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Meet the Activist Group That’s Making Student Loan Debt Disappear

Initiatives like the Rolling Jubilee are meant to inspire and enlighten by making us question the system of debt.

The Strike Debt movement at Occupy Wall Street S17 Anniversary Concert in Foley Square, New York City. September 17, 2012. (Photo: Steve Rhodes / OWS)

I messed up. But I’m not alone. Seven out of ten college graduates have an average of $29,000 in debt along with their diploma. It sucks, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Since I’ve put off grad school primarily for this reason, I’m only looking at my student loan debt for the next seven-ish years. My heart breaks for those who don’t see an end.

Fortunately, activists on behalf of students believe that we all deserve to see an end. In a radical twist, these activists believe that our lives are worth more than any debt. So they’re doing what Wall Street and the government can’t seem to figure out — they’re canceling student loan debt.

The Strike Debt Movement

The Rolling Jubilee is making a world of difference to thousands of college graduates. But we wouldn’t have the Rolling Jubilee without Strike Debt. The Strike Debt movement aims to put humanity back in the student loan process. As they say, “You are not a loan.” The movement that has swept the nation is filled with debt resisters who believe that economic justice and freedom (at least, in democracies) go hand-in-hand. For the Strike Debt movement, debt is what keeps the 99 percent, or the have-nots, imprisoned. The average person is “forced to go into debt” for necessities; the 99 percent “surrender” their futures to Wall Street. In the process of giving up their futures, the have-nots gain a lifetime of isolation, shame and fear.

Strike Debt wants to give the power back to the people by confronting our current illegitimate and unjust system of lenders and borrowers head-on. The movement advocates that alternative systems need to be created.

How Does the Rolling Jubilee Work?

Beginning in 2012, the Rolling Jubilee, a project of Strike Debt, served as a “bailout of the bailout by the people.” To date, the completely crowdsourced project as raised $701,317 and they’ve gotten rid of rid of $18,591,435.98 of debt.

How does the Rolling Jubilee work? The project buys debt “for pennies on the dollar.” Instead of collecting the debt and letting interest and years pile on, the Rolling Jubilee does something extraordinary. The project completely abolishes, or cancels, the debt.

There’s no catch or gimmick. Debtors don’t have to wait years for help. They don’t have to complete never-ending questionnaires that are out to disqualify them. Influences like age, race and sexual orientation don’t matter. The debtors are chosen at random. The Rolling Jubilee is rooted in the desire of helping the common good. The Rolling Jubilee values “mutual support, good will and collective refusal of debt resistance.”

The Occupy Wall Street activists behind the Rolling Jubilee know that the program can’t eliminate all student loan debt. It was never meant to. As reported in The Guardian, the Rolling Jubilee bought student loan debt for $3,856,866.11, but $3.8 million is nothing compared to our current financial crises of American student debt that’s beyond $1 trillion. Activists also wanted to prove that getting rid of debt wasn’t out-of-this-world; activists paid $107,709.48 in cash, or 3¢ for every $1 in student debt. Along this vein, our debt is worth a lot less than we imagine, and our lives and future are worth so much more. For some, debt is an illusion of sorts.

As reported in The Guardian, activists first tried to approach Sallie Mae. From a conversation with Sallie Mae’s vice president of portfolio management at Navient — a Sallie Mae “spinoff” — student debt activists discovered that Sallie Mae sold student debts to two major companies for pennies again, or as low as 15 cents on the dollar. Activists claim that Sallie Mae wouldn’t sell to them because they refused to collect. So activists turned their attention to Corinthian Colleges — the poster child of predatory lending. So far, the Rolling Jubilee has abolished the debt of 2,761 Everest College students.

Initiatives like the Rolling Jubilee are meant to inspire and enlighten by making us question the system of debt. The goal is that the collective power of debtors becomes a force to be reckoned with — a force that demands greater economic equality. A force that values ourselves and each other more than dollar signs.

For more information on how to spot predatory lending, visit

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