Upcoming Events

Civic Media Lunch: "Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay!": Using Technology and Media to Advance the Debtors Movement in the U.S.

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 12:00pm

MIT Media Lab, E15-344

RSVP required below.

Presenters: Laura Hanna, Ann Larson, Aaron Smith

In 2012, as part of Strike Debt, we launched the Rolling Jubilee, a project to purchase debt for pennies on the dollar and abolish it. The campaign, which erased almost $16 million in debt for people in 46 states and Puerto Rico, was featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and the New York Times. In the years since, we received thousands of requests for relief from struggling individuals and families. Most troubling about these requests is that most people think their situation is unique. In fact, almost 75% of Americans are in debt, often for basic needs such as health care and education. Much of this debt will never be repaid.

As part of the next stage, we are strategizing ways to move beyond helping individual debtors. As the saying goes, “if you owe the bank $100,000, the bank owns you. But if you owe the bank $100 million, you own the bank.” Collectively, debtors can win lower rates, principle reduction, and the cancellation of illegitimate debts. We hope to help cultivate this collective power by using technology to present a clear picture of creditor-debtor relations. Many debtors don’t know who they owe, who profits when they pay their debts, or who stands to lose if they don’t. We can use such data to develop new sites of collaboration and resistance towards a more fair distribution of resources like health care, education, and housing.

In this presentation, we will provide a brief overview of the U.S. Individual debt system. Using student debt as an example, we will explain why various policy responses from government and industry have been inadequate, and we will offer a preview of what a debtors movement based on collective power might look like and how technology could help us get there.