The Bay Area’s first Debtors’ Assembly took place on Saturday from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM at the Eastside Arts Alliance in East Oakland. Aprroximately seventy people came to first hear Strike Debt Bay Area organizers present an overview of debt, then discuss amongst each other debt in small groups, and finally brainstorm on ways to fight against those who hold debt over us as a cudgel.
Debtors’ Assemblies first started in New York City, organized by Occupy Wall Street peeps. Out of them came Strike Debt, the OWS offshoot that created the idea for the Rolling Jubilee and has produced the Debt Resistors Operations Manual. Now Strike Debt Chapters and Debtors’ Assemblies are spreading around the country: Chicago and Detroit are two examples.
A major focus of this Assembly was meeting in small groups to talk about why we came and what a debt resistance movement could look like. Concerns, as expected, ranged from personal financial issues (what can we do about harassing phone calls?) to political perspectives (e.g. capitalism sucks). At the report back, participants talked about alternative institutions (public banks, interest-free loans), collective actions (debtors’ unions, negotiating collectively to reduce our debt) and reforms (include student loans in bankruptcies, limit credit card interest to 10%). One crowd favorite was the idea that since college education has turned into job preparation so that people can get work to pay off their student loans, employers should be paying our tuition!
Before the small groups we had a welcome/introduction, a warm-up exercise that showed how almost all of us are in debt, a short presentation by Claire from ACCE on the economics of debt, and testimonies by several organizers about their own personal financial situations. We distributed lots of free or almost-free materials (DROM, 3 DVDs about money, Chapter 12 of David Graeber’s book on debt, handouts from the East Bay Community Law Center, the Occupy Oakland Foreclosure Group and other organizations). We had name tags that read “My debt is” and people wrote things like “student loans,” “$85,000,” and “terrifying.”
We will have a follow-up strategy meeting on Saturday, February 16, at Neibyl Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph, Oakland, from 2 to 4.
At that meeting people may organize into subgroups to work on particular projects. A group to read the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual (DROM) will probably be formed, and we will most likely be scheduling a much longer presentation on debt by Claire. Plus whatever else appeals to the folks who show up — everyone is welcome to join if interested!