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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Zero Debt Massachusetts rallies for Debt Free Future Act

Organizers+rally+for+the+Debt+Free+Future+Act.
Organizers rally for the Debt Free Future Act.

On Monday, April 4, Zero Debt Massachusetts rallied at the State House to call on President Joe Biden to eliminate student debt and to call on state officials to pass the Debt Free Future Act. The Mass Media spoke with some of the rally’s participants via Zoom regarding the demonstration, the legislation and ZDM as an organization.
“ZDM is a progressive, non-profit organization that is focused on spreading information regarding the student debt crisis…while also coming up with solutions and policy changes that can take place to not just talk about the issue, but [to] actually fix it at the state level, or at least alleviate some of the burdens that come with student debt,” said Gabby Toro, a ZDM activist, member of the ZDM advisory board and UMass Boston alum.
Rebecca Wood, a healthcare advocate and mother who spoke at the State House rally, reflected on the joyous nature of the demonstration.
“It was so fun,” said Wood. “I actually go to a lot of rallies—usually they’re healthcare related or something like that—but this had such a good energy. And not only was it people who were there for the rally, but it pulled other people who were around off of the street in to witness and join in.”
Toro reflected on the effect the rally had on Zero Debt Massachusetts accomplishing its goals. The rally occurred on the last day for the Debt Free Future Act to be passed out of committee, otherwise the bill would have died.
“Fortunately, I think that we did make enough noise and that ultimately impacted the decision to pass it [the Debt Free Future Act] favorably out of committee, where now it’s going to the Ways & Means Committee before making it to the House floor, where it would then go to the Senate. So just to see it take another step in that direction, I would call it a success,” said Toro.
When asked to elaborate on the contents of the Debt Free Future Act, Toro said: “What the Debt Free Future Act would be doing is creating a grant program that would substitute where students [are] paying for loans to be able to attend Massachusetts higher public education institutions. And it would not only cover tuition and fees, but it would cover living expenses and then also childcare, which would be a huge step for women.”
The Mass Media also asked the three Zoom call participants why canceling student debt is important.
“When I think about education, it’s so much more than what you do to get a job,” said Beth Kontos, President of the American Federation of Teachers for Massachusetts. “It also is a part of figuring out who you are and where you fit into the world, and it helps you—when done correctly—explore ideas, and it certainly helps you meet new people. And if so much of your time is spent earning enough money to figure out how to go to school that you don’t have enough time to experience what a university offers you, then it’s like a waste; it’s a wasted opportunity.”
“I don’t want other people to have to have gone through what I have, and the struggles I have,” said Wood, who explained that due to her student debt burden, she has difficulty getting credit, and will never be able to own a piece of property. “And I work—I worked full-time and went to community college before I went to four-year school, where I worked two part-time jobs while I went to school. And so, it isn’t from lack of hard work and all that other nonsense talking points opponents often bring into the conversation. It’s so important because it’s what’s just, it’s what’s fair. Otherwise, it’s a tax on people who aren’t wealthy enough to afford an education.”
Toro had a particularly difficult experience with student debt after UMass Boston withheld her transcript for a past due balance with the university. Toro explained that because she had declared a double major in the middle of her college career, she had to take out nearly $4,000 in private loans from the university itself. As soon as she graduated, UMass Boston wanted the loan repaid, and Toro had no way to pay for it. Toro reflected on how this experience affected her desire to be an activist with ZDM.
“I had to fight for this,” said Toro. “I [didn’t] know what I was going to do otherwise. So I started reaching out to local news organizations, [and I] started getting more involved with ZDM, saying ‘all right, if there’s not something already here about this, I want attention on this.’”
Eventually, after hearing Toro’s story on NPR, Chegg paid her overdue balance.
“I guess there’s also a sense of guilt that comes with that, because you’re given this privilege that 97,000 other students in Massachusetts don’t have access to,” said Toro. “And that’s just in Massachusetts; that’s not even looking at the entire country. And I think that that really drives me to stay involved with ZDM, and see how far we can push higher education reform.”
ZDM’s website can be found at https://actionnetwork.org/groups/zdm. The organization’s website provides a variety of ways in which individuals can support the cause of canceling student debt. The website links a petition to President Biden to cancel all student debt, calls on individuals to share their stories with student debt, and urges individuals to send messages supporting ZDM’s legislative priorities to their State Senators and Representatives.