I’m involved in deep discussions with the Occupy Wall Street Working Group on student debt. As I described in an earlier post, we are trying to respond to the student debt crisis that is crippling families. Education is a human right, and it should not be a source of debt or profit. Higher Education should be federally funded, as it is in many countries around the world. So, what gives? Can we have our money back now? Our right to a publicly-funded education was taken away, and we want it back, thanks!
Researcher Adolph Reed has said that it would cost about $60 billion to fund all two- and four-year public colleges in the US, which about 85% of all students attend. Andrew Ross pointed out that the Pentagon wastes more than that every year on “unaccountable spending.” There are also precedents for publicly-funded higher ed, such as the GI Bill which paid for millions of Americans to enroll in college and receive a stipend.
I don’t know about you but I’m totally down with all of that (not the part about the Pentagon just flushing money down the toilet for no reason).
However, the Working Group is discussing what a Pledge of Student Debt Refusal would actually say and do. At the moment, the proposal is that we ask people to pledge to stop paying their student debts after one million other people also sign the pledge.
Here are a few things to know about the pledge:
- Signing a pledge is not legally binding. The goal is to raise the issue of education as a human right.
- People cannot default on their loans individually without serious consequences. But we have strength in numbers to change the conversation about debt.
- Many of us are on the hook for so many bazillions of dollars that we’re going to be paying until we’re dead anyway, so why not sign? It can only help us.
- We need to keep our eyes on the prize, which is federally-funded higher ed. We have to keep in mind that we are not asking for a lot. I read the other day that Bank of America has $53 trillion dollars (that’s “trillion” with a “T”) tied up in those nasty derivatives, which even the bank knows is a time bomb waiting to go off. So spending a few billion for college is like pocket change by comparison.
- The pledge would also include an option for people to sign who are not indebted but who want to support those who are. Anyone working in higher education today is implicated in the growing indebtedness of American students, for example. Parents might also want to sign.
Here are some of the concerns Working Group members discussed recently.
Will such a pledge really scare the banks? Will it have any effect? (I think the answer is: who knows? Maybe it is more important to put ourselves on ideologically-firm ground – by making the case that education is a human right – and go from there?)
How do we respond to people who will undoubtedly say, “I paid off/am paying off my debts. Why can’t you?” In other words, we don’t want to look like we’re only trying to benefit current debtors. (Again, I think the issue is not so much debt forgiveness as it is federally-funded higher ed for all. But I totally understand the concern.)
What do you think? Would you sign such a Pledge of Student Loan Debt Refusal? If you are not a debtor, would you sign a Pledge of support?
More meetings happening this week. More updates to come.