Thousands Are Being Freed of Debt by ‘People’s Bailout’
by Lucy Purdy
New initiative from Occupy movement unites people in mutual support to buy up and write off millions of dollars worth of citizen debts.
Billed as a ‘bailout of the people by the people’, Rolling Jubilee is calling for online donations in order to buy so-called ‘distressed’ debts, such as student loans or unpaid medical bills. It will then write off these debts, wiping the slate clean for thousands of people who had been struggling with debt burdens.
“Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar, on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then try to collect the full amount from debtors,” Occupy Wall Street organizer Ed Needham told Positive News. “The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it.”
Rolling Jubilee states that while some work within the law, debt collection agencies often unduly hound debtors after purchasing their debts at knockdown prices from the lenders. “The debt industry is a destructive tool of economic oppression and part and parcel of the economic disparity that is fuelling resistance among the 99% around the world,” said Ed.
Organized by the Occupy offshoot and debt activist group Strike Debt, the project launched in New York City past November, with a telethon streamed live on the internet and hosted by performers and activists. Under the banner: ‘We don’t owe them anything. We owe each other everything’, they explained how $25 can abolish around $500 worth of debt and $100 could wipe out $2,000.
At the time of writing, the group has already collected $400,000, which could abolish $8.25 million of debt.
The concept of a jubilee, which has roots in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, describes an event in which all debts are cancelled and those in bondage set free. “It worked in biblical times and can still work today,” said Ed.
“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 promises which can – and should – be renegotiated or canceled when the circumstances warrant.”
The project has been lauded as one of the most inspiring to come out of the Occupy movement, with Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, describing it as ‘a genius move’ for helping de-stigmatize being in debt.
According to Rolling Jubilee, 77.5% of US households are in debt, with a fifth of indebted households using credit cards to pay for basic living expenses, while one in seven US-ers are being pursued by a debt collector and 62% of all bankruptcies are caused by serious illness.
Ed said that while real wages have fallen, the costs of health, housing and education have risen sharply: “Where is the difference supposed to come from? Wall Street has stepped in and made itself essential to providing for the necessities of life – for a price.”
Rolling Jubilee has had an “overwhelming,” public response, something Ed attributes to its simplicity: “This is a project of people helping other people. It’s organized acts of kindness and solidarity, inspiring like-actions and other innovative ways to build a more just and compassionate society. People realize we must come together if we are to change the status quo – there is no other way.”