Occupying Student Debt

by Sandra Korn | July 06, 2012

In our January/February issue, Dan Schneider profiled the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, a movement that brought attention to the trillion dollars of student debt in America today by calling for a mass student movement around the issue. The campaign launched a debtors’ pledge of refusal, asking student debtors to sign a pledge that they would stop making student loan payments if one million other debtors did the same, with the ultimate ideal of free higher education for all.

Although the Occupy Student Debt Campaign has gained national press and the group has provided an important information source and organizing tool for student activists, the debtors’ pledge of refusal has far from one million signatures. However, over one million people have signed a petition in support of bill HR 4170: The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012. This bill aims to make student debt repayment more fair by taking such measures as capping interest rates on student loans at 3.4% and creating a “10-10 standard,” which would ensure that anyone making interest payments greater than 10% of their income for 10 years would have their remaining federal debt forgiven. (You can add your name to the petition in support of the bill here.)

Two groups, Occupy Colleges and Occupy Student Debt, have decided not to join the Occupy Student Debt Campaign in advocating for one million students to sign a pledge of refusal. (They note, “If a million people were to actually default, this would be a dream come true for companies such as Sallie Mae.”) Instead, these groups have been collecting testimonials from student debtors, participating in actions, and organizing to gather petition signatures in support of the Student Loan Forgiveness Act.

Last week, Occupy Colleges and Occupy Student Debt announced that they would merge. A solidarity statement written by people affiliated with the two groups notes that the groups have similar aims: “We are here to advocate on behalf of students and to educate as many people as possible on 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.”

It often seems like there are as many proposed solutions as groups or individuals involved in a social movement. Unlike students in Montreal, Americans have not yet taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to protest tuition hikes and the privatization of university education—perhaps because we are too busy worrying about which petition to endorse to take direct action. However, dozens of groups tackling the issue of student debt from different angles has caught the attention of the left: the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) will focus on student debt during its conference in August. While we may not expect the Occupy Student Debt Campaign to merge with Occupy Colleges anytime soon, indebted students everywhere will be paying attention to student loan activism across the country.

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