Why activist Astra Taylor is not giving up on student loan forgiveness

Personal finance

Astra Taylor
Source: Isabella De Maddalena

In 2014, Astra Taylor co-founded the Debt Collective, the first union for debtors. Since then, one of her main goals has been to get student debt canceled.

The last year or so has been bittersweet: First, in what felt like a major victory, President Joe Biden announced that he’d cancel up to $20,000 in federal education debt for tens of millions of Americans. Then that plan was quickly halted by a barrage of legal challenges from the right.

The Supreme Court finally struck down Biden’s relief program in June, ruling that the president didn’t have the authority to forgive so much consumer debt without prior authorization from Congress.

But Taylor isn’t discouraged. “The genie of debt cancellation is not going back in the bottle,” she said.

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I interviewed Taylor, who is also a documentary filmmaker and author, this week about her reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision, and what is next for the battle to get student debt forgiven. Her latest book, “The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart,” will be published in September.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Annie Nova: Did the Supreme Court’s decision surprise you?

Astra Taylor: No. It is obvious that the court’s majority is ultraconservative and highly partisan. The Biden administration should have canceled the debt automatically and immediately before lawsuits were filed.

AN: What do you expect the consequences of the ruling to be?

AT: I hope the ruling contributes further to the delegitimization of the court. Justice Elena Kagan charged that the decision violated the Constitution. In the long term, the cause of student debt abolition will prevail. Borrowers won’t let six reactionary judges have the last word.

AN: What’s next for advocates and borrowers who’ve been pushing for student loan forgiveness for years?

AT: We’ve organized through far tougher scenarios than this. No one doubts that student debt cancellation is possible and lawful, and the majority of Americans are on our side when it comes to student loan relief. We’ve made tremendous progress and will keep fighting. The student debt strike is growing, and I invite people to join it. Direct actions are being planned, and we have various legal strategies that will be unveiled soon.

AN: What would you want to see the president do next? Some experts expect his second plan for student loan forgiveness will be much more modest.

AT: Anything less than what Biden promised will be felt as a letdown, even a betrayal. Biden needs to do his best to deliver, and the safest path is to go big. Cancel it all, immediately, and dare the court to reimpose life-destroying debts on 45 million people.

AN: What do you make of the Biden administration’s plan to resume student loan payments in less than two months?

AT: It is unthinkable that Biden would restart payments and have the Department of Education collect on loans he and his administration promised to cancel, especially given the fact he has other legal tools to follow through on his commitments. If he does make the mistake of restarting payments, he will head into 2024 as America’s debt collector in chief. And the political consequences will be severe. Student debt cancellation tipped the balance in Democrats’ favor in the midterms. Failing to deliver will demoralize and demobilize young people, whose votes they cannot afford to lose.

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