Will the Student Debt Movement Legitimize Occupy?

The mainstreamies out there are pretty occupied (pun intended) with working more hours for less pay, mortgage foreclosures and a host of other pressures. But for my money, the predatory lending practices, price hikes and unfair or outright fraudulent policies regarding payment, interest, or consolidation will bring Real America closer to realizing the progressive changes we need for the middle class to survive and the country to thrive.

It is the aspiration of nearly everyone, regardless of race, religion, politics, or creed, to attain higher education. It helps us expand and diversify our minds, meet new and interesting people, live free and wildly independent, study under the tutelage of wizened mentors, access courses, books and topics they otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience. People of any age go to school to grow philosophically, gain skills, learn seemingly secret or arcane knowledge, or, as the marketing departments tell us, to get better jobs and make more money.

Of course, it doesn’t really work that way, with an American workforce still in the shitter, skilled jobs scarce and a growing economic class of people below the rising line of college affordability. Parents and guardians, also burdened with co-signed loans, want what is best for their younger generations, but are crippled by Draconian corporations. A feedback loop of greed has been created by big education dealers like EDMC, usurious loan companies like Sallie Mae, and the collections agencies that sometimes fall under their own banner (not exactly a conflict for Sallie Mae, but a matter of compounding debt and problems for the indebted). If one were to be thoroughly conspiracy-minded, it wouldn’t take much to add a dystopian vision of private industry fueled by underpaid workers (a la Foxconn) enslaved by the debt of their overpriced and now apparently useless education, the return of debtor’s prisons in a private prison industry!

But enough slippery slope arguments, for the tamer future reality is nearly as frightening. No massive conspiracy, but hundreds of small ones perpetrated by the psychopathic CEOs at the top tiers of the power structures in this country, with no regard for the populace “below them” or indeed the very future of the country, the planet, or our species. This is what Occupy is all about, but this message hasn’t entirely translated to the mainstream America who gets their news from Fox, or more likely, doesn’t care to get the news at all.

You will undoubtedly see people criticize any progressive movement on the left, and decry any debt absolution, industry regulation, activism or protest movement as leftist propaganda and overreaching government attacking poor, defenseless billionaires such as Albert Lord, CEO of Sallie Mae. For every true story told at occupystudentdebt.com, one could likely find a snide youtube comment tearing them down. There will always be reactionary bullies and their herds of sheep. A perfectly natural (and primitively primate) revulsion of the youthful vigor for liberty.

Fortunately, the facts are overhwhelming, as student loan debt in America tops $1 trillion, some are seeing their loans triple due to interest, face ridiculous fees, with no way to negotiate, no bankruptcy protection, and no regulation. Since 1980, average tuition for a 4-year college education has increased an astounding 827%. Since 1999, average student loan debt has increased by a shameful 511%. Student debt collectors are incentivized to violate federal aid laws, and even Obama (who topped the list of those fighting for student debt reform) and the Department of Education rely on debt collectors profiting from student debt. And Republicans are again trying to double the interest rates for student loans. Which is really the overreaching government action?

If it looks like a bubble and acts like a bubble…

Unfortunately, as we have seen with issue after issue, facts do not necessarily sway voters. We need to reframe the issues, changing perceptions and public opinion, alter the very conversation in this country of where the money is going and why the prices are fixed as they are.

The student loan corporation heads (like all the clueless and insulated rich) must have received quite a shock upon realizing that the protest movement of their victims is coincidentally somehow both young and educated.

But once the bubble of student loan debt bursts, and make no mistake, it will, Americans will watch as the same drama plays out again with corporate bailouts and vulture capitalism that nearly wrecked us so recently.

Prices for education will not drop (they haven’t for homes), as the economy takes another hit unemployment will rise with no regard to the educated, skilled, or fealty to young innovators, things we once valued and prized in this country. Even the parents and grandparents will take up their torches and pitchforks if and when the shit makes such total abstract art of the fan. The first economic shitstorm of mortgage usury took everyone by surprise, and an unaware America could be fed nonsense and propaganda contrary to the facts or their better interests. But as George W. Bush once stated in his American dialect, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Years later, Americans are more skeptical of rushing off to foreign wars in Iran or Syria, compared to our gullibility in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re more savvy if we’ve lived through it once before in recent memory.

There are other options, of course, than utter collapse. Floating Universities and Open Education Resources are becoming more popular online for a fraction of the cost of similar coursework and lectures. Certain degrees in technology are being offered by once-exclusive institutions at affordable rates (even cheap as free), and tuition can be pre-paid or locked-in early to save money. Blogging itself is increasingly being seen as a scholarly activity. Some incentives exist to get courses for cheaper, though overall, scholarships and federal grants for financial aid are diminishing, and even community college costs are rising. And despite their innovation and necessity, let us not allow such cost-saving measures deter us from fixing the regulatory holes hemorrhaging the system.

A current bill is being proposed by Rep. Hansen Clarke, who might lose his seat due to Republican redistricting, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012 (H.R. 4170), that would give those Americans a way out debt by letting them pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 10 years. America is slipping behind with every year in education! We all need to educate ourselves, get informed, and act! Sign a petition, write your congressmen, or march in the streets if you can, to occupy our very right to be educated.

In the end, if worst comes to worst, they may not even call it Occupy, and they may not consider it ‘legitimized.’ But the looming financial hubris cannot be sustained, and unregulated will come to a point where no American can ignore it.

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