Like a lot of people, I used to think Occupy Wall Street was just a
bunch of weirdos eating day-old bagels and banging pots and pans
downtown. Not that there's anything wrong with day-old bagels -- they
make excellent doorstops -- but I always wondered what would happen if
OWS took all their energy and applied it towards specific, practical
We have our answer, and it's amazing: Occupy Sandy has led the way in
hurricane relief, href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/nyregion/where-fema-fell-short-occupy-sandy-was-there.html?pagewanted=all">bringing
much-needed relief to our neighbors in need.
Now the movement is getting even more ambitious with something called the
Rolling Jubilee. (The Rolling Jubilee is a campaign run by Strike
Debt, an outgrowth of OWS. Occupy is kinda like the Wu-Tang Clan:
There are so many splinter groups, side projects, and solo albums it
can be hard to keep up. But bear with me.)
of jubilee -- a forgiveness of debts -- is ancient. Strike Debt is
simply updating it for the 21st century.
The Rolling Jubilee has one simple purpose: To buy distressed debt for
pennies on the dollar and then abolish it. As a test run, we spent
$500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT
You see, if you're a debt broker, once you own someone's debt you can
do whatever you want with it -- traditionally, you hound debtors to
their grave trying to collect, using intimidation, misinformation, and
a charming practice called href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/nyregion/31debt.html ">"sewer
We're playing a different game. A more awesome game. Because we're all
in this together, and why should banks have all the fun?
Our focus is medical debt, an onerous burden that prevents millions of
our friends and neighbors from being productive, happy and healthy.
(In 2010, nearly one-quarter of all working-age American adults had
medical debt; it's involved in 62 percent of bankruptcies.)
The Rolling Jubilee kicks off tonight with a live telethon called The
People's Bailout. It's a three-hour show you can watch for free at
http://rollingjubilee.org starting at 8PM EST. Performers include
Janeane Garofalo, Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, Lizz Winstead,
members of TV on the Radio, Das Racist, the Music Tapes, magicians,
jugglers, a gospel choir, a mariachi band, a group of radical nuns
and experts from the exciting world of debt. Did I mention the
about the People's Bailout, we've been humbled and moved by the
outpouring of support: Our original fundraising goal was $50,000 --
enough money to abolish $1,000,000 in medical debt. As I write this,
we've already raised more than $180,000, and we haven't had the
telethon yet! (If we raise enough money to abolish $5 million of debt,
Donald Trump's head will explode. Please give.)
Some people have complained that our debt-buying is just a drop in the
bucket. That's true, and it's by design: One of our goals is to start
a national conversation about how crappy the bucket is.
Think about it: We live in the richest country on earth -- yet
people's financial stability can be decimated if they get cancer and
exceed their insurance coverage; decide to go to college without the
help of Mitt Romney's parents; or happen to live in an area that's
visited by disaster. Meanwhile, other people literally profit off
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the system is rigged: Banks
write off their irresponsible loans, preying on consumers they knew
couldn't pay them back because that's where they make the most money;
debt brokers bundle portfolios, slice and dice them, and resell them
without considering what's really in them; collectors scare people
into paying debts that might not even stand up in court. How is this
conducive to national well-being?
Of course, the political right talks about debt all the time: the
deficit, the fiscal cliff, etc. They say we're broke because we spend
too much on things like public libraries and Social Security and large
yellow birds on PBS. Strike Debt believes this is exactly wrong. We're
in debt, as individuals, because of a lack of services -- because we
have to pay out the nose for education and healthcare while wages have
stagnated and safety nets are shredded.
If Washington lacks the political will to address these issues and
kick a little ass, we'll do it ourselves. Our message to Americans is
simple: You are not a loan. And you are not alone.
I hope you'll join us for the People's Bailout.