One of the beautiful things about the Occupy movement is how it keeps evolving. What started as a sea of wiggly fingers in a New York City park, has, in a relatively short period of time, spread across the country, adapting as it does so, in order to meet the needs of local communities. Here in Ypsilanti, just to give you an example, our Occupy folks, in addition to publishing a well-received book on the historic trend toward toward vampire Capitalism, have hosted teach-ins on the use of art in rebellion, and continue to assist residents in fighting foreclosure. And, now, it looks as though things are getting ready to make yet another evolutionary jump on the national stage. On Thursday, November 15, a new initiative will be launched online, via telethon. Organizers of the undertaking, called the Rolling Jubilee, are hoping to raise enough money to purchase tens of millions of dollars in consumer debt, which they can then proceed to abolish.
Here’s how the folks at Strike Debt describe the initiative:
WHAT IS STRIKE DEBT?
Strike Debt is an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street. First started in New York City, but inspired by movements around the globe, Strike Debt now has affiliates across the country. We believe people should not go into debt for basic necessities like education, healthcare and housing. Strike Debt initiatives like the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual offer advice to all kinds of debtors about how to escape debt and how to join a growing collective resistance to the debt system. Our network has the goal of building a broad movement, with more effective ways of resisting debt, and with the ultimate goal of creating an alternative economy that benefits us all and not just the 1-percent.
CAN YOU ABOLISH MY DEBT?
There is no way to seek out a specific person and buy that person’s defaulted debt. With 15% of Americans currently being pursued by a debt collector, looking for one person’s debt would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Anonymous accounts are bundled together and sold as a whole. Before purchasing debt, there is only limited information as to whose debt we are buying. These peculiarities are part of the scandal that we are trying to highlight.
WHAT IS A JUBILEE?
Jubilee comes from many faith traditions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A jubilee is an event in which all debts are cancelled and all those in bondage are set free. It worked in Biblical times and it can still work today. For example, a kind of jubilee happened in Iceland after the 2008 economic crisis: instead of bailing out their banks, Iceland canceled a percentage of mortgage debt. What these examples show is that debts are just a promise which can – and should – be renegotiated or cancelled when the circumstances warrant. Strike Debt believes that now is the time for a jubilee for the 99%.
HOW DOES THE ROLLING JUBILEE WORK?
Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.
More information on The People’s Bailout telethon, which will include the likes of Janeane Garofalo, Lizz Winstead, Hari Kondabolu, David Rees, John Cameron Mitchell, Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, and Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, can be found here. (Things are set to begin at 8:00 PM EST on November 15, and will be live-streamed at RollingJubilee.org.)
As of right now, they’ve already raised over $14,000, which, by their calculations, will allow them to buy, and subsequently destroy, almost $3 million in debt… If you’d like to contribute toward the cause, you can do so here.
And, here’s a little video overview, for those of you who are still struggling with the concept.
Personally, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. On one hand, I think it’s great that these folks have found a creative way to strike back against the big banks that are enslaving America, using their own game against them. That, I think, is brilliant. On the other hand, though, I’m not sure how I feel about arbitrary debt relief. While some people have certainly been taken advantage of, and are probably deserving of our collective assistance, I think it’s probably safe to say that a great many people got themselves into debt because they have very little self control and simply wanted things that they couldn’t afford. And, I don’t know how I feel about kicking in money so that these people can have their debt wiped away, allowing them, once more, to go on instant gratification-fueled Black Friday acquisition sprees. My bigger issue, however, isn’t with the concept itself, but its execution. I’m wondering why the organizers have made the decision to completely forgive the debt that they’ll be purchasing, and not at least asking the individuals who had originally incurred that debt to pay back some nominal amount, with would in turn allow for the acquisition of even more debt. Yes, I realize there’s a kind of poetic beauty in just destroying debt, but, on a tactical level, I can’t help but think that we might be missing an opportunity to create a perpetually self-funding debt relief machine.
Imagine this… You’re tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and you’re struggling to keep the lights on and a roof over your head. And, one day, you receive a formal letter from The People’s Bank of Occupy, which says something like this… “Good news. Your friends and neighbors have just purchased your debt. And, guess what… Our objective isn’t to destroy your life in a quest to recover every penny of the $20,000 that you currently owe. If we hadn’t stepped in, your loan would have been sold for pennies on the dollar to a debt buyer, who would most likely, at this very minute, be on the phone with you, making threats. Instead, though, ‘we the people’ bought your debt for those pennies on the dollar. Your $20,000 debt cost us just $1,000. And, now, we intend to pass that savings along to you. That’s right… We don’t want for you to pay the full $20,000. We just want the money that we invested in you back, so that we can, in turn, randomly purchase the debt of someone else, and keep this incredible grass roots debt relief program moving forward.” I know that some percentage of folks won’t do it, but some will, and, in those instances, we’d be able to keep that initial investment rolling, from one person to the next, eliminating debt.
update: According to the Rolling Jubilee’s Thomas Gokey, they are in fact able to identify the type of debt they want to go after, and they’re focusing on medical debt, which is exactly what I was suggesting above… This is a very good thing… Here’s video.