Occupy debt-relief campaign buys $100,000 worth of debt

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Members of a debt relief project borne from the Occupy Wall Street campaign said Wednesday they have purchased more than $100,000 worth of medical debt in a second trial run for their efforts.

Thomas Gokey, a spokesperson for the Rolling Jubilee campaign, said the debt was purchased for $5,000. Earlier this year, the group bought $14,000 worth of debt for $500.

“We are buying debt that is being sold on the secondary market for pennies on the dollar,” Gokey said in a conference call. “We are doing it in exactly the same way that [debt collectors] do it, with one big difference: we are abolishing the debt as we buy it.”

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Normally, he said, such businesses acquire debt on the cheap and then hound debtors for the full amount.

“This debt is immoral, but the immorality of it comes down on the side of the lenders, not on the side of the debtors,” Gokey said. “We’re being told that we have a moral obligation to pay these debts, and Strike Debt’s main message is that many of these debts are illegitimate, and that we should form a way of resistance and refusal to these debts.”

A fundraising concert is scheduled to be held Thursday in New York City, with the group seeking to raise $50,000 in order to buy — and wipe out — $1 million worth of medical debt.

Gokey said the group behind the project, Strike Debt, had bought its own 501 c(4) to manage the funds it manages to raise, and that his group was working with unspecified “business insiders,” lawyers and accountants. While the campaign is not targeting individual debtors in its purchases, people who are part of the buys will be notified soon that their obligations have been discharged.

However, he said, the group could not name their allies, nor whom Strike Debt bought the debts from, in order to protect itself from being “blacklisted” by financial institutions, and there is no mechanism in place for publicly verifying the organization’s purchases.

“We hope to be able to verify our debt buys very soon,” Strike Debt member Ann Larson said in an email to The Raw Story Wednesday afternoon. “There are legal and privacy issues to work out. We have been much more successful than we had imagined, so things are taking a bit longer than we expected. But we are committed to transparency and to making everything public once we have the go-ahead from our legal team.”

Gokey said another commonly-cited source of debt, student loans, poses a different challenge.

“There’s incredible protections that the government put into place for lenders who lend to students,” he said. “We’re looking into what might be possible with student debt. We can’t say for sure at this time, but I think we’re all very eager to do something with student debt, if it’s possible.”

Strike Debt’s video explaining the Rolling Jubilee campaign, posted on YouTube last week.

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