It's true. Whomever it is can thank the idealistic, if allegedly unshowered, residents of Zuccotti Park from two years ago. They provided the synergy to form Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, which went on to conceive of the Rolling Jubilee, an oddball plan to forgive medical debt at pennies to the dollar, which then raised $600,000 to do just that and, after a year of careful plotting and planning, today announced that they had bought and forgiven debt to the tune of $13,500,000.
And some John or Jane Doe, somewhere in one of forty-five states or Puerto Rico, was the largest debtor - $237,210 owed - in one of the two pools of debt that Strike Debt announced purchasing for pennies on the dollar today. Some 2700 people had medical debt forgiven by these buys. (The smallest debtor had $42.00 forgiven. That person is probably pretty happy too, knowing no debt collector is going to harass him or her for it some evening.)
How did we get here? How did Christmas come early to 2700 people?
You might remember the buzz from a year ago when the idea for the Rolling Jubilee first got publicized. (That linked diary received over 400 recs, almost 300 comments and over 1.5k Facebook likes!) Strike Debt's modest, original goal was to raise $50,000 to buy off and burn up some $1,000,000 in medical debt. In doing so they hoped to call attention to the absurdity of a health system that is a prime cause of homelessness and bankruptcy, the moral question of the existence of medical debt at all, and the general problem of the 99%'s ever growing debt to the 1%. It didn't work. Sort of. The idea went viral and they raised far too much money!
That kind of thing isn't a problem if you're Jamie Dimon. You just give yourself a big bonus. But if you're Strike Debt, which pledged to use every dollar it raised in the pursuit of medical debt forgiveness, well, it might take you a while to negotiate the byzantine medical debt exchanges - where those people's debts which have almost been written off are sold to, shall we say, less than scrupulous "collectors" - to insure that you are getting the best deals possible.
And so it's taken Strike Debt peeps, who have generously devoted their time and effort without compensation, many months to cross the I's and dot the T's on the two major debt deals announced today. But what deals they were! Instead of initially projected debt forgiveness at a ratio of 20:1 they managed to buy up debt at the amazing rate of 50:1.
It's pretty amazing. I send 'em two smackeroos and up in smoke goes one hundred dollars in what used to be someone's debt for having the audacity to get cancer. But what's the bigger point beyond making a few thousand people's lives less miserable, you might ask? Strike Debt concedes that
... we know that actions like small-scale debt abolition have limited practical consequences. Fifteen million dollars is barely a dent in the debt market.The fact is that uncollected debt markets deal in tens of billions. They've known that from the start. Nonetheless
We've said from the beginning that the Rolling Jubilee is just one tactic, not the solution. As with many other Occupy actions, its impact has been to expand the boundaries of what is considered politically possible. In this, we have been successful. Ultimately, however, we know that long-term victories in the fight against debt and our exploitative economic system will require collective action.A Jubilee in earlier times was a period of debt forgiveness. If you are interested and geographically enabled, you can help celebrate this modern Jubilee...
"If you owe the bank $100, that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem." When we treat our debts as individuals, we suffer in silence. But if we band together, the banks will be in serious trouble.
...As we look beyond the Rolling Jubilee, we are developing tactics to help build collective forms of power. Historically, when debtors have banded together, we have won. We are building tools and organizing to help bring debtors together to break our collective bonds - stay tuned for more announcements to come.
Right now, there's a lot of debt out there that needs to be wiped away. But it's not going to vanish on the good graces of the one percent. You too can 'Join the growing Resistance!'
Celebrate the Jubilee on November 15th
To celebrate the jubilee, Strike Debt NYC and other chapters are holding events in several cities on or around November 15th, one year to the day since the People's Bailout telethon that launched the Rolling Jubilee. If you're in one of these areas, please join your friends and neighbors!
New York City
Portland on Nov 23
Bay Area on Nov 23
"Debt is the tie that binds the 99 percent," says Strike Debt member Ann Larson. "Whether you are a student who is delinquent on your student loans, a parent struggling to pay healthcare bills, or living in a community that is cutting vital social services because your city is bankrupt, debt affects everyone."Hope to see you there.
Dear XXX,More on the Bay Area's Debtors' Assembly.
We are writing you with good news. The Rolling Jubilee Fund... has purchased the account referenced above...
As a result, you no longer owe the balance of this debt. It is gone, a no-strings
attached gift. You are no longer under any obligation to settle this account with the original creditor, the bill collector, or anyone else....
Rolling Jubilee Diaries Past:
10:40 AM PT:
— StrikeDebt (@StrikeDebt) November 12, 2013