Books for changing the world

Debtors of the World Unite!

Emboldened by the election of Joe Biden and the continued crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Debt Collective has renewed its call for the new president to cancel all student debt during his first 100 days in office.

Debtors have been mocked, scolded and lied to for decades. We have been told that it is perfectly normal to go into debt to get medical care, to go to school, or even to pay for our own incarceration. We’ve been told there is no way to change an economy that pushes the majority of people into debt while a small minority hoard wealth and power.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed that mass indebtedness and extreme inequality are a political choice. In the early days of the crisis, elected officials drew up plans to spend trillions of dollars. The only question was: where would the money go and who would benefit from the bailout?

The truth is that there has never been a lack of money for things like housing, education and health care. Millions of people never needed to be forced into debt for those things in the first place.

Armed with this knowledge, a militant debtors movement has the potential to rewrite the contract and assure that no one has to mortgage their future to survive.

Debtors of the World Must Unite.

As isolated individuals, debtors have little influence. But as a bloc, we can leverage our debts and devise new tactics to challenge the corporate creditor class and help win reparative, universal public goods.

Individually, our debts overwhelm us. But together, our debts can make us powerful.

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Hannah Appel is a Professor of Anthropology and Global Studies at UCLA and a political organizer. She is the author, most recently, of The Licit Life of Capitalism: US Oil in Equatorial Guinea, and serves as the Associate Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, where she leads the Future of Finance research stream. She is co-founder of the Debt Collective, a union for debtors, and a writers bloc member for Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition.

David Adler is a politic economist from Los Angeles whose work focuses on the politics of internationalism. He currently serves as the General Coordinator of the Progressive International, founded in May 2020 to unite, organize, and mobilize progressive forces around the world. Previously, he served as foreign policy advisor to the Bernie Sanders campaign, policy director of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), and was the co-founder of its Green New Deal for Europe campaign.

Micah Uetricht is the deputy editor of Jacobin and host of Jacobin Radio's podcast The Vast Majority. He is the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity and coauthor of Bigger than Bernie: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism.