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Student Debtors and Activists Demand Biden “Fund Education, Not Genocide”

Organizers say their recent DC action was inspired by the students who’ve been arrested at Gaza solidarity encampments.

Organizers with the Debt Collective rallied at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2024, calling on President Joe Biden to cancel student debt, invest in social spending, and halt aid to Israel during its war on Gaza.

A dozen activists were arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, May 22, to urge President Joe Biden to “fund education not genocide.”

Ahead of the November rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump for the White House, activists are calling for Biden to invest in social spending and halt aid to Israel amid its eight-month all-out assault on Gaza.

“Our country seems to find funds and money when it comes to endless wars,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib said at a rally at headquarters of the Department of Education before the arrests. “Yet, year after year, my colleagues tell me that there’s no money for life-saving investments in our communities.”

That morning, the Biden administration announced an additional $7.7 billion in student debt relief for 160,000 borrowers, adding to the previous $160 billion in targeted student debt forgiveness. Last year, the Supreme Court blocked a separate proposal from Biden to grant eligible borrowers up to $20,000 in student debt relief.

The Debt Collective — a national union of debtors, which organized the protest — is calling on Biden to use executive power to wipe away all $1.7 trillion in student loan debt.

“Our public universities and colleges have faced decades of divestment and disinvestment, which has created a two-tiered system that punishes low-income students with a lifetime of debt,” said Rep. Cori Bush, who called for massive investments in education, infrastructure, and healthcare instead of military spending.

“The people want a ceasefire. The people want to stop funding, genocide, and endless war. The people want to stop their taxpayer dollars from being used to bomb children,” she said.

Organizers said the action was inspired by the thousands of college students who have been ridiculed and arrested at Gaza solidarity encampments, pressuring their universities to cut ties with Israel.

“When it comes to student loan debt cancellation, people said the student loan debt would never be canceled when I started fighting for this in 2007,” said Tiffany Dena Loftin, Debt Collective’s higher education campaign lead, in an interview with The Real News.

Over 500,000 people have voted “uncommitted” in the Democratic primaries in protest of Biden’s ongoing military and diplomatic support of Israel.

“Right now in the primaries, there were students who were saying, ‘If you do not stand on the right side of justice, if you’ve not said, the right side of freedom, we’re not voting for you,’” Loftin said.

Last week, Real Time host Bill Maher attacked Biden’s loan forgiveness initiatives for student borrowers.

“Colleges constantly raise tuition, then the kids take out more loans, then the government comes by and pays those loans. Okay, so my tax dollars are supporting this Jew hating? I don’t think so.”

Loftin rejected the characterization of the anti-war protestors as antisemitic.

“We are anti-Zionist, and we want to free Palestine. And in addition to that, we do not want to fund the bombs that are killing babies as we speak right now, we want that money to go to fund a free education in America. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Also speaking at the rally was Lily Greenberg Call, who last week became the first Jewish-American Biden administration official to resign in protest of US policy towards Gaza.

“I could no longer serve this president, represent this administration, who is funding the genocide of Palestinians and ignoring the voice of the American people who have made their wish loud and clear: ceasefire now,” said Greenberg Call, who from 2017 to 2019 served as president of Bears for Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s affiliate group at UC Berkeley.

Many at the rally also criticized the Biden administration for authorizing a $1 billion arms sale to Israel a week after halting a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs over concerns over their use in densely populated civilian areas.

Over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, which killed 1,200 people, including many civilians.

This week, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court sought arrest warrants for senior leaders of Hamas and Israel over crimes against humanity and war crimes. The International Court of Justice has urged Israel to prevent genocide in Gaza.

“We will get a ceasefire. We will get a hostage deal. We will stop sending weapons to Israel. We will end the system of apartheid and occupation that is stretched across the Holy Land,” Greenberg Call said

US military spending far outpaces other nations, accounting for 37% of global military spending — more than the next nine countries combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Of its $1.8 trillion budget, “$1.1 trillion — or 62% — was for militarized programs, including war and the military, deportations and detentions, and prisons and policing,” The National Priorities Project reported.

“We’re going to build solidarity, through solidarity here and around the world, multiracial democracy, the only thing that will keep us safe, that will keep my community safe, that will keep all of us safe anywhere,” Greenberg Call said at the rally. “We will cancel student debt. We will stop funding the war machine. We will take meaningful steps to protect our communities and our beautiful planet from climate change.”

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