Last weekend, I worked with USSA (United States Student Association) as an on-site communications coordinator for the 43rd annual grassroots legislative conference and rally against Sallie Mae Corporation. Working on-site was both exciting and stressful and I learned how important it is to stay organized with press releases and media advisories as well as how important it is to stay calm and relaxed during stressful situations.
The legislative conference primarily aimed at educating students from around the country about student loans and how to lobby congress for more support. My role at the conference included updating social media, taking pictures and writing press releases and media advisories. Pitch calls turned out to be easier than I expected, as I kept my confidence high and sold the rally as a should-not-be-missed event.
In addition to the legislative events of the conference, students were exposed to and given the opportunity to participate in various forms of activism. I had the opportunity to participate as well! During one lunch break, Our Wal-Mart, an association for Wal-Mart employees, came and organized a flash mob at a Maryland Wal-Mart. The flash mob’s intention was to draw attention to the fact that Wal-Mart employees were only given $90 dollar bonuses on Black Friday this year, instead of the $500 dollar bonus they had received in previous years.
The flash-mob event commenced when I accompanied fifty other students into Wal-Mart and we stealthily pretended to be shoppers. After three whistle blows, the leader chanted into a microphone, initiating basic call and responses with the flash mob participants. Our action highlighted the fundamental injustice of low bonuses to shoppers and showed that we were there to support the associates. We also handed out flyers to shoppers and employees that explained what had happened and how to voice concerns. All flash mob participants were escorted out by security, but Wal-Mart Associates smiled from ear to ear.
My experience at Wal-Mart left me with a feel-good high for the rest of the day. It felt wonderful to stand up for people who feel as though they cannot stand up for themselves for fear of losing their jobs. Without a doubt, the event exemplified the growing alliance between labor and education that I believe will be pivotal in the years to come.
The most meaningful part of my experience however, was my participation with a second activism event. On Monday, March 26, the conference set out to rally in front of Sallie Mae Corporation in downtown Washington. College students demanded loan forgiveness and harsher industry regulations for private loan companies, as student loan debt has reached the trillion-dollar mark and the unemployment for people between the ages of 18 and 24 is an astounding 18 percent.
Sallie Mae is the largest private profiteer of student debt and made $2.7 billion dollars off student loans last year alone. Sallie Mae has been the subject of several lawsuits and investigations, and many question its dual role of lender and collector. Additionally, the company’s actions of investing in PACs to lobby against Federal Loans and Grant programs contradicts student interests by forcing college kids to take out private loans.
The three-hour protest started out with a march to Sallie Mae’s office, and students chanted and sat down outside the entrance of the office. Other student protestors blocked streets and attracted significant attention from those passing by. As I handed out flyers explaining the protest, almost every single bystander supported the effort and explained something along the lines of “well I can support this. I’m STILL paying off my loans.”
Students demanded to speak to high-ranking members of Sallie Mae, but no one would take the time to speak with the protestors. Instead, Sallie Mae ordered the students who were peacefully sitting outside of the building to be arrested.
All the while, protestors chanted:
“We’re students, not criminals. The real criminals are inside.”
“Sallie Mae, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side!”
“Education should be free!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”
A total of thirty-six students were arrested, presenting Sallie Mae as an uncooperative, anti-student villain. Students who were not arrested continued on to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress officials to support students’ right to education instead of corporate greed.
In today’s Occupy spirit, let’s all get behind things that we care about and incorporate a little more activism in our lives.
blog comments powered by Disqus