OWS Is Moving Forward: Rolling Jubilee and the Debt Resistors Occupation Manual

Early last fall, I was excitedly watching Occupy Wall St. from afar, hoping that finally, a sustained resistance movement had arrived to shatter my belief that Americans had forgotten how to  fight back. I showed up for the first day of Occupy MN and came back when I could, in between balancing two part-time jobs and my last semester in college. But like so many others, I became overwhelmed by the demands of my personal life (money stress, school stress, depression, etc), and I felt the excitement and possibility slipping away. After being so far removed from Occupy for the last 9 months or so, I have to admit, I kind of began thinking about it in the past tense. After reading about the Sandy relief efforts by Occupy volunteers (which were in many ways more effective than Red Cross and FEMA responses), I realized I was being cynical and pessimistic. Just because I was (am) burnt out on activism, social justice, and the overwhelming problems we face, didn’t mean that everyone felt that way.

Picture by Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

It seems to me Occupy has been shifting to community response mode, identifying problems and working together to address them in practical ways. Thinking globally and acting locally, if you will. There are so many offshoot groups, each focusing on specific problems. We can’t try to tackle every national or global social problem or we end up getting overwhelmed, so I think this is probably a good thing. What I’m trying to say here is, maybe while Occupy couldn’t maintain the numbers needed for a site-specific occupation indefinitely, it is clear that people are not giving up the struggle. For those of us that tend to get caught up in the excitement of radical ideology, I think it’s important to recognize that day-to-day shit needs to actually get done, and dismantling the system won’t happen overnight (though we shouldn’t quit working on long term change either, of course). That’s why I am excited to see people tied to Occupy continue to come up with solutions to problems people are facing right NOW.

That’s the idea behind Rolling Jubilee, an offshoot of Occupy Wall St. that buys up unpaid debt from collection agencies and cancels it, relieving borrowers of the debt. While most third parties who buy up debt on the cheap do so in order to begin collecting on the debt to make a profit, Rolling Jubilee’s goal is to take the debt out of the hands of Wall St. to prevent companies from profiting off of peoples’ debts. As explained by organizer Pamela Brown on Democracy Now!, they believe this will not only help relieve individuals saddled with unreasonable amounts of debt, but will also draw attention to the problematic system of debt collection practices (a good example of thinking in both the short and long term).

Another practical measure to come out of the Occupy movement recently is the Debt Resistors Occupation Manual. The manual both provides “individuals advice for how to be more effective in dealing with lenders” and “also sets forth some larger-scale ideas” according to Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism. Smith found that “this guide achieves the difficult feat of giving people in various types of debt an overview of their situation, including political issues, and practical suggestions in clear, layperson-friendly language.” You can read Smith’s full review here.

I appreciate the manual’s chapter on college debt, as I have had a hell of a time figuring out a payment plan and getting clear answers from Sallie Mae, and I know I am not alone there. There is a helpful overview of how private vs. federal loans work (to summarize: they’re both shitty). Chapter IX explains tactics used by debt collection agencies (both legal and illegal) to harass debtors and offers advice on how to protect yourself against such tactics. The appendices are also a great resource, filled with letter templates for responding to harassment by collection agencies.

Download a free pdf of the Debt Resistors Operations Manual here. 

If you read it, let me know what you think!

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