The real heroes behind Biden’s student debt announcement

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It’s easy to forget how fanciful the demand for student debt forgiveness sounded when it first sounded during Occupy Wall Street a decade ago when Obama was president. On April 8, 2012, members of the short-lived Occupy Student Debt campaign staged a protest dubbed 1T Day, marking the day student debt topped $1 trillion. The protesters dressed in caps and dresses made from black trash bags and demanded a student loan jubilee. Media coverage was weak and dismissive. “They want all student debt in the country cancelled. All $1 trillion. And if the government were so nice, they would appreciate it if they also paid for higher education from now on,” Chadwick Matlin of Reuters mocked. “What happened to this proposal? Almost no one cared. According NPR All things Considered, “Most experts believe the government is unlikely to ever cancel student loans.”

Contrary to the skeptics, my fellow occupants and I did not consider the demands of 1T Day to be particularly extreme. The government, after all, had just bailed out the banks after they ravaged the global economy and screwed up millions of homeowners, including my parents, whose house was under water. At the time, I was a recent student loan defaulter (although I eventually repaid the loan in full – or rather, my partner paid it off for me, a release I want everyone to experience) . Why shouldn’t former students like me, who just did what they were told by pursuing post-secondary education to get ahead, also get a helping hand? All my peers and I wanted, it was what previous generations had valued: a chance to pursue higher education without debt.

With that goal in mind, we formed task forces to learn more about the workings of our heavily financialized economy and began to organize what we called “debtor meetings,” harrowing forums where strangers shared their woes. financial. To visit an Occupy camp was to be surrounded by people behind on rent, mortgage payments, medical and credit card bills, and student loans. Through conversation and confession, our shame of being in debt began to dissolve; we have begun to see our indebtedness not as a personal failure but as the product of a broken system: a system in which low wages, inadequate public services, systemic racism and sexism, and profiteering conspire to force the majority of us to borrow to meet our basic needs. To draw attention to these dynamics and help debtors in need, we collected crowdfunding donations and began buying portfolios of unsecured debt in secondary markets, wiping out tens of millions of dollars in medical bills and payday loans for tens of thousands of people across the country. . We called this popular bailout of the people, by the people, the rolling jubilee.

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