Last week an off­shoot of Occu­py Wall Street launched Rolling Jubilee, a new project billed as “a bailout for the 99%”. The project, which has been gen­er­at­ing con­sid­er­able inter­est in the finan­cial press, aims to help out ordi­nary Amer­i­cans by pur­chas­ing and abol­ish­ing their debt. It’s a nov­el idea:

Banks sell debt for pen­nies on the dol­lar on a shad­owy spec­u­la­tive mar­ket of debt buy­ers who then turn around and try to col­lect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee inter­venes by buy­ing debt, keep­ing it out of the hands of col­lec­tors, and then abol­ish­ing it. We’re going into this mar­ket not to make a prof­it but to help each oth­er out and high­light how the preda­to­ry debt sys­tem affects our fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.

Rolling Jubilee will hold a for­mal launch event this Thurs­day at Le Pois­son Rouge. The event is already sold out, but will be livestreamed at

So far, over $143,000 has been raised to wipe out $2,871,186 in debt. If Rolling Jubilee can get to $1 mil­lion, it will be able to wipe out more than $20 mil­lion in debt, which would be no small feat. If it could some­how man­age to raise $10 mil­lion, it could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly can­cel $200 mil­lion in debt.

What’s real­ly strik­ing about this (no pun intend­ed) is that an indi­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tion goes a long way. For every $1 donat­ed, $20 of debt can be purchased.

Got $10 to spare? We’ll lib­er­ate some­one from $200 of debt.

Throw us twen­ty bucks and we’ll oblit­er­ate $400 of a strug­gling Amer­i­can’s debt. $100? We’ll take the weight of two thou­sand dol­lars off some­one’s back.

Many peo­ple have raised ques­tions about Rolling Jubilee, espe­cial­ly in regards to the tax impli­ca­tions of for­giv­ing debt (there’s an active com­ment thread about that over at Reuters’ site). Rolling Jubilee says it will earn no income from buy­ing and abol­ish­ing debt, so it will not have to file 1099‑C forms with the Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. We under­stand that Rolling Jubilee has received some coun­sel on this mat­ter from attor­neys who spe­cial­ize in tax prepa­ra­tion.

What about peo­ple who will ben­e­fit from the project?

Sup­pos­ed­ly, they’re cov­ered too. IRS Pub­li­ca­tion 4681 declares, “Gen­er­al­ly, you do not have income from can­celed debt if the can­cel­la­tion or for­give­ness of the debt is a gift.” And that is the busi­ness Rolling Jubilee is going into: Gift-giv­ing. Unlike mega­banks, Rolling Jubilee wants to abol­ish debt, not prof­it from it.

Rolling Jubilee may, how­ev­er, want to obtain a rul­ing from the Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice affirm­ing that peo­ple whose debt is for­giv­en have received a gift and there­fore don’t have to pay tax­es on can­cel­la­tion of debt (COD) income.

What we find appeal­ing about Rolling Jubilee is that it turns finance on its head, much in the same way that the GNU Gen­er­al Pub­lic License (GPL) turns copy­right on its head. The GPL uses copy­right law to keep free soft­ware free, a con­cept known as copy­left. Users of free soft­ware are required to abide by the license: if they dis­trib­ute the soft­ware, they have to dis­trib­ute the source code. And if they dis­trib­ute mod­i­fi­ca­tions, they have to dis­trib­ute the mod­i­fied source code.

Rolling Jubilee is essen­tial­ly doing some­thing sim­i­lar. The project is tak­ing advan­tage of the fact that banks sell debt. RJ will legal­ly buy the debt, but instead of try­ing to col­lect the debt, it will can­cel it.

It’s a very pro­gres­sive, very uncon­ven­tion­al idea.

Rolling Jubilee aims to be trans­par­ent. The peo­ple behind the project want prospec­tive donors to know there will be almost no over­head at all:

All con­tri­bu­tions go to The Rolling Jubilee Fund, a non-prof­it 501(c) (4) orga­ni­za­tion with the exclu­sive mis­sion of buy­ing and abol­ish­ing debt. 100% of the mon­ey raised will go to the process of buy­ing and abol­ish­ing debt (a process that includes some asso­ci­at­ed costs such as paper­work, account­ing, and legal fees). The vol­un­teers man­ag­ing the fund receive no com­pen­sa­tion. In the inter­est of trans­paren­cy, a full account­ing of funds received and spent will be report­ed on our website.

If you’re inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing in Rolling Jubilee, fol­low this link to learn more.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “Occupy offshoot launches “Rolling Jubilee””

  1. Great Idea! I wrote a song for OWS that can be used to raise more fund­ing than you think.

    See the ear­ly music video.

    The song is titled: When Enough is Enough. Words & music are by Har­ry F. Creve­coeur, MD

    “Le plus Grand Bien au Plus grand Nombre”
    “The great­est good to the great­est num­ber of People”

    Please let me know how we can best help.

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