NJ: Student Debt Cancellation and Free Tuition Movement gains steam

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POP Chairman Lawrence Hamm addresses the rally. Photo courtesy Darleen Troutman.

[New Jersey]

The People's Organization For Progress (POP) held a rally for Free College Tuition and an End To Student Debt on Saturday, April 21st, 12:00 noon at the Lincoln Statue in downtown Newark, New Jersey.

Various speakers addressed the rally at the Lincoln statue in front of the Essex County Courthouse at the intersection of West Market St & Springfield Ave.

POP Chairman Lawrence Hamm opened up the event by outlining the purpose of the rally. “We have come here today to say that this country is rich enough to provide a free college education to those students who want it and that all student debt should be cancelled so that our young people are not economically burdened at the beginning of their careers,” Hamm said.

“Furthermore in the immediate future we want more financial aid for students in the form of grants and scholarship not loans. In general, we are opposed to increases in the cost of higher education for students and their families, and we want to see more programs and initiatives for student loan forgiveness and cancellation,” he stated.

Speakers supporting debt cancellation and the increase in grants and scholarships included Robert Russo, a Montclair city councilman and local representative of the American Federation of Teachers; Justin O’Hea, representing Our Revolution an organization that grew out of the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders; Keesha Eure, a leader of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition; and Matt Smith of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Other speakers at the rally included Carol Gay representing the New Jersey Industrial Union Council; POP Vice Chairwoman Ingrid Hill, a retired higher education financial aid administrator; Max Herman, an author and college professor at a New Jersey university; and Jay Arena an advocate for undocumented immigrants.

Additional speakers at the rally were poet Zayid Muhammad an active member of several organizations including the People’s Organization For Progress and the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition; Brian Holman, an educator and local activist; and Alex Garcia a university student.

All of the speakers discussed the impact of the high price of a college education on students. They said many students have been forced to drop out of college because their families can’t afford to pay for it.

Parents have had to mortgage and even sell their homes to pay for their children’s educations. Many of those that are able to complete their college education graduate with anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 in student debt.

Hamm said that this rally was but the first step in a long campaign that may take years. However, he said that POP and its allies were committed to working on it in until its goals are realized. He said that meetings, rallies, marches and other events related to this issue are being planned.

“We are going to take this campaign to students on every college campus in the state. And we are going to solicit the support of student organizations, elected officials, community groups, education activists, the labor movement, and religious institutions,” he said.

Hamm said that although he he expects the struggle for free higher education and an end to student debt to be a protracted struggle he thinks that both are possible in his lifetime. He said that some progress is already being made on the issue.

He pointed out that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has stated that one of the goals of his administration is to make two-year community colleges free for all students. Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York legislature has already taken significant steps toward making education at state colleges and universities free for students in that state.

Hamm said that people who want to work on this issue should attend the next meeting of the People’s Organization For Progress which will be held Thursday, 6:30pm at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, 224 West Kinney Street in Newark, New Jersey. For more information contact POP at 973 801-0001.

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