households are now drowning in debt. Today, many college graduates, even those with advanced degrees and high incomes, fear they will never be able to repay their debts. Following the dominant cultural script, many think it is their own fault.

As Dr. Joanna Moncrieff describes: ‘The social catastrophe produced by neoliberal policies has been washed away and forgotten in the language of individual distress.’  Neoliberal assumptions about human nature and behaviour permeate mainstream culture, framing the news and virtually all public discussion on the ‘economy.’ While financial predators go on stealing our possessions and our futures with impunity, we are scolded for poor financial planning. When the subject is debt, the main concern is ‘moral hazard’ (often erroneously attributed to individual debtors rather than structural conditions). If the story involves people, it is in caricature: the ‘deadbeat,’ the ‘loser,’ the ‘entitled kid,’ etc. The mantra – ‘One must pay one’s debts’- usually goes unchallenged. The rules of the financial system still appear inviolable and natural to many. But the truth is that debt is a social arrangement, which can be altered, and is altered all the time for those ‘too big to fail.’

The debt system relies on our thinking about indebtedness as a moral failing on the part of individuals – something to be ashamed of, kept in the closet. Breaking the silence through public testimony is a form of resistance to the rule of debt. Telling our stories helps to expose the brutalising influence of the debt system, which commands us to always be calculating and compels us to compare the incommensurable. In valuing unique lives, people are already doing what is considered impossible and continue to demonstrate that ‘You Are Not a Loan.’

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