Vision: 5 Ways Young Americans Can Fight Back Against Student Loan Debt, the Drug Industry, and More
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I’m going to come out to you. I am overburdened by student loan debt. Since graduating at the height of the financial downturn with a degree that isn’t easily applicable to an ever-competitive job market, I’ve been stuffing my loan statements in a box under my bed. The only reason I feel empowered to say this to an audience is because I’ve found out that I’m not alone. In fact, there are 206,000 of us who graduated in 2008 with at least $40,000 in student loan debt. Student loan debt exceeded credit card debt for the first time in 2010, and according to the debt clock that keeps ticking away, we’re only $60 million shy of the oft-cited $1 trillion mark.
The dismal anecdotes of youth in this country have been reported on this site. Even Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged that something should be done for these hopeless young people before we take to the street to riot.
Remember Mohammed Bouazizi? So much has happened since this 26-year-old Tunisian food vendor set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office. The rest is a tumultuous recent history of riots, protests, tent cities and overall acting out in the Middle East, collectively referred to as the Arab Spring. Though Bouazizi wasn’t a college student, as reported in much of the narrative, his desperation in the face of police brutality and unemployment in a society that was blind to his community’s struggle mirrors ours. Bouazizi set himself ablaze in order to be seen.
I hearken back to this story, not because I’m advocating a repeat of this scene, or because with police violence and retaliation against the #OccupyWallStreet protesters, it seems like we’re heading for the same violent crescendo as our Middle Eastern counterparts. But in a profile of the boy behind the legend, Bouazizi's mother spoke to the humiliation that her son felt -- his lack of control over the course of his own life. In order to regain control, he took his life. With mounting bills, disappearing jobs, and a deaf, dumb and blind government, the time is ripe for a similar spark and resulting uprising here in the U.S.
But it probably won’t happen -- or at least not in the same way. Clinical psychologist Bruce Levine wrote on this site that “Young Americans...appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the corporatocracy can completely screw them and that they are helpless to do anything about it.” He succinctly articulated the weights that hold young Americans back; what keeps us from rallying to the streets in sustained, significant protest.
In my talks with Levine, he seemed much more hopeful about the potential of youth to overcome these barriers. He acknowledged that the insidious forces that keep us from the streets were established by his generation, and said to me and all youth that firstly, “we must do something to get you out of your pain.” He started me off with a few solutions. Here they are for your viewing, debating and (hopefully) implementing pleasure.
1. Student Loans -- The Personal
“Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force,” says Levine. Student loans have been in the spotlight recently. In 2009, Robert Applebaum posted a Facebook note calling for student loan forgiveness as a direct means of economic stimulus. “Responsible people who did nothing other than pursue a higher education would have hundreds, if not thousands of extra dollars per month to spend, fueling the economy now,” he wrote. Since then, a burgeoning collective movement has formed and our individual grinding and knashing of teeth over our monthly bills has been poured into a focused group building. His “Forgive Student Loans” petition reached 300,000 before it went to MoveOn.org and is currently moving its way up to 400,000.
But for a graduate in pain, this is small relief. What’s holding you back won’t immediately be fixed by a petition or even legislation. Connecting your personal struggle to the overall political battle is the key to moving this along. In the meantime, here are some things to know and do for personal relief from student debt pain.