Student debt can seem like a private burden – a number that always comes to mind, influencing our decisions and life choices. But what if we saw it as a community problem?
the Collective debt, co-founded in 2014 by the organizer Astra taylor with Laura Hanna, Ann Larson, Hannah Appel, Thomas Gokey, Luke Herrine and Andrew Ross, wishes millions of borrowers in the United States would share this point of view. Rather than a shame we grapple with on our own, the Debt Collective offers tools to dispute loans and encourages those who are forced to defer or default on payments that they cannot afford to formalize their reprieve on strike – categorical refusal to repay their loans.
In their next book I can’t pay, I don’t want to pay: the case for economic disobedience and debt abolition, the organization offers “a powerful guide to action for people in debt.” Vogue teens caught up with Taylor, Pennsylvania Debt Collective organizer Lauren Horner and Massachusetts Debt Collective organizer Liam Gude for more on their work.
Taylor was first inspired to think about debt differently after attending Occupy Wall Street and seeing how many other people were suffering from the debt burden as well. Horner joined the cause after graduating from high school and taking on debt she was not ready to pay off. Gude was the first person in his family to go to college but dropped out because he didn’t want his parents to have to take out loans in their name. After returning to school, he began to think about how to change the system in which he and so many others are trapped.
Editor’s Note: This conversation has been condensed and edited slightly for clarity.
Vogue teens: What’s the biggest misconception about debt or people in debt?
Lauren Horner: One of the biggest misconceptions is that we are alone, but it’s actually a collective power, having all this debt. When you look at it individually it may sound like something that will hold you back, but when you look at it collectively there is power in it.
Liam Gude: I got that from [the late organizer and critic of inequality] David GraeberThe common misconception that you are morally obligated to repay your debts. The debts are just immoral from the start.
Astra Taylor: At a basic level, the misconception is “Oh, you are in debt because you have been irresponsible”. And it’s funny how this idea persists, even though 45 million people have student loans. Do we really think those 45 million people were irresponsible, or do we think the education system is structured in such a way that now we expect teens to go into debt so they can go to college? By joining the Debt Collective, it’s like, even if your debts aren’t canceled, it’s a way to undo that psychic shame, that feeling that “Oh, I did this to myself and now I’m ashamed. . No, these debts are immoral. No one should have to go into debt for their basic needs. You shouldn’t have to go into debt for housing, food, education, water. The rich know that their debts don’t need to be paid off. Donald Trump was called the “king of debt” because the guy went bankrupt several times, increasing his debts, moving away from some, getting bailed out here. Debt is very different for the rich than it is for the poor. Certain categories of people can profit from their debts, and the vast majority of people are simply taken out of it and checked.