48. Umme Hoque | The Debt Collective and Their Calls to Cancel Student Loan Debt
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Shamil Rodriguez

 

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About This Episode

Umme Hoque, the Organizing Director for the Debt Collective joins the The Student Loan Podcast to discuss why student loan debt cancellation is desperately needed in America today.

The Debt Collective is a membership-based union for debtors and our allies. Our current economic system forces us into debt in various different areas of our lives: student debt for education; a mortgage to buy a home; debts for utility bills or phone bills, medical care, or even incarceration. No one should have to go into debt to meet their basic needs! These debts are illegitimate and the system needs to change, and we are united to win that change. How? Through the power of our union.

Big social change can’t happen individually; it is only achieved through uniting and taking action. The Debt Collective works to create the change we all want to see by tapping into our collective power as debtors.

THIS EPISODE COVERS:

  • The purpose and mission of the Debt Collective;
  • Calls for President Biden to fix the current student loan debt crisis;
  • The need for student loan debt cancellation for all Americans; 
  • Ways you can demonstrate your unhappiness with the current state of the student loan system; and
  • much, much more…

GET CONNECTED WITH THE DEBT COLLECTIVE

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Umme Hoque (00:00): It's something where you are abolishing something that already exists and it's already a budget line. That's a negative. In fact, for people who have federal student loans, your loans, you just haven't been paying on them most likely because of the moratorium, which actually I think really shows that not only does it not cost anyone, anything, it's not even it hasn't broken the federal government. So they are literally chasing all of us for student loan payments that they have managed to function quite effectively without. So it's probably time to cancel all of it.

Daphné Vanessa (00:30): Welcome to the student loan podcast.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:32): Here, you'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses,

Daphné Vanessa (00:40): Aspiring stories about paying off student loans, where your hosts Daphne Vanessa

Shamil Rodriguez (00:46): Rodriguez.

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Shamil Rodriguez (01:20): Welcome everyone to another episode of the student loan podcast. And today we have a very unique guest with you here today. That's coming from a very interesting organization that you may not have heard of before, but if you do, I'm sure I am sure you are going to be looking them up as soon as this podcast is over. So today we have Umme Hoque coming from the debt collective. Now she has an extremely interesting story of traveling across the world, but we're gonna let her get into it, but a sneak peek from Texas to Australia to the UK, maybe not in that order, but she's going to break it down to us and let us know how she ended up at the debt collective and what they are doing there to see how we can help you. All right. So let me, let's start over to you.

Umme Hoque (02:01): Awesome. Well, thank you so much for having me today. It's really great to be talking to y'all. As you mentioned, I have been very lucky in that I have been able to travel a little bit around this wonderful world that I did start originally in Texas. So although my family is from Bangladesh, I was actually raised in the great state of Texas in a small town. That's actually a university town. And so like many first-generation immigrant families, I knew from a very young age that I was definitely going to go to college and I was definitely going to Excel in my studies. And I was going to be a very fancy job. Those are the things that I knew from the day that I was born. And so I did my best to try and achieve that. So I I was, I went to a university in San Marcus, Texas called Texas state university.

Umme Hoque (02:47): It's a public school, it's a great school. It's a little bit outside of Austin. And one of the reasons I chose to go to school there was actually because it was a bit cheaper, it was cheaper to go to a school like that. Then one of the more prestigious universities like university of Texas or something like that. So although I would've loved to do something like that because I was going to school on predominantly financial aid and student loans it just made the most sense to try and be a bit economical in the, in the onset. And so, yeah, that was a really wonderful experience. I learned a lot. Although I did get a degree in English and mass communications and sometimes I do, you know, wonder if that was the best way to go, but I wanted to study writing and reading and be a person in this world and be able to contribute to two beautiful conversations like this.

Umme Hoque (03:32): So that kind of led me into this trajectory of of trying to be a journalist in the first instance or work in that field. And what became really obvious when I graduated is that no matter how good of a pen, no matter how well I did in that field, I maybe wouldn't be able to pay my debts back right away. So it was very quickly that I came to that realization. Financial literacy was not a strong suit of mine. I'll be really honest. Like my, my I'm from a very working class family. My mom worked in food service. We were really just trying to get by it's part of the reason why I knew that higher education was the way to be able to succeed in this world and get a job that would be able to pay a bit more.

Umme Hoque (04:12): But because of that, you know, I took on some loans, a lot of credit card debt where I immediately regretted it and the interest rates were high. And I came to realize what the difference between a credit card loan and a student loan work very quickly after graduating. And so that is actually part of the reason why I started investigating and learning more about this wonderful world that we live in. And what education looks like around the world. It became obvious to me as well that I wanted to study something else and be a part of engaging people in a different sort of way. So when I decided to get my master's I knew I wanted to study something related to international politics. So I started looking internationally partially because that was my interest, but also because I was like, I wonder if it's cheaper somewhere else.

Umme Hoque (04:58): And and that is when it became obvious to me that if I went to the UK for a master's program, even by by taking out some student debt, because I was also getting some scholarship winning as well, it would actually be cheaper for me to leave the country for a little bit and go to school than it would be for me to stay here. And so that, that took me to the UK. I mean, it was very serendipitous and and also a bit funny. And so, and through that, I was lucky enough then after working, after studying international developments to then start working in organizing and union building and working with other people to make collective change, which has then taken me to other places around the world, including spending some time in Australia which I did joke and sometimes still joke I did for a little bit longer than I thought I would cause I was still hiding for my student debt and hiding from my credit card debt and saying, if there was a way by being overseas, I could avoid some of it.

Umme Hoque (05:51): I was it was, it was just, you know, the truth of the matter at that time. But yeah, it, it really led me to realize that not only is the U S education system, like incredible in many ways, it's also really specifically forces people to take on debt in ways that other places don't and really penalizes certain communities and certain types of individuals because of that. I am very proud to be a first generation American and a child of immigrants, but because I didn't really understand what student loan debt was. And because I didn't really understand what the reality of the job market would be and all that sort of stuff. It it led me to take on more debt than I realized and what I realized more and more as I started talking to people around the world and started working in organizing is that I was truly not alone.

Umme Hoque (06:40): I was not the only person who was struggling with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. What's now $70,000 worth of student loan debt. And what I also realized is I'm also not the only person who's paying more in interest than I am in my original balance. So of that 70,000, less than 30,000 was actually how much my school costs. And the rest of that is just interest that I have to pay to a bank for some reason, or to the federal government, since they're all federal student loan debt. Yeah, it was a really exciting journey to kind of like learn more about the world, receive degrees and engage with other people, but also start to really understand the way that student loan debt really just becomes this struggle and burden for people that I really don't think it needs to exist. And in many places

Daphné Vanessa (07:25): And we are on the same page there the student

Daphné Vanessa (07:32): So locked in this is really a problem. I think a lot of the things that you say resonate with a lot of listeners that we have here on the student loan podcast, who have gone through that same journey, where you took out an amount to go to school, you want to get a better education so that you can change the trajectory of your family's life. And when you graduate, you realize that the interest accumulation means that you've paid your loans consistently, but your loan balance continues to increase. So talk to us a little bit about the specific numbers, if you feel comfortable for what you took out versus what ended up being this monster of avalanche student loan debt.

Umme Hoque (08:14): Yeah. That's I mean, it is just a monster. So it was less than 30,000 when I eat between my undergrad and my masters. And that, and that doesn't include credit. Thank you. Well, I did also take out some credit card debt, but I made sure to pay that off because that obviously has a much more significant impact on ongoing credit reporting and all that sort of stuff. And so that was how much the original balance was. And now I think I'm a little bit closer to 75,000. So around 40,000 or so of interest, just waiting for me. Wow.

Daphné Vanessa (08:47): And what does so, so much to cover here, but bring us now from this huge 70 balance to your leadership now with the debt collective.

Umme Hoque (09:00): And I really realized by being able to like experience other places in the world, but also talking to other people about their, about the debts that they have and the struggles that they face because I used to work in labor organizing. So I was really lucky to be able to just talk to people about what they're experiencing is it became really obvious to me that it's not an individual issue. So much of student loan debt. And even this conversation where I was like, yes, I did this because of financial literacy. It's also because we live in a system that says you need to go to school to be able to get that good job. And so of course, I'm going to take on the debt that it will take to be able to go to that school, to then be able to get that job.

Umme Hoque (09:37): Like it's just a very logical trajectory. And what I realized is that it's clearly not just me. There's 45 million of us now who have all of the student loan debt. And I was really lucky along the way to be able to find the debt collective which is a union of debtors. So it's a bunch of people from around the country who are organizing together twin a lot of different, great things which are cancellation of debts and moving to repairative publicly funded goods. So things like healthcare for all and housing for all, but also canceling student loan debt and ensuring tuition free college, because it's not enough just to cancel the debts that people have. If, if it means that we're still perpetuating a system that allows that people will continue to go into debt. And what we're seeing right now obviously is that tuition grades just keep increasing and increasing.

Umme Hoque (10:21): So how do we actually address that overall problem and that bigger system that needs transformation, which is demanding something of all of us to come together and say, we have to address this problem because people do need educations and they want to learn and they want to grow and they want to thrive, but that shouldn't put you in debt for the rest of your life and you shouldn't pay more in interest than you've paid for the original cost of that education to be able to receive it. Like what kind of system does that create? So the debt collective is a really powerful way of all of us being able to come together, have these conversations, organize and strategize together. And also just feel like we're not alone because we're not. So many of us are struggling in this way. And that means that there's, there's a problem that we can all tackle together. It's not just something that we all have to just feel bad about or feel like we're struggling because of we can actually address it in many different ways,

Daphné Vanessa (11:11): Love the community aspect and just helping people feel like they're not alone because student loan debt really can be isolating. Right? You feel like you're the only one who made these bad decisions and they weren't bad decisions. You did hopefully finish your degree. And if you didn't, you got some education along the way that helps develop who you are as a person. So I love the community aspect. Talk to us a little bit about how you are making those demands. What are the demands? What is the debt collective asking people to do and who are the stakeholders that we are demanding things from

Umme Hoque (11:47): Right now are we are demanding things from president Joe Biden. And so by, as I'm sure you all have talked about, and everyone knows Biden made a promise on the campaign trail, then candidate Bart Biden said that he would cancel at least $10,000 worth of debt and that he would cancel debt for anyone who attended a public college or an HBCU. None of those things have happened, but we actually take it one step farther. We not only want Biden to uphold this original promise that he made. We are calling for full student debt cancellation, and we're calling for tuition free college or a pathway to tuition free college. And that means that we will continue this fight long after Biden, although it would be amazing if you did all those things while he's president regardless of who is an office, this is an ongoing systemic problem and political problem that we all have to organize together around that we all have to like find community and collective to be able to address, regardless of who's in power.

Umme Hoque (12:42): But at this current moment, Joe Biden is in power and he has the legal authority with the stroke of a pen to cancel student loan debt for people who hold federal student loans, which is the majority of people who have student loan debt now. And then obviously there needs to be solutions for people who have loan debt. That's not held by the federal government, which we're also advocating for, which is why we're calling for full cancellation, regardless of what kind of debt you have, how you created, just because so many people are struggling. And we're, we're organizing to win it.

Daphné Vanessa (13:11): I love that. And so there are a lot of challenges with people sort of having friction. When you raise a bold idea, like a hairy, audacious goal, like loan forgiveness, or, you know, free tuition for all, what are some of the critiques that you've received and how do you respond to those, those critiques?

Umme Hoque (13:33): I think there's a lot of confusion around if canceling student debt would be a tax issue and it's not. So just to very simply address that it's absolutely not a tax issue. There have been concerns from people about who would benefit from student loan debt cancellation. And the overwhelming answer is the 45 million people who struggle with student loan debt. The majority of whom are the same people who are actually facing extreme challenges and inequalities right now because of the coronavirus pandemic, because of all of the other issues that people are facing. So predominantly black and brown communities, women, low income communities currently the majority of student loan debt is held by black women. And then you can also see that around 30% of people upside that number. Isn't right. There's also a big chunk of people who have student loan debt, who, as you mentioned, didn't even graduate for college, but they still have this huge amount of debt that's following them around.

Umme Hoque (14:28): And then we've got a growing the largest percentage of people who are growing in student loan, debt accumulation are people who are over the age of 50, which means that they're now not able to retire. And their social security checks are being garnished because of student loan debt. And they're not even in the workforce. So not only would it help all these individuals who are struggling with debt, but the community impacts of student loan, debt cancellation or something where if people are not really thinking about student loan debt, they might not be thinking about all the positives that exist there as well about how that would mean that there's $1.8 trillion that now can go back into our economies and jobs. And it would actually create all of these well, all of these Wells within local communities that desperately needs to be there. So I think some of the concerns around student debt cancellation are people thinking that it's something different than what it is, but the student loan debt is something that people that already hold there is no tax cost to any sort of individual and the economic benefits of it are just beyond.

Umme Hoque (15:25): I could spend this whole conversation, just talking about how it's a positive in every way. But those are some of the biggest things that I've, I've biggest concerns that

Daphné Vanessa (15:32): I've heard. Interesting. I've heard the tax issue a lot in, you know, we're in this space too, so we hear all sorts of things. Let me tell you and one of the challenges that people appear to have with loan cancellation is that they believe that the monies would come from taxpayers to cancel it. And what you're saying instead is that they can cancel without taking money from taxpayers. Is that, what is that what you're saying? Absolutely.

Umme Hoque (16:03): Yes.

Daphné Vanessa (16:05): Can you just explain that a little more for the people who have this challenge?

Umme Hoque (16:09): Of course. Yeah. So student loan debt is something that people have, like the student loan money is something that people have already received. So it's not like a tax credit or anything that people are receiving. It's something where you are abolishing something that already exists and it's already a budget line. That's a negative. In fact, for people who have federal student loans, your loans, you just haven't been paying on them most likely because of the moratorium, which actually I think really shows that not only does it not cost anyone, anything, it's not even it hasn't broken the federal government. So they are literally chasing all of us for student loan payments that they have managed to function quite effectively without. So it's probably time to cancel all of it. But that being said, for people who are worried that there might be a tax cost associated with it, there there is none. And there's also been legislation that was passed with one of the coronavirus relief bills that ensures that any sort of debt cancellation that happens in the future is tax-free for the next, at least four years. So there's also a chunk of time where it's tax-free.

Daphné Vanessa (17:09): Okay. And so you're saying that loan debt cancellation in this instance means basically a write-off to say, we are already losing, this is, this is already an asset that we're losing on guys. Let's just wipe our hands and walk away. And that happens in business in real business. Why can't the federal government do the same thing? That's very interesting. I haven't heard it explained like that before. So I feel like we got an exclusive here today on the student loan podcast. So I've been Hocking up all the time per usual with my questions. Apologies, Seville, please, please go ahead.

Shamil Rodriguez (17:45): It's all good. I'm enjoying the show. No, actually wanted to step back a little bit with your story you going to be, when you were saying that, you know, like, you know, fortunately I know you were saying it as ingest in terms of taking out an English major and going in that, that route. Right. But do like seriously, do you think that getting, let's say an English major or like the stereotypical, everybody was thesis philosophy as an example, right. Do you feel like the value versus the student loan debt that you've taken out, you know, balances out the, the worth of that degree?

Umme Hoque (18:19): I think that we have to have ways for people to study humanities and the arts and social sciences, if even if it doesn't translate to a financial good. I think that one of the things that education does a lot is make people think about like their skills and the ways they want to contribute to this world as like, how can you make the most amount of money most likely cause you got to pay back this debt. I, I do joke a lot about my English degree, English, mass communication. I'll, I'll throw that in there, but I, it has really allowed me to work in a way of thinking about the ways to communicate with people, to engage with people and to be more effective and that sort of collaboration, which I feel like is a really useful skill to have in life. And there's a lot of like critical thinking and philosophy or a lot of these sorts of things where having these sorts of educational backgrounds unlocks your brain and your capacity to engage with people and build skills that are really important and useful. And I think of, I still think about my English degree in diagramming sentences when times are tough. And I'm like, why isn't Google? Spellchecking this for me? So I'm still pretty happy with it. I'll be honest.

Shamil Rodriguez (19:21): No, that's good. No, I, the reason I trust me as a government politics major I, I can relate so no, but I think that I bring that up because that, that often comes up on this pot and off where we're having conversations with people where it's really mathematical. Like it's really just looking at it from the, you know, here's what your degree is. This is what you'll probably make. If you go into this direction and you know, this is what you should consider taking out. But I think there is some value into the idea of the humanities and other, I don't want to call them soft because that's just coming to my mind right now, but like degrees, I don't have that, that had that background that do contribute. Right? Because there are plenty of ways where that bigger picture thinking really helps out. So I guess this really kind of goes into this idea or a question that I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are and what the collector's idea is here. Is that, what about like, I know we, we're talking about with the stroke of a pen president byte, again, you know, castle, the student loan debt, but they're really still is the problem that it's still going to perpetuate, right? Like that number is going to quickly fill up again. So what are some of the ideas that allow for that? Not to be the case moving

Umme Hoque (20:27): That's a great question because you're absolutely right. It's not enough that we cancel the debt. We have to actually address the actual problem. And the actual problem is that over the past, what like 10 years tuition free fees have increased by 25% federal and state government spending in higher education just keeps decreasing, but we all know the value of an education. And so how do we resolve that gap? So at the duct collective, we always call for a pathway to tuition free college tuition and debt-free college alongside the cancellation of student debt. And there's been some exciting movement in that space. In 2019, there was a bill introduced by a number of representatives, including Bernie Sanders and Ilhan, Omar and others calling for college for all, which would have been tuition free college. And there's actually a a part of the current legislation that's being debated in Congress that would ensure a free community college. So we are slowly having that conversation more and more about pathways to tuition free college. And I just think that it's one that if people are interested and believe that this is something that's a necessity, or if you're struggling with debt and you're like, I don't want anyone else to face this before. Again, it's definitely a struggle to be a part of and a movement to join because there's not enough voices that are coming together and calling for this. And it's such, such a necessity for our country's future. Absolutely.

Shamil Rodriguez (21:47): I was thinking, I guess it's really spurred an idea and I think I'm going to go down this rabbit hole guy. So I get ready for my policy rate is really turning on here. But I guess the, the conversation when we had that conversation, it's funny because people agree, rarely people generally agree and they're like, oh yeah, the cost too much in school. But then there's this like little voice that I feel like people go over to the side of it. I'm like, well, it shouldn't be free though, because I should pay for something cause I'm getting value out of it. So I guess, has the debt collective, or have you guys really discussed that idea that like there should be some form of payment for school or like, should it just be like, no, it should just be for free.

Umme Hoque (22:24): It should be for, for everyone. I mean, education is good for the individual. It's good for our communities. It's good for our country. It's good for the global society. I, I mean, if everyone has the ability to access education, the positives are just through the roof. It's very clear and obvious and it will build a better community for all of us. So I just say make it free and let's fight for it to make it that way.

Shamil Rodriguez (22:47): Definitely. Do you mind, I feel like this might be a good spot for you to talk about education equity and like going in that space at all. Def sure.

Daphné Vanessa (22:54): That's not what I was going to ask.

Shamil Rodriguez (22:56): Okay. I'm sorry. No, no, I just, I know that's something that you're really good at at discussing and I think highlighting it, it might be a good time, but good.

Daphné Vanessa (23:04): I mean, we've spoken a lot about education equity and just sort of some different spaces. And just part of talking about the solutions, right? Because they're, everybody's recognizing the problems and what are some solutions that we can get a critical mass behind that, that we can pass. And some ideas that have been passed around is that yes, one challenge is that school is too expensive. Another challenge is that people aren't getting jobs that they want, so you can get the fantastic education and then not be able to live, even if you went to school for free. And so what pathways are we creating within the education ecosystem to create education equity? And so I would love your thoughts on some things that the debt collective has explored on that side of the house.

Umme Hoque (23:55): That's a great question. And this is such an exciting conversation. Thank you so much. We've actually been thinking a lot about this, about what it could all look like. I do think that one of the challenges is trying to create a new system requires a lot of voices, a lot of people coming together to brainstorm on it. So this will be a very simplistic perspective based on conversations we've had, because I do think that if we were truly moving to tuition free college, it would require all of us being in like community and conversation around that. But that being said, we've had conversations around this, especially around that pipeline for employment and what that could look like. And, but also just what higher education and a liberatory education could look like even outside of a system that creates that forces education to be able to then go into employment.

Umme Hoque (24:44): Like if you wanted to rethink what education could even be, that could be a whole other way of envisioning higher education as well, just because we're also people who want to learn and grow and communicate. And more and more the workforce is changing and necessitating that people are potentially more adaptive than more skilled in certain things. So I think that overall I have no solution if, if that it's probably obvious in the fact that I'm like, we need to keep talking about all of this, because I do think that, like, I think that we need to cancel debt and make sure that college is free and how that college looks and what people are experiencing out of it is actually something that we all need to have more of like a participatory engagement around so that people can bring different experiences and have deeper conversations about what they experienced at school, what was actually useful and not useful. And maybe it's even time to look at the whole structure and system of education in general and transform that, which I know is a lot to ask. So the first step could be canceling debt and the second step could be making some institutions of education free while we continue to have these conversations to be able to think and dream and envision bigger, how we could transform all of this.

Daphné Vanessa (25:50): Very, very cool. So I have a question veering, this conversation doing a S you know, 90 degree turn into the burning ceremony that is popular on line. So please talk to us and share with the audience, what I'm even talking about in case there.

Umme Hoque (26:12): Of course. So the debt collective, as I mentioned before, is a union of debtors. So we come together and we hold, we have conversations and really try and build community around something that most people think is a negative debt is something that is hard to deal with, causes a lot of stress and frustration and stigma and all of the things. But it's also not an individual challenge. It's not something that you yourself have done to yourself. We exist in a system that perpetuates debt. And so as a debt collective assemblies or an engagements that we have, we've had many deference, which you're referring to where people will share their stories around how they got debt, what forced them into taking it on what life challenges they've had, how much debt they have, then they will also burn this debt together and have a debt burden.

Umme Hoque (27:03): It's a visual way of showing that these debts aren't actually the ones oppressing us anymore because we are actually taking control of them. We're finding community in each other, and we're actually going to organize together to be able to address them. And many of our debtors have done incredible things when it's been strategic and move mountains like going on debt strikes and refusing to pay their debts entirely an organizing together using legal and media strategies to really uplift the issues of debt and really target certain debtors and all kinds of things. So it's one tactic of many that we use, but it's a really powerful one that we use to be able to build community and connection with each other because you know, connecting with people in debt, isn't something that people always do. But that is a way that people actually have a sense of shared engagement and opportunity to talk to each other in a very specific way that maybe you just didn't realize that other person is also mad at Navi it to

Daphné Vanessa (27:57): That's so funny instead of a collaborating based off of political differences. Now we can collaborate based on our mutual hatred for student loan, servicers. Fantastic. that's so funny, but also so real, you know, I think a lot of people can identify with that. So thank you for sharing that. Talk to us about the debt strike. How do you even do that? How, I mean, I think you have to have a lot of, this is a G-rated podcast, but a lot of strength to just go on strike, not pay your debt. How do you do that? I, I can't wrap my mind around it, but I need you to explain it to me ASAP.

Umme Hoque (28:48): Thank you so much for asking. So yes that strikes are a tactic that we have utilized that have been really powerful and effective, but they're also something we use when it's very strategic, like when we can see that there might be a lot of power and debtors coming together and refusing to pay their bills. And we usually support those sorts of strategies with other strategies as well, like media and legal and other ways that people can participate. Kind of speaking to what you're saying too, where it's like sometimes going on strike is scary, but there are lots of ways that people can get involved in the fight. That being said, we've had a couple of iterations of student debt fights and student debt strikes in 2015, we saw a number of students at Corinthian college, went on student debt strike and refuse to pay their debts because they had been defrauded by their for-profit schools.

Umme Hoque (29:36): And they did that alongside organizing together alongside media, alongside stuff, alongside legal strategies. And we were able to win that debt cancellation as well as ongoing cancellation through the other, through other defrauded students in borrower defense to repayment. I'm saying all of that because sometimes debt strikes are just part of a much larger campaign that we're fighting and that's usually the case. And for instance, I am currently on student debt strike right now, as we launched a new student debt strike. In January of this year, when Biden was inaugurated to be able to hold him to his word, that he was going to cancel student debt, although I would proudly not paying most people aren't paying right now. So sometimes the act of striking is actually just saying this thing I'm already doing is political, because that is one of the ways that people treat debt and loans as something that is personal.

Umme Hoque (30:28): It's actually political. This is a political stance that I'm taking. Even though it's also just practically what's happening in the world. And there's other ways to go on strike too. So some people just flat out refuse to pay their debts. If they feel comfortable with that, that feels safe to them. Other people will try and just get to a $0 payments. And that could be through many different policies that exist right now in terms of like income based repayment programs and things like that. And we do have information for people who are interested in either going on strike and understanding what the ramifications might be for them, or if they are interested in getting involved, but don't quite know how striking could be safe and secure for them. Cause you know, we do live in a financial system. Credit does matter to people, all of these things are important. So we want to make sure that people are taking political action, but feel like they're supported in that too.

Shamil Rodriguez (31:17): I mean, let let's, let's explore that just a little more. Right. Cause I feel he has a good cliffhanger and I'm like, wait a minute. I don't know if I want to take my credit score to make that point, right. I'll, I'll, I'll strike in physical ways. I might go on a hunger strike or something like that. I might tie myself to a tree, whatever. But but for some reason the credit score is like, I don't know. So can you like walk us through what that conversation might be like for somebody who's like, Hey, you know what, I might be interested in this I'm like that.

Umme Hoque (31:45): Absolutely. As I mentioned before, it really depends on the person and what they're comfortable with. So some people, we do have some members who are like, I'm not paying and that's it. I don't care what it means. And that is incredible. But we also have members who were like, I need to just, I, I want to be on strike, but for me strike just means paying $0. And there's a lot of different ways that that can look depending on the kind of loans that you have, depending on how long you've had those loans and how much money you make, which is why I can't say anything too specific other than there's like there's programs like income-based repayment or there's deferment or forbearance programs. There's a lot of different ways that people can actually look at their student loan debt and find ways to make that payment $0. And then to say, this is actually a political step that I've taken because I can't pay and I won't pay until we resolve this actual overwhelming structural issue. But because it does kind of require a bit of nuance based on the, of loans that you have. I just highly encourage people who are interested in learning more to get in touch with the debt collective. And and we'll be able to plug you in and talk more about that. So

Daphné Vanessa (32:49): Contact the debt collective, you want to make zero payments on your student. That is awesome. So I have a question on broader strategies for the DEC collective as a whole. So you've been in the game for a while, right? If you were a part of Corinthian way back when you guys have been in this game for a while congratulations. What is next? After you get student loan debt canceled? Do you have plans after that? Or are you going to say, okay, we dissolve, we're done, we've accomplished our goal. Thank you very much. Have a nice life.

Umme Hoque (33:28): Well, firstly, I have actually only been at the debt collector for since about since last year. So I'm relatively new to the the debt collective itself. The debt collective actually comes out of occupy wall street. So the founders of the debt collective actually met and realized that debt was something that they all shared and a sense of community and also struggle. And so there's been a lot of work that has happened since then. And I've, I feel very lucky and honored to have worked in this, this incredible movement of people who were like, we need to address this problem and have been fighting for it for so long. So it has gone through different machinations and strategies of finding ways to cancel debt, including like direct debt buys, organizing around it. Finding ways to change narrative around whether or not debt should exist.

Umme Hoque (34:16): Like really trying to find ways to bring people together, to build community, to change the narrative and to make people understand that debt needs to be canceled. And we need to have these repetitive, publicly funded goods. So I guess that also answers the second question, which is student loan debt is not the only type of debt that we're fighting against. We are also working in health issues around housing, around carceral debt and bail and fines and fees utility debt and unpaid water bills and people getting kicked out of homes because of that lunch debt and the fact that kids can't eat at school, all of these things are different with all of these things are like big ways that debt continues to impact people. And so we're, we're fighting on all of those fronts to be able to ensure that people don't have to go into debt to just finance their basic needs. That is one of the overall goals that we have is just being able to make sure that, you know, people can actually just thrive in this country without having to put it on their credit card cause they can't afford it.

Daphné Vanessa (35:15): I have one last objection that I have to raise. It's on my list of questions for you. And that is the, the argument that you can side hustle your way, you know, build a business out of debt. Talk to those people who are saying that, why are people complaining millennials and Z years? You guys complain about everything even though by the way, occupy wall street, if it point that back, they are not millennials anyways. But we're not able to that's a long time ago. But anyways, the, the people that are saying, you know, there are solutions and we've had people like that on our podcast. We've had people who have overcome large amounts of student loan debt by building a business, starting a blog, you know, multi-family real estate, all sorts of things that they also came from nothing and sort of built their way out of debt. What is your response to those people who think that, where there's a will there?

Umme Hoque (36:18): Well firstly I say to them, congratulations, like people who have struggled a lot to pay to pay their debts. It's incredible. It's, it's so much that you have to go through to be able to do it. It usually involves like choosing a different career or like choosing a different place to live or like weighing a lot of factors in life. And it is such an incredible struggle for a lot of people who have had to do it. And so first my, I tip my hat to you, even though I'm not wearing a hat, but you know, you can visualize that. But also I'm hopeful that in experiencing that they have realized how much struggle it is, how hard it is. And the reality is every single day, the cost of college keeps increasing. And the investment in college and higher education from our government keeps decreasing.

Umme Hoque (37:04): So whatever struggle those individuals went through at whatever time, it's worse. Now, there's just no question. Like I graduated 10 years ago. I know it is much worse now. So the reality is that regardless of the hustle and drive that individuals have, the problem is getting bigger and bigger. And in spite of the amount of activity that an individual and labor that, that individual might try to produce to achieve that because of things like the fact that costs keep increasing, not just in school, but also just in life in general, that housing is harder and harder to find, but the minimum wage just seems to not be able to change. And while all of those other aspects of life are low or hard and making it hard for people to get by, we are still actively penalizing people, especially people of color, especially low-income people, especially women and older people for going to school, no amount of hustle will be able to address $1.8 trillion. And so in order to address that large problem, the, the reality of this complicated political kerfuffle that we have ended up in that was my nice way of putting that. It will require systemic change and that means that we need to cancel this debt and we need to have tuition free college.

Daphné Vanessa (38:20): Okay, well, I appreciate that. I think that it's will be very helpful for people to just hear that argument and understand where this tuition free college debt free life is coming from. We have a generation of people that have been disproportionately impacted by student loan debt and these super high education costs. They're not really getting compensated when they go into the workforce, if they have the blessing of making it to the workforce in a job that they want to have. So it's really important to think about all the solutions and listen to everybody to see like, what are the different ways. If we all just stay in our bubbles, we're not going to move and improve. And part of improvement is hearing from everybody. So we really hope that your message resonated with the audience. I do have one more question. I'm the worst. I keep asking questions.

Daphné Vanessa (39:20): So curious. So as an attorney, I'm an attorney. So in our licensure, if you will, there are certain states where you could not get licensed because of having an overwhelming amount of student loan debt. These states sort of send a clear message that you need to pay your bills. You need to be current with your bills. Talk to that person. That's a really specific person, but speak to that person who wants to go on strike. They want to send a political message about this exorbitant problem, but they're concerned about putting food on the table and getting licensed and sort of getting to the finish line in the journey that they just had studying

Umme Hoque (40:08): In law school. Absolutely. And that is, that's a real person. I feel like I have talked to that person and that is a real struggle. So many people go to law school, I've met so many people who were like, I wanted to be a public defender, but now I've got to work this carpet corporate gig because I just need to pay off the incredible amount of debt that people get from law school and med school, especially. So just yeah, really feeling you and appreciate this question. That is also why I said earlier, like we want to help people take the political stance and get involved in organizing in a way that feels safe and comfortable for them because it will take all of us organizing together, having these conversations, sharing our ideas, to be able to change this system, to win this cancellation, to win the type of education system that we all want.

Umme Hoque (40:55): But that means that we all have to be a part of the conversation and we have to be able to show up in a way that feels right for your individual financial situation. There's we believe in the power of organizing because the power of debtors coming together can move mountains. And we've seen that we've canceled over $3 billion worth of debt at the debt collective. So it's all very possible, but it's a long fight tuition free college is literally trying to go back to before re the Reagan era when they introduce things like tuition costs, which is going to be a while that was a while ago. Many people didn't even realize that was the case. Right. and so if this is going to be, this is a movement that continue to fight regardless of who's in power. And for as long as it takes. And so for people to be able to be a part of that fight, they can show up in many different ways. They can either go on strike. If it feels comfortable, they can be a part of contacting the representatives. They can be a part of a legal strategy. There's a lot of different ways that people can contribute to this movement and be a part of it. Regardless of your situation, we just need you to be a part of it. Love that

Daphné Vanessa (41:55): What a powerful way to tie a nice bow on, on this message. Chanel, do you have any lingering thoughts?

Shamil Rodriguez (42:03): And there, there was definitely one that I wanted to go down before we go into the possibility lightning round, which is one of my favorites. No, but the question I do have here is the idea of, of non-traditional forms of education. So I had the pleasure of being in a position where I got to see firsthand from the administrative perspective and of like what non-traditional students are like what that journey is like. And I've seen that. So I guess I'm curious to see what the debt collective has had to say or thought about non-traditional forms of education, because you do see a lot more universities and community colleges offering certificate programs, right? Ways for people to, you know, get their specific skill set and then level up their pay or their income. What are some of those ideas? Have you guys been pushing that or trying to encourage people that maybe can't afford to go to certain schools to has, Hey, you know, what, what about this skill set? If this is what you want to do?

Umme Hoque (42:57): I think that's, that's a really great question. And I think the way educational currently is, and the way it could be is something that's so integral. And it's definitely a conversation we have at the debt collective, especially because a lot of people who are members of the debt collective have had different types of education or they're educators themselves, or they're professors, or they're spending all of their time thinking about these things. So I'm going to say something which is a classic organizer thing to say, which is, I'm not an education expert without question I, that is not my strong suit, but I am an expert at saying this, which is we develop better solutions when we work on the problems together. And so there are many different ways of envisioning education of experiencing education. And people have gone through different types of education to receive different types of jobs. And all of those things are kind of things where I feel like, like the younger version of umami was told that there was only a certain way of existence and higher education. And then what life looks like, and there is the capacity for us to come together and have these conversations and envision something different, or just learned from other people who have had that different experience to then make policy change, if that feels right. But it does mean that we organize together to do that.

Shamil Rodriguez (44:07): Okay, great. As a former community organizer myself, a good job on that question and that answer. All right, Daphne, I'm going to turn it over to you. Do you think we have enough time for a lending round or, or am I a lightning round? All right, here we go. So guys, listen, gentlemen, me was not prepared for any of these questions, but Daphne take it away now

Umme Hoque (44:30): Tired.

Shamil Rodriguez (44:33): So the, the go-bag deputy, we didn't prepare it when we at all.

Daphné Vanessa (44:37): So you have to answer really quickly and just go with gut instinct. Cause they're going to be like just these quick questions. And you just have to say like off the top of your head and what comes out and your answer can't be too long or explanatory. So now that you've had a lot of time to think about the first one Nelnet or Navea, I'm

Umme Hoque (44:57): Going to say no, only because I said their name earlier. Oh

Daphné Vanessa (45:03): Stafford loan or parent plus loan him neither, not an option, Stafford loan plus you shouldn't be an attorney by the way. Debt-Free college or canceling student loan debt for everybody and not an option. You really need to go to law school. It's like, this is a multiple choice test and there are two bubbles.

Umme Hoque (45:36): I really love this. I love the format you'll have. And I'm sorry. I'm just like throwing all kinds of wrenches into that. One is very hard for me.

Daphné Vanessa (45:43): I know it's rough. That's what, that's why it's like, which one is worse. We don't know. And then we will end with a positive. So Martin Luther king or Gandhi Martin Luther king. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining and hanging out with us on the student loan podcast. We had such a wonderful time really diving into the important work that you're doing. That you're leading, that you're a part of being a change agent for. We really hope that people listen to this episode and get connected with the debt collective. Where can they find you? We are on the internet.

Umme Hoque (46:18): Yes, we're on Twitter at strike debt. But if you just go to debt, collective.org, it's got all the information on how you can join our email list, join the union, and then find us on social as well. So check

Daphné Vanessa (46:27): It out. Awesome. Over to you Chanel.

Shamil Rodriguez (46:30): For more information on today's episode, visit the student loan podcast.com for session, episode 48. That's the student loan podcast.com forward slash 48.

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