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Occupiers Raise Money To "Liberate Debtors At Random"

Francesca Martens |
November 18, 2012 | 11:33 p.m. PST

Executive Producer

StrikeDebt Occupy Wall St. Anniversary Demonstration in NYC. (Flickr/SteveRhodes)
StrikeDebt Occupy Wall St. Anniversary Demonstration in NYC. (Flickr/SteveRhodes)
Founded by Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, The Rolling Jubilee Project seeks to raise money in order to buy distressed loans from creditors "for pennies on the dollars." Once the debt is purchased, Rolling Jubilee abolishes it as part of their campaign to liberate debtors at random.

On Nov. 15, the group officially kicked off their campaign through a telethon which featured performers such as Lee Ranaldo, Jeff Mangum, Janeane Garofalo, and others. Tickets for the event sold out almost immediately and by the end of the night, they'd collected enough money to buy up $5 million in debt.

As of Sunday, Nov. 18, Rolling Jubilee has collected $353,576, enough to buy and abolish over $7 million worth of debt.

Most of these distressed accounts are from student loans and unpaid medical bills from borrowers who are in default or behind on their payments.

Campaigners estimate that 77 percent of American households are in debt, and that 62 percent of the declared bankruptcies in the U.S. are caused by medical expenses.

"We believe people should not go into debt for basic necessities like education, healthcare and housing," Mission Jubilee declared in their FAQ."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%."

In addition, Rolling Jubilee is also seeking to educate the public about consumer debt, credit card companies and why it is much cheaper to buy debt than to pay it off:

"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."

Ultimately, the organizers of Rolling Jubilee admit they will not be able to buy and forgive all $11 trillion in debt:

"We’ve always seen the Rolling Jubilee as a means, not an end," Astra Taylor told TechCrunch."But it’s also eye-opening because so many people are unaware that there’s a secondary market of debt.”

The organization's efforts have been mostly praised by outlets such as The New York Times, Fortune and even Inside ARM, the trade publication of the debt collection industry.

However, it has also been criticized as being "good PR" for Occupy Wall Street.

 “I truly believe the Occupy Wall Street people have good intentions in all of this,” said Lawrence J. White, professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business. “It’s good PR, it’s good theatrics, but in terms of actual accomplishment, it’s pretty small.”

He also added that this initiative did nothing to improve the borrower's credit score which was already tainted when they defaulted on payments.

Reuters' Felix Salmon:"the symbolism here is in some ways more important than the actual results, which pretty much by definition are unknown and unknowable."

Whatever the consensus, the Occupiers behind Rolling Jubilee deserve to be comended for bringing awareness to consumers about this esoteric secondary debt market. Not to mention, it is a nice change to hear of a bailout for the 99% for a change.



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