A People’s Bailout Begins to Forgive Debt


Back in July, PBS aired Frontline‘s “Money, Power and Wall Street,” an in-depth look at the 2008 financial collapse. The report was packed with a plethora of higher-profile interviews ranging from Christine LaGarde of the International Monetary Fund and Robert Wolf, chairman of UBS Americas, to Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz.

But the interviews also included a small handful of Wall Street underlings like Cathy O’Neil, a former analyst with D.E. Shaw and Co., who talked about becoming disillusioned with the greed and joining Occupy Wall Street (OWS). In a pair of scenes, Frontline showed O’Neil and a couple of other former investment house employees gathered and discussing OWS solutions. It was a sign that Occupy Wall Street was about to move past its introductory phase of anger and protest and into organized action.

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One of those forms of action is Strike Debt, an effort to ease the financial crunch on everything from homeowners with underwater mortgages to college students laden with what could be lifelong debt. And while O’Neil and her fellows may or may not have a direct hand in Strike Debt, the goal of active solutions is what they and OWS have been aiming for.

On Thursday, Nov. 15, Strike Debt will formally launch Rolling Jubilee, an active effort to abolish mortgage and tuition debt, the first step in a greater goal. The effort, dubbed A Bailout of the People by the People, actually has already begun, raising just under $116,000 as of Tuesday morning, which Strike Debt believes can erase $2.3 million in debt. A NYC launch party will be held at Le Poisson Rouge in lower Manhattan on Thursday.

The Rolling Jubilee website lists ominous debt statistics facing Americans: 77.5% of American households in debt; tuition debt over $1 trillion; one in every seven Americans being pursued by a debt collector; 62% of all bankruptcies caused by medical illness.

How will the Rolling Jubilee operation work? The website explains it this way:

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. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.

Strike Debt claims to have affiliates across the country. So you might consider this opening effort a pilot project, and it could possibly develop into just one major, ongoing movement coming out of OWS.