Occupy’s Rolling Jubilee Wants to Give Americans Money for Nothing
Walking the streets of New York City this spring, you would have been hard-pressed not to come across posters promoting the Occupy Wall Street-led May Day general strike. “A day without the 99 percent,” is how it was billed. With the strike, the group was attempting to light a fire that might bring down capitalism and launch the US into an American Spring. However, Occupy’s rallying cry fell on deaf ears, as the rally had poor attendance and limited impact. Looking back, it seems like that was the moment that the pied pipers of political and economic discontent’s critical mass finally dissipated. The group’s momentum seemed to have run its course, and the fickle media’s attention turned to the sideshow that was the 2012 presidential election.
After May Day, Occupy had to find itself all over again. Call it an identity crisis. But in an organization as decentralized as OWS, where individual efforts and actions are constantly emerging as branches and nodes of a shape-shifting whole, identity is a fluid concept anyway. The post-May Day breakdown was a chance for rebirth—a function of Occupy Wall Street’s built-in eternal recurrence mechanism. It was in this ferment that Occupy forged its next project: Rolling Jubilee, a plan to buy anonymous medical debt, thus offering relief to Americans burdened by exorbitant healthcare costs.
“From the very beginning of Occupy Wall Street, the question of crippling debt that people are forced to carry has always been part of the agenda,” says Yates McKee, a member of Occupy’s Strike Debt team, which is leading the Rolling Jubilee project. “Student debt, mortgage debt, medical debt, and municipal debt—all of that has been a part of Occupy from the very beginning.”
Activists within Occupy Student Debt, an early sub-group of Occupy focused on the debt crisis, had the idea of using Occupy’s I Am The 99 Percent Tumblr to present real people who were debtors and break the silence around debt. It was a issue that was close to their hearts, as many of the original Occupy campers were debtors of all stripes.
As Yates explains it, Occupy Student Debt went on to create the Pledge of Refusal, which many Occupy participants signed. “It wasn’t about forgiveness,” Yates emphasizes. “It didn’t say, ‘Let’s come up with a piece of legislation that forgives our debt.’ Rather, it noted that going into debt is systematic. In order to live, you have to enter into this predatory debt. So the Pledge of Refusal was non-compliant with the debt system. It was similar to a debt strike.”
Originally, the debt strike concept gained a lot of traction within the Occupy movement, but people across the country weren’t ready for such an idea and conditions across the country couldn’t support a mass default. So in the post-May Day void, where Occupy’s idealism finally gave way to reality, they knew they had to take another approach to fighting debt. Luckily, the Occupy Student Debt movement still had a great deal of enthusiasm behind it, even after May Day.
“The only campaign that still had a lot of energy was the Occupy Student Debt campaign,” observes Yates. “So over the summer, we decided to have what we call ‘thematic assemblies,’ where in one assembly we talked about the environment, and in another assembly we talked about labor. And then we did one on debt. And we made sure to invite everyone from Occupy Student Debt, Occupy Universities, Free University, and Occupy Labor.”
The larger assembly then got together and discussed what would it mean to build a political movement around debt in all its forms and not just on certain types of debt in isolation, like student loans. This ultimately lead to the transformation of Occupy Student Debt into Strike Debt, the sub-group which now healms the Rolling Jubilee.
“One phrase we started to use was ‘Debt is the tie that binds the 99 percent’” says Yates. “There is something structural about the debt economy we’re forced to go into in our lives. And this was when we flipped the idea of a debt strike to Strike Debt. What would it mean to strike debt, to attack debt from all these different angles and metaphorically cross it out?”
Occupy describes the vast swaths of America’s debtors as “an invisible army of defaulters.” What if this invisible army were to come out of the shadows and become a political force? Out of this thought experiment came debt memes like “You are not alone” and ultimately the Rolling Jubilee program.
Jubilee, as laid out in the Bible’s book of Leviticus, was a time when debts were forgiven. Strike Debt appropriated the concept in a symbolic way and used it as the namesake for its first major project, in which a fund—financed by donations—buys debt.
The Rolling Jubilee could influence economic policy as a model for a very different kind of bailout in response to the next financial crisis. The problem of unpayable debts bedevils every corner of our financial system – public, corporate, and personal. So far, the response of the monetary and fiscal authorities to nearly every financial crisis has been to bail out the creditors but not the debtors. Governments and central banks purchase all kinds of shoddy loans from the private sector, but rather than reduce interest or principal on those loans, they merely become the new creditor. The underwater homeowner, the indebted university graduate, the laid-off worker juggling credit cards … they get no relief at all.
The Rolling Jubilee brings a different kind of solution into the public consciousness. The next time a systemic crisis breaks, central banks can rescue the banking system by once again buying the delinquent loans – and then cancel them or reduce the amount borrowers owe. Central banks, with their unlimited capacity to print money, have the power to do this at no cost to the taxpayer. The result would be a release of pent-up consumer purchasing power that had been stuck in debt service. Rising demand would fuel employment, wages, and a broad-based economic expansion.
Would this solution be inflationary? Yes. But a little inflation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as wages rise as fast as prices. Then it is an equalizer of wealth, as the relative value of hoarded wealth shrinks.
Debt cancellation, whether a “people’s bailout” or government policy, is only part of the solution to our economic woes. Deep systemic reforms are necessary, especially given the reality that we are operating a growth-dependent system on a finite planet. But right now, debt is the issue staring us in the face. As always, the most innovative solutions rise from the margins. The Rolling Jubilee may be showing us a glimpse of what is to come.
New York City has distanced itself from a high-ranking police official accused of firing pepper spray at Occupy Wall Street protesters, taking the unusual step of declining to defend him in a civil lawsuit over the incident.
Fed up with corporate indifference, a green haven in Puget Sound, Wash., finds a novel way to snub big banks
Here, a group of hard-core Vashon activists, already seasoned in anticorporate campaigns, hit on the idea of merging with a small credit union to create a new branch on the island.
That office has managed, in its first year of operation, to enroll an astonishing 16% of the population and collect local deposits of almost $20 million.
"What surprised me about it was how rapidly the community embraced the credit union," said Rob Harmon, a green economy pioneer who was part of the organizing committee. “We had wild dreams that in the first year $10 million would move. … And in the first year, $17.5 million moved. So we’re 70% above our wildest dreams.”
Last year, 1.3 million people across the U.S. joined credit unions, the lower-fee, not-for-profit alternative to commercial banks — double the rate from 2010. Once relegated to small offices at big companies, credit unions over the last 15 years have taken advantage of relaxed federal regulations to expand their membership.
A coalition of liberal and nonpartisan groups today announced a joint effort to fight the influence of corporate money in politics with a range of tactics — including a $25,000 cash reward to the first worker who can document their employer’s secret use of corporate funds to influence an election.
"It’s very simple," said Ethan Rome, executive director of the progressive group Health Care for America Now (HCAN). "We are serious about the business of exposing corporations who are trying to secretly steal our democracy and our government for the wealthy few. If corporations want to use corporate dollars to influence elections, we will expose them. They do so at their own risk."
Along with HCAN, the other groups involved include the liberal groups Americans United for Change, MoveOn.org, Occupy Wall Street and Campaign for America’s Future. The labor organization Service Employees International Union is also participating, as are self-described nonpartisan groups like Common Cause, Public Citizen, Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS).
|—||Lo and behold, after weeks of terrible Occupy Wall Street coverage, The NY Times publishes a strong, clear, and well-reasoned editorial expressing wholehearted support for the movement. (via wespeakfortheearth)|
In an action called Occupy Wall Street, thousands of activists took to the streets of Lower Manhattan on September 17.
The protests are continuing, with demonstrators camped out on the Financial District’s Liberty Street in support of U.S. democratization and against corporate domination of politics.
But you wouldn’t know much about any of this from the corporate media—outlets that seem much more interested in protests of the Tea Party variety.
#OCCUPY WALL STREET
Mainstream media is taking notice.
- Washington Post: U.S. Day of Rage planned for Saturday—an Arab Spring in America?
- Democracy Now: Hundreds expected for ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest
The organizers have done a fantastic job with the various graphics for this. Hope the people live up to the hype.