Tag Archives: rolling jubilee

Thanksgiving 2013: So Much to Be Thankful For

Laurie and Debbie say:

There’s so much good news that we’re leaving stuff out! Let’s start with an in-your-face inspiring video.

“Say it right or don’t say it at all,” says Sha’Condria “iCon” Sibley, 2012 National Poetry Slam Championship Team, in a video entitled “For All the Little Black Girls with Big Names (dedicated to Quevenzhane’ Wallis).

There are rays of hope for the earth: The European Union has banned the neocotinoid pesticides which are almost certainly responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder which is destroying bees around the world. Massachusetts has signed contracts for wind-generated electricity at a lower price than traditional coal and nuclear energy. In Debbie’s back yard, river otters and ospreys are coming back to Lake Merritt, a human-made lake in Central Oakland.

river otter with fish in mouth

On a human note, extreme poverty in the world is actually seriously declining. And, contrary to the pattern of contemporary corporations, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline are making HPV vaccines (which prevent cervical cancer) available in poor countries at an almost affordable price (though of course it could be even less).

South Korean transgender people can now change their legal gender without changing their genitals. And in California, transgender students can now select both bathrooms and athletic affiliations based on their self-chosen identity. Perhaps even more surprising, California children can now have three legal parents.

The United States government has actually done some constructive things this year. The Affordable Care Act may have gotten off to a shaky start, but it is certainly improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. And Vermont is parlaying it into single-payer, the kind of health care we’d really like to see. Meanwhile, the Democrats in the Senate finally went some distance to limit the filibuster, which has become a tactic of uncontrolled Republican obstructionism . And in the most amazing recent news, the Obama Administration has made a preliminary deal with Iran about nuclear weapons and sanctions, which may even spread to help end the war in Syria.

The Catholic Church has selected an Argentinian pope who is committed to consensus, community, and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Among Pope Francis’s public statements since assuming the papacy are opposition to fracking as part of of his anticapitalist stance. He wants to see the power of the Church¬† un-Vatican-centered.

We wrote last year about Rolling Jubilee, and now they have bought $15 million dollars in random medical debt, and torn it up. The most recent large buy removed debt from 1900 debtors, with the largest single debtor having $237,000 in debt. Their website says “and more to come.” The debt forgiveness is real, but the underlying intention to call attention to the trillions of dollars of debt which burdens more than 70% of Americans

Ann Makosinski holding the flashlight she invented

And then there’s Ann Makosinski, the 15-year-old girl in Canada, who invented a flashlight powered by the heat of your hand.

We could actually add a lot more, but this seems like a fine assortment. We’re taking Thanksgiving weekend off, and we hope you are doing something wonderful!

Rolling Jubilee: Debt and Forgiveness

Debbie says:

Welcome to 2013! We hope you had sane holidays.

In our Thanksgiving post, Laurie and I mentioned Rolling Jubilee. We both wanted to give it a little more space of its own.

Jubilee comes from many faith traditions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A jubilee is an event in which all debts are cancelled and all those in bondage are set free. It worked in Biblical times and it can still work today. For example, a kind of jubilee happened in Iceland after the 2008 economic crisis: instead of bailing out their banks, Iceland canceled a percentage of mortgage debt. What these examples show is that debts are just a promise which can – and should – be renegotiated or cancelled when the circumstances warrant. Strike Debt believes that now is the time for a jubilee for the 99%.

As of the moment that I write this post, Rolling Jubilee has collected $533,133, with which it will be able to forgive at least $10,668,078 in medical debt, for random people around the U.S. (With its first purchase of debt, it came out just a little better than the anticipated five cents on the dollar, so the figure may be a little higher.)

The concept of Rolling Jubilee is simple. If you are a human being, you have to pay off your debt at $1 per $1, unless you negotiate it down with your creditor(s). If you are an arcane kind of corporation called a 501(c)(4),  you can purchase debt as a commodity. If it is old, difficult-to-collect debt, you can purchase it as low as 5 cents or so for each dollar of debt. The theory is that then you would collect it, and if you could collect more than 5% of what you purchased, you would come out even.

Rolling Jubilee, however, purchases that debt and forgives it. They chose medical debt because it is purchasable, and is the primary source of bankruptcy in America. They cannot control whose debt they purchase, and they (and I) see that as a feature, not a bug.

Random people who probably can never pay their debts–or those debts wouldn’t be in that pool that can be purchased so inexpensively–get letters like this one:

Original Creditor: xxxxxx
Patient ID: xxxxxx
Rolling Jubilee Acct : xxx
Original Balance: $xxx
Balance Due: $0.00

Dear Ms. Doe,

Season’s Greetings from Strike Debt!

We write with good news: the above referenced account has been purchased by The
Rolling Jubilee Fund, a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization. The Rolling Jubilee Fund is a project of Strike Debt. The mission of this project is to buy and abolish personal debt. We believe that no one should have to go into debt for the basic things in our lives, like healthcare, housing, and education.

You no longer owe the balance of this debt. It is gone, a gift with no strings attached. You are no longer under any obligation to settle this account with the original creditor, the bill collector, or anyone else…

Of course, this ten million dollars in debt reduction isn’t even a drop in the bucket of American medical debt, let alone American debt overall. Here’s what it is:

1) It’s a project of the people, by the people, and for the people.

2) It’s random and nonpartisan. Some of the people getting these letters are likely to be hard-core right-wing Republicans, who hate Occupy Wall Street and all its offspring. Nonetheless, OWS folks are forgiving their debt.

3) Its intended purpose is not primarily to forgive debt. In concert with a related organization called Strike Debt, the folks who founded and maintain Rolling Jubilee are hoping to shine a productive light on the role of debt in American life, and to give us all a variety of ways to fight back. Strike Debt has created an excellent resource, the Debt Resistor’s Manual (long .pdf at the link), which everyone should download and read. Strike Debt local organizations are cropping up all over the country; check one out near you.

In 2013 America, debt is largely a burden. Unpaid debts are largely a source of shame. (Many homeowners don’t fight foreclosure because of the shame involved in coming forward.) Rolling Jubilee and Strike Debt offer us another view: debt is largely a tool of the 1%. Unpaid and unpayable debt is often something that was done to you by the system, which has an interest in keeping you in debt.

The phrase we use for cancelling debt is “forgiving.” Corporations don’t forgive; people do. What’s more, people can force corporations to the bargaining table.

The only thing I want more than for this to be successful is to see America take part in the other aspect of jubilee: maybe all (well, 50% anyway) those in bondage can be set free.