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. 

In 2015, we organized the nation’s first student debt strike in collaboration with members who had attended Corinthian Colleges, a predatory for-profit college chain, initiating an ongoing campaign that has helped win changes to federal law and over $2 billion in student debt abolition to date. Along with a complementary legal initiative known as “Defense to Repayment” and an online debt dispute app we built, which was eventually replicated by the Department of Education, the campaign mobilized tens of thousands of people, garnered national and international headlines, and won widespread support from law and policymakers. We proved that it is possible for the government to issue mass debt relief.

Our organizing has changed lives and put universal student debt cancellation and free public college on the political map. In 2019, our members spoke alongside Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressional representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Pramila Jayapal, when they introduced College for All legislation. During her presidential campaign, Elizabeth Warren committed to erasing student debt using “compromise and settlement,” an approach based on the Debt Collective’s legal research. 

When we first raised the demand for student debt cancellation during Occupy Wall Street, the media scoffed. In 2020, thanks to our efforts, most Democratic candidates in the presidential primary ran promising some degree of student debt cancellation. 

We have shown that debtors organized in a union can wield power. In addition to changing the narrative around debt cancellation and forcing the government to eliminate billions of dollars worth of student loans, our suite of digital debt dispute tools has kept tens of thousands of dollars in debtors’ pockets. 

Our manifesto, Can’t Pay Won’t Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition, was published in 2020, outlining a vision for debtor organizing that goes far beyond student debt to include housing debt, bail and probation debt, credit card debt, utility debt, municipal debt and more. We need you to join our union to make this vision a reality.

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