One of the issues most prominent on the 99 Percent tumblr blog is the burden of student debt. Unlike other forms of debt, student loan debt will never disappear; it is carried by the debt-holder until he dies and even then can be passed on to a spouse or next-of-kin. And student debt is also a massive industry that brings in significant revenue for banks, collecting agencies (often owned by those very same banks), and the U.S. federal government.
A student debt refusal Working Group has been in the works at Occupy Wall Street for a few weeks now. It is headed by Andrew Ross, a professor of labor studies at New York University who has published several books on free trade economics and precarious labor in a neoliberal world. The idea is to institute a nation-wide debt strike, create awareness about the issue, and fight for a tuition-free (or at least, cheaper) public tertiary education system. Most European nations charge minor fees for tertiary education. This year CUNY, New York City’s public university, is getting ready to raise its annual tuition by about $300 every semester for five consecutive years. In 2009, the University of California Board of Regents raised that system’s tuition by thirty-three percent (against much student protest).
On Friday November 5th, Boston College sociologist Juliet Schor lectured at Occupy Wall Street about her vision of a new American economy, in which working hours are distributed more equally among the unemployed and underemployed, and fewer people work full-time. (I’ve written about the ideas in Schor’s book, Plenitude, previously.) She believes the plan will lessen stress and overworking for some while providing opportunity for many who are excluded from the formal economy currently. I asked Schor about how student debt burdens might be addressed in her economic philosophy. She cited the 2000 Jubilee movement, in which several countries in the Global South asked for and received total debt forgiveness. A social movement in this country could accomplish this for students and others, she said. It’s about empowering ourselves to demand what we need.
Fast Company recently wrote about one Occupier who has been adamantly pushing an agenda of student debt relief. His names is Alan Collinge. Fast Company writes that,
“In 2004, when requesting a forebearance during a spell of unemployment, [Collenge’s] $38,000 student debt suddenly ballooned to $80,000 overnight–and became due immediately–when the lendor decided without warning to classify it as in default. Stung by that fate, he founded in 2005 Student Loan Justice to educate people about the predatory practices and rally support to overturn the legislation that made them possible.”
Since then, Collinge has been dedicated to the cause. And if Occupy Wall Street is, too, perhaps this country’s student and former student body will finally be released from indentured servitude, and free to put their minds to work at their individual passions.