Occupy Wall Street Moves
On To Erase Consumer Debt
Among much of what was left unsaid during the U.S. presidential campaign is about rampant consumer debt. In fact, credit card bills and student loans are two of the major components weighting down household budgets throughout the land. And Washington is just not in the same page about this.
Now a group within the Occupy Wall Street movement took the issue at heart and came up with the Strike Debt initiative, the ‘people’s bailout,’ which aims at purchasing large amounts of consumer debt for pennies on the dollar, and simply erasing it, all done according to the law.
As it turns out, the feared collector agencies do exactly that: they buy out debt from banks and credit card companies and then proceed to pressure those who contract it to pay it back by all means necessary, and for top dollar. Strike Debt, however, will pardoned these debts at no charge.
The ballsy and creative movement has already been raising funds by donations (they’ve already close to $200,000, which roughly would equate to $4 million in debt), and is holding a telethon, at Le Poisson Rouge in the New York City Greenwich Village. It’s called Rolling Jubilee, after the biblical expression of forgiving those who owe you.
The event, a variety show with a number of local celebrities and activists, will be streamed live on the Web, and it’ll do much to inform a still incredulous public as to increase its donations. Others events as such may follow, but even if it’s been publicized mostly by word of mouth, this first edition has already managed to be covered by major newspapers such as the NYTimes and the Guardian.
A TWIST ON BILL COLLECTION
Having recently completed its first anniversary, the Occupy movement has regrouped and ‘centered around one or two economic issues that will be understood by and resonate most with fellow Americans. In fact, 99 percent of them,’ according to Jerry Ashton, who spent three decades as a bill collector and who’s an informal consultant to the new cause.
Which, if one thinks carefully, has not strayed much for its original purpose of raising awareness about the glaring income gap in the U.S., and impunity Wall Street firms enjoyed, after having single-handedly caused the collapse of the global financial system. For them, a coalition of governments rushed to put together a multibillion rescue package.
The Occupy has sprung in direct response to the fact that, for the great majority of those affected by that collapse, there was no government relief, and thousands have indeed lost jobs, livelihood, homes, and in many cases, even their freedom and dignity in its wake. Without help, many won’t be able to emerge from the deep well of debt they find themselves.
But while Strike Debt represents both a long-awaited lifeline to consumers, and a redefinition of the movement itself along more practical and tangible goals, acceptance to this idea is not guaranteed. For Ashton, ‘this industry is famous for a defensive, even antagonistic response to criticism.’
He sees this, however, as their chance ‘to connect positively with the people and the press which have been so critical of them in the past.’ As he sees it, through the Rolling Jubilee, debtors may be ‘cleared at credit reporting agencies where possible, and (have their debt) abolished in full.’
A TELETHON FOR CLEARING DEBT
In its first stage, the group will consider only medical-related debt, but the idea is to evolve to a point when tuition and credit card debt will be part of the proceedings. And even if, with all fund-raising efforts, the amounts won’t come any close to the estimated $11 trillion American consumers owe, any funds raised will help.
This has been the second indication of how invigorated the Occupy Wall Street movement is reemerging. When Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard, many of its members put together volunteer stations and, as Occupy Sandy, took a hands-on approach to the relief efforts, often reaching areas that FEMA, the Red Cross and other government agencies had not reached and, in many cases, still haven’t.
The discussion about ways to tackle consumer debt in the U.S., apart from being solemnly ignored on Capitol Hill, has acquired a keen sense of urgency, and the Occupy movement should be commended for taking the initiative in doing something about. Its timing couldn’t be better either, as a general strike against austerity measures has paralyzed Spain and Portugal today.
It may serve as a warning to Washington deficit hawks who, despite having been categorically defeated on the presidential election last week, seem ready to prescribe for the U.S. economy, the same recession-inducing measures the European Central Bank’s been trying to shove down the throats of the impoverished countries that shared the euro.
As for the sold-out Thursday variety show cum telethon at the Le Poisson Rouge, it’ll be hosted by comedian and actress Jeannine Garofalo, and will have the confirmed participation of humorists David Rees, author of the ‘Get Your War On’ comic, and Lizz Winstead, a co-founder of ‘The Daily Show,’ plus acts by assorted musicians and magicians.