Last night's star-studded "People's Bailout" was hailed as a successful kickoff for the Rolling Jubilee campaign to erase distressed debt. As the confetti cleared, organizers Strike Debt thanked supporters, announcing that the campaign has already raised over $280,000, enough to abolish $5 million of debt.
Thursday's three-hour event—part telethon, part variety show—was held at the Manhattan club Le Poisson Rouge and featured performances by comedians Janeane Garofalo and Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead, along with musical performances by members of Sonic Youth and TV on the Radio.
Conceived as a "bailout of the people, by the people," the campaign's strategy is to raise money to buy distressed consumer debt from banks and credit card companies, who usually sell it for pennies on the dollar to collection agencies. Then—rather than hound debtors for payment—the debt will simply be forgiven. "Together we can liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal," Strike Debt writes on their website.
The solution is both simple and symbolic, said event organizer Astra Taylor:
We've always seen the Rolling Jubilee as a means, not an end. We know we're not going to buy $11 trillion worth of debt.
The amazing thing about this action is that it's both symbolic and real in equal measure. There is the aspect of helping these debtors — we are truly making an impact on the individual level — but that's just a drop in the ocean of debt we are existing in. But it's also eye-opening because so many people are unaware that there's a secondary market of debt.
"That's a really Trojan horse move," Fugazi's Guy Picciotto, who performed as the night's final act, told New York Magazine. "And that's pretty badass."