“Attention Collections: We Are Not Paying The Bill, We Are Burning It!”
So reads the event poster ahead of "Burn the Bill," an incendiary action happening in the heart of Los Angeles on September 22, when hundreds of Southern California students are expected to turn out to literally light their student loan bills on fire — a proclamation of freedom from an unfair debt system that has already topped $1 trillion nationwide.
The bonfire will happen at 1 p.m. near the 7000 block of Hollywood Boulevard, between Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Roosevelt Hotel. A press release for the event, which is being organized by the activist group Hard Block, states: “As an act of symbolic free speech and a throwback to the draft-card burning of the 60s, student protesters between the ages of 18 and 34 representing the 99% will circle around a large ceremonial fire and be released from their shackles of debt by throwing their unpaid student loan bills into the flames.”
The plan is to then send the ashes of the unpaid bills to Washington, DC, where they'll be dumped on the floor of the House of Representatives.
"What you're finding is that there's been a lot of talk about student loan debt forgiveness, and the students are really fed up -- they want drama," said Hard Block organizer Mikal Kamil. "We don't know what's going to happen: will students burn the bill or will they not? [But] we want them to see the importance of burning the bill, to get the conversation started, to talk about it. We just have to give students the courage to come out hard. Because it has to start from the streets."
The event will include musical performances by Stanley Clarke, Dylan Trees and The Vim Dicta, also comedian Ben Gleib and others. Further celebrities like Snoop Dog, Lauryn Hill, Miley Cyrus and Dave Chapelle are being contacted to throw their support behind the Saturday bill burning as well. Often, says Kamil, musicians and other prominent figures “don’t see the connection between students having to make a decision between paying for a concert or paying for a sandwich or a student loan bill.”
Beyond saying "no" to outrageous bank loans that have trapped millions of students in decades of debt, the Hard Block campaign highlights government’s squandering of trillions of dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on publicly financed bailouts of the financial institutions that took down the U.S. economy, and on the failure to impose higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
As a plan forward, it proposes an executive order to immediately abolish the Bush-era tax cuts on the super wealthy, generating around $1 trillion that would be used to directly purchase, or bail out, the current total of debt owed by America’s students — and former students.
Hard Block also proposes establishing student loan adjustment programs, particularly a StudentCorps organization, that would enable student loan debt to be forgiven in exchange for an agreed amount of community service.
Citing principles and strategies laid out in a charter document known as Plan Seven, Hard Block is positioning itself as a facilitator of nonviolent strategic action in “pursuit of service and power to the global protester.” Students from U.C.L.A., U.C. Irvine, U.S.C. and elsewhere are expected to turn out; while members of Hard Block acknowledge the risk that police might choose to charge those who are burning bills in public with arson, the group expressly states its opposition to any use of violence.
“We’ve seen this movie before" in terms of a debt bubble bursting, added Kamil, so with student debt "we want to intercept it and throw a block: we’re telling the Democrats and the Republicans that the money that you think you’re going to negotiate over this tax cut, that you think belongs to you, doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to teachers, to fireman, to taxpayers. And we’re going to take this money to bail out students instead of the wealthy.”
Campaigns like Burn the Bill came into existence, said Kamil, “when we decided that the days of the Occupy encampments were numbered and we knew that we had to transfer the movement from the tents into the hearts and minds of the 99%.” Phase Two of the movement, he continued, will be about “reaching the mainstream.”
“The hunted is now the hunter. Just like they’ve been targeting us, we’re now targeting them."
The following is an excerpt taken from an op-ed written by the organizers at Hard Block:
“Educators, politicians, one percenters and the old status quo are preoccupied over young people using fire to burn student loan bills during the Hard Block “Burn The Bill” protests. They are screaming, ‘Fire!’ asking, ‘Why fire?’ worrying, ‘We don’t think you should use fire’ and commanding, ‘You’re not allowed to use fire.’ “By their response, one would think burning student loan bills is on par with flag, Bible and Quran burning. On the contrary, we liken the burning of student loan bills to candlelight vigils. An entire generation is being burdened with an outrageous and stifling debt in exchange for their education. Student loan bills are the symbol of the new generations’ oppression. "Using an open and democratic process, Hard Block is posing the question to the greater mass of student debtors on whether or not they want to continue drowning in debt or burn their student loan bills. This process will be done via Hard Block’s “Pay or Burn” opinion poll. Pay or Burn can be accessed via Hard Block’s Facebook, Twitter and main page at HardBlock Central."