A national student strike swept the country from the high schools and junior colleges to the elite universities. Classrooms were turned into forums. Local strike and community leaders were invited to speak on campus and explain their goals. Grad students and radicalised faculty members organised teach-ins exposing the misinformation in the media, exploding the myths of mainstream economists and political scientists. The ‘open’ campuses became a Mecca for radicals of all stripes where high-school and non-student youth, Blacks and Hispanics from the ghetto came to hang out, argue and listen to the speeches. Student volunteers streamed off campus to help where they could. Street theater flourished.
The most immediate oppression faced by students, recent graduates and people who had to drop out was student debt, leaving them exhausted from endless hours of precarious part-time work necessary to pay off their student loans and debts. For them, education, sold as the golden highway to the middle class and beyond, had turned out to be a cruel con, robbing them of their youth. While most of their classes were taught by underpaid grad students and overworked academic ‘gypsies’ (precarious part-timers often highly dedicated and super-qualified), their tuition fees kept rising astronomically – along with the salaries of university presidents and the related costs of bloated administrations and college sports budgets.
With skyrocketing tuition, almost all students were forced to take out loans. And although the public (US taxpayers) guaranteed these loans, they were ‘administered’ by private banks who, having a captive audience, naturally jacked up the interest rates. So interest (bank profits) was piled upon interest on the unpaid principal. After years of paying as much as they could afford, former students often found themselves owing more money than they had originally borrowed! Students discovered that, thanks to Congress, they had no possible recourse to bankruptcy protection – unlike the vampire bankers, who kept getting bailed out by the taxpayers. Indeed, this nightmare treadmill debt slavery drove many students to flee to Canada or even to commit suicide. Fortunately (for the banks) these childish attempts at ‘avoiding adult responsibilities’ were soon frustrated, once their parents and spouses were made automatically liable for the surviving loans.
Soon the total US student debt had soared into the trillions, surpassing home mortgages as a source of riskless profit for the greedy banksters. Over the years, various attempts to organize a debtors’ strike sputtered until the idea of Million Student Pledge went viral on Facebook. All over the land students began publicly declaring to all their ‘friends’ that when the total number of Pledgees reached a million, they would all stop paying their college loans together. Naturally as the number of Pledgees rose, the government threatened and the pundits raged, but this only provoked the hesitant to join the Pledge. Then came panicky offers to negotiate with Responsible Leaders, but there were none. Just thousands and thousands of desperate students who suddenly saw a ray of hope and felt a new sense of pride in participating in a powerful group action. The million mark was rapidly surpassed, and there were huge parties on and off campuses to celebrate.
Politically however, D (for Debt)-Day came and went quietly, and the pundits crowed. Then, a month later, the banks started feeling the pain of missing payments and sending out threatening letters to the strikers, who immediately posted them on their Facebook pages. This bold defiance encouraged even more to join their friends in the Pledge, and soon the number of Pledgees rose from one million to two and beyond until the banks, debt collection agencies, university and government officials were swamped with overdue payments and there was no way they could even dream of collecting them much less prosecute the defaulters. The Administration, chagrinned, fast-tracked the ‘Student Load Relief’ bill through Congress. The ‘Relief,’ of course, was for the bankers deprived of billions of dollars of future profits they were legally entitled to on these risk-free loans, which the tax-payers would now provide. The only ‘Relief’ the students got was the right to re-negotiate their overdue loans if the agreed to resume payments. Although a goodly number of non-strikers took advantage of this Relief Bill, almost all the Pledgees held fast and put together a top-flight legal team to be ready to defend up to the Supreme Court the first Pledgee to be prosecuted. So no one was prosecuted.
In any case, there would have been no room in jail for a million student debt defaulters, since the courts and jails were already overflowing with young people, thanks to the school-to-prison pipeline. This was capitalism’s other ‘educational solution,’ designed for the frustrated youth of the non-college-bound underclass. A combination of ‘Reforms’ like placing police within schools, criminalizing school disciplinary offences (traditionally handled by school principals), targeted stop-and-frisk arrests of teens on the streets, prosecutions for tiny amounts of marijuana or talking back to cops (‘resisting arrest’) were employed in order to funnel poor, Black, and minority teens from school into the Criminal Justice System, where once incarcerated they became unemployable, dependent on the ‘informal economy’ and thus fated to spend the rest of their lives in the (aptly-named) Criminal Justice System.
This ‘educational reform program’ had the happy (for the One Percent) double effect of keeping poor neighborhoods quiet and enriching the owners of the for-profit prisons that sprung up to warehouse America’s disinherited youth. Poor kids were placed in rural areas across the country far enough away from friends, family, media and legal help so as to avoid having to feed them properly or provide any educational or recreative facilities, other than working for a dollar a day and paying jacked-up prices for cigarettes, etc. at the commissary. And although public education budgets were constantly being cut to eliminate costly teachers, teacher aids, special education and ‘frills’ like music, art, after school sports that might motivate kids and keep them out of trouble, there were no cuts in bloated police and prison budgets, with the result that keeping these kids locked up cost the public more per capita than sending them to college!
Either way, ‘education,’ rather than opening the door to freedom, led kids into to slavery – be it the debt servitude of the ‘over-educated’ achiever or a life sentence in the cogs of the Criminal in-Justice System for the unlucky under-achiever. For many, achievers and under, the best case scenario was that the educational system, with all its promises of ‘success,’ mostly prepared them for a ‘career’ made up of various precarious, underpaid jobs with no benefits and no security. The worst case scenario was jail.