The Debt Resistors’ Operation Manual
A newer group grown out of Occupy called Strike Debt is making waves with their newly released Debt Resistors’ Operation Manual, available to read here with commentary from Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith and available for download as a pdf here.
Their goal is compelling, and they state it in their manifesto on page 2:
We gave the banks the power to create money because they promised to use it to help us live healthier and more prosperous lives—not to turn us into frightened peons. They broke that promise. We are under no moral obligation to keep our promises to liars and thieves. In fact, we are morally obligated to find a way to stop this system rather than continuing to perpetuate it.
This collective act of resistance may be the only way of salvaging democracy because the campaign to plunge the world into debt is a calculated attack on the very possibility of democracy. It is an assault on our homes, our families, our communities and on the planet’s fragile ecosystems—all of which are being destroyed by endless production to pay back creditors who have done nothing to earn the wealth they demand we make for them.
To the financial establishment of the world, we have only one thing to say: We owe you nothing. To our friends, our families, our communities, to humanity and to the natural world that makes our lives possible, we owe you everything. Every dollar we take from a fraudulent subprime mortgage speculator, every dollar we withhold from the collection agency is a tiny piece of our own lives and freedom that we can give back to our communities, to those we love and we respect. These are acts of debt resistance, which come in many other forms as well: fighting for free education and healthcare, defending a foreclosed home, demanding higher wages and providing mutual aid.
Here’s what I love about this manual and this Occupy group:
- They position the current debt and money situation as a system that is changeable and that, if it isn’t working for the 99%, should be changed. Too often people assume that nothing can be done.
- They explain things about debt, credit scores, and legal rights in plain English.
- They give real advice to people with different kinds of problems. For example, here’s an excerpt for people battling a mistake in their credit report:
- They also give advice on: understanding your medical bills, disputing incorrect bills, negotiating with credit card companies, and fighting for universal health care.
- They give background on why there’s so much student debt and mortgage debt and what the consequences of default are or could be.
- They talk about odious municipal debt, and give some background on that seedy side of finance.
- They describe predatory services for the underbanked like check-cashing services and payday lenders – they also explain in detail how to default on payday loans.
- They explain pre-paid debit cards and their possibilities.
- They talk about debt collectors and what you need to know to deal with them.
- They explain the ways to declare bankruptcy and the consequences of bankruptcy.
The threat of large-scale debt resistance is a great idea for putting pressure on the creditors to at least negotiate reasonably, as they already negotiate when large companies want to. It basically levels the playing field that already exists, i.e. addresses the double standards we have with respect to debt when we compare corporations to people (see my posts here and here for example).
In spite of this potential power in debt resistance, I have historically had reservations about the idea of asking a bunch of people, especially young people, to default on their debt, because I’m concerned for them individually – the banks, debt collection agencies, and other creditors have all the power in this situation – see this New York Times article from this morning if you don’t believe that.
Here’s the thing though: this manual does an exceptional job of educating people about the actual consequences of default, so they can understand what their options are and what they’d be getting into if they join a resistance movement. It’s actual information, written for struggling people, the very people who need this advice.