“$1.2 trillion is not working,” said Daniel Hong, an organizer with Strike Debt Portland.
People gathered on the Park Blocks behind Smith Memorial Student Union for a student Debtor’s Assembly to learn more about and protest student debt on May 28.
The assembly was organized by Strike Debt Portland, a local chapter of a national organization that, according to their website, is a “nationwide movement of debt resisters fighting for economic justice and democratic freedom.”
Signs behind the stage read, “You are not a loan,” “Education is a human right,” and “$1.2 trillion isn’t working.”
Portia Norton, another SDPDX organizer, and Hong emceed the event. General Strike, a Portland-based folk band, performed songs and led chants. People handed out red felt squares for protestors to wear in solidarity with debtors. Several people got up to speak to the crowd.
Ian Johnson, a representative from Oregon Working Families Party, talked about the history of student debt.
“Student debt can’t be discharged through bankruptcy,” he said. “You can have your wages or social security garnished up to 25 percent. These are predatory interest rates.”
Johnson continued by saying people of color and women are considerably more likely to take out loans in order to attend university. Those loans are also more likely to come with higher interest rates.
According to The Center for American Progress and Bloomberg Business, students of color, on average, have more debt and higher interest rates than their white counterparts.
Jose Padín, a sociology professor at PSU and a member of the PSU chapter of American Association of University Professors, the full-time faculty union on campus, then got up to speak.
He said that he was there to express solidarity with student debtors on behalf of PSU-AAUP. “We are here…we know that higher education is a human right and a civil right.”
He continued that higher education would not be a human or civil right until it was debt free.
“If [higher education] is inaccessible for financial reasons…we don’t have equal rights,” Padín said. He said that this is not unique to the United States, pointing to student protests in Chile, Argentina and the Netherlands as examples.
A member of PSU Faculty Association, the part-time faculty union on campus, spoke as well. He identified himself only as Ryan. He talked about the difficulty of living a successful life—including finding housing—when burdened by student debt. You can, he said, adhere to the often too-high monthly payment plan, allow creditors to garnish up to 25 percent of your wages, or you can defer payments and create a huge tax burden for yourself down the line.
“As debt spikes, the world flattens,” he said.