Here’s why we do Strike Debt. A day in the life of the debt movement. I look at the news over breakfast. The New York Times is editorializing about rescheduling private student loans. These are $150 billion but only 15% of the total. I worry for a moment that this might be how the process co-opts the debt movement but then I remember that Congress never passes anything so it scarcely matters.
Email. People are sending in text for the packet we’re putting together for Strike Debt groups that are starting up across North America–Nova Scotia, Toronto, Portland, Tampa, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and others. Actors write in about the excerpt from Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay that we might do at the People’s Bailout.
Meetings. A gathering organized by Marina Sitrin to introduce people from Strike Debt to Alex, an activist from the Athens Assembly movement. The network of neighborhood assemblies he describes is very impressive, drawing in older people, stay-at-home mothers and other non-activist types. Actions include days at hospitals where cashiers strike and allow people to get health care without paying. Although doctor visit co-pays are still low at €5, in a country with 25% unemployment, it’s still too much for many.
Other actions center on preventing those unable to pay their electricity bills from being cut off. The government has added substantial extra taxes to the bills for the purpose of repaying their loans, nothing at all to do with the utility. So many people who simply can’t pay face losing power. Today yet more cuts were announced, including devastating redundancies to civil servants and a mass lay-off of associate professors at universities. Fully 85% of the new loans that come in exchange for these cuts go directly to the banks and there will be no advantage to the population at large. American politicians say we must not become Greece. The point is rather that austerity policies supported by America have created this new “Greece.” All power to the resisters.
On to meet with an editor of the new book The Trouble is the Banks: Letters to Wall Street. This is a collection of letters posted to the popular Occupy The Boardroom website. Writers presented their stories about dealing with banks or what they think of the banks, their outrage, their wit and their hopes for the future. It’s great stuff and you can get a copy for only $10. Do consider adding a small donation if you can afford it. The meeting discussed presenting the Occupy The Boardroom project to activist groups in Spain who are now taking on Bankia, Santander and other failed Spanish banks. I’m going to Spain next month so I can meet with people in 15M and see what they think.
This was a good prelude to the next stop, a meeting in the NYU Library in support of the Cost of Knowledge campaign. Organized by a group of mathematicians, the campaign protests the extortionate prices of for-profit academic journals published by Elsevier and Springer. These journals price themselves at rates on average ten times higher per page than very similar journals published by learned and scholarly societies. Further, they compel libraries wanting to subscribe to popular, well-used journals to get them in large “bundles” that include extensive subscriptions to far less popular publications. In short, the free labor of academics adds up to an astonishing $3 billion annual profit for Elsevier, taking money out of university and library budgets.
The mathematicians have withdrawn from Elsevier journals in tranches, ranging from total boycott to a minimum refusal to publish there. As of today, over 12,000 have joined the campaign. The other side to this campaign is open access, meaning that anyone, not just people inside universities, should have access to publications. Knowledge is the commons of the information society, the basic tool of immaterial labor. Anyone thinking that maths wouldn’t be a part of such a discussion should have seen the crowd taking Occupy Algebra at the Free University last year.
This is the movement: from activists and organizers to mathematicians and librarians, people have decided that enough is enough. If the capitalist machine insists on eating itself, we have to refuse to participate and find other ways to do what we want. A day like this sounds tiring as I write it down but it was in fact more energizing to feel this wave building.