The Debt Collective is guided by core values that have been honed since the organization was founded. We know movement building is always a work-in-progress, and that we will always have to adapt, experiment, and improvise as we build debtor power. But through it all—through evolving campaigns and shifting political conditions—we aspire to stay consistent in our principles. We strive to honor the values below, and expect all of our members and branches to do the same.

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.

Practice solidarity.

Racial capitalism uses race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality, disability, and other differences to divide and conquer us. We can only overcome oppression with solidarity and coalition-building. We support local and global struggles for workers’ rights, Indigenous rights and decolonization, racial justice and reparations, prison abolition, immigrant rights, environmental justice, disability justice, gender and sexual equality, and more. All of our struggles are connected, and deep structural change requires different movements working on a wide range of issues that inform and strengthen one another.

Center the most impacted.

Debt is not an equalizer; it intensifies pre-existing inequalities. Poor people, Indigenous and Black people, LGBTQI+ people, women, and other communities of color suffer disproportionately under the current system. The fact that we are all in debt does not change the different ways that racism, patriarchy, homo and transphobia, and ableism continue to affect our everyday lives. It does, however, open up the possibility of new, powerful alliances. We build these alliances, centering the most impacted; this generates strategies and solutions that address historic challenges, uplift our entire society, and acknowledge that when the most marginalized are free, we are all free.

Build beyond borders. 

Debt knows no borders. The U.S. is the imperial center of global capitalism, and big banks, creditors and other capitalist institutions operate across city, state and national borders. Our fight for a fundamentally transformed economy crosses regional divides and emphasizes anti-imperialism and building power alongside worldwide struggles against unjust debt.

Be radical, not rigid. 

We aim to dismantle racial capitalism with militance, disobedience, and radical imagination. We want to get at the root of society’s problems without being dogmatic or self-righteous. We may know what’s wrong, but we are all collectively figuring out how to effectively respond — and no single tactic can solve every problem. This means being inclusive, listening, staying open to new ideas, and practicing humility.

We’re all human

The real debts we owe are not to banks, lenders, and the government — but to each other. We all come to this movement with our gifts and our passion but also our challenges and our traumas. We treat each other with care, honesty, and forbearance. We center relationship-building and restorative practices, lift each other up, affirm one another’s identities and life experiences, offer the benefit of the doubt, call each other “in” and not “out”, take breaks, and focus on self-care. We are tough on principles and gentle with people.

Dream and scheme

We thrive on visionary, bold, and creative tactics. We are not afraid to experiment and find new ways to build and wield power, from street-level action to creative legal strategies that abolish debt to politicizing collective non-payment and default (debt strikes). We use art, music, cultural intervention, and joy to push the boundaries of our collective imagination and assert our dignity. We dare to dream the impossible and work collaboratively to turn it into reality.

Democratize everything. 

We are a membership organization that builds power through collaboration. We aim to build meaningful democracy internally in our union and externally in the world (ie, our communities, our economy, our government). Democratization is a process; no one has the perfect recipe in an unequal world. We commit to this work, and we share power and information through political education, leadership development and skill sharing, input and feedback processes, and distributed organizing.

Play to win

We are building power to win real victories and transform our society. We center strategic analysis and think about what it takes to succeed before committing ourselves to specific tactics and campaigns.  We turn every moment into an organizing opportunity and parlay small victories into bigger ones, aware there will always be more to do. We play to win broad debt cancellation, reparative public goods, and an economy based on the principle of solidarity.

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