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By now you all know about StrikeDebt and the Rolling Jubilee, which so far has received enough money to burn up over $6,700,000+ of medical debt.

Another StrikeDebt effort is to gather stories of debt, much like the stories you read (and are in some cases still reading) of those whom health insurance companies killed or ruined with their pre-existing condition bans (still going strong for another year+) and rescissions (now thankfully illegal). These stories played a role in generating a consensus that something had to be done, and perhaps the same will prove true, eventually, as the issue of massive debt continues to be exposed.

Here's a reporter's take on attending the Rolling Jubilee telethon and being open about his debt for the first time:

Although my student loan debt isn't something I'm used to speaking openly about, and the naivete with which I mortgaged my future to get a master's degree in a field where master's degrees aren't so much a requirement as a stigma still embarrasses me, I grabbed the Sharpie and wrote, "$40k." For the first time since I started making my just-barely-feasible loan payments, being honest about my debt brought me relief instead of guilt...

Speakers educated us about the big-bank system and told the story of families devastated by debt and foreclosure. They reminded us that it's crazy to feel guilty or embarrassed about what we owe when the larger economic system has dictated a reality where over 75 percent of US households are in some kind of debt.

And below the squiggle are some excerpts from stories that people have been willing to tell.

Tales of Debt


I went to law school...  I am an aspiring human rights activist... I have the passion, the recommendations, the grades and yet I still can't find anyone willing to employ me... Knowing in 2007, what I know now, I never would have gambled 120K plus my peace of mind for a legal education...  I work nights at a cafe, part time in the day as a law text book editor, and spend every other moment interning for various public interest organizations. All of this and I still can't pay back my loans or make my rent...

What do I do now?  I am afraid I will become drastic and do something illegal I have been driven that far into the dark.

I have had significant health problems that left me unable to work for 6 months or more. I was unable to stop the clock on my student loans, even due to illness... My student loan principal balance has now doubled... Several years ago, when I was broke, I had to put things in pawn in order to be able to eat. I was shocked that 240% annual interest was legal.
My son Cody was on his way to work one morning on his motorcycle when a deer came down out of the woods and charged straight at him... By the time he finished he was over $400,000.00 dollars accumulated for these medical costs... I cannot help him with these bills. As a family we do not know what we are going to do.
My best friend is 68, severely disabled... and lives in low income housing. She lives off SS of $900 month...  Her home... is in foreclosure... she has $20,000 on her credit card to bury her husband... Creditors plague her, and lie to her.
I had a conversation with my father that included saying out loud the total cost of my education (my personal loans and the parent loans they had borrowed) and I started to cry out of regret. I apologized for even seeking an education... I started to feel ashamed to even speak to my parents. This isn't a burden they should even have to deal with at the point in their lives where retirement is (supposed to be) around the corner.

But this is exactly what student loans are designed to do. They hold you captive and reduce you to such a larval state that the only thing that you can do is become another cog in the machine.

I am 57 female single mother/grandmother... I lost my home of 19 years...  I had a breakdown and still can not pull myself out of it. I can't go to a hospital/doctor as I have no money but have acquired $5000+- emergency room bills... What do I do now?  I am afraid I will become drastic and do something illegal I have been driven that far into the dark.
I am a single mom of two kids.  My oldest has Asperger's.  After my divorce, I went to law school...  Now I am facing 188K worth of debt in an economy that has very few jobs for new lawyers, much less older new lawyers.  This was my plan to provide for my kids.  I truly believed I would be fine.  I am at a lost on what to do next.
My total educational debt for a 4-year, Bachelor of Science in Biology degree, is over $130k.  Having graduated in May, my repayments began this month.  Even though I moved back with my parents to reduce living costs, my payments exceed my full-time income by $300 per month.  That is the very definition of drowning in debt.
No one should have to go into debt for the simple right to stay alive.  I'm grateful for the care I received - the stiches, the medication, the bed and the food and the staff.  But our medical system is badly broken.

I've donated to #strikedebt. Even if my debt isnt one of the random ones eliminated, I'm happy to know that someone else in my situation will be helped.

Indeed... No one should have to go into debt for the simple right to stay alive.

Very serious people go around speaking about the 'moral hazard' of cancelling debt for ordinary people while very seriously in debt people struggle to stay alive. No one talks about the morality, let alone the hazard, of having banks still controlling our economic system, ready to do again what they did in 2008.

It's time that that conversation took place. Efforts like the ones StrikeDebt are undertaking may be the catalyst for those conversations and, ultimately, for redress.

Originally posted to jpmassar on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 06:05 PM PST.

Also republished by Occupy Wall Street, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, Single Payer: The Fight for Medicare for All, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Youth Kos 2.0.

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