The origins of the idea of jubilee — a time when debts are forgiven, slaves are freed, and land and wealth redistributed — go back to ancient Babylonia and is mentioned in both Christian and Jewish sacred texts. The idea resurfaced during the 1990s, following years of forced indebtedness imposed on global South countries by neoliberal global financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which perpetuated neo-colonial economic relationships between the global South and North by imposing “aid” in the form of loans. Some people argue that jubilee will be necessary to help people and economies recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and global depression.
Debt strike is an iteration of the idea of jubilee to refuse, individually and collectively, to pay back crushing debt accrued to pay criminal legal system fees and fines, and for education, housing and health care costs.
“The idea is simple: en masse, we stop paying our bills to the banks until they negotiate,” wrote Sarah Jaffe and Matthew Skomarovsky. “Because they can’t operate without these payments — for student loans, mortgages, or consumer credit — they’re under severe pressure to negotiate. Such a strike can be connected to demands to reform the financial system, abolish predatory and usurious loan conditions, or provide direct debt forgiveness. Strikers could even pool some or all of the money they’re not paying, and put it into a ‘strike fund’ to support the campaign or kick-start alternative community-based credit systems.”