Category: Videos

YES! Magazine

October 8, 2015

80 Percent of Us Owe Money to Institutions. Can We Leverage It to Reduce Inequality? Three visionaries discuss how America’s debt problem has transformed the movements they work with

by Kate Aronoff

Among the most fascinating aspects of debt today is the fact that just about everybody has some. While we may not agree on which institutions are responsible or who should pay, at least 80 percent of us owe money—to banks, hospitals, universities or otherwise. How can organizers leverage this sad fact to build movements? Can the ubiquity of debt open the door to solutions that address its root causes, like severe inequality and massive disinvestment in the public sphere?

A number of organizations are attempting to do just that, by situating campaigns against debt within struggles for economic freedom and racial justice, imagining creative approaches for taking it on at the personal, institutional and systemic level.

To hear more about this work, YES! and the New Economy Coalition put together a conversation between organizers who each approach debt from a different angle. Alexandra Flores-Quilty is elected president of the United States Student Association, the country’s oldest and largest student-led organization. Saket Soni is co-founder and executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance, formed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to organize immigrant workers at the heart of New Orleans’ reconstruction—many of whom took out large loans just to enter the country. And Luke Herrine is legal coordinator for the Debt Collective, a membership-based organization that offers debtors—including the debt-striking students of the Corinthian 200—a shared platform for organization, advocacy, and direct action.

This interview has been edited for clarity—but you can watch the whole conversation at the bottom of the page.

Kate Aronoff: I want to start with a really basic question: What’s wrong with debt and why is it worth fighting against?

Learn more ...

On Aug. 19, 2013, Rahman Johnson of ABC/Bounce TV in Tallahassee, FL, interviewed NGA lead organizer Jacob Horwitz and Jamaican H-2B worker Shellion Harris about severe worker abuse and threats of deportation on FL’s Emerald Coast.

KahInn Lee is a former McDonald’s guestworker on the front lines of immigration reform.

A McDonald’s franchisee used KahInn and other guestworkers as a sub-minimum wage, exploitable workforce—but the workers stood up to expose the abuse and stop it.

Corporations like McDonald’s want to hugely expand guestworker programs through immigration reform, while leaving out basic protections for guestworkers and the tens of millions of U.S. workers alongside them in the same industries.

Stand with workers like KahInn: sign the petition to tell Congress that immigration reform must include key guestworker protections—for the sake of ALL America’s workers.

Meet Martha.

Last year she was a guestworker exposing forced labor in a Louisiana labor camp.

This year she’s on the frontlines of immigration reform.

Watch Martha’s video to see how Walmart’s low prices trapped her in forced labor—and how she blew the whistle on forced labor on the Walmart supply chain.

When whistleblowers like Martha come forward, they protect the wages and conditions of the 24 million U.S. workers alongside them in the same industries.

Stand with Martha: sign the petition to tell Congress that immigration reform must protect immigrant whistleblowers—for the sake of ALL America’s workers.

When guestworkers like Martha Uvalle blow the whistle on abuse, they protect the wages and conditions of the 24 million U.S. workers alongside them. Tell Congress that immigration reform should protect guestworker whistleblowers — for the sake of ALL America’s workers!


J-1 student guestworkers expose severe exploitation at McDonald’s stores in Central PA on March 6, 2013 — the start of a beautiful campaign to protect the rights of ALL workers!

Sign the students’ petition to end exploitation at McDonald’s!

A look inside the C.J.’s Seafood plant in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, where guestworkers on H-2B visas have been subjected to forced labor, threats against themselves and their families, constant surveillance, wage theft, and discrimination — from which Walmart has profited.

Hershey’s has passed the buck and pointed fingers while J-1 students who escaped exploitation at the Hershey’s packing plant are standing up for their own dignity, and for American workers.

They recorded this appeal to Hershey’s CEO John Bilbrey to make sure he knows what they’re asking for. Please share it with 10 friends to make sure Mr. Bilbrey gets the message.

You can also contact John Bilbrey at tel. 717.534.4200, fax 717.531.6161, jbilbrey (at) Tell him you want dignity for student workers and living wage jobs for local workers.

Post on and tell them the same.

Join the students at, @NGAdignity, and #JusticeatHersheys

Meet the students who stopped exploitation @Hersheys plant and are demanding that PA workers get living wage jobs.

Send messages of solidarity to justice-at-hersheys@guestworkeralliance.­org

Tweet with #JusticeatHersheys