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Harassing Phone Calls Stopped with Charitable Donations

GRAPHIC: The Rolling Jubilee has been very successful at taking donations and using them to buy up and forgive debts. But the organizers say the problem is too big to be solved by charity, so they are moving on to teaching debtors to help themselves. GRAPHIC by Strike Debt.
GRAPHIC: The Rolling Jubilee has been very successful at taking donations and using them to buy up and forgive debts. But the organizers say the problem is too big to be solved by charity, so they are moving on to teaching debtors to help themselves. GRAPHIC by Strike Debt.
January 9, 2014

BALTIMORE – After a successful run buying up and forgiving debt, organizers of the Rolling Jubilee movement say it's time to do more – organizing debtors to speak up for themselves.

The Jubilee collected donations to buy heavily discounted medical debts that creditors were pushing off their books.

Aaron Smith, an activist with Strike Debt, the Jubilee's parent organization, says the group managed to purchase a little short of $15 million in debt with about $400,000 in donations, stopping countless harassing phone calls.

"Instead of the debt buyers, buying this debt for pennies on the dollar and repackaging it off to debt collectors who use threats and intimidation, we buy it,” he explains. “We just send the people a letter that says you don't have to worry about this debt any more, and have a nice day."

Smith stresses that charity is no solution, which is why Strike Debt is moving on to what he describes as a bigger and more important project – organizing the debtors to demand better terms.

On Strike Debt's website is a manual to help debtors fight back.

Smith says for one thing, many debt collectors don't have the documentation they need to legally demand payment.

So, Strike Debt has written a simple form to challenge the debt and maybe walk away for nothing.

Lenders argue that paying a debt is a moral obligation, a sign of good character.

But Smith points out that banks and corporations constantly buy and sell debts for pennies on the dollar. Why shouldn't ordinary people be able to do the same?

"You are much more likely to say, ‘There's no way I'm going to pay a 100 cents, there's no way I'm going to pay 50 cents,’” he points out. “’I'm going to pay what I feel like I can pay, and not a penny more, and you're going to take it.'"

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD