The views expressed are his own.
Over the past three months, as Occupy Wall Street has pitched a tent in the American consciousness, doubters have had the same refrain: “But what do they want?” Mothers, uncles, family friends, family of friends, they’ve all asked me—their token 20-something—some version of this. They argued that a movement was not a movement just because it wanted to move somewhere. It also needed to know exactly how it was going to get there. Apparently, all revolutions must now come with a built-in GPS.
A month ago, Occupy Wall Street made a demand. Or, as is the way in the nested hierarchy of OWS, a subcommittee of a committee of the movement made a demand. They want all student debt in the country forgiven. All $1 trillion of it. And if the government would be so kind, they’d appreciate if it would pay for higher education from here on out, as well.
So this is what they—or at least some of they—want. But what has happened with this proposal, this great demand that we’ve all been waiting for?
Hardly anybody has cared.
In one month, only 2,694 people with debt have signed the Occupy Student Debt pledge, which states the following:
We believe the federal government should cover the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities. We believe that any student loan should be interest-free. We believe that private and for-profit colleges and universities, which are largely financed through student debt, should open their books. We believe that the current student debt load should be written off.
But a pledge is just a pledge. How are the banks and colleges going to be forced to take notice? “As members of the most indebted generations in history, we pledge to stop making student loan payments after one million of us have signed this pledge.” True believers don’t just march against the war, they burn their draft cards. Or in this case, their credit scores.
The American Dream is dead (or at least cryogenically frozen), but colleges profit by pretending otherwise. Tuition has grown significantly faster than inflation (an 8.3 percent cost spike in public universities last year), student enrollment is at an all-time high, and yet my alma mater’s fundraising team still calls me to try and solicit money. There is reality, and then there is the academy.