How many young people turn away from low-paying but vital professions because they can’t earn enough to pay back their student loans? How many potential social workers, public interest lawyers, investigative journalists, environmentalists, teachers and artists are we losing?

Nicholas von Hoffman asked these questions in an important Nation online article condemning the recent Congressional decision to raise the interest on student loans. (Click here to ask your elected reps to resist the GOP effort to pull funding for low-interest student loans.)

As von Hoffman writes, “There is social control in loading young people up with financial obligations. Burdened with debt and desperate to have and keep a job, there is no way they can take a wild year off and certainly no time for protesting, organizing or causing the kind of social and political trouble young people cause from time to time.”

Fortunately, despite the best efforts of their government, students are indeed protesting, organizing and causing trouble. Don’t buy into the nonsense you hear regularly about the lack on consciousness on the part of today’s students. The fact is that students today are, on the whole, far more active, organized and sophisticated politically than earlier generations.

Noam Chomsky makes the point that there are far more progressive student groups and organizations now than ever before, and I’ve heard Tom Hayden remind people that most students in his day did not support SDS and march against the war. Although there is a profound disconnect between the issues of the day and what interests most students, that’s the case for most of society and, if anything, it’s less true on college campuses. From pro-choice protesting, to antiwar organizing, to living wage and fair trade campaigning, to electoral and media activism, to actions against sweatshop labor, for immigrant rights and for the environment, students today are involved in an unprecedented range of progressive political work.

Take a group like Students for a New American Politics (SNAP PAC). SNAP, a federal PAC, provides stipends for students who couldn’t otherwise afford the low salaries to work as full-time grassroots organizers on progressive Congressional campaigns for 10 to 12 weeks during the upcoming summer of 2006. A student conceived and run organization, SNAP brings the energy and enthusiasm needed to promote democratic participation in the Democratic Party, if that’s still possible, and to strengthen the progressive voice in Washington. (Click here to help SNAP support a grassroots organizer this summer.)

For a look at some other great organizing happening on campuses nationwide, check out a list of Sites We Like on The Nation‘s new StudentNation web page. Compiled by my colleague Habiba Alcindor, this collection celebrates the breadth of student activism today with sites like DownHill Battle, a non-profit organization working to build a fairer music industry and support participatory culture; the Campus Kitchens Projects, a student-led initiative that coordinates food donations, prepares and delivers meals to social service agencies, and teaches food preparation and culinary skills to unemployed and underemployed men and women; Campus Antiwar Network, the primary national grassroots alliance of students opposing the occupation of Iraq and military recruitment in schools; Campus Book Swap, a free service designed to help students circumvent the rip-off textbook publishing industry by buying, selling and swapping used books and Student Debt Alert and The Garnished Life, which both document the problems and responses to the increasingly widespread student debt crisis.

The issue of student debt seems so resonant that we’ve launched a StudentNation reader forum, asking people if they think they’ve paid too much for their student loans, and, if so, how that has affected their life choices. Read the comments and tell us your story. The conversation is still going strong.


Events Note
Speaking of student politics, this year marks the 45th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, and the document’s author, Tom Hayden, will be talking about its continued relevance in a free public conversation with RadioNation’s Laura Flanders this Thursday, March 30, at 6:30 at The Strand Bookstore in Manhattan.