This past Wednesday, about 20 University of Maine students could be seen marching around the University Mall, touting large posters, and angrily shouting “This debt is bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S.” Their homemade signs read “I’m a student in debt, where’s my bailout?” and “imagine your future without debt.” Winding speeches were riddled with facts and figures, including skyrocketing interest rates and individual accruement of student debt.
This was the first Million Student March to take place on the UMaine campus.
According to their website, the Million Student March movement is a “Political Revolution in the streets,” citing four demands: tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers and divestment from private prisons by all colleges and universities.
Marches are held nationwide, and April 13, the day of the March on the UMaine campus, happened to be the second National Day of Action.
Carissa Tinker, a graduate student and lead organizer of Maine Student Action, planned the event.
“What we’re doing is mobilizing students across the entire state to work together on progressive campaigns for social change in Maine,” Tinker said.
According to Tinker, this was the first ever Million Student March held in Maine.
“We are told our entire lives that if you want to be successful you have to get an education . . . basically we’re told that if we don’t go to college, we’re worth poverty level wages,” Tinker said. “That’s just not right. And we’re told [all of] that with the assumption that college is accessible to everyone, and it’s not.”
Leah Turlo, second-year political science student and co-lead organizer, believes the March is important for another reason.
“I think it [the Million Student March] gives students a voice. We’re not typically allowed to speak out against things,” Turlo said.
First-year marketing student and co-lead organizer Alexis Higginbotham agrees.
“We have a narrative that [says] we have to go to college and it [says] that we have to take what we get . . . there’s no push or pull, and I think that’s really invalidating,” Higginbotham said. “There are thousands of students on this campus . . . and so many are just scraping by to go here. I think that education is a right and you shouldn’t have to be living day to day with a zero balance in your checkbook.”
According to the Million Student March website, Americans share a total of $1.2 trillion in student debt, and 58 percent of that bottom line is held by the poorest 25 percent of Americans.
According Higginbotham, the accruement of national student debt shows no signs of slowing down.
“It actually goes up $2,000 each second. And it’s shocking,” Higginbotham said. “There’s no stopping it unless we stop it.”
Dair Cruz, a first-year international relations student believes in the importance of the March.
“They’re protesting the monetary value of education and how it’s over-emphasized and how education . . . should be more of a right, because nowadays it’s a requirement for many jobs.”
Additionally, Cruz believes that the cost of education is particularly threatening to graduates from Maine.
“A lot of students that are attending the university are coming from . . . lower socioeconomic places. It’s hard to compete, not only amongst Mainers, but also [people from] other states for jobs and job opportunity,” Cruz said. “If you’re not able to afford this, how are you able to compete in the long of your life, to be something greater?”
For more information on the Million Student March, visit their website at http://studentmarch.org/, or track the hashtags #MillionStudentMarch and #MillionStudentMarchME.