By C.B.S. Lee
January 26, 2013
Occupy Wall Street has moved out of the streets and into the spreadsheets by launching a “Bailout of the People by the People” campaign, a campaign aimed at buying and forgiving consumer debt.
StrikeDebt.org, an OWS offshoot organization, has raised $550,000 so far, monies that are being used to eliminate as much as $11 million of consumer debt.
The Strike Debt Bay Area chapter is throwing a fundraiser on Monday, January 28 at the Roxie Theatre with an A-List lineup of artists, musicians and comedians. The event will be “In the spirit of an old-fashioned telethon that will be live-streamed,” said Hiya Swanhuyser, one of the organizers.
In the debt business, consumer debt is bundled and sold to debt collectors for pennies on the dollar in a secondary market.
When repaying debt, a family may struggle to pay back every penny, but bundled consumer debt is a bargain: $20 of debt can be paid with just $1.
Strike Debt raises money with non-charitable donations to buy consumer debt on this bundled-debt market and then simply strikes the amount from the books, according to StrikeDebt.org.
In December, 44 individuals with a combined debt of $100,000 in unpaid medical bills had their debt forgiven.
You Are Not A Loan
The subtitle of the Monday benefit,You Are Not A Loan, reframes the human element of the debt story.
“One of the things that happens with debt is that we get hounded (by collectors), and you feel very alone and ashamed,” said Strike Debt national organizer Dr. Hannah Appel, an economic anthropologist researcher, previously at Columbia University and now at UC Berkeley. “This becomes an isolating experience that regular people struggle with.”
Strike Debt supports people-organizing around debt to collectively address the issue. The organization serves as an umbrella with research, resources and tactics to foster regional chapters. From Philadelphia to Chattanooga, and from the UK to Spain, chapters have held events to challenge the debt business.
“Organizing different types of events, like the Rolling Jubilee or a Debtors’ Assembly, allows people to ‘come out’ about our debt and not be ashamed of it,” Appel said.
The Rolling Jubilee and Debtors Assemblies
Monday’s Strike Debt telethon will resemble the inaugural Rolling Jubilee, initiated Nov. 15 in New York City.
“A jubilee is an event in which all debts are cancelled and all those in bondage are set free,” according to the website. New York’s jubilee included band members from Sonic Youth, TV on the Radio, Fugazi and Neutral Milk Hotel.
San Francisco’s telethon will feature Jello Biafra, founder of The Dead Kennedys and spoken word artist, and Penelope Houston, the singer for The Avengers and a veteran of political verse, performing songs from her solo release “On Market Street.”
Jazz luminary Marcus Shelby will also play. “Marcus is such a classy gentleman, people sometimes overlook how political he is,” Swanhuyser said.
Many comedians are also on the bill, but stand-up comic and political activist Nato Green is a special spice for a pro-Occupy crowd: “I’m probably the only standup comic arrested with Occupy. I got arrested at the Jan. 20 Citizen’s United anniversary demonstration,” Green said.
“I’ll probably break out of my regular stand-up routines to do some class warfare,” he said.
The fundraising telethon taps into the significant contact lists of organizers Swanhuyser and George Chen. Swanhuyser was involved with Occupy SF when she produced the Occupy Art and Performance series in 2011. The series provided entertainment but also encouraged artists to contribute skills to other activists and be part of the Occupy space, she said.
Organizing the Strike Debt event is an extension of the Occupy ethos. “It’s important that culture producers have a voice in political matters because they can do what only art can do: inspire us through our difficult times,” Swanhuyser said.
A Debtors’ Assembly for anyone who is “in debt or who is outraged by the debt system” is planned for Feb. 2 in Oakland.