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?