About a year ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement was something of a big deal in several U.S. cities. With its beginnings in Zuccotti Park in the heart of New York City’s financial district, the protesters set out to challenge capitalist paradigms – for example, some of their main gripes are rising income inequality in the United States, the onerous levels of debt students are required to take on to attend college, and the prominent position that corporate interests hold in American politics. Slowly, Occupy’s “radical” message has started to seep into the American mainstream. You know how during the presidential campaign people were saying that Mitt Romney didn’t understand the average American because he’s “part of the one percent”? That’s a derivative of the Occupy slogan “we are the ninety-nine percent”.
But what has Occupy Wall Street been up to recently? Over the weekend, I was reading up on a new Occupy off-shoot group known as Strike Debt and was so interested in the concept that I just had to bring it up to see what you guys think of it! Strike Debt is working on a project known as Rolling Jubilee that has a simple mission: forgive debts. You can read more details about the project here, here, and here, but the concept is pretty simple. Strike Debt buys “distressed” debts on secondary debt markets (like collection agencies do) with donations from people like you and me, but instead of harassing debtors into paying, they simply forgive the debt. The idea is that if someone gets their debts forgiven as a result of Strike Debt’s efforts, they will be inspired to donate to the cause so that more debts can be forgiven…and so on, and so on.
Here’s a video put out by Strike Debt which explains more about Rolling Jubilee and the organization’s fundraising efforts:
I am hugely in favor of the Rolling Jubilee project. So far, over $100,000 in medical debt has been forgiven by Strike Debt, and more distressed debts are being forgiven every day. Their actions are legal, ethical, and, frankly, very clever. With that being said, the jury is still out for me on another project that Strike Debt is working on, the Debt Resistance Movement. Essentially, this “movement” is intended to encourage people to “resist” (as in, not pay on) their debts. In fact, Strike Debt put out a long document they refer to as the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manuel. Interestingly, a lot of the information contained in the DROM is actually good financial advice – avoid debt if possible, check your credit reports, etc. But the underlying premise is what I find a little sketchy: because banks have been bailed out by taxpayers and many creditors are charging usurious rates, most peoples’ debts aren’t “legitimate” and should be “resisted.”
On the one hand, I understand that a lot of people feel taken advantage of by their creditors; I think that there should be an easy legal means of handling disputes between debtors and creditors and that it should be commonplace to renegotiate the terms of mortgage and other credit agreements. However, “resisting” debts seems unethical to me – if you took someone’s money, you should pay it back, period. I’m not as radical as most Occupy supporters, so my view is that we should reform “the system” rather than overthrowing it completely. I suppose this is where I part ways with Strike Debt on ideological grounds.
What about you? What do you think about Strike Debt, Rolling Jubilee, and the Occupy Wall Street Movement overall? Don’t be shy, I want to know! Tell me how you really feel 🙂