The Debt Collective is a membership-based union for debtors and our allies. Our current economic system forces us into debt: student debt for education; a mortgage or soaring rent for housing; unpaid bills for utilities, phone, medical care, and even incarceration. No one should have to go into debt to meet their basic needs. These debts are illegitimate and the system needs to change, and we are united to win that change. How? Through the power of our union.
Our debtors’ union is inspired by labor unions. Individually, workers are at the mercy of their bosses. But when workers come together they can win better wages, benefits, working conditions, a voice on the job, and more.
It’s the same with debtors. As individual debtors, we are at the mercy of our creditors. But together we can turn our individual debts into collective power. We can use that power not only to get our debts canceled, but also to change how we finance our basic needs in the first place. We fight for a world in which we can all thrive, not just survive.
Our debts do not come from personal failure; they are the product of failed political policies and a cruel economic system. Our debt payments enable a small group of powerful people to profit at our expense. But we can turn this to our advantage. Since capitalism and our creditors depend on us paying our bills, we have leverage and power if we take action together. We can dispute our debts, organize campaigns of strategic nonpayment (debt strikes), bring our voices to the media and the streets, pressure corporations and politicians to end harmful policies, and push for structural transformation and collective liberation.
We are not in debt because we live beyond our means, but because we are denied the means to live. We are building a multiracial, intergenerational movement to change this.
Power in numbers.
You are not a loan! We are building a mass movement to transform individual financial struggle (and the shame and isolation that comes with it) into collective power. Alone our debts are a burden, but together they give us power over an exploitative system. As the old saying goes: if you owe the bank $100,000, the bank owns you; but if you owe the bank $100 million, you own the bank. Together, we own the bank. We meet people where they are and invite them into our organizing so we can leverage our collective power.
The market won’t save us.
Market-based solutions cannot solve the problems that the markets created in the first place. We seek strategies and solutions that center human needs, collaboration and cooperation, not the capitalist principles of competition, profit, and efficiency. That includes modeling an economy driven by mutual aid, worker ownership, socialized finance and institutions that provide community-oriented, equitable, and socially-productive credit as opposed to predatory lending.
Be anti-racist — dismantle racial capitalism.
Since the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade and Western-European colonization and into the present day, capitalism has perpetuated racial hierarchies in order to extract, exploit, and profit. We are committed to devising strategies that recognize and respond to the ways racism and colonialism are currently embedded in the dominant political and economic structures, institutions, and laws that shape our lives. We center racial justice, which means supporting each other as we learn about, resist, and transform harmful systems and behaviors while striving for solutions that repair and redress past and ongoing inequities. Combatting racism involves combating capitalism, and vice versa.
The Debt Collective has its roots in the Occupy Wall Street movement. In 2012, some of the founders of the Debt Collective helped write the Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual and launch the Rolling Jubilee, a mechanism for purchasing portfolios of people’s debt on secondary debt markets — and cancelling it. Using crowdfunded donations, the Rolling Jubilee abolished more than $32 million of medical, student, payday loan, and probation debt. We then collaborated with the New Economy Project to ensure that 120,000 judgement debts — worth $800 million — were forfeited and retired as part of a legal case.
Big social change can’t happen individually; it is only achieved through uniting and taking action. The Debt Collective works to create the change we all want to see by tapping into our collective power as debtors.
We believe change can occur through:
Building economic power through campaigns aimed at winning mass debt cancellation and passing policies that advance economic and racial justice.We combine tactics such as debt disputes and debt strikes with media, legal, and direct action strategies to force change at the local and national levels.
Building multiracial, working-class power through a membership-based debtors’ union.We use local and online organizing, relationship-building, mutual aid efforts, technology including tools to dispute your debts, and political education to build membership and fight for debtors’ rights.
Building coalitions to create alternative economic systems.We collaborate with groups with similar values to envision and construct more sustainable and equitable ways to organize society beyond capitalism.