On Monday, March 26, 36 students, including some UW-Stevens Point students, were arrested for participating and instigating a student loan debt protest that disrupted all traffic on 7th Street in Northwestern D.C.
Students from all around the country gathered in Washington for the United States Student Association’s Legislative Conference, or LegCon, to publicly speak out against the crushing student debt incurred from higher education.
These students were arrested for civil disobedience for sitting in the doorway of the Sallie Mae headquarters, requesting a meeting with a representative. Photos by Liz Westberg.
But their focus for protest shifted when they made a pit stop at the corporation Sallie Mae headquarters on the way to LegCon.
Sallie Mae is the largest private profiteer of student loans that has documented record high revenues while this month national student loan debt soared over one trillion dollars, which is significantly higher than the national credit card debt.
“Students, graduates, parents, to name a few, are faced with the reality of the burden of student debt, which this month reached a total of ONE TRILLION dollars, hundreds of millions more than that of total credit card debt, the student loan debt bubble is the next to burst, and if this bubble pops, the effect on the economy will be nothing short of catastrophic,” United Council President Seth Hoffmeister said.
Hoffmeister was a member of the “civil disruption” team that got arrested by D.C. law enforcement.
The organized protest had many roles played by participating students such as photographers, speakers and picketers. The more dangerous volunteer group was the civil disruptors, who were tasked with sitting on the steps of the Sallie Mae headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Our goal was to meet with Sallie Mae CEO Albert Lord to renegotiate the terms and agreements regarding the money we borrow to go to college and to renegotiate the terms of repayment,” Hoffmeister said. “As they experience record profit, we, their primary customers, are finding ourselves worse off for trying to go to college.”
With the hopes of a short conversation with a mid-level executive of Sallie Mae, the group expected they would be turned away. But rather than accept defeat, they sat around the entrance to the building while USSA President Victor Sanchez, Jr., gave a public speech addressing their concerns to the public.
The private security staff employed by Sallie Mae met them with explicative slurs and name calling.
“We could see that his day, to say the least, was ruined,” Hoffmeister said.
Just before the small protest group was overrun, reinforcements from the nearby LegCon protest arrived on the scene.
“We brought friends,” Sanchez said to the security staffer, who was now threatening to call the police.
“Our friends blocked traffic and shut down a busy downtown block of traffic that the 200 strong with their signs, chants and energy soon filled the air,” Hoffmeister said.