Last year, Strike Debt -- a small collective of New York-based academics, filmmakers, and business types -- published a short book called The Debt Resistors' Operations Manual [PDF], which alternated between dispensing advice on how to clean up credit scores and chronicling the recent history of the finance industry.
Strike Debt is also known for a project called the Rolling Jubilee, which buys up old medical and mortgage debt that people might be despairing of ever paying off, and then erases it. The Rolling Jubilee earned the somewhat backhanded honor of being named "one of the few good ideas to come out of Occupy Wall Street" by Forbes.
The next edition of the The Debt Resistors' Operations Manual -- currently in the works, and due to be finished next year -- will have something that the original lacked: a chapter on climate change.
Why the shift? We recently spoke with Andrew Ross, professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU, who became involved in Occupy in the early days of Zuccotti Park and helped to launch the Occupy Student Debt campaign before becoming a member of Strike Debt. Ross is the author of several books, most recently Creditocracy: The Case for Debt Refusal, which will be published this February by OR Books.
Q. With all the large social issues that Occupy and Strike Debt have raised, why add climate change to the mix?
A. Well, Strike Debt focuses on all kinds of debt: medical debt, housing debt, credit card debt. We started the Rolling Jubilee. We really wanted to publicize how the secondary debt market worked. A lot of people didn’t know how cheaply their debts have been sold. How lenders are willing to sell your debt cheaply -- but not to you. Knowing how cheaply your debt has been bought by the person who is trying to collect from you changes the dynamic. We hoped to raise $50,000, and now we've raised about $630,000 -- and abolished $15 million worth of debt.
What changed is, Hurricane Sandy happened. A lot of Strike Debt people became involved in Occupy Sandy. It drove home links we’d been talking about when we did the Strike Debt report. People were waiting for their FEMA loans and these predatory banks were circling around them.
Climate debt isn't a part of the political discourse, but climate debt needs to be honored and repaid. It's unusual compared to other kinds of debt because it tends to be the more affluent populations that are the debtors.