March on K Street, December 7, 2011 (
by ladyslipper
May 30, 2012, 10:00 AM

A Blueprint for a People’s Bailout

Remember when the mainstream media discovered courtesy fees? The fees that banks charged customers for covering a purchase made on an account with insufficient funds? A customer who bought a $4 coffee at Starbucks might face a hundred bucks in fees if other purchases were also made. Online commenters snarked that if people spent less time at Starbucks and more time balancing their accounts they wouldn’t be in this mess. But the media blitz resulted in courtesy fees being made opt-in rather than opt-out as part of the recent financial reform package.

The same tactic could work in creating a People’s Bailout. Here’s how it could happen:

  • Write a letter to your latest creditors. Explain your situation and make them a settlement offer. I say “latest creditors” because credit card debt is bought and sold like mortgage debt. The creditor you had last week may not be the creditor you have next week. Chances are your creditors have already made you an offer, an offer that’s simply beyond your means. Make them an offer that is within your means and see what happens.
  • Send a copy of your correspondence to your U.S. representative and senators. They might be unsympathetic to the plight of struggling families. But writing them will give them an idea of how many people in their district are struggling.
  • Also copy federal legislators who are sympathetic to voters with credit card debt. Keep in mind that you can’t email legislators out of your district; you’ll have to fax or snail-mail them. (Which will help keep post offices solvent.)
  • While you’re at it, send a copy of your correspondence to Vice President Joe Biden.  As a U.S. Senator from Delaware, he helped create the haven that credit card companies enjoy – as well as the bankruptcy reform laws that were enacted in 2005. Let him know what Bankruptcy 2.0 is like for you.
  • Contact twitter media figures who can promote the idea of a people’s bailout. At the top of my list: @cenkuygur. Cenk pays attention to his Twitter stream. On The Young Turks he revealed a follower’s observation about George Zimmerman’s sotto voce f**cking coon in a 911 call about Trayvon Martin.

There are many other media sources: AlterNet, Salon, Daily Kos.  That’s the problem. Progressive Web sites are as prolific as the number of channels in a cable television package. Pick one definitive source, contact them, and cultivate a relationship with someone there. Encourage your social media network to do the same.

Other components of a People’s Bailout:

Public Service. Because I’m not expecting a free ride – I suspect few people in debt do — perhaps a public service program would be part of a people’s bailout. It could be a modern-day WPA program: mentoring at-risk students, performing data entry,

Forcing King Credit to Abdicate. A post-bankruptcy credit rating influences parts of your life you’d never expect. Insurance is one of them. If you have poor credit you can expect to pay 40% more for vehicle insurance, according to this article. The industry rationale: people with bad credit file more claims than people with good credit. That sounds hinky to me. People who can’t pay their bills will do anything to avoid filing a claim because they can’t afford to pay the deductible or the higher premiums that result.

Talking About It. Remember the New York Times article about struggling families in Chip Cravaack’s home district of Chisago County? A woman broke into tears when she admitted to having financial trouble while living in a relatively affluent community. The stigma of hardship can be as debilitating, if not more, than the hardship itself. Stigma goes away when everyone who shares a problem talks about it.

What’s Next?

So go ahead, come clean about your debt. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re not alone. Like they did with courtesy fees, the mainstream media has discovered that people are too broke to file bankruptcy, a topic I wrote about here. Absolutely, think about what you would do differently should you get a financial reset. Be prepared to give back in some way. Then make a People’s Bailout happen. Start by contacting these people.

Creating a People’s Bailout involves a mix of short messages you can share with your social media networks and longer messages you can mail or fax — messages that explain why a People’s Bailout is needed. If you live in Minnesota, here’s a good start. The following links go to each contact’s Twitter account. From there you can link to each person’s Web site which has contact information by mail, phone, email and fax.

Minnesota U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, CD-5 Even if you live outside of the Fifth District – or outside of Minnesota, for that matter – Ellison is a key contact because he co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken  Yeah, there’s Amy Klobuchar too, but Al has shown more awareness of financially struggling voters than his counterpart.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson Creditors aren’t as snarky as they used to be. They realize that customers are hurting. But if you encounter creditors who are abusive, contact Attorney General Swanson. (She isn’t on Twitter; the above link is to her Web site.)

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for Massachusetts U.S. Senator and candidate to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden As U.S. Senator, Biden advocated for the credit card industry. Then, he voted for bankruptcy reform. Let him know what Bankruptcy 2.0 looks like.

U.S. President Barack Obama I’m not sure how useful writing Obama would be, as he declined to nominate Warren. But contacting the President is standard operating procedure.

If you live outside of Minnesota, here is a directory of U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators.

From the Media

Everyone has their own idea of a Web site they rely on for progressive news. To me, the closest we have to a Walter Cronkite of progressive media – a true, trusted and definitive voice – is Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks. His Twitter account is here. If you have a network established with a specific site, start there. And share with us the response you get.

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