Homework, no you don’t | The independent

“Give me a break,” Joe Biden told the Los Angeles Times in 2018.

Break: a noun derived from the Old English verb brecan of Germanic origin, meaning to separate or cause to separate solid matter into pieces. Fast forward a few centuries to the 1860s and we find an English name that refers to an interval, or a break in work, between classes at school.

The use of Biden gained its meaning at the turn of the 20th century: “a knockout blow,” according to the online Etymology Dictionary.

“I have no empathy for it,” Biden continued, referring to the plaintive political complaints of the “younger generation”. The future presidential candidate said he would not hear about the struggles of today’s youth. “Give me a break,” he repeated. These are not real struggles, like those experienced in the turbulent 1960s. “We decided that we were going to change the world. And we did.

Take the crippling student debt crisis. Forty-five million members of the younger generation would like to take a break
of that $ 1.7 trillion foot on the neck. The Biden administration recently wrote off $ 9.5 billion in student debt. That figure is just 0.6% of total debt – and well below the $ 10,000 jubilee he promised
to all student debtors in the 2020 election campaign. Insufficiency aside, as Astra Taylor reminds us in an essay of her new book, Remake the world: essays, reflections, rebellions, it was Biden who, from his perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee, defended a 2005 law that deprived student debtors of bankruptcy protection. This
was Biden who saw an unprecedented bloat attack and decided now was not the time for the students to take a break.

Change the world is an incisive collection of previously published essays by Taylor that span from 2014 to present. Ruminative and philosophical, Taylor explores a wide range of subjects, from the political deprivation of youth to the political need to listen, from the meaning of democracy and the rise of socialism to the false promises of “automation” and temporality of the climate crisis.

Debt, however, has a special place in the book. In the essay ‘Wipe the Slate Clean’, Taylor writes: ‘Debt is a power relationship built on the pretext of equality. In theory, a debtor and a creditor enter into a contract on an equal footing and on fair terms; in reality, debts are often contracted under conditions of constraint.

As Taylor points out, not all debtors have to repay their debts, but the game is against most of us. While the Fed bought billions of corporate bond debt in 2020, household debt was allowed to swell to nearly $ 15 trillion, strangling families who, in the face of the aggravated financial crises created by these very bailed out, are unable to pay their mortgages. or their rent, their medical bills or their tuition, or their payday loans or probation fees.

The distribution of this debt has naturally skewed the working class and the poor, and given the history of racist predatory loans and the racial wealth gap, Taylor explains that “Black and Latin communities tend to be more precarious. and economically indebted than their white counterparts. “

The perfectly reasonable solution proposed by Taylor, which is based on an important historical precedent: to abolish debt. High demand, but Taylor is no stranger to the political will and organization it would take to achieve the debt forgiveness needed to break Americans’ financial chains.

In “Against Activism,” Taylor traces the emergence of the “activist” alongside the decline in the organization of the movement. For Taylor, activism needs organization, which “[s] and advance[s] our causes when the galvanizing intensity of occupations or street demonstrations diminishes. This is what the left needs to reverse the conservative resurgence and reduce plutocracy. “

Taylor learned this firsthand as an organizer at Occupy Wall Street, whose legacy echoes through Taylor’s writing. For her, Occupy was “a welcome sign that the checks and balances were breaking down.” In one essay, Taylor reflects on his organizers’ fatal reluctance to “exercise or take power,” a political stance that many American radicals have abandoned in favor of joining groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America, which have made victory and the exercise of power central to their political agenda. Meanwhile, in another essay, she notes that Occupy seeds may have “scattered around in unexpected places and lay dormant for long periods of time to suddenly grow and flower.”

Indeed, two of those seeds were Rolling Jubilee and Debt Collective, two groups co-founded by Taylor and inspired by the late academic activist and Occupy catalyst, David Graeber. The first group, a mutual aid initiative that redeems and cancels people’s debts, directly abolished more than $ 32 million in monetary debt, while the campaigns of the second, a syndicate of debtors that uses its collective power to make pressure for widespread debt cancellation has helped relieve more than $ 2 billion.

Graeber, Taylor tells us, pushed her to reimagine debt as something that should not be tainted by soulless logic and the burdens of capitalism. On the contrary, debt in a socialist world could be our collective obligations to each other, which can never be repaid in cash.

Taylor’s ideas are enough to inspire, plunging the reader into grave realities while elevating his willingness to change them. But her writing itself is also a delight. Almost all of Taylor’s essays use curious etymologies like the one at the top of this review, but much more skillfully, to weave his use of history, reporting, and analysis into a cohesive picture of a variety of contemporary issues. – and the perspectives we need to resolve them. After the first two uses, one might sniff out gadgets, but his prowess as a writer quickly dispels such judgment.

Taylor is careful with his words. The reason the Debt Collective uses “abolition” and “cancellation” as its goals is to reject the language of “forgiveness”, which “involves a blameworthy borrower and a beneficent creditor”. “Pause” in the context of mercy, as in “give me a break” or “catch a break” similarly suggests a fault on the breaker side. Perhaps then, the younger generation does not really need a “break”. On the contrary, we need a recovery: of our dignity, of our livelihoods and of our future. We need to get back what is ours and what the capitalists have had in their pockets for far too long.

Remake The World: essays, reflections, rebellions
By Astra Taylor
Haymarket Books, May 2021

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