102: Fight Back Against Debt w/ Debt Collective


26 min read

Podcast available here.

Thomas Gokey:

You know, we have everything to fight for and everything to win. It is realistic that we can win broad based step cancellation, but it's going to take a mass movement. It's going to take direct action and civil disobedience and enormous public pressure in order to make it happen. So it's go time.

Nick Covington:

Hello and welcome episode 102 of our podcast at the Human Restoration Project. My name is Nick Covington and I'm a social studies teacher from Ankeny Iowa. Before we get started, I wanted to let you know that this is brought to you by our supporters. Three of whom are Simeon Frang, Brandon Peters, and Andrea Barrera. Thank you for your ongoing support. You can learn more about the Human Restoration Project on our website, humanrestorationproject.org, or find us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Nick Covington:

A conversation around student loan debt has been happening at the margins of American political life for nearly a generation. By 2012, total student loan debt in the United States surpassed $1 trillion with the only relief coming from a pause on interest and federal debt collection that began with the pandemic in March 2020. Today, a majority of Americans, nearly 60% of poll voters support some kind of forgiveness on the nation's now $1.7 trillion student loan debt and borrowers have benefited from the pause on payments recently extended to May 2022, that's over two years without a single required payment and seemingly without a single negative economic consequence. A recent study from the student debt crisis center also found that nearly 90% of borrowers are not financially secure enough to resume payments. So is it time to pause these payments indefinitely? Is it pastime for mass student loan debt forgiveness? While most of the conversations we have at HRP happen at the intersection of theory and classroom practice of education. Today, I'm joined by Thomas Gokey.

Thomas Gokey:

Hey, I'm Thomas Gokey. I'm an organizer with the debt collective.

Nick Covington:

Eleni Shirmer.

Eleni Shirmer:

My name is Eleni Shirmer, and I'm also an organizer with the debt collective.

Nick Covington:

And Jason Wozniak.

Jason Wozniak:

I'm Jason Wozniak. I organize with the debt collective, but I'm also like my day job is as assistant professor of education, philosophy and theory at West Chester University.

Nick Covington:

As they talk to us about their organization, debt collective, make the moral, economic and pedagogical case for debt cancellation and let listeners know how to join their grassroots movement. You can follow debt collective on twitter @strikedebt and visit their website debtcollective.org.

Thomas Gokey:

So the Debt Collective is a union for debtors. It is sort of modeled on a labor union, but instead of organizing workers around an employer, we are organizing debtors around their creditor and it allows for a lot of experimentation. What has worked really well for us in the past is combining some direct action or collective action with a legal mechanism. We do a lot of research on these different debt types, medical debt, carceral debt, student debt. And there are a lot of underused tools, a lot of underused legal mechanisms or enforcement mechanisms, but a lot of times it means gathering enough people and taking action to force the issue through.

Thomas Gokey:

Our philosophy in a nutshell is that the vast majority of debt that people are forced to take on is unjust and should not exist in the first place. And that people are forced into that not because they live beyond their means, but because we have denied them the means to live. So we don't just want to get rid of credit card debt. We want to raise people's wages so that they aren't forced to put basic necessities on a credit card like diapers or medical bills. A lot of credit card debt is medical bills. We want to eliminate medical debt, but we also want Medicare for all. So that medical debt doesn't exist anymore, etc.

Jason Wozniak:

I guess just to contextualize a little bit within the field of education. I think what some of the things that Thomas mentioned, a lot of teachers can relate to it, right? Like a lot of teachers are radically underpaid over work and struggling just to make ends meet, which means going, taking out a variety of types of debt, not just student loans, but also different types of debt, whether it be putting gas in the car, feeding the of kids at night or even I've talked to a lot of teachers over the years who take on a lot of debt to give their students stuff because their schools are underfunded. So you got a lot of teachers that will buy supplies for kids that need it or like make up for a book that's missing here and there, pencils, pens, all that stuff, and all that adds up. Right? So if you're on a really low salary, your benefit aren't so great because teachers are constantly under attack. There is different ways that you accumulate debt, as you're trying to both take care of yourself, your family and your students and community.

Eleni Shirmer:

Student debt is not the only kind of debt that the debt collective is, cares about and thinks is unjust. But it's perhaps where we've had the conversation has gotten the most public and the loudest, especially over the last decade. Before the debt collective, it was even the debt collective. If you raise the notion of student debt cancellation to the average person, and certainly the average politician, you'd look like you were like trying to get a ticket to Mars, like it was an insane proposition.

Eleni Shirmer:

And now the question is not whether or not student debt will be canceled, but when and how much. And I think that's just really important that the debt collective has really one of the roles that it plays in this policy and politics, landscape is really pushing the questions to their maximum point and not just rhetorically making those points, but also trying to run up an organizing game to follow up with it. And so hopefully in a few months, ever people will be like, what was student debt again, I forgot about that stuff, because we'll just blow this issue out of the water. Then we get to debt collective get to work on other issues.

Nick Covington:

One thing that I think I'm hearing here is that it's not just the case that the debt forgiveness is not the end goal in itself. That's a starting point for a broader societal transition towards more just means of paying for higher education or freeing people of the burden, say of that student loan debt that then allows them to contribute back towards their family and towards their communities rather than towards the need for the Federal Government say to charge its citizens interest on those loans. And so I think that's a really interesting point to be made on there as well. Maybe we can talk a little bit here about some of the, I don't necessarily want to frame it as arguments against, because I think we're not necessarily at a point where we want to just be arguing with people or offering up reputations of talking points or things, but how can we bring more people into this conversation about student debt?

Nick Covington:

Because I think in my lifetime, this is certainly the most mainstream, I think this conversation has gone. So I don't know what are some common pieces of resistance that you hear to people who say that loan forgiveness is either unfair or it's inequitable or some of those things to common people who may [inaudible 00:07:39] student debt themselves and can't see the point of student debt forgiveness, or maybe there's somebody who, for whatever reason either have paid their debts off prior to that, or have had their debts paid off for them. So what are some of the common themes that you hear in resistance to that and what are some ways that you all try to bring them in the conversation too?

Thomas Gokey:

Yeah, I don't think there are good arguments against student debt cancellation. There's a lot of misconceptions. So one thing that we hear a lot is like, if you cancel the student debt, then that means somebody else is going to have to pay for it. That this is going to be picked up by taxpayers or something like that. And that's just not true because most of this debt is owed directly to the Federal Government. They can just wipe it all out and it doesn't need to be repaid. Nobody's taxes will go up, nobody needs to pay for it. And we do see some bad faith arguments from some motivated bad faith, right wing economists and policy wonks, some people have tried to suggest that student debt cancellation is regressive. That's just factually false. The rich people don't have student debt because they're rich.

Thomas Gokey:

They just pay tuition out of pocket and graduate without any debt, Pasco collect $200 and start their life way ahead of everyone else who doesn't have the same intergenerational wealth. And we know it's perfectly calibrated towards the people with the least amount of wealth are forced to take on the most amount of debt. So student debt cancellation is progressive. I think the argument we hear that has some like emotional resonance is that we know there are some people who have really destroyed their lives, made huge sacrifices that nobody should have force them to make in order to pay off their own debt. And I can understand emotionally that they might say, well, that doesn't feel fair. That I had this horrible thing happen to me, but of course the idea there isn't like, I suffered, everyone else needs to suffer too.

Thomas Gokey:

I'm somewhat sympathetic to this. And then looking at it slightly differently, I'm less sympathetic to it, right? Like the reason that we're a lot of people who like paid off their debt, graduated in the 80s or the 90s when the amount of debt that they had to take on was much lower than current students have to take on. So we're just talking apples to oranges here. And that the reason we're in this situation right now is because those earlier generations did not organize and fight back. The debt collective has been deeply inspired by the student movement in Montreal and in Quebec where, when in 2012 or so, when Quebec was going to start charging tuition and fees and it like on American scales, this was minuscule. We're talking like just a few thousand dollars. They shut down the universities, they shut down the city, they had the largest protests in Quebec's history.

Thomas Gokey:

The protests were so large, they made it illegal to protest and it's complicated, but they won. And so if earlier generations had fought back when the student debt were, the average debt were only $5,000 instead of $30,000, then we would have better funded public education and people wouldn't have that at all. So although I'm partly sympathetic to that feeling of like, I destroyed my life, I shouldn't have had to, that's not fair. I agree. You shouldn't have had to do that. Let's make sure no one else has to do that either.

Jason Wozniak:

Again just to put what Thomas [inaudible 00:11:38] really simple words, if I have cancer, I don't think it means that I should want everyone else to get cancer and go through it or if I get knocked across the head and someone thinks my wallet, I don't want that to happen to everybody else. But I also think there's a really important point that I think is embedded in some of what Thomas said too, about the ways that we shift, how we think of education in this country. And what's happened over the last 30, 40 years not to use a technical term, but if you wanted to use it, like in the neoliberal era, you have a shift where people think of education as a private [inaudible 00:12:10], rather than a public [inaudible 00:12:11].

Jason Wozniak:

And so this idea that I think another thing that you hear and especially on the right is, oh, well, there's a lot of people that never went to university, they don't have debts, so why should they pay for any cost? Which number one, isn't true because as Thomas just pointed out, but even if it were, there's this whole idea of like, when we have a well educated society, democracy functions better, that's like a basic liberal argument, right? And so like just this is the idea that we need to have a public investment in both economic terms and other terms in education, if we want society to run well, if we want to have a better world, it doesn't, it's a really selfish argument, I think, to make like, oh, I didn't go there.

Jason Wozniak:

So therefore I shouldn't contribute to it, I think. But it's been the ways that we've been indoctrinated and taught where like this is a private investment, this is going to help me compete in the world. It's going to help me get ahead of everyone rather than like a collective good education as a collective good that we should all cultivate, contribute these on and so forth. So I think like going back to a point you made earlier Nick about like how? This is a means to an end. I think part of the end is to rethink how we consider the collective, how we consider public goods, how we think of what's good for other people besides ourselves. And debt is a way to get into that conversation.

Eleni Shirmer:

I think one of the arguments that is undergirds both what the points that Thomas and Jason are bringing up is the idea that there's some moral rationality behind debt. And that's part of the reason, that's why, especially people feel that there's moral logic that when you haven't had something and someone lends it to you, you're obliged to pay it back. And I think what the debt collective is trying to push for, and what's really important is like why? And this is a bit to the point that Jason was making, which was like, why was this not free to begin with? Why in some ways weren't we paid to attend this? This is a duty that we're performing to educate ourselves. It makes people really uncomfortable. I think more than the economics behind it, there's some kind of real sort of moral gravity around the idea that if you have debt, you have to pay it back. And that is the fairness. And I think that really needs to be examined and really thought about really interrogated who owes what to whom?

Nick Covington:

Somebody who is influential for me on this topic and probably for many of you and many listeners, as well as David Graber, who speaks with such moral clarity on that issue of debt in all of his work, but particularly in his book debt. And it had always had a feeling that something unjust was taking place in the system, but he really helps give you the language and the historical context behind that idea that you're unpacking there. It's just like, why is it not always a moral thing to pay your debts? Or why is that the societal expectation? And I think my thinking I know has changed in that regards because for me as a young person, and probably for all people as young people, but especially in the 90s and early 2000s, the expectation just was go to college.

Nick Covington:

It's relatively cheap. We are in this golden age and you're going to be able to pay back those debts, not a problem at all. Well then folks like myself and my wife, we all went to college. We got degrees, they crashed the whole financial system through no fault of our own and suddenly couldn't get the jobs that were promised to us, a whole generation of folks in that cohort and beyond, right? And so then we saw the stagnation of wages and meanwhile, we saw the cost of everything else go up too.

Nick Covington:

So housing has been largely unaffordable for a generation. The cost of healthcare has increased. So we haven't been able to pay down that debt because it feels like the rug was pulled out from under us while we may well be examples of having done everything, right? Going to school, getting married, settling down, having kids, and every step of the way just comes with higher costs and you can never seem to get out from underneath it. I think the reason that is such a powerful idea is because it really flips the script away from you, whose debt is it? Anyway, part of loaning an 18 year old that debt in the first place is to say, well, you're taking some risk on that. So maybe the incentive should be to keep the economic system in the first place. So that way they'll have good jobs and they'll have high wages and they'll be able to pay those things off because I think for a lot of people in my cohort as well they could possibly include you three, but I've more than paid off my debt.

Nick Covington:

I've paid back that original principle times over, but just due to the fact that interest and economic circumstances have really prevented a dent in that original principle, I've been paying interest and essentially profit to the Federal Government for several years now. So yeah, it is a really interesting conversation. I think if you begin to rethink what the function of debt is and how that can actually be democratically? I guess, reconfigured or reimagined, instead of just having the imposition of this notion of debt come to us from the people who ruined the economy in the first place.

Eleni Shirmer:

Exactly what you're saying, Nick, we know that the notion that some debts are mandatory and have to be paid is this moral force. But we also know that there's plenty of debts that get canceled all the time. President Trump had how many bankruptcies that just got all of his debts just got written off, the corporate debt that's just ballooned especially since COVID, but even prior to COVID, and that has been written off time and time again. The 2008 financial crisis was a whole a debt forgiveness program, but for the wealthy and for the banks, not for the working people. I think that's an important thing to draw out here is that we do have some moral vocabulary for debt being forgiven. It's just whose debt are we willing to forgive? And under what circumstances?

Jason Wozniak:

I wanted to add something really quick to this narrative, because Nick, you brought up a really important point like the education myth. Like you got to go to school, you got to get a degree, so and so forth. I think it's really important to note that the people that pushed that myth were boomers that went to school when he was either free or you could work a summer job and pay for it. And I just want to make one really quick historical point that I think is really vital in this conversation that Thomas reminded me of as well. Public universities across the country in many cases were free. And, or you paid just fees up until like the late 70s. So you had the University of California system, which guaranteed a free public higher education. You had the CUNY system in New York, that is taken away. And I think this is really important. It's not a natural economic development.

Jason Wozniak:

This is a political decision to jack up prices and cut funding for higher education at the State and Federal level. And then one of the reasons that's done is because in the 1960s, you have a lot of different "radical movements happening on college campuses" mainly led by people that had historically been marginalized, i.e. Black, Hispanic, [inaudible 00:19:37] and so forth women, they're on campuses and they're saying society, and the university's got to change. They push for those changes. And then you get a pushback from the right, trilateral commission report comes out that Ronald Reagan reads religiously and follows with that says, there's too much democracy on campuses.

Jason Wozniak:

The students don't respect authority, okay. Reagan and his friends say, how do you get them to "respect authority?" And how do you tamper down these revolts? They come up with a good plan, drive tuition and put people in debt because debt then becomes a disciplining apparatus. And so these debts that are owed by generations, post boomer are the direct result of political decisions to tamper down democracy, to create this hierarchical relationship of authority so on and so forth to continuously try to marginalize people that have been marginalized throughout the history of this country. So I think it's really important to keep the historical context in mind when thinking about like, who owes, who, what are these deaths legitimate or illegitimate? So on and so forth. And always remember universities were free in this country. They can be free again, they're free in other countries. I used to live in Brazil for 10 years. You go to grad school in Brazil, the government in a public university, they will pay you to study. So there's just all sorts of different examples that we can use to say it doesn't have to be this way.

Thomas Gokey:

I just wanted to add onto that in American history, there's always this racist component to our education system, but arguably apart from the criminal justice system, our education system is the most racist part of our society. And Elizabeth Tandy Shermer is a historian who wrote a recent history of the student debt crisis and shows that in a lot of ways, it is born out of segregationist policies that universities there were at various points in American history, a desire to provide direct Federal Government funding to universities to make them free to attend. And the university said, we don't want that because there will be strings attached. We want intellectual freedom. The strings that they were worried about was that they would not be able to make the decisions about admissions that they wanted to make, universities used to and to some degree still are these elitist institutions.

Thomas Gokey:

So they wanted to make sure it was primarily white men that they admitted. And they were afraid that as soon as they take government funding. So why do we have the system we have, we have basically a voucher system where your student debt, the funding goes to the student and the university competes for the students who have that funding attached. And universities were free in this country for some people, right? So like in the city University of New York, which was a beautiful free university for working class white people. And there was a big effort in the 1970s to force open admissions because even though it wasn't segregated by law, it was segregated in fact, and they won, they won open admissions and then almost on queue. There was an economic recession and they said, oh, well, we can't afford to keep this university free.

Thomas Gokey:

We're going to start charging tuition. And I think that there's a direct link between, oh, as soon as you allow black students in the door, we have to somehow keep the social order in place and debt is a very powerful tool for social discipline. So to some degree, it's absolutely true. We used to have free universities, we can have them again. To another degree, it's like, we've never really had the university that we want or deserve, and we need to build it. The university of our dreams is in the future.

Nick Covington:

I want to touch on so many of these different points. Eleni, you're exactly right. I even just looked more recently at the PPP loans. Those have been forgiven 100% in mass forgiveness for small business owners, I guess in theory, but also right? Some of the most wealthiest people in this society who basically got free federal money, got taxpayer money under those programs. And I think to the notion of almost like a generational warfare, if you look at which demographics have the most wealth in this society today, it pretty much scales with the people that Jason and you were to talking about here, that boomer generation now has the vast bulk of the wealth in the society followed by gen X and then of course the [inaudible 00:24:33] poor millennials down at the bottom of this thing. And it does seem like, just thing to do, it's not a sustainable trajectory, right?

Nick Covington:

It means that my kids are going to be poorer and then their kids are going to be poorer etc. So it really does [inaudible 00:24:46] of to this generational jubilee, right? Just say, let's allow, let's lift this burden from the youngest, the poorest, the neediest among us, and let them build up the generational wealth for their families as we had as well. And I think Thomas, to your point as well, I was just looking at the statistics for the demographics of student debt. And I think the largest debt holders are maybe Black Americans hold a large majority of the student debt total. So there would even be some equity in that as well, allowing historically marginalized groups to allow again to develop the generational wealth that older white generations enjoyed. And certainly it has been taken out on the higher education system when the students who go to put their education into practice, then get punished, I guess the elites at the top with the power who want to neuter them from being able to flex their socioeconomic, sociopolitical power.

Nick Covington:

And Jason, we were talking briefly before we hit record about your interest on the impact of debt and pedagogy. And I definitely see this as an educator and in our state in particular, the emphasis on stem, the emphasis on college and career readiness, which is usually just meaning workforce preparation for kids, because it seems like in the wealthiest country in the world, our education system is really focused on high stakes outcomes for kids because once they leave high school, college is so expensive. We need to make that worthwhile. The likelihood of them getting a good job is kind of contingent on that college completion. So I don't know if you want to speak to that, the impact of debt pedagogy there, but I'd love to hear that perspective as well.

Jason Wozniak:

I really appreciate you bringing this up because I think it's ironically, we talk about student debt, but we often don't talk about how the debt impacts educational experience. And so you'll hear an argument around the morals of it, the economics of it, the politics of it, but very rarely do we actually talk about like, what does this [inaudible 00:26:49] to the educational experience of both teachers and students. And I think you are hinted at one way, you can trace different ways that messes with or makes miseducated experiences happen. And I think one way you hinted at which is to say that once you know that debt is waiting for you in the future, you start to adopt this like return on investment approach to your education. So you start to think of education, not in like how do I make myself a more full for your human being, but instead, how do I shape myself as human capital, that's going to be able to sell myself on a market?

Jason Wozniak:

How do I brand myself? How do I continuously be an entrepreneur of myself? And so you take on this return on investment logic and you do this, what you just mentioned, you might love poetry, you might love art, you might love philosophy, but instead you become an engineer or an investment banker because you have these debts to pay. And you know that your education has to have an economic return rather than say like a social or humanistic return and you shape your educational path that way. So as a student, you start to make these rational choices and you can't really fault students for thinking this way, because they know what's waiting for them at the end, right? This massive debt is demoralizing as it might be to think of education as way you kind of understand it from a rational argument. The other thing though they think about is the ways that this impacts teachers themselves.

Jason Wozniak:

So the NEA has a really good study that lists just how bad the teacher debt crisis, it's like K through 12 and adjuncts and faculty in higher ed. And the debt levels are [inaudible 00:28:24]. I think like average around $60,000 for the average teacher teaching in K through 12. That's crazy. When we think of it though, like how does that impact how they teach all interesting things start to become uncovered. So, as Thomas said, like debt is a disciplining mechanism. If you're in major debt and you're at a school where you think you need to be teaching, maybe it's critical race theory or some other controversial topic, but you are afraid that you're going to lose your job and then not be able to pay your debt. Debt has disciplined how you teach in the classroom. Maybe it keeps you from speaking up, maybe it keeps you from assigning certain assignments, reading certain books, because you're afraid that if you lose your job, you're screwed and certainly it disciplines the teachers this way.

Jason Wozniak:

Last point about this is that I think one of the things that we're seeing more and more is that education K through 12, up until higher ed becomes a process of socialization into the death economy. In other words, from a very early age, kids are socialized into taking the role of debtors. And this actually happens you brought a like something you mentioned in previous programs of years. If you look at the way report cards and grades are structured, it's almost identical to credit reports, both the credit report and the report card will give you an evaluation where you get like a letter or a number score based on the amount of work you do in a specific amount of time. As a student, you accumulate credits. So there is all sorts of ways where from a very early age, the grading system report cards are socializing students into the debt economy.

Jason Wozniak:

In other words, how to be an obedient debtor, how to meet the demands of the creditor. And over the years, this then ends up serving people in power i.e. creditors. And so there's just all different ways in which the material reality of financial debt starts to impact the educational reality of what happens in our classrooms and the ways that we learn and teach. And I think that's something that really as a audience that you have a lot of teachers with, I really hope that teachers can start to think about like this question, how is the debt that I owe or perhaps my students might owe or their parents might owe? How is that changing? What we teach and learn in classroom?

Eleni Shirmer:

I think Jason nailed all of that. I guess just one tiny thing is that, this is some work that Jason and I have really been pushing in the higher ed context, but it's equally as true in some cases and more so in the K12 context, which is that this debt doesn't just burden individuals. It also burdens the institutions themselves. So budget cuts and the decline of progressive taxation that funds higher ed and K12 schools means that these schools themselves also take on debt and they pass on a lot of that debt to students in higher ed in the form of tuition, which then becomes student debt. But that's also the cost that workers and the public bear in terms of program, budget cuts, furloughs, all kinds of austerity pressures that institutions K12 through higher ed face is a function of debt in a lot of cases.

Eleni Shirmer:

And it's for any budget nerds out there, it's really interesting when you start to look at your institution's budget and just begin to understand what portion debt service plays in the institution's budget. In the Philly Public Schools, it's closed, they had to actually pass some laws saying that it couldn't grow higher than 10% of the budget, but it hovers around 9% right now of the whole school district's budget goes to paying the interest and the fees and the principal of borrowing money that they didn't have. So this debt, I think a good way. I've heard Thomas say this before, and it really stuck with me. Debt is a poverty tax. It's the price that we pay from not having enough to begin with. And that is true from the people, from students, from educators and institutions themselves. So I think it's pretty comprehensive when you put your debt goggles on, you start seeing it everywhere.

Jason Wozniak:

I just want to plug an article that Eleni wrote, because she won't do it. But Eleni wrote a piece for The New York Times on K through 12 debt. That in my view, as an educator and someone that studies this stuff is probably one of the most important pieces that come out in the last, at least in our generation, right? So Eleni ShrImer, The New York Times, check out this article if you're interested in this question in K through 12 debt, it is so important.

Jason Wozniak:

And just to add what Eleni said, the Philadelphia School District is paying over 300 million a year in debt service, 150 million of that is an interest in fees alone. If you're an educator, ask yourself, what could the district do with 300 million dollars especially now during COVID? How many masks does that buy? How many tests does that buy? Does it hire new nurses? Does it hire social workers? Does it fix the buildings that are falling down? Not all of them, but maybe at least some windows, at least who knows what? So just think about what that money does and in this piece, Eleni highlights it. So I just really encourage everyone who is listening to check out this piece by Eleni in The New York Times, which came out a couple months ago.

Nick Covington:

That is incredible. And I'll definitely, I'll add that in the show notes to it as well, wrapping things up as we move towards action steps that our listeners can take in talking about the week of action that you'll have planned next week. Just thinking some of the key points from the last half an hour per se, is thinking about debt is not inevitability. It's a choice and it's a combination of the society and the economic system that we want to have and we have a say in, and certainly what that looks like at least going forward since we didn't have a say in the one that we sort of generationally inherited. So what things then, if listeners are interested in getting involved, what individual actions can they take collective actions toward forgiveness? Achieving that at a political level or perhaps resistance at keeping pressure on elected officials, either to indefinitely suspend those loan payments as they've been continually pushed back or achieve full forgiveness or getting involved in debt collective, where do you think our listeners should start?

Thomas Gokey:

I would encourage your listeners to go to debtcollective.org and join the union and get involved. We have some local branches around the country. We don't have any currently in Iowa, although we have members in Iowa. So if there are folks who want to help get something off the ground in Iowa, that would be fantastic. Thankfully, we have won an extension to the payment pause and because of the rising COVID rates, we have decided to suspend our in person week of action that we had been planning on the previous timeline.

Thomas Gokey:

And instead we have a debtor's assembly and strategy session that is going to happen virtually on January 23rd, 7:00 PM, Eastern 6:00 PM central on Sunday, January 23rd, it's going to be a virtual meeting and it's going to lead up towards future direct action, both in person and just other things that we can do to resist cause trouble and prevent them from turning student loan payments on at all ever, they're currently they're threatening to turn them back on Mayday of all days and to force through broad base debt cancellation, right? We haven't talked about it yet, but Joe Biden, can cancel 100% of federal student loans with one signature.

Thomas Gokey:

We've already written the executive order. All he has to do is sign it. we have everything to fight for and everything to win. It is realistic that we can win broad based debt cancellation, but it's going take a mass movement. It's going to take direct action and civil disobedience and enormous public pressure in order to make it happen. So it's go time.

Jason Wozniak:

I just want to add to that too, again, this focus on teachers and Eleni and I have been doing some work reaching out to different teacher unions and talking with different teachers about how we really want teachers to play a frontline role in this. I know you're busy as hell and you got a lot going on, but there's also a lot of freedom to win with this. And again, like teachers aren't under enormous pressure and enormous stress right now, but I think the only way that we can alleviate some of that stress at least is by fighting for debt cancellation and every single educator deserves that. And it should be demanded. And so keep your eye out. If you do end up joining the debt collective for specific events and discussions tailored towards teachers that we hope to cultivate over the next couple months and beyond. So if you're a teacher and you're listening, so you keep this on your radar, because we want to get you plugged in.

Eleni Shirmer:

Really, I think the most important thing is just to really take a step back and look at how far the conversation has come in the last decade, that's a product of absolutely relentless, unapologetic belief in the justice with that we need and organizing. And I think Thomas and Jason both said getting involved at your school, starting a joining a debt collective chapter, talking to your colleagues about why we should think of teachers unions as debtors unions. That's an important alliance to be made. I think there's a lot of ground yet that we're still going to cover.

Nick Covington:

There has been in so much progress made in the last two years, let alone the last decade, but I think we've still got some more consciousness raising to go, not just to continue to push this into the mainstream, but then also to get people from the next step from awareness to that action, to taking those next steps. So I want to thank you all so much for taking the time with me this morning to talk about this. You can follow the debt collective @strike debt on Twitter. So thank you so much again for joining.

Jason Wozniak:

Thank you for the work.

Thomas Gokey:

Thanks for having us.

Eleni Shirmer:

This is cool. Glad to be in touch.

Chris McNutt:

Thank you again for listening to Human Restoration Project's podcast. I hope this conversation leads you inspired and right to push the progressive envelope of education. You can learn more about progressive education, support our cause and stay tuned to this podcast and other updates on our website humanrestorationproject.org.

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