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Jerry Ashton Headshot

Happy Occu-Year 2013!

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The last of the confetti has been swept up, hangovers are only a memory, and a new (Occupy) year has begun. It should prove to be a doozie. And, why not? It is off to a phenomenal start.

Occupy Sandy

When Hurricane Sandy devastated boroughs in NYC and along the Jersey coast, former and present OWS protestors were among the very first people on the scene to lend help and support. They weren't there to provide charity; they were there to provide personal sweat and total attention and to make evident the power of people helping people.

Their organizational abilities surprised -- and awed -- both survivors as well as fellow volunteers with other organizations.

Occupy Sandy's online presence, coordinated through InterOccupy and OWS Tech Ops, provided constant updating through Facebook and Twitter (#Sandy) to help juggle supplies and assistance.

An "Occupy Motor Pool" of construction teams and medical committees -- advised weather-wise by forecasts from an "Occupy Weatherman" -- put volunteers directly into the heart of stricken neighborhoods and properly equipped.

With this in operation and even before the Red Cross and FEMA, "Occupy Sandy" was on the ground. Some were working directly at the devastation sites, and others manned OWS operations at two churches in Brooklyn to set up a food distribution center and to hand out donated blankets, food and clothing.

Even today, their kitchen in Bay Ridge at St. John's Episcopal Church is still feeding over 1,000 people per day.

Mainstream Media (MSM) could not help but notice, and positively report on, Occupy Sandy.

Rolling Jubilee

If Occupy Sandy was a bold sentence proclaiming the relevance and importance of Occupy-style activism, its "Bailout of the People by the People" is its exclamation point!

The project is named "Rolling Jubilee" after the Jewish tradition found in Leviticus:25 in which God commanded the children of Israel to celebrate "a year of jubilee (every) fifty years" so that people could be made free of the obligations they had contracted for themselves.

Occupy's working group, Strike Debt, brought this spirit to its work in creating Rolling Jubilee. Its primary purpose is to buy large portfolios of medical debt from debt sellers with the collections industry and then -- abolish it.

Yep -- obliterate it, one of those random acts of senseless kindness that we have heard about but seldom experience. Thanks to this OWS program, a lot of people who have been subject to countless collection calls will find this burden lifted -- at least for one particular outstanding bill that has dogged them.

Strike Debt launched a fundraising campaign to raise $50,000 to buy $1,000,000 in bad debt (yes, the medical industry will sell your debt to a collection agency for a penny or so on the dollar). However, instead of raising $50,000, funds donated to this point total over $530,000 -- the equivalent of eliminating almost $11,000,000 in personal debt.

However, unlike a collection agency which will relentlessly pursue the accounts they purchase, Rolling Jubilee will consider it forgiven. No more calls or letters from a collection agency on that owed debt -- ever again!

Now, that got MSM's attention. NakedCapitalism.com criticized it as possibly putting the debtor at risk of provoking IRS attention. The Nation saw it as a spark, and not a solution, and rightly considered it to be an act of solidarity and an opportunity to educate the public. The New York Times wrote kindly about the project, The Village Voice praised it and countered the IRS concerns, and talking heads on every major broadcast outlet had an opinion... mostly positive, if incredulous.

The best feedback is yet to come, and that will be from individuals and families finding that, at least one debt item will no longer shadow their lives. This has already begun. Strike Debt has already been overwhelmed with letters of support as well as some with devastating stories as to how their debt had impacted their lives... and this is early on in a campaign that will last at least through summer, 2013.

Who'da Thunk?

When 2012 dawned, nothing at that time would have predicted the impact of Occupy of today. 2011 ended with an experience of arrests, beatings, and very little in the way of sustained, positive press.

Alive and well on 9/17/11, evicted from Zuccotti Park on 11/15/11, and once more from there on New Years' Eve, 2011.

Fast forward one year. The eviction not only did not dim the accumulated and significant successes, but set the stage for a very effective diaspora of souls determined to meet anywhere and everywhere, in large and small working groups, to continue their campaign. Which is exactly how Strike Debt and Rolling Jubilee came into existence.

In less than 10 weeks of its existence from mid-September to December 31, 2011, Occupy changed the conversation from deficit reduction to wealth inequality. "We are the 99%" and "They got bailed out -- We got sold out!" anthems resonated with a population angered by Wall Street's excesses and governmental oversight failures.

Student debt, predatory banks, homelessness, mortgage chicanery, governmental kowtowing to corporations and financial institutions, congressmen bought-and-sold by K Street lobbyists, and on and on were offered up to public scrutiny in a fashion that had never before happened.

So, Occupy is off to a good start for 2013. Heading into its second year of existence (will it be the terrible two's? The wonderful two's?), it has a tailwind of good will and solid evidence of steadfast members who both lead and follow as called upon.

If the ball drops on New Year's 2014 and Occupy has not become a major force in American culture and its progressive movement, it will only be because they will have dropped the ball themselves.

And, that doesn't appear to be too likely. Even for a two-year-old.