Tag Archives: occupy

$1 Trillion in Student Debt


| brennison@queenscourier.com

The Courier/Photo by Billy Rennison

Here is what you can buy with $1 trillion: 5 million Lamborghinis, 15,000 private jets, 140 private islands and every team in baseball 16 times. Simply put, it is a lot of money.

The number — which is much more jarring when written out, 1,000,000,000,000 — is also the amount of debt students in this country collectively hold from their college loans. It is a backbreaking number, and an amount many feel is devastating their future.
A degree has become a prerequisite for employment, and rising tuitions means, for many, that debt is a precondition for entry into the workforce, so students have decided to fight back.

A rally was held on April 25 in Union Square to coincide with 1T Day — the day student loan debt hit $1 trillion — to raise awareness about the crisis and to begin a movement toward free college education.

Hundreds of protesters wore placards around their neck declaring the size of their debt, from relatively small amounts, like Jessica K.’s $13,000, to immense amounts, like Francis Rogers’ $108,000.

“Trillion dollar day is a reminder that private banks are still very much in the predatory lending business; this time it’s students not homeowners,” said Professor Andrew Ross, an organizer with the Occupy Student Debt 1TDay campaign.
The histrionics of the event — there were super heroes and choruses and even “Sallie May” showed up — did not overshadow the frustration of the hundreds of thousands of students drowning in debt.

“I’m the first person in my family to go to college,” said Annie Spencer, a CUNY graduate student. “I’m now $80,000 in debt and don’t see a day when I won’t struggle to make ends meet. Those of us who took on this trillion dollar debt were sold the promise of a better life in exchange for carrying the burden, but the deck was stacked against us from the start.”

More than two-thirds of graduates leave college with student loan debt, according to a 2008 study. The average debt for these 1.4 million students is more than $27,000.
The students at the Union Square protest — and many other groups that have taken up similar fights — do not believe all college should be free or that, as a rule, loans should not be repaid. Their tenets are that public college should be free — as it had been in New York until the 1970s — and that student loans should be repaid interest free.
“The goal of these protests isn’t to renege on our responsibilities, it is to make the institutions making billions of dollars on the backs of students take some responsibility,” said Stephanie, a New York University graduate with $90,000 in debt. “They want us to default.”

More than 40 percent of students from the class of 2005 have faced default and/or delinquency, according to the Occupy Student Debt Campaign.
The demonstrations eventually made their way toward Wall Street, though not before parking itself in front of a bastion for tuition-free — for now — education, Cooper Union, where one dissenter, who identified himself as Jesse, stood atop the Peter Cooper Memorial.

For students that dream of a tuition-free college education, Copper Union is their Shangri-la — well, it was. From 1902 until today the college charged no tuition, instead relying on a generous endowment providing each student a scholarship — furthering the school’s founder Peter Cooper’s belief that education should be free, and for more than a century his ideal held true at the school bearing his name.

But, in April, the school announced that it would begin charging tuition for select graduate programs. This flew in the face of what many students felt the school stood for.
So, Jesse stood atop the school’s founder’s memorial with a sign reading, “No tuition, it’s our mission,” leading to a two hour standoff with police before he was taken down in a cherry picker and arrested.

Cooper Union’s shift toward tuition mirrors the nation-wide trend of exploding college costs. In the past five years tuition at public universities has increased 24 percent, and 17 percent at private colleges.

This has led — obviously — to a steep incline in the amount of debt students leave college with. Thirty years ago the number was $2,000, a full $25,000 below today’s amount. Inflation makes up only a small amount of the difference; $2,000 in today’s value is just under $5,000.
“I’m pretty much carrying a mortgage, I guess the American dream of owning your own home is out the window for me,” said Valerie Young, a 23-year-old with more than $100,000 in loans. “I can’t live in my degree.”

Indebted student’s plight has reached Capitol Hill where politicians are debating bills that would prevent student’s interest rates from doubling in July, an issue President Barack Obama has been speaking out against.

“When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July,” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.”

Burning Mad

“My future is going up in flames with each loan bill I’m getting and can’t repay because I don’t have a job, and the interest just keeps pushing the bill higher,” said Frederick Iman after he lit his student loan bill on fire. “So I might as well burn my bill, too.”
Iman was not the only protestor to turn their bills to ashes, others joined in sending smoke signals that they are here to end predatory loan practices.
Though the economy shows signs of recovery, college graduates unemployment rate is still well above the average and a recent Rutgers University study found that only half of graduates between 2006 and 2010 graduates have found full-time jobs.
“[Lenders] are making money off every graduate and even more money when we can’t find jobs,” said Mark, an unemployed graduate of Miami (Ohio) University who lit his loan bill. “Someone has to stand up for us, it might as well be us.”
It is not only the Occupy Student Debt Campaign and its supporters that are attempting to reform lending practices for students.
Student Loan Justice (www.studentloanjustice.org) is another organization that is dedicated to returning standard consumer protections to student loans. The group has created a Student Borrower Bill of Rights that aims to bring these standard protections back. Currently, student loans are not forgiven in bankruptcy proceedings — the only type of loan that applies to.

The EDU Debtors Union (www.edudebtorsunion.org) believes that students in debt are akin to factory workers.
“Factory workers go to work every day and transform capital into profit by making products,” EDU says. “Students transform capital into profit when interest and penalties are added to a principle loan.”

This method becomes unacceptable, they say, “when there are abuses to the many for the benefit of the few without a method of recourse.”
So EDU has started a union. They believe debtors can benefit from union representation. Large numbers, they believe, represents a better chance for students to negotiate better repayment methods with lenders.

This is a tactic that the Occupy Student Debt Campaign also believes holds power.
The campaign is circulating a petition that students pledge to stop making loan payments in hopes of restoring free public college education if 1 million students sign the pledge.

No End in Sight

Marches, protests and refusals to pay aid in shining a light on student’s plight, but the bills will continue to come. Without government intervention, change will be difficult. There are bills in Congress that aim to help students, but according to govtrack.us, they have little hope of passing.

“Because there are so many student loan lenders and types of loans, a general debt strike will not necessarily hit the heart of the beast,” EDU wrote in a blog entry. “To organize a debt strike effectively, you have to start with specific lenders otherwise the impact of the strike will not be felt.”

Only a few thousand have signed the Occupy campaign’s petition, well short of the million they need before the debt strike, and some are concerned about ruined credit.
I don’t want to pay back these loans — and honestly I can’t — but I’m worried that not paying anything will just ruin my credit for life,” said Michelle Condon. “[Lenders] practices must change and I will continue to fight, but unless we all band together and refuse to pay, what difference will be made?”

These campaigns are lighting the fire, but if the flame is suffocated with default notices and compounding interest, what is the next step?

“We just need to get the word out,” said Ryan Lindner, a graduate of Cortland University. “My credit is already crap, they can’t make it worse. I refuse to recognize them until they recognize my basic rights. I will not pay.”

Top Headlines from Around the Web


| aaltman@queenscourier.com


Newark Airport terminal shut down after baby goes through checkpoint unscreened

A baby who got through security at Newark Airport without being properly screened Friday triggered an evacuation and set off a round of finger-pointing. The Transportation Security Administration suggested that airport cops over-reacted to the “low-risk” breach — while the Port Authority complained the feds waited too long to notify them. NYDailyNews

 

Seven dead after van crashes into Bronx Zoo

A van drove over the railing of an elevated highway and fell more than 50 feet into the Bronx Zoo today in a horrific accident that left seven people dead, authorities said.NYPost

 

Occupy squatters finally flushed from Brooklyn home

It’s finally un-Occupied. Police arrested six Occupy Wall Street members squatting inside a Brooklyn home five months after the movement seized the property amid grand promises to “renovate” it and move in “a homeless family.” NYPost

 

City council may override mayoral veto of prevailing wage bill

The fight is continuing between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council over living wage legislation. On Monday, the City Council will vote on whether to override the mayor’s veto on a prevailing wage bill they passed last month. The bill requires that companies getting a million dollars or more in city subsidies pay their workers at least $10 an hour. NY1

 

Deliberations to begin this week in Queens Terror Trial

A jury could start deliberations as early as Monday in the case of a Queens man accused of plotting to blow up the city’s subways. Adis Medunjanin is accused of conspiring with admitted terrorist Najibullah Zazi to detonate suicide bombs on Manhattan subway lines in 2009. NY1

Students protest $1 trillon in debt; protestor has 2 hour stand off with cops


| brennison@queenscourier.com

IMG_0574

On a day students protested college loan debt reaching $1 trillion, the most memorable moment came at a demonstration in front of a tuition-free university.

Hundreds of protestors gathered at Union Square on Wednesday, April 25, for a “debt jubilee,” burning student loan documents and announcing their debt should be forgiven.

“I have $50,000 in student loan debt, no job and no way to repay,” said Steven Francisco, of Corona. “I was sold an untrue dream.”

After an hour demonstration the rally began a march to Wall Street, but was interrupted at Cooper Triangle where a protestor stood atop the Peter Cooper Memorial, about 50 feet in the air.

He was protesting the Cooper Union announcement that it would begin charging tuition for some graduate programs after more than 100 years of a tuition-free policy.

More than two dozen police officers were on hand for about two hours as the protestor held a sign reading, “No tuition, it’s our mission.”

He was finally taken down in a cherry picker, arrested and taken away in a police van.

“We’ve had a tradition of no tuition for more than a century and in light of today’s events, now more than ever a free college education is vital,” one Cooper Union student said.

Queens’ Morning Roundup – 11/14/2011: Livery Cab Driver Shot Dead In Far Rockaway


| jlane@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

Man Killed In Richmond Hill Car Crash

Police said a man was killed when his car slammed into a tree in front of a Queens hospital and burst into flames early Sunday morning. According to police, the unidentified man was speeding southbound down the Van Wyck Expressway about 2:15 a.m. when he tried to exit at Atlantic Avenue and lost control of his BMW. Read More: Fox News

Police Continue Search For Hit-And-Run Suspect

The family of hit-and-run victim George Gibbons joined Council Member Eliazbeth Crowley (D-Queens) to assist the NYPD in the efforts to apprehend suspect Peter Rodriguez. The 37-year-old Gibbons was a passenger of a livery cab when he was killed after the Lincoln Town Car he was in was slammed by a Chrysler Sebring that was driving in the wrong direction. Read More: Fox News

Livery Cab Driver Shot Dead In Far Rockaway; Reward Offered For Capture of Killer

Sunday of a livery cab driver found slumped over the wheel of his car with a bullet in his head and clutching a wad of cash. Relatives of Patrick Hall, a 30-year-old father of three, called the shooting “senseless,” and cops said the killer walked away from the 7:30 a.m. bloodshed in Far Rockaway without a cent. Read More: Daily News

“Occupy” Protester Interrupts Congressman Turner’s Local Swearing-In Ceremony

Occupy Wall Street protestors made an unexpected appearance at Congressman Bob Turner’s ceremonial swearing-in on Sunday in his district Queens. Months after he took office, the Republican took an oath before a large crowd at Queens Metropolitan High School in Forest Hills. Read More: NY1

Woodhaven Man Charged With Killing Neighbor

A Queens man was arraigned on murder and weapons charges in connection with the death of his neighbor in Woodhaven. Police say Mustafa Omran, 53, lived upstairs from Yasmen Rabban on 91st Avenue. Authorities were called to Rabban’s apartment last month after she had not been heard from in a while. When they got to the apartment, they found Rabban dead, with puncture wounds to her neck. Read More: NY1

Queens Swastika Graffiti Suspect Arraigned On Four Counts Of Criminal Mischief

A 40-year-old man was arraigned on hate crime charges in Queens Saturday. Franco Rodriguez is being held on $5,000 bail for allegedly painting swastikas on several buildings. He did not enter a plea during his court appearance. Rodriguez has been charged with four counts of malicious mischief, all as hate crimes. Police sources say he was identified on video surveillance. Read More: NY1

State Ban On Smoking At Outdoor Commuter Rail Platforms Takes Effect

A new state law that bans smoking on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s outdoor commuter rail platforms, including Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road stations, took effect Sunday. Smokers now face a $50 fine for breaking the rule. MTA police officers will give out warnings before they start writing tickets. The agency said the ban promotes a healthier, cleaner environment and reduces the chance of a track fire. Read More: NY1

Plans pitched to turn landmark New York State Pavilion into multi-million-dollar air museum   
Author Jeannette Remak wants to re-fashion the New York State Pavilion — built for the 1964 World’s Fair but left vacant for decades — into a tourist hotspot where vintage airplanes hang from the ceiling. Remak has support from the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in East Elmhurst, which has offered interns to help run the museum. Read More: Daily News