Occupy Wall Street has staged a comeback by taking a page out of the Good Book.
The protest movement that made its name last year by turning a Manhattan park into a commune has generated an offshoot called Strike Debt, which is raising money to buy debt that other people have accrued — and then forgive them.
They call the initiative “Rolling Jubilee,” after the Biblical injunction to hold a jubilee every fifty years in which Hebrew slaves were freed and debts abolished.
On Thursday night, Strike Debt winkingly held what they called “an updated verson of an old classic, the telethon” to launch their movement. It was also a sold-out party at a downtown club, (Le) Poisson Rouge, that featured entertainment by the likes of Janeane Garofalo the musicians from Sonic Youth and Fugazi. So far, Strike Debt has raised about $300,000, according to its website, which will write off almost $7 million of debt.
A relatively small amount of money can purchase a larger amount of debt, because the debts are already in default, or “distressed.” The borrowers are late on their payments or have otherwise indicated that they might not be able to pay off the loans in full, reducing their value and price to pennies on the dollar of what they were originally worth.
Strike Debt activist Max Cohen, 23, says he got involved in the movement for the same reasons that he is a committed Jew.
“It’s about creating a reality that’s based on our values,” said Cohen, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who studied at Yeshivat Hadar this past summer. He is looking for a job, but doesn’t have student debt, he said.
“All of [Jewish law] is very much constructed around setting up a just reality: the jubilee … leaving a corner of your field for others to eat, these are all agricultural ways of doing that.