OWS Education Activists Launch Student Debt Refusal Pledge
In the wake of massive walkouts at colleges in New York on November 17 and statewide protests in the University of California system, student debt has come to the fore as a major animating issue for the Occupy movement. Young people face record student debt at a time when the employment rate among those under 24 is at its lowest since the 1970s.
Today, the Education and Empowerment working group at Occupy Wall Street announced their next step in the fight against the burden of student loans: a debt refusal pledge.
Students and faculty, dressed in caps and gowns, performed a bit of street theater under the now-famous red sculpture at Liberty Plaza, handing out debt bills instead of diplomas and draping chains around their necks. Then, Professor Andrew Ross of NYU addressed the crowd through the People's Mic, saying "Since the first days of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the agony of student debt has been a constant refrain. We've heard truly harrowing personal testimony about the suffering and humiliation of people who believe that their debt will be unpayable in their lifetime."
"Education is not like buying a car or a flatscreen TV," Ross continued, "Education is a right and a public good."
The pledge has three parts: one for debtors, one for faculty members who, Ross noted, have their salaries financed by student debt, and one for supporters. The debtors' pledge reads:
As members of the most indebted generations in history, we pledge to stop making student loan payments after one million of us have signed this pledge.
Student loan debt, soon to top $1 trillion, is poisoning the pursuit of higher education. With chronic underemployment likely for decades to come, we will carry an intolerable burden into the future. The time has come to refuse this debt load. Debt distorts our educational priorities and severely limits our life options.
Education is not a commodity and it should not be a vehicle for generating debt, or profit for banks. Education at all levels –pre- K through Ph.D. -- is a right and a public good.
* We believe the federal government should cover the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities.
* We believe that any student loan should be interest-free.
* We believe that private and for-profit colleges and universities, which are largely financed through student debt, should open their books.
* We believe that the current student debt load should be written off.
In acknowledgment of these beliefs, I am signing the Debtors’ Pledge of Refusal.
The website also has more information, an events page, and a list where you can see how many people have pledged.
As the rally wound down, many of the activists marched to CUNY's Baruch College, where 1000+ students gathered to protest a Board of Trustees meeting debating tuition hikes. Twitter reports were still coming in at press time, but some of them indicate Public Safety officers using batons to club nonviolent students.