Other Group

Debt Collective

Fiscal Sponsor:

Sustainable Markets Foundation

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The Debt Collective is a left-of-center to far-left advocacy organization that advocates for the cancellation of all student loan debt in the United States and the enactment of fully taxpayer-funded college-for-all programs within the U.S. The group describes itself as a “union of debtors” and is aligned with several self-described democratic socialist politicians including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MI), and U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and has supported legislation related to college and student loans sponsored by them. The group also employs socialist rhetoric in many of its communications including its manifesto, a book called Can’t Pay Won’t Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition, which calls for “a militant debtors movement” and that “debtors of the world must unite.” The organization was founded as a result of the broader Occupy Wall Street movement and is fiscally sponsored by the Sustainable Markets Foundation, a left-of-center environmentalist advocacy group. 1 2 3

Background

The Debt Collective states that the organization is rooted in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many of the founders of the organization informally came together in 2012 to write the “Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual” and launch Rolling Jubilee, a program to purchase student debt portfolios using crowdsourced funds. The Rolling Jubilee claims to have “abolished more than $32 million of medical, student, payday loan, and probation debt.” The group also collaborated with the New Economy Project to “ensure that 120,000 judgement debts — worth $800 million — were forfeited and retired as part of a legal case.” 4

In 2015 the group was involved in another legal fight and “debt strike” in collaboration with former students of Corinthian Colleges, a chain of for-profit colleges. That strike and ensuing changes to federal law led to the creation of the Defense to Repayment online debt dispute app built by the organization that was later replicated by the Department of Education. 5

Stances

The Debt Collective supports policies including universal student debt cancellation and fully taxpayer-funded public college. Members of the organization spoke alongside Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MI), and Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in 2019 upon their introduction of federal College for All legislation. The group also noted that during her 2020 presidential campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) promised to erase student debt using “compromise and settlement.” This approach is based on legal research by the Debt Collective. 6

The group also stated that when it “first raised the demand for student debt cancellation during Occupy Wall Street, the media scoffed. In 2020, thanks to our efforts, most Democratic candidates in the presidential primary ran promising some degree of student debt cancellation.” 7

In 2020, the group published a manifesto titled Can’t Pay Won’t Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition, published by left-of-center Haymarket Books, which calls for “a militant debtors movement” and that “debtors of the world must unite.” According to the organization, the manifesto outlines a “vision for debtor organizing that goes far beyond student debt to include housing debt, bail and probation debt, credit card debt, utility debt, municipal debt and more.” 8

Funding

The Debt Collective is fiscally sponsored by the Sustainable Markets Foundation, an environmentalist organization pushing for stricter environmental laws and bans on natural gas production. 9

The organization states that while it positions itself as a dues-based union for debtors, the organization is mostly funded by grants and foundations and that less than 4% of the organization’s total budget comes from dues. The group states that “it’s also hard to be an anti-capitalist organization asking foundations and funders for money!” 10

References

  1. “History and Victories.” Debt Collective. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://debtcollective.org/about-us/history-and-victories/
  2. “Can’t Pay Won’t Pay.” Haymarket Books. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1618-can-t-pay-won-t-pay
  3. “Our Financials.” Debt Collective. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://debtcollective.org/about-us/our-financials/
  4. “History and Victories.” Debt Collective. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://debtcollective.org/about-us/history-and-victories/
  5. “History and Victories.” Debt Collective. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://debtcollective.org/about-us/history-and-victories/
  6. “History and Victories.” Debt Collective. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://debtcollective.org/about-us/history-and-victories/
  7. “History and Victories.” Debt Collective. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://debtcollective.org/about-us/history-and-victories/
  8. “History and Victories.” Debt Collective. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://debtcollective.org/about-us/history-and-victories/
  9. “Sustainable Markets Foundation: IRS Form 990.” ProPublica. 2021. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/display_990/134188834/IRS%2F134188834_202108_990_2022080320269236
  10. “Our Financials.” Debt Collective. Accessed June 12, 2023. https://debtcollective.org/about-us/our-financials/
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