This statement, co-written by Kyle McCarthy, explains why Occupy Colleges and Occupy Student Debt have merged organizations and what it portends for the future of student activism.
Occupy Student Debt and Occupy Colleges have recently merged. Collectively, our beliefs are simple: we are here to advocate on behalf of students and to educate as many people as possible about the growing crisis of student debt. We are fighting for quality, affordable and accessible education for all students who want to obtain a college degree. Beyond that, we don’t have any demands as we are forming a broad coalition.
Today, over 36 million people in the United States have student loans, while at least 1 out of 5 borrowers go into default. As highlighted in a short video we released, those who default are slammed with exorbitant fees and penalties, exploding and usurious interest rates, ruined credit ratings, possible suspension of driver’s licenses, possible suspension of professional licenses, and more. For these reasons we have opposed the campaign to encourage borrowers to voluntarily default on their student loans. If a million people were to actually default, this would be a dream come true for companies such as Sallie Mae who happens to own many collection companies as well. Due to heavy lobbying from these student lenders, consumer rights have been stripped away and lenders make far more if the borrower defaults.
Since last October, Occupy Student Debt has provided a platform for over 800 student borrowers to share their student debt horror stories and connected many of these victims to the media. Since we started this, several other groups such as Rebuild the Dream, Education Trust, and the Young Invincibles have started similar platforms for borrowers to broadcast their message- and kudos to them! This tells us that we must be doing something right.
Collecting stories is by no means where our work ends. Like many others, since September 17th, we have been attending marches, meetings, occupations and working with various occupy groups to shed light on this very serious issue. Occupy Colleges alone, staged over 10 direct actions. In addition, we have supported others’ efforts in pushing for total student loan forgiveness by helping to gather over 31,000 signatures on the White House’s petition site, “We the People.” The result? President Obama announced the "Pay as you Earn" initiative as a direct response to the petition last October in Denver.
Is this where it ends? Absolutely not. Those involved with Occupy Student Debt and Occupy Colleges have also fought to change Sallie Mae’s “unemployment penalty” for private student loans, addressed predatory lending through the arts, been arrested outside Sallie Mae’s DC office for protesting, protested outside the Sallie Mae shareholders’ meeting, worked with the The Backbone Campaign to deliver an 11-foot-wide ball of student debt to the Department of Education and, were intimately involved in the creation of “Occupy Graduation”.
More recently, we have been involved with an awareness campaign around HR 4170: The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012. To date, over one million people have pledged their support for this bill and we have petitioned nearly every member of Congress to co-sponsor it. This bill would give relief to borrowers with both federal and private student loans — something the Income Based Repayment program (IBR) does not include. Another important component of HR 4170 is the “10-10” program which is retroactive and allows borrowers to pay 10% of their discretionary income for ten years with the remaining balance forgiven afterwards. Anyone interested in reading more about HR 4170 or to find out which members of Congress are co-sponsors, are encouraged to visit HR4170.com.
Some have questioned the probability of HR 4170 passing – that completely misses the point. Whether or not HR 4170 ever becomes law, we have already forced our leaders to pay attention to the issues that matter to the 99%. This is a stepping stone, so let’s build on it together. In these turbulent times, it is critical that groups working towards fundamental change in the world of student debt, stick together. Although we may not agree on every point, it is important to publicly support each other on the issues that involve the 99%.