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Student Issues Haven’t Gained Momentum at #OccupyWallStreet

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Many young protestors at Occupy Wall Street are advocating for youth issues, including student loan debt.

CREDIT: Shauna Plesmid / Campus Progress

In a sea of potential Occupy Wall Street demands, issues related to students have regularly surfaced—but primarily maintained a low profile. Some have suggested making student debt forgiveness one of the protest’s key demands, but that idea is competing with numerous other popular suggestions focusing on inequity and corporate reform.

Young people have turned out in force at the New York and local versions of the #Occupy demonstrations, spurred in part by concern over the job market and debt.

And they have good reason to be concerned. In the face of an ongoing recession, graduates in 2010 averaged about $24,000 in debt.

Some say the lack of unified demands has continued to undermine Occupy Wall Street’s credibility, at least as a platform. But health care equity researcher David Maris performed an informal survey of demonstrators for Forbes that shows significant cohesion in the goals of individual protesters—including some 93 percent calling for student debt to be forgiven.

Student activists using the name Occupy Colleges organized nationwide walkouts last week in support of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and are planning more today. But the group opted not to promote any student-specific issues, instead aligning their efforts with the still-forthcoming demands list promised by those at Occupy Wall Street.

Jenna Johnson pointed out in a column for the Washington Post that, among pundits critical of Occupy Wall Street, there is a common belief that students are joining the demonstrations without making a sufficient effort to find work, or are unjustifiably angry that there is no demand for obscure degrees.

While there may be a productive line of criticism directed at departments that promote majors unlikely to garner revenue in the market, a lot of it just reads like vitriol.

“I laugh whenever anybody talks #ows student loans to get humanities degree, mountain of weed, and you are exactly where you deserve to be [sic],” read one tweet that Johnson reproduced in the column.

Bringing more modest goals than debt forgiveness to the table, such as establishing basic bankruptcy protection for college students, could be one way to bolster the profile of student issues in relation to issues of corporate personhood and political contribution reform.

And it would also likely be helpful if young demonstrators could more clearly articulate the sense of disenfranchisement that inspired them to join the protests.

Inspired by an article in the magazine Adbusters, the Occupy Wall Street and like-named protests have rallied around the slogan “We Are The 99%.”

Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.

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