Your Guide to Meaningful Action
“We need to get back not only to low tuition, but to no tuition,” said Roger Hickey, sporting an “I am a student debt voter” T-shirt outside Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office last Thursday. Hickey works for Campaign for America’s Future, and on April 30, he helped deliver a petition with over 240,000 signatures to Warren’s office. The petition, which gathered its signatures all in one month, demanded that the US government cancel all student debt, public and private.
There are currently 40 million student loan borrowers with $1.3 trillion in debt, which “pales in comparison to what we spent on the Iraq war,” said John Hlinko, founder of Left Action. “So what about a similar war on debt?” While there has been a huge increase in military spending, Pell grants, or money given to low-income students that does not need to be repaid, have been cut from the current budget. Many are starting to feel like the right to accessible education is under attack.
The petition given to Warren was sponsored by a coalition of organizations including Campaign for America’s Future, Democracy for America, Working Families, Daily Kos, and The Nation, among others. Senator Warren has spoken out frequently about reforming student loans, and she recently tried to introduce a budget amendment that would have decreased the interest rate on loans to 3.9 percent, but Senate Republicans blocked it. She also recently joined a liberal push to make college at least debt-free.
Natalia Abrams, the executive director of StudentDebtCrisis.org, graduated shortly before the UC system increased tuition by 32 percent in one semester in 2009. Many of her friends had to drop out of college. “I started Occupy Colleges, literally a Facebook page and a Twitter page from my bedroom”, she said. “But I just had to do something. It felt like that was the economic injustice for students.”
Abrams believes that this is also part of a larger movement against austerity and state disinvestment—states have been spending less per student than they have at any time in history. This means that students have to make up that difference. She feels the country needs debt-free college and debt cancellation simultaneously “to be able to get out of this mess.”
Student debt has also worsened inequality in the United States by burdening working- and middle-class students and keeping them at the bottom of the social and economic ladder. Other countries, however, despite lower federal budgets, don’t seem to be facing this issue with the same severity. Mexico, a poorer country than the United States, currently has certain universities that are free with a high-quality education. Similarly, in Quebec tuition fees are below $2800 per year. In 2012, when the government tried to raise tuition, there was a massive student strike which forced the government to scrap their proposal.
Student debt is bankrupting students before they even enter the workforce. Hlinko said he believes investing in education is beneficial for the future. “This is the best investment we can make, an investment in our people,” he said.
Read Next: Zoe Carpenter on Elizabeth Warren, the Education Department, and student borrowers
This week, members of the House of Representatives plan to mark tax day with a vote to repeal the estate tax, potentially giving millionaires and billionaires a huge tax break that will deprive the government of more than $270 billion over 10 years.
While Republicans want you to think that the estate tax harms small businesses and family farms, it primarily affects the very wealthy. Only individual estates worth more than $5.4 million pay any estate tax. Just two out of every 1,000 estates are affected.
In the meantime, the House recently passed a budget that cuts $5 trillion in benefits and services that mostly help working families. While members of Congress question whether or not parents and children in poor households deserve the smallest bit of help, they’re voting on yet another huge tax giveaway to the extremely affluent.
The Nation is part of a new coalition defending the importance of progressive taxation. Join our campaign to preserve the federal estate tax.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities compiled a list of “Ten Facts You Should Know About the Federal Estate Tax.”
Earlier this year, John Oliver hilariously broke down the absurdity of the wealth gap in America.
Last week, Wikileaks released the “Investment Chapter” of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and what it revealed was scary and surprising. The leak revealed plans to create a supranational tribunal where foreign corporations can sue governments for “expected future profits.” We already know the consequences of these tribunals. In 2012, a Swedish company sued Germany for phasing out nuclear power, and the cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris is currently suing Uruguay and Australia for laws that aim to curb smoking.
Experts like Senator Elizabeth Warren fear that the tribunals included in the TPP would make these kinds of lawsuits even more common—allowing multinational corporations to stand in the way of governments looking to protect the environment or the health and safety of their citizens.
In the meantime, President Obama wants Congress to grant him fast track authority for the TPP. That means that he would sign the trade deal without holding a vote and then railroad the deal through Congress in only ninety days with limited debate and no amendments allowed.
Activists believe that our best bet right now to stop the TPP is to convince members of the House of Representatives. Write to your representative now and demand they say ‘no’ to fast track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
President Obama has said he needs to pass the TPP so that “we” write the rules for trade with Asia. In her column in the Washington Post, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel points out that currently, “we,” the American people, are not writing the trade agreement. Shadowy corporate interests are writing it.
From pushing up drug costs to harming the environment to undermining labor protections, this video breaks down the danger of passing "the dirtiest deal you've never heard of."
Americans now owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. With 40 million people burdened by this particularly intractable form of debt and the number growing, this crisis is out of control.
It doesn’t have to be this way. College costs have increased 1,000 percent since the 1970s. Just a few decades ago, you could pay for a public college education with a common summer job. Now, students are leaving school with an average of more than $25,000 in debt. Some have over $100,000.
This is a problem for all of us. Students burdened by debt struggle to make large purchases like homes or cars, dragging down the economy. Furthermore, debt makes it virtually impossible for many students to pursue indispensable careers that offer only modest paychecks, depriving society of potentially life-changing teachers and social workers.
To draw attention to the magnitude of this crisis, we partnered with Daily Kos, Working Families, the American Federation of Teachers and number of other organizations to call on our elected officials to forgive all student loan debt. Join us by signing onto the campaign.
The United States government already spends billions of dollars on higher education, including subsidies to predatory for-profit institutions with abysmal track records. Strike Debt put together a proposal to reallocate this money to make public higher education free for all.
Watch John Oliver detail the disturbing absurdities of our student loan crisis: debt that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, for-profit colleges that prey on brain-damaged veterans and funding cuts so bad that a nursing program in North Carolina has a waiting list to get on its waiting list.
The FCC voted today to protect net neutrality, and to use Title II reclassification (exactly what open Internet advocates have been demanding) to ensure that it sticks. That means that the Internet will remain an open playing field—no slow lanes and no fast lanes—where small non-profits, every-day people and independent media outlets like The Nation can compete against multi-billion dollar corporate giants.
A hearty congratulations is due to the organizers at Fight for the Future, Free Press, OpenMedia, ColorofChange, the Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition, the Center for Media Justice, the Media Action Grassroots Network, Demand Progress and the many other groups who have been at the forefront of this crucial fight.
Our own readers have also continually stood up for the open Internet. Over the past year, Nation readers sent thousands of comments to the FCC. When Congress threatened to get in the way just as the FCC was coming down on our side, they wrote to their elected officials. Finally, this past week they submitted messages and photos to be streamed on a giant Jumbotron right outside the FCC’s headquarters (you can check out some of those messages here).
Now that we’ve won, our friends at OpenMedia are using the net neutrality Jumbotron to stream celebratory messages and photos from this past year’s organizing. Click here to send along a quick message of support.
Although today is a big deal, we can’t afford to be complacent. John Nichols outlines the challenges that lie ahead to make sure that net neutrality is here to stay.
Check out Fight for the Future’s video of highlights from this year’s activism.
We’ve almost won. Under pressure from millions, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said that he will support Title II reclassification, exactly what we need to ensure that the Internet remains a fair playing field for all.
That said, it’s not quite time to celebrate. Telecom lobbyists are pulling out all the stops to undermine real net neutrality before the final vote on February 26. From Time Warner Cable to AT&T to politicians looking to divide the public on what should be a bipartisan issue, we’re up against some powerful players.
The FCC has closed formal public comments in the days leading up to the vote. To make sure that commissioners know that we’re still watching, our friends at OpenMedia are setting up a Jumbotron right outside FCC headquarters. Send us your pro-net neutrality messages, images and memes and we’ll display them on the big screen.
In The Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith makes a forceful case for the indispensable role that net neutrality plays in #BlackLivesMatter and other contemporary social movements.
Still confused as to why net neutrality is important? Watch the John Oliver rant that famously broke the FCC’s website.
Key parts of the USA Patriot Act are set to expire this summer—including Section 215, the provision that the NSA cites as justification for the bulk collection of our telephone records.
The spying is so extreme that the original sponsor of the Patriot Act, Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, is urging colleagues to sign a letter asserting that they will vote against reauthorization if the law is not amended to ban mass surveillance.
The Nation has joined a broad coalition to call on all members of Congress to sign on to Representative Sensenbrenner’s letter. Urge your elected officials to sign and to commit to ending unconstitutional mass surveillance.
Without the brave sacrifices of whistleblowers, most famously Edward Snowden, we would have no idea of the extent of the government’s mass spying. This fall, The Nation spoke with Snowden about the surveillance state, the American political system and the price he’s paid for his understanding of patriotism.
After the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, Americans saw a dramatic decline in the pollution of our waterways. But that progress has been eroded. Policies adopted following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 undermined the Clean Water Act by creating uncertainty about which waterways were covered. Since then, the EPA has failed to prosecute hundreds of polluters who benefit from the confusion, and countless streams, ponds and wetlands are currently threatened, potentially affecting the drinking water of more than 117 million Americans.
The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a new rule that would help protect these vital waterways but polluters want to block these critical changes. Join The Nation and the Natural Resources Defense Council in calling on Congress to defend our nation’s water.
Storm-water runoff is another major source of the pollution in our rivers, lakes and coastal areas. In The Nation, Madeline Ostrander reports on the pollution pressure a growing population is putting on Puget Sound and its impact on the salmon, clams and other seafood and shellfish local Indian tribes depend on.
In a video accompanying Ostrander’s article, members of the Suquamish tribe and local environmental activists discuss the importance of fishing to the tribe and the local community, as well as the danger that storm-water runoff poses to their way of life.
“We all live upstream,” says Fran Wilshusen of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, so we all can fight storm-water runoff. The Nation spoke with activists from the NWIFC, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, the Washington Environmental Council, the West Central Local Integrating Organization and the Suquamish Tribe about what you can do to keep pollution out of rivers and lakes.
1. Limit your use of pesticides and fertilizers.
2. Wash your car in a commercial car wash, not your driveway. If you wash it at home, do so on your lawn, preventing soap from entering storm drains. And fix any fluid leaks in your car promptly, or, as Chris Wilke from Puget Soundkeeper puts it, “Don’t drip and drive!”
3. Scoop your pet’s poop and don’t litter. Not only is it gross to not pick up after your pet or yourself, it’s bad for rivers, streams, and coastal areas.
4. Plant rain gardens or use rain barrels to absorb rainwater where it falls. Rain gardens are built into depressions so that water from impervious surfaces (such as driveways and roofs) will be absorbed into the ground and won’t flow into local waterways, picking up dirt and pollution along the way. (You can find directions for building a rain garden here and a rain barrel here). Some cities, such as Seattle, even offer rebates for residents who build a rain garden on their property.
5. Make sure new developments in your community use green building technologies. The Washington Environmental Council and Resource Media collect stories of local businesses that have cut down on storm-water pollution in this way. For instance, in Seattle, a development called Piper Village uses pervious pavement so that rainwater is filtered on-site. The city of Mukilteo, also in Washington State, built a green City Hall using a combination of pervious pavement, bioswales (gently sloping troughs similar to rain gardens) and a grass-covered roof, which both insulates the building and collects water runoff.
6. Speak out. The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance organized its members to push state regulations that require cities and counties to incorporate green technologies in all new developments, and continues to force companies to comply through citizen lawsuits. Thanks to the organization’s work, Washington State has some of the strongest regulations in the country.
7. Fight for funding to combat storm-water pollution. As Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the West Central Local Integrating Organization and member of the Suquamish Tribe, points out, infrastructure projects can be expensive and hard to fund, so it’s important to support those efforts. Citizens can advocate for state and federal grant programs, or ask their city to implement a storm-water utility fee, a small tax used to fund local infrastructure improvements.
8. Have your state’s water regulations kept up with science? States are responsible for implementing elements of the Clean Water Act and many of their standards are dangerously out of date.
9. Educate yourself and your community. In Seattle and some surrounding cities, storm-water drains are decorated with stencils that tell the community where runoff (and pollution) are going. If you see pollution flowing into or out of storm-water drains, be sure to report it. (You can find out more about Puget Soundkeeper’s monitoring program here).
10. Support the hardworking folks fighting to protect local waterways. There are organizations similar to those we spoke to from Washington state all over the country. Find the people combating storm-water pollution in your community and get involved.
For even more information, read Madeline Ostrander’s piece on storm-water pollution in Puget Sound and check out The Nation’s joint action with the Natural Resources Defense Council to defend the Clean Water Act.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said that he will support Title II reclassification, exactly what we need to ensure that the Internet remains a fair playing field for all. We’ve almost won the fight for real net neutrality.
But before the FCC votes on the rules on February 26, we have to ensure that cable industry lobbyists and their friends in Congress do not get in the way. They’ve already tried by pushing fake net-neutrality legislation that would protect cable and telephone companies from real oversight.
Write to Congress now and demand that your elected officials get out of the way and let the FCC do its job. Then to amplify your voice, use the “Internet Countdown” call tool created by the people behind last year’s “Internet Slowdown.”
John Nichols describes how “people power” is winning net neutrality.
To get yourself pumped to act, watch John Oliver’s now classic rant on net neutrality that broke the FCC’s website.