As Student Interest Rates Double, Young People Must Double Our Efforts

This fall, student loan rates will double for young Americans across the country. For the average student taking out Stafford loans each year to pay for college, this means the price of college just went up about $4,000. That’s a lot of money, especially considering that so many of our peers are finding themselves unemployed or underemployed in the current economy.

This is truly devastating. At a time when our students are already struggling to pay their share of more than $1 trillion in student loan debt, and one in 10 loans are in default, to raise the cost of higher education will have real, negative consequences on this generation.

Now we can point fingers. We can say President Obama didn’t do enough — that pressuring Congress with hashtags on Twitter and speeches didn’t give the issue the attention and momentum it needed. We can say both the Senate and the House are to blame. They’re already pointing fingers at each other anyway, and according to polls, most Americans have found this branch of government guilty of incompetence.

But the truth, we have to blame ourselves, young people who, despite consistently being screwed by the leaders we elect and the policies they enact, continue to fail to organize and mobilize and demand the change we seek.

While we might be optimistic about our elected officials, the truth is that besides a handful of real visionaries who are willing to put their convictions ahead of their careers, most of our political leaders are just political calculators. And as a former colleague used to say, they can count. They can count money and they can count people. Until we start showing that we can put money into their campaigns or people on their doorsteps, we better get accustomed to getting left out.

We have got to be more politically active if we want to be heard and if we want the issues we care about to be addressed. Democracy doesn’t give you a voice, but it gives you the right to speak up. And we need to speak up, in our local communities, in our state houses, and in Washington. We need to organize, to demonstrate, to raise money and, most importantly, to show up.

This isn’t a new concept. I remember in elementary school seeing those posters on the walls that read “90% of winning is showing up.” Well, we’re not showing up, and we’re losing 90% of the time. We’re losing on college tuition costs. We’re losing on job creation. We’re losing on tax policy. We’re losing on climate change. On every important issue, the future is losing to the entrenched establishment of today because we are not showing up.

So blame whomever you’d like for the cost of college going up. But at the end of the day, know this: As long as we continue to only play ball every four years (and sometimes, even less often), we can expect our leaders to follow that pattern, and to cater to our interests just as often. As USA Today reported: "During last year's presidential campaign, lawmakers from both parties voted to keep interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4%. Yet this year, without a presidential election looming, the issue seemed to fizzle and the July 1 deadline passed without action."

Political party leaders think we’ll forget about this come 2016, the next time they’ll need our support (they’re already expecting us to skip 2014). They’re counting on us to lose interest. They think they can outlast our attention spans, that we’ll forget and we’ll forgive. They might be right. For the sake of our future and our generation, I hope they’re not.  

We need a movement of young Americans, focused on advancing a platform of issues that will affect our future. From education to energy, immigration to infrastructure, there are critical issues that left unaddressed, will have a devastating effect on the trajectory of our country. If we want a better future for our nation and our world, we have got to show up and make our voices heard.