Students just don’t protest or organize against student loans. That’s what Matt Leichter over at Law School Tuition Bubble pointed out in a link I shared yesterday. Professor Alan Nasser, author of The Student Loan Debt Bubble, notes efforts to organize against student loans are largely stillborn:
There have been isolated instances of efforts to educate and mobilize. My and Kelly Norman’s original article has been made into a booklet by an Indiana University faculty member, for distribution to the student body. And many readers have forwarded the article to their circle. But the key to effective resistance is organization, and the most likely initiators of organization, the left-of-liberal Left, remains dormant. We can’t even get it together to mobilize an antiwar movement in this age of official permanent war.
During the period of widespread student opposition to the Vietnam war there were intercampus communications networks that helped to bring about nationally coordinated demonstrations and draft resistance. A comparable network, organized around the student debt crisis, could be formed if a few campuses got the ball rolling by developing student and faculty organizations dedicated to informing and mobilizing students and those in solidarity with them to resist debt predation. Your suggestion of a payment moratorium is a good one. One of its chief benefits in my opinion would be to draw attention to the issue as a catalyst for the ultimate development of a broader resistance to the entire regime of austerity and debt peonage that the vested interests are imposing on working people.
At the outset, I note that the Vietnam War and the current wars were of far more national importance than the student loan crisis, as best I can perceive. Still, student loans are approaching $1 trillion in outstanding debt and have already surpassed outstanding credit card debt. And there are no signs of abatement. Student loans are destroying the youth of this country with increasing intensity.
I think there are a few reasons why this generation doesn’t protest.
- Protests don’t work. Remember the Iraq war protests? You know, the ones that prevented us from going to war–or the ones that eventually caused the return of the troops. Oh, right. They didn’t work. Despite having an anti-war president in office, we are still in two wars with no end reasonably in sight. After all, even if students did protest, why would anyone listen? Politicians know that the youth don’t vote. They also know that lenders, non-profit schools, and for-profit schools all pour money in their pockets in one way or another.
- Student debtors are conformists. That law grad with $150,000 in debt didn’t get there because she smoked the doobies in high school, blew off college and danced on the pole, and then miraculously scored 170 on the LSAT. She worked her ass off in high school, college, and then law school. Now she’s supposed to protest? Despite considerable education, that just simply isn’t in her skill set.
- “Morals.” Three years ago, if you walked away from your subprime-mortgaged home, you were called a deadbeat. “You borrowed the money. You should pay it back.” But as mortgage defaulted by the millions, people realized that walking away was their only option. More and more people did it, and suddenly it wasn’t all that embarrassing. Unfortunately, you can’t just walk away from student loans, and bankruptcy will not discharge them. So it seems that there’s nothing to protest unless you’re advocating forgiveness. That position is untenable in the current political mood.
Any advocacy will need to start changing the political mood from “education is always worth it” to “education may not be worth it–in fact, it’s increasingly a gamble that doesn’t pay off.”
- Pwn (v.) Slang term derived from the verb own, as meaning to appropriate or to conquer to gain ownership. The term implies domination or humiliation of a rival.