Protest aims to push Biden toward student loan relief

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden arrives to announce members of his economic policy team in Wilmington, Delaware
President-elect Joe Biden has signaled support for cancelling up to $10,000 worth of student debt for borrowers.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

Philadelphians are already beginning to pressure Joe Biden.

The president-elect has yet to take the oath of office; nonetheless, on Monday night, advocates will surround his campaign headquarters in Center City and call on Biden to use his executive power to cancel student loan debt.

Chris Casuccio, 37, of Germantown, a long-time organizer with the Debt Collective, which is hosting the protest, said he believes the time is right for the federal government to move toward solving the student loan crisis.

“When I first got involved in this movement in 2011, 2012, a lot of people would say, ‘It’s your responsibility. It’s your fault,’” he said. “And I think we’ve made it very clear that this is a public policy failure, and it’s a structural and systemic issue, not a problem with individuals.”

Casuccio started out with $80,000 in student debt from his undergraduate and graduate years, and, with interest, it has since ballooned to $140,000. Some of his private loans have rates as high as 12%, he said.

“It’s really absurd,” Casuccio added. “It’s obvious that it’s a scam. The whole system’s a scam.”

Monday’s demonstration will be Biblical, echoing the Jubilee, a period every 50 or so years when slaves would be freed and debts would be forgiven. Casuccio said the organization will hand out bells and candles, and they hope for a joyful atmosphere.

He said advocates have worked to make people aware that student loan forgiveness is a racial justice issue, and several local organizations have signed on to participate in the protest, including Black Lives Matter Philly and the Black and Brown Coalition.

Among the speakers will be City Councilwoman Kendra Brooks, of the progressive Working Families Party, according to Casuccio.

It’s unclear whether the campaign headquarters is still in active use. Biden’s transition team did not return a request for comment Sunday.

There appears to be growing momentum on the left for large-scale loan forgiveness, with some Democratic lawmakers petitioning Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt per person.

Biden, just before Christmas, told the Washington Post said it’s “unlikely” he will follow that recommendation and that it’s “arguable” that the president even has the power to do so through executive order.

The president-elect has signaled support for cancelling up to $10,000 worth of student debt for borrowers.

In Philadelphia, more than 310,000 residents have college debt, worth a total of $11.6 billion, according to the Debt Collective.

The demonstration, which will begin at 6 p.m. at 1500 Market St., will be the first of many similar Debt Collective protests around the country, Casuccio said.

A hundred members of the organization will go “on strike” by refusing to pay their loans, he added, calling it “economic disobedience.” Activists will travel around the country to try and build support.

The goal, he said, is to get all student debt forgiven, no matter how much, including private loans.

“We’re not going to stop until we get it all canceled, however long that takes,” Casuccio said.