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Occupy’s Rolling Jubilee just freed thousands of people from $15 million in debt

Nov 12, 2013

One year ago, the remaining factions of Occupy announced a new initiative that would take direct action on the principles Occupy was founded to address. Called Rolling Jubilee, the plan sought to free Americans from millions of dollars in debt for pennies on the dollar.

Here’s how the plan worked: Rolling Jubilee would take advantage of America’s booming secondary market for debts. When you incur a hospital bill or credit card bill you can’t pay, eventually the hospital or credit card company sells that debt to a third-party collector for a fraction of the face value. The collector might buy a $10,000 debt for $500 to $1,000. They then harass you for the full $10,000 and make a nice profit when you pay up.

Operation Rolling Jubilee’s plan was simple: They’d crowd-source funds to buy debt, just like any debt collector, but once they bought it they’d simply forgive the debt. The debtors would be released from paying.

Earlier this year they group showed that the plan did in fact work. They bought $1 million in American debt, and squashed it.

Tuesday The Guardian reported that nearly a year after the plan was first conceived the group has just announced a purchase of nearly $15 million, representing the debts of nearly 3,000 Americans.

They did it by spending $400,000 to buy up mostly medical debts, which comprise 62% of all American bankruptcies. “No one should have to go into debt or bankruptcy because they get sick,” said Laura Hanna, an organizer with the group.

$15 million is barely a drop in the bucket of American consumer debt, and the group is under no illusion that they’ll be able to clear it entirely. Rather, they’re hoping that their actions will help raise awareness about how debt works and give Americans new tools to negotiating their way out of demands from predatory debt collectors.

But still, the operation does present an opportunity: If those nearly 3,000 who find themselves suddenly debt free want to pay it forward by contributing a little to the campaign, the group could continue rolling rounds of debt forgiveness using the same crowd-funding technique. Consumer debt could gradually be reduced, increasing discretionary income which could then be used in small part for more debt relief. If the idea snowballs it could have a very powerful effect.

Learn more about Operation Rolling Jubilee here, and at the very least, next time a debt collector calls you, offer to settle for five cents on the dollar.

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