Rolling Jubilee is a project of a group of economic activists called Strike Debt, which formed out of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The group timed today's announcement for the third anniversary of that protest. The word "jubilee" refers to a time decreed in the Bible, every 49th year, when all debts were ritually forgiven, and slaves and prisoners freed.
"Some debts are just, and others are unjust," Thomas Gokey, one of Strike Debt's organizers, says, explaining the group's stance. "Providing affordable, publicly financed, world-class education is a moral debt we are failing to pay."
Rolling Jubilee's tactic takes advantage of a peculiar characteristic of modern debt. When people stop paying, debts become delinquent. The original owner, say a bank, eventually writes the debts off and sells them off at bargain-basement prices to third-party collectors.
Rolling Jubilee has managed to step in instead and buy some of this secondary market debt, using donations raised online — in this case, buying student loan debt for less than 3 cents on the dollar. But instead of trying to collect this debt, the group makes it disappear.