The sun was shining all day as folks came out to Occupy Wall Street NYC to discuss and debate issues surrounding student debt. It is clear that EDU Debtors Union is on to something important. In collaboration with Alan Collinge of Student Loan Justice, I spent all day either talking to cameras (TV Tokyo, The Associated Press, NYU Film Students) and people. It is clear that among the issues present at OWS (healthcare, hydro-fracking, homelessness, etc) student debt is the most criticized and, perhaps, the least understood. One gentleman put this misunderstanding into context when he shouted, “Why are you complaining? You signed the paper!”
For now I will just say that EDU Debtors Union is not complaining. Far from it, in fact. Complaining is regressive, a non-action. Fundamentally, E.D.U. exists because people with student debt want to get out of debt successfully, and are working together to make that happen. One of our slogans, “Freedom Through Mass Defaults” can easily be misunderstood. What it means, is that in order to obtain better repayment terms – meaning, those that favor debt repayment over a 10-year pay period – mass defaults may be the only tactic that will force lenders to renegotiate.
This tactic is what is called “The Strategy of Refusal” and it has worked successfully with labor unions when our economy was based on manufacturing. Workers strike so that they may return to work, and the same can be true of student debtors. We can strike in order to pay our debts successfully. Paying our monthly loan payments the way they are now will not help get out of debt. Especially with private loans, students can barely make monthly payments that cover the added interest. So many debtors start with $20,000 and after years of payments their debt increases to $40,000. Saying “no” to a terrible system is an attempt to make a better one.
Our work force is no longer based on manufacturing, but is predicated on higher education. A new work force exists, so a new kind of union must exist. 2/3 of all college graduates have student debt, which means that 2/3 of our work force has student debt. Labor IS a factor of debt. It is only labor that relieves debt. Essentially, a debtors union is a reloaded labor union that helps us own our labor and keep our wealth.