-- Harriet Rowan and Mary Bottari
Americans always feel charitable around the holiday season, giving some $300 billion to a diverse array of charities in 2011 alone. Now there is new way Americans can help their neighbors in need, by purchasing and forgiving their debt.
This is the idea behind the "Rolling Jubilee" being organized by "Strike Debt", an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Since November 15, 2012, they have raised over $350,000, enough to abolish over $7 million in debt.
Americans Mired in Debt
Some 77 percent of American households are in debt. Medical debt is the cause of most personal bankruptcies. While credit card debt is approaching $900 billion, student debt recently passed the $1 trillion mark. Predatory lending practices by the big banks have thrown millions of American families into foreclosure.
While monetary and fiscal authorities respond to every financial crisis by bailing out creditors, the debtors rarely get any help. Can you imagine how different the recovery would be right now, if just a small portion of the $4.7 trillion used by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to bailout the big banks was given to help families facing foreclosure or underwater homeowners?
This is why Strike Debt decided to take matters into their own hands. They looked at the tragically flawed system of debts and debt collection, and saw opportunity to introduce a new model for doing business.
The Rolling Jubilee plans to buy distressed debt (starting with medical debt) for pennies on the dollar. Instead of hounding their debtors with endless phone calls and increasing interest, they will simply abolish the debt (they choose not to use the word forgive because it implies that the debtors have done something wrong). Strike Debt will then contact those whose debts are forgiven and ask if they are willing and able to pay it forward and donate some of the money they will save back to the program, and the jubilee will roll on.
“Together we can liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal," the Strike Debt website says.
Jubilees Have Precedent
While critics have complained that the Rolling Jubilee doesn’t address the root cause of debt (rising prices and stagnant or declining incomes) and points out that it will difficult to raise enough money to abolish billions in debt, others have called it "a genius move" with "significant transformative potential."
Jubilee is a concept with biblical roots and modern antecedents. In Leviticus, those enslaved because of debts were freed, lands lost because of debt were returned, and communites torn by inequality were restored. For the "Jubilee 2000" campaign at the turn of the century, activists around the world worked for years with the Catholic Church and a raft of celebrities like Bono, to pressure the G-8 and other wealthy nations to write off some $40 billion in Third World debt.
At the very least, the Rolling Jubilee will renew the conversation about illegitimate banking and lending practices in America and the debt traps that the majority of Americans face at some point in their lives.
The Rolling Jubilee is just one educational and informative project of Strike Debt. The group also produced the interesting and useful Debt Resistors' Operation Manual which is packed with information and tactics for dealing with credit card, medical, student, housing, and municipal debt.