Decrying Student Debt Crisis, Demonstrators Take to the Streets in DC [PHOTOS, VIDEO]
College students, organizers from the Backbone Campaign, and members of the Occupy movement took to the streets on Tuesday afternoon to promulgate the increasingly troubling issue of student loan debt, which hit the $1 trillionmark earlier this year.
Demonstrators, who dressed in caps and gowns, were escorted by police as they marched from Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC to the headquarters of Sallie Mae, tugging along a massive ball and chain meant to symbolize the burden of student debt.
“Pain for the many, profits for the few, hey Sallie Mae, we’re coming for you!” protesters chanted as they marched, among other catchy phrases. The chants reverberated through the streets as the protestors made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Predatory lenders such as Sallie Mae profit from student loan defaults. It’s time to focus on Main Street, on our nation’s future, on solving problems we face in our communities,” said Diane Wittner, an educator and director of Chesapeake Citizens, who spoke at the rally.
Wittner noted that the typical college student graduates today with more than $20,000 in debt.
Sallie Mae, founded as the Student Loan Marketing Association, has aggressively lobbied against any efforts to reform the current student loan process. Protestors agreed that the financial giant, which manages more than $180 billion in debt for more than 10 million borrowers, needs to be dissolved.
“We have to stop student loan debt profiteering off our young people,” Bill Moyer, the executive director of the Backbone Campaign, told Campus Progress. “Students often don’t know the risks until it’s too late.”
Indeed, the most pervasive risk is being buried in debt for most of your life—a problem that’s only exacerbated by the fact that the unemployment rate for college-aged Americans is at an all-time high.
For policymakers, a viable solution to the student debt crisis remains elusive. Yet those demonstrating on Tuesday had no reservations about their vision for making access to higher education an affordable reality for all Americans.
Yve Susskind, the managing director of the Backbone Campaign, told Campus Progress that she wonders why poverty should be a barrier to a college degree.
“The solution is free higher education,” she said. “This is about raising awareness and helping people see that student debt is not something we have to live with.”
According to a press release from the Backbone Campaign, free higher education at public universities is a “surprisingly affordable and practical permanent solution to the crisis.” Those marching agreed that an expanded program offering free, public higher education could a key to renewing American prosperity.
Regardless of what the ultimate solution might be, raising awareness about the long-term consequences of student loan debt is a necessary task that, until recently, has not been getting the attention it deserves.
Check out more photos from the rally here:
Graham White is a journalism intern for Campus Progress. You can follow him on Twitter @GrahamWhiteNY. Tianxinyi Liu is a video intern with Campus Progress.
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