No Paying, No Debt
Cancel rent and mortgage payments, utilities and bill collection and all debt payments for the duration of the pandemic. No work means no pay. The unemployed cannot be forced to choose between survival and settling their debts.
“But debt is social and credit is asocial. Debt is mutual. Credit runs only one way.
Debt runs in every direction, scattering, escaping, seeking refuge. The debtor
seeks refuge among other debtors, acquires debt from them, offers debt to them.”
The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study
Fred Moten and Stefano Harney
The coronavirus pandemic is widening economic inequality across the country, but no amount of money can give someone immunity from the virus. In the U.S., an estimated 49% of people live paycheck to paycheck, and 53% can’t afford an unexpected $500 expense. Expecting people without employment or stable income to continue paying their debts and monthly expenses is an impossible logic, and the unemployed, gig workers, and low-income earners will surely bear the brunt of the social and economic ruin yet to come. The cancellation of debt is more urgent than ever.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the life-and-death consequences of income inequality. The virus is deadlier for people living paycheck to paycheck. We need a suspension of all debt and bill collection to stop the economic chasm from growing. Moratoriums, freezes, and forebearances only delay and compound the devastating consequences of debt, but we can work together to cancel rent, mortgage, utilities, and debt payments alike until everyone is on their feet.
Paying down debt prioritizes profit over the survival of millions. Even with the meager stimulus, millions are choosing between paying rent or feeding their families, and people without social security numbers lack any sort of government aid. We can strike our debt together and reserve our resources to outlive the pandemic. Cancelling rent, utilities and debt payments means lenders lose some profit but we survive.
Why no paying, no debt?
The economic growth of the last decade did not bring financial security to most people in the US. In 2018, unemployment stood at a modest 4%, but paychecks weren’t growing. Despite consistent increases in productivity, wages had essentially stagnated.
Today, as the virus continues to spread, unemployment rates may be as high as 20 percent with over twenty-six million having filed for unemployment. This pales in comparison to what could lie around the corner. At the outset of the pandemic, the Fed estimated that 67 million people are working in jobs that are at a high risk of layoffs.
The $1.56 trillion in US educational debt is a central issue for the medical front lines. The average doctor begins their career with more than $200k in student loans. Roughly 70 percent of nurses graduate with $40k-$150k. The typical college graduate, who may be a med tech, EMT, or ambulance crew member, has $30k. Yet these workers are still facing unemployment as for-profit hospitals cannot afford to pay them.
Unemployed low-wage and part-time workers from hardest hit industries have no choice but to seek employment in essential, high-risk, front line work in grocery stores and delivery companies, putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk of infection in order to pay rent, utilities, and debt payments. No one should have to risk their lives to pay their bills.
This is a time of survival. Debt is not essential. Our collective resources must go to meeting our needs for the duration of the pandemic. Without unnecessary bills, we can better identify and share our resources with the people who need them most. More debt, stagnant income growth, and less savings keep driving an impossible goal of endless economic growth. That growth has been shut down. If our debts are not forgiven, we can bring a collective end to the debt cycle together. Cancel debt or debt strike.
How can we stop paying?
Actions toward debt cancellation are immediately available to us, as debtors, tenants and organizers.
To refuse debt we are organizing in three key areas: building ties within mutual aid networks and neighborhood organizations to provide direct material support to anyone in need, coordinating a nationwide rent strike to alleviate the financial burden of those who cannot pay by encouraging social solidarity from those who can, and amplifying the wave and scope of wildcat labor strikes to unionize workers for increased pay and protections and address COVID-19 specific complaints in the workplace.
Each area is crucial to the cancellation of debt. Mutual aid and support networks create community level bonds to answer direct needs surrounding food, health and other services. Mutual aid and rent strike groups can connect tenants with fellow renters in their cities and neighborhoods, densifying eviction defense groups and building capacity to form autonomous tenant unions. A rent strike has the power to resist the financialization of housing in the long term and protect tenants from evictions in the short. A rent cancellation would stop workers from having to labor in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. Helping remaining front line employees organize their workplaces to conduct labor strikes means increasing their capacity to continue their employment on their own terms. Wage increases and worker protections will keep workers on the job with the dignity and demands that their positions deserve.
5 Demands aims to connect you to mutual aid initiatives, tenant and worker unions, and strike groups near you. If they don’t yet exist, we will help you to organize your own. You are not alone in this struggle and there are millions of us mobilized for a future on our own terms. It’s time to get started. It’s time to strike.
How can we avoid debt?
The rent strike is just the beginning of the campaign for debt cancellation. There are a few things one can do immediately to mitigate their own personal circumstances, such as seeking forebearances on loans, calling creditors to pause payments, and communicating with landlords about your unwillingness or inability to pay rent. We can sign petitions and demand that the government respond to our cries for relief, but in the end, these gestures are not as strong as building a commons of resources, skills, and a union-backed labor force that commands change.
It is clear that workers run the world right now. The rich want us to get back to work so that we can pay our way because, ultimately, it is working people who make the rich richer. If we want to remove ourselves from an underclass of disposable laborers, we have to own our power and demand directly with our bodies what we deserve. We are witnessing what is essential: food, shelter, healthcare, communication, and the labor to keep all of that in circulation.
Creditors, landlords and bill collectors are like a second plague following the first, perpetual reminders of our dependence on an economy designed to enrich a few and impoverish the rest.
Our networks of support, our refusal of debt, our defense of one another and our labor combine as a superpower–a far greater power than the one creditors and landlords wield over us. It is the power that comes from knowing that we can provide for ourselves and each other by being resourceful, generous, stealthy and strong. If we can’t pay, we won’t pay. For it is true: there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from the mounting debt, and therefore nothing we will do when they ask for more of our money.
We did not create the systemic failures we are witnessing today. We did not shut down the economy, abandon the old and the sick, or fail to secure adequate PPE for healthcare workers. We will not be told that this is our burden, and we cannot give what we do not have.
So we will not pay, we will refuse our debts. We will remember this power we have developed by building a new world, block by block, neighbor by neighbor, refusal by refusal until we overwhelm the systems that hold us hostage. When the collectors come to take back our stimulus checks, our rent moratoriums, our friends and lovers let out of jail, we will not let them have what was never theirs to begin with. We have to say ‘no’ and we have to fight. If everyone refuses, the system will have no choice but to change. This is true of rent, credit, student loans, criminal sentences and all debts to “society.” We have nothing to lose but our shackles to debt.
What about my credit score?
If everyone has bad credit, credit worthiness becomes obsolete. However, Congress declined to pass a moratorium on credit reporting of missed and late payments during the coronavirus outbreak. You can negotiate with your creditors and ask to reduce APR’s and fees, but these small measures will only delay the inevitable fact that most people who lost their jobs, businesses, 401 K’s even, are going to need more assistance than the government is able or a creditor is willing to provide.
A debt cancellation is needed when debts go beyond the ability to be paid, and all personal debts tend to mount up beyond what can be paid. Millions of debt-strapped individuals have lost their jobs and are unable to earn the money to pay toward rents, mortgages and utilities. It’s obvious that the arrears are growing so large that the only way of recouping them is to evict, foreclose, and leave people in the dark. This would be akin to genocide in the middle of a pandemic, and while the government is used to having blood on its hands, the debts have to be canceled or fully suspended or the country will plunge so deep into a depression that social unrest and revolt are guaranteed. Austerity is not an option most governments are willing to accept. Debt is cancelled to preserve stability.
What if I need help now?
Solidarity economy. Solidarity funds. Mutual aid.
Call the hotline. Reach out to friends, neighbors, and mutual aid networks, to collectivize the government aid that you receive. To alleviate stress, consider forebearance of federally-backed student loans. For your other debts, like car loans and credit cards, start calling your creditors and tell them you can’t pay and negotiate for a lower or deferred payment at no interest. Burn your bills, and add them to social media tagging the lender. Publicly ask friends, co-workers and family members, if they have had any luck. Start to collect and share your stories as widely as possible, creating pressure on the lender to meet your demands. The 5 Demands Hotline can offer you support as you build your campaign.
In systems of mutual aid, communities take on the responsibility for caring for one another, rather than forcing individuals to fend for themselves.
Mutual aid is also not charity, it does not create forced dependency. It creates symbiotic relationships, where social solidarity facilitates the exchange of material goods or assistance between people. Mutual aid organizing is volunteer-run, transparent, and driven by the needs articulated by community members.
“[Man] is appealed to to be guided in his acts, not merely by love…but by the perception of his oneness with each human being. In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support not mutual struggle — has had the leading part.”
Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution , 1902 by Peter Kropotkin
Mutual aid played an important role during community organizing in the sixties and seventies. Some famous examples include the Black Panther Party’s Breakfast Program, which provided free meals to children in urban areas, and the 1970 takeover of a Bronx hospital by New York City’s Young Lords Party.
Currently, groups across the country are organizing efforts to provide essential supplies and care to those directly impacted by COVID-19. The Mutual Aid Hub hosts a map of groups across the country and useful resource links for how to start your own initiative.
1. Research your landlord.
2. Connect with other tenants.
3. Plan an organizing meeting.
4. Consolidate demands and form a Tenants Council.
5. Commit to striking.
6. Identify local mutual aid networks.
7. Research current tenant protections in your city/state.
8. Form eviction defense plans.
9. Send a letter to your landlord from your own tenants council.
10. Plan for the future together.
- Identify essential monthly expenses (rent, mortgage, utilities, insurance, phone, internet, etc.)
- Call essential bill providers and ask to defer payments.
- Review credit card bills and bank statements for monthly subscriptions you can cancel. Amazon Prime, for example.
- Call Creditors (credit cards, auto loans, personal loans, etc.) to reduce or pause payments.
- If your creditors refuse to mitigate your debt, publicly burn your bills in refusal.
- Abolitionist Mutual Aid Fund for Incarcerated Comrades
- Asian Pacific Environmental Network : COVID-19 Emergency Community Stabilization Fund
- Bay Area COVID-19 Relief Application for Migrant Youth Community
- Black Trans Futures
- COVID-19 Mutual Aid Fund for LGBTQI+ BIPOC Folks
- COVID-19 Response Fund for sex workers in DC area
- COVID Crisis Fund for Feminist Activists
- Emergency COVID-19 Relief for Sex Workers in New York
- First Nations Development Institute – COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund
- Freelancers’ Relief Fund
- Immune Compromised People in Need
- Indigenous Environmental Network
- ILYSM: a weekly $500 artist grant
- Jobs With Justice — Worker Solidarity Fund
- Liberated Capital: A Decolonizing Wealth Fund — Native American Community Response Fund (COVID-19)
- Leveler.info – peer to peer wealth distribution
- Love & Protect Emergency Fund
- Movimiento Cosecha – Undocumented Worker Fund
- Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) – COVID-19 Mutual Aid Fund
- National Day Laborer Organizing Network – Immigrant Worker Safety Net Fund
- National Domestic Workers Alliance – Coronavirus Care Fund
- Native Voices Rising
- NDN Collective
COVID-19 Response Project to distribute resources to frontline organizations, Tribes, and individuals who are providing essential services to Indigenous communities.
- Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief
- One Fair Wage – Support to Workers in Crisis
- Pronet – COVID-19 Emergency Fund for Undocumented Members
- Radical Muslim Mutual Aid – COVID-19 Redistribution Fund
- Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation – COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund
- Service Workers Mutual Aid Fund
- Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium – COVID-19 Relief for Southern Communities
- SWOP Seattle — COVID-19 Relief Mini Grant
- UndocuBlack Network
- UNITE HERE Education and Support Fund