Debtor's Revolution: Are Debt Strikes Another Possible Tactic in the Fight Against the Big Banks?
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The report also notes that rating consumer credit and selling access to those ratings is a $1 billion business—one quarter of which is selling consumers' ratings back to them.
Elizabeth Warren, Senate candidate, inventor of the CFPB, and bankruptcy law expert, wrote in 2009 that credit card companies had effectively gotten bankruptcy law changed in 2005 to make credit card debts harder to discharge in a bankruptcy filing as well, and pointed out the power of the other side: “Credit card companies can hire lawyers and develop extensive debt collect departments.”
Asked about the idea of a debt strike, Sternwood said, “I think the people who would be the first to strike would be the people who have already defaulted.” Once your credit is already tanked, perhaps the idea of giving it another hit isn't quite as threatening.
Making It Happen
At ContactCon, the debt strike group discussed what would be necessary to help organize debt strikes, and debated whether the best plan was to hold money in escrow or to funnel it back into the economy when not paying. The group wound up growing, and was nominated as one of the ideas people would like to see happen. Attendees voted on four, and Kick-Stopper was selected as one of Contact's “Most Actionable” ideas.
“We've tentatively planned on holding a 54-hour hackathon later in November or in early December to start building the platform and continue to work out the idea,” Gokey says. “I don't think there is any need to re-create campaigns like Move Your Money. A debt strike takes things to the next logical level and would have a much bigger impact than just moving our personal savings accounts, it would stick a wrench in the gears of capital and bring everything to a grinding halt. It would give us tremendous power to back up our demands, but it would take a complex grassroots democratic organization to succeed.”
Many ideas were discussed for the platform, which would act as a sort of social network for horizontally organized, networked strikes. Users could possibly share their personal stories as well as which banks hold their debt, and coordinate with other debtors in their area or who owe money to the same bank or for the same problem to maximize impact.
In many ways, the combination of online/offline activism is the hallmark of the Occupy Wall Street movement, organized with the help of hacker groups like Anonymous and promoted through citizen media like livestreams, camera phone videos and Twitter, but solidly grounded in real-world action. Creating a Web application to organize something like a debt strike would be another step in marrying direct action with the ability of the Web to connect people across the country.
“Contact is about unlocking the potential of the networked era, and a strong networked organizational structure is what we will need to maintain a large-scale debt strike of millions of people,” Gokey said. “In a lot of ways, a debt-strike is a low-tech thing, but our networked technology can help us organize it.”
Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.