Today, November 21, Occupy Student Debt is launching a national campaign of student debt refusal. This will take place at Zuccotti Park at the "big red sculpture" at 1:30 p.m. to be followed by a CUNY/Baruch student rally at Madison Square Park at 3:00 p.m.
A concise list of cures for the problem of student debt -- now approaching one trillion dollars and surpassing credit card debt -- was fashioned by the student debt subcommittee of the OWS Empowerment and Education working group.
Many will see this as a tectonic shift in how America approaches its treatment of students, the debt they incur and the entire process of funding higher education.
Billed as a "necessary response to the student debt crisis and the dependency of U.S. higher education on debt-financing from the people it is supposed to serve," they submit that "There is no justice in a system that openly invites profiteering on the part of lenders. Education is a right and a public good, and it should be properly funded as such."
The campaign consists of three pledges that come out of what they describe as the "four fundamental principles." First, the pledge:
- A refusal to make loan payments. This pledge will take effect after a million debtors have signed on to the campaign.
- A faculty pledge of support for the "refusers."
- A general, non-debtors' pledge of support for parents, the students and other public sympathizers.
Then, the underpinning of four fundamental principles (they emphasize that these are not demands):
- Student loans, if they are to exist, should be interest free. Education loans should not be treated like consumer loans.
- Tuition at all public colleges and universities should be federally funded.
- Private and for-profit colleges and universities should open their books. Students deserve to know where and how their tuition dollars are being spent.
- Current debt burdens should be written off entirely, ending the bondage of two generations of student debtors.
Invited by the New School Occupiers yesterday to explain the pledge and its purpose and ramifications, the committee admitted to the likelihood of expected "blowback" to the campaign. The group was told that earlier exploratory online postings regarding the campaign had already attracted "trolls" -- paid operatives or partisan hacks who post negative comments to make it look like popular opinion is against progressive ideas.
Whatever the public reaction and response, the committee members were clear in the work they put into the moral/financial framework, and that campuses around the country will join them in staging events to continue and propel the launch.
Any number of constituencies will find this campaign to be less than welcome. One Trillion Dollars in student debt did not happen on its own, and we have to ask ourselves -- exactly who are the beneficiaries? What political horse-trading was done, and by whom?
You can be sure that if the goal of 1,000,000 student signers to this petition is reached, that these questions, and stronger ones, are going to be asked of for-profit colleges, Fannie Mae,Wall Street bankers, overpaid administrators and even debt buyers and collection agencies.
Thanks to Occupy Student Debt, expect a lot of headlines to be occupied by this bold move by advocates and supporters who want to prevent the graduating class to go directly into the indentured class.
(For complete details, visit: www.occupystudentdebtcampaign.org. On Twitter, follow @StdntDebtPledge.)