05/2014 // Anti-Mining March // Honduras

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Young people in Honduras march against mining in their community, which I won’t identify in order to protect their identities. Many people in the Central American country say that mining companies contaminate water sources, displace rural communities, and fail to deliver compensation promised in exchange for permission to extract.

Why ‘Strike Debt’ Is Sorta Like Oprah—But Better

Medical bills account for 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies. Strike Debt is trying to change that.

Have you recently lived in or visited Kentucky or Indiana? Did you go to an emergency room while you were there? Do you still have unpaid debt from the medical care you received? If so, keep an eye your mailbox. You might be in for a pleasant surprise.

The Rolling Jubilee, a project of Occupy-affiliated Strike Debt, announced last week that they have bought about $1 million in medical debt incurred in the Louisville area. Instead of trying to collect, they are letting everyone off the hook.

About 1,000 folks will be receiving a letter explaining that “we abolished their debt and there are no strings attached,” according to Ann Larson, an organizer with Strike Debt. The debt averaged around $900 per person and most of it was about two or three years old. ($900 may understate the burden lifted, though, because now the relieved debtors won’t have to worry about growing interest or damage to their credit score.)

Strike Debt spent almost $21,000 on the effort, paying pennies on the dollar because they used the same secondary market purchase process as collection agencies. The money came from donors, including 20 bucks from the author of this post.

But the Rolling Jubilee is about way more than kindness to strangers. For Strike Debt organizers, the purchases are a vehicle for their broader vision: a society free from onerous debt.

“Nobody should [have to] go into debt because they get sick,” Larson said.

“There’s a myth that we’re in debt because we overspent on luxury items, and that’s just false,” she said. “One in seven Americans is being pursued by a debt collector, and in many cases those people are in debt for basic needs.”

Health care is a perfect example. According to a study in the American Journal of Medicine, medical bills cause 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies.

Young Americans have higher rates of medical debt because they are more likely to work low-wage jobs and less likely to have insurance, according to Larson.

Here’s some more good news: the Louisville buy is just the tip of the iceberg. Strike Debt has $560,000 in cash on hand, and they will continue to negotiate and bid on similar debt packages.

“There will be new announcements regularly for the next few months,” Larson said. If they can keep buying at the same rate, Strike Debt will be able to take over $25 million in debt off Americans’ shoulders.

Published at Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / Chealion.