Cap Hill activists protest student loan debt - loudly
by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
If you live on the Hill, there's a good chance you've heard the clanging of pots, the banging of drums, and the blowing of horns more than a few times in the past several months. In fact, if it seems like it's happening every week, it's because it is. It's the Student Debt Noise Brigade, and every Wednesday they've been marching around Capitol Hill to bring attention to what they call a 'student loan debt crisis.'
'I'm trying to build a better world for future generations,' said Damien Conway, a 'concerned citizen' who marches with the Noise Brigade. 'I've been successful because of a great public education and I'm just trying to pay it back.'
Conway, who is Canadian, says he'd love for the kind of protest momentum recently seen in Québec manifest here in the United States. He wonders 'how many brilliant minds and brilliant ideas are being lost because of this system.'
Jacob Rapoport, another member of the Noise Brigade and a former student, calls the rapid rise in tuition cost and decline in earnings 'a perfect storm.'
Outstanding U.S. student debt reportedly totals $902 billion to $1 trillion. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York cites the lower figure, while the higher one comes from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Either way, that's a lot of debt. According to this year's Federal Reserve data, it's about $150 million more than the total amount of credit-card debt in the United States and only about $200 million less than the amount of all outstanding U.S. mortgage debt.
MANY GRADS CAN'T LEAVE HOME
'Since graduating, 60% [of students] have full-time jobs, nearly 36% have moved back home to live with either their parents or relatives, and nearly one-tenth are carrying more than $60,000 worth of debt,' said New York University sociologist Richard Arum in a 2009 interview with the New York Times. 'Of those who have jobs, more than two-thirds were making less than $35,000 a year, and 45 percent were earning $15,000 or less.'
So why bang pots? Rapoport says it makes the march 'approachable.' Certainly its uniqueness sparks interest in onlookers. During the most recent march, held October 3, passersby ran into the street, sometimes from out of their homes, to take pictures or videos, cheer on the marchers, or join the Brigade themselves. Drivers honked their horns and motorcyclists revved their engines.
'It's not an angry march. People get up and lean out their windows and think about it for five minutes, which is maybe five minutes more than they thought about it yesterday,' said Rapoport.
The Noise Brigade says since they started in June, they've seen all manner of people come out to make noise and march - from families with children who are concerned about future college costs, to people who worry about how the outstanding debt will affect other areas of society.
MAKE SOME NOISE
So, if you live on the Hill and you hear a cacophony coming by, consider throwing on your shoes, grabbing some pots from the kitchen, and taking to the streets. You don't have to be a student - you don't even have to know a student. You can be debt-free. If you think student loans should be forgiven, if you think education should be free, or if you just want an excuse to bang some pots, have fun, and be as loud as you can, come on out. The march is permitted and escorted by the Seattle Police Department - and even the cops seem to get a kick out of it.
The Noise Brigade gathers in the South Plaza of Seattle Central Community College every Wednesday starting at 6 p.m., and they march at 7 p.m. The route changes from week to week, but always ends at Cal Anderson Park, where a free picnic is held.
'Whether or not you're a student, the fact that we have a trillion dollars in [student] debt is terrifying,' said Rapoport. 'It's an attack in every conceivable way [on] the upward mobility of society.'
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