For Democracy, Strike Debt: Resonances of Abolition in the Occupy Movement

Mirzoeff, Nicholas

How do social movements move? Tiqqun, the French collective that authored The Coming Insurrection, suggests that 'movements do not spread by contamination,' but by 'resonance' between radical moments, and that is certainly what we have seen with the upsurge of popular resistance in recent years. If the autoimmune spreads by contagion, autonomy spreads by resonance. In this spirit, I would like to suggest that there is a chain of resonance from the Haitian revolutionaries through the US Abolitionists and Reconstructionists down to today’s critiques of the prison-industrial complex and the global justice movements. Specifically, while those who campaign against debt are often told that there is no precedent for their ideas, the history of these radical moments in the Americas suggests that any democracy worthy of the name is also an economic transformation that takes into account the racialization of debt. Running though this chain is what Toni Morrison called the “re-memory” of slavery, a physical or visual evocation of the past that 'comes back whether we want it to or not.' Each of these moments returns periodically, repeatedly, because justice has not yet been served. Abolition, whether of chattel slavery or debt, is not a simple event or a moment but a chain of interwoven and interactive events. Far from being a neutral tool of accounting, debt is always a method of racializing subjects, whether into 'whiteness,' 'blackness,' being 'indigenous,' or otherwise. Any campaign against debt thus becomes a campaign for a democracy comprised of free subjects.
Within the Occupy movement, the call for debt abolition began with the recognition of unprecedented levels of student indebtedness and the formation of the Occupy Student Debt Campaign in October 2011. As the movement developed, increasingly all kinds of household debt were targeted by a new campaign calling itself Strike Debt. A critique soon arose that debt is paradoxically an 'elite' phenomenon, because only people of means, usually 'white' people, have access to debt. In The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, Strike Debt has collectively responded to this critique, asserting that 'debt is a calculated attack on the very possibility of democracy.' As ever in the Americas, this assault targets people of color first, leading to the designation of debt as an 'economic hate crime.'"


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Periscope: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

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October 8, 2013