From Texas, Brittany joined with other members of the Debt Collective to declare a debt strike on her federal student loans. She also traveled to Washington D.C. to demand action from politicians. Her interview is below:
Looking back, can you talk a little bit about what you have learned as an organizer over the last few years? You could talk about what you've learned about yourself, how you have grown or struggled personally or what you learned about our political system while campaigning. : Well, what I’ve learned through my experience with all of this is that I’m stronger than what I thought I was when this all first started. There were many times where I felt like this was going nowhere, that we weren’t going to see any of the relief that we deserved from the school that has scammed us. But, learning that numbers talk and actions can make things happen is one of the things that helped push me forward with continuing the fight. Because I was pushed and continued this fight, I’ve now received my own relief -- my own loans have been discharged. I was part of the first group of people to file Defense to Repayment disputes that went to Washington DC. In 2015, and did not receive a letter announcing my debt discharge in March 2018! My loans were FFELP [Federal Family Education Loan Program], so it took a bit of time to process. But they’re done. Those loans were basically indirect loans, and when I started school we didn’t have an option to choose direct loans or FFELP, it was just what we were given and what we had to deal with. They were forgiven, so through this experience I’ve learned that organizing and getting yourself together is the important thing if you want to see action taken. The incredible people that we met and talked to along the way....it was a struggle, a real struggle at first, but everybody that I’ve spoken and met throughout the process has helped to empower me and helped to push me through the bleak times. Just continuing the fight not only for the student loans but any and all debt is the ultimate goal in all of this. And continuing to learn how to organize and fight the different debts that we all have is an ongoing experience for me.
What does your family think about the organizing work you have done to help win over $600 million in relief for people across the US.? : Half of them were behind me and were excited about it, but the other half were pessimistic about it -- they didn’t think that the end goal was going to be achieved. They felt that fighting for what was right -- for debt relief -- wasn’t going to happen because we’d be fighting the government, or an entity of it. But being able to show them: “Hey, look at the work that we’ve done that has paid off! The trouble that we’ve done did exactly what we were aiming for! Maybe not 100%, but it’s getting there!” They’ve come around and changed their views now. They believe in what I’m doing and back me up. At first, not everybody in my family did but now after being able to show them what really happened, they’re all on-board.
I’m the first person in my family to go to Corinthian College (unfortunately for me). But while other members of my family went to college, they didn’t incur any kind of major student debt compared to me.
Please tell me about what being an leader and activist has meant to you? : Just being able to share my experiences and stories with others that have been in similar situations where they felt bleak at times. It's easy to feel like the fight isn’t going anywhere, or to say "We’re not going to see any changes.” And now just being able to let people know: “Hey, it can and it will happen, it’s just going to take all of us coming together to do it!” Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t walk down the street by himself to make changes, he had an army! That’s what we have to have.
Have you thought about how other debts that you (your family or friends) struggle with are linked? Housing, medical, education debt, payday loans etc.? : I know of a lot of people who struggle with medical debt, and that’s one of the major things that I think needs to be addressed! The cost of whether it be prescriptions, procedures, or even just going to visit the doctor for whatever ailment or need you have is too high. If you don’t have insurance to cover you, the cost is just horrible. And when you have people who can’t afford to pay this stuff and they go to the ER, where they can’t turn you down but they bill them and then they can’t pay and the debt goes on their credit score. It’s there forever and puts people in a worse situation. The way that medical debt and other kinds of debt are connected is that it all affects you financially and your credit score. Credit scores are a big factor in what you can or can’t purchase, and a lot of people look at it as if that’s you - as if you are that number. If individuals can’t afford to pay these medical expenses or go to a good college and they have all this debt that continues to grow, they’re not going anywhere financially.
Tell me what makes you feel strong? What inspires you? : Having and seeing other people get relief, and seeing everybody working together helps me to keep going and keep myself motivated and inspired to want to do more. Like I said earlier, Mr. King was only one person and he didn’t walk that street by himself, he had an army. And keeping that fact in the back of my head helps me to keep myself motivated and continue on. Building our numbers, building our army to take our demand to Congress and all these other government entities. Trying to speak with these individuals to make changes is what really keeps me going and motivated to achieve our goals. All it takes is one pebble going down the hill to start an avalanche.
What are qualities of others that move you or motivate you to continue to work like this? What will it take for you to keep going when it gets tougher and over the years as we expand? : Stuff like this interview. Phone calls, constant outreach with students… Ann and Laura have done so much and done what they could to keep us involved with calls, meetings and sending us to different places so we can continue this effort. The constant little reminders and follow-up on Facebook, on our phones and in our messages. In a group text, for example, saying: “Hey, how are you? How’s it going? How’re we doing? Let’s keep moving.” Those reminders will keep you involved and motivated. Hearing different success stories.
To end: I can’t be more grateful and thankful that I received a letter from [debt relief program] Rolling Jubilee on that one fateful day that put me where I’m now, as a member of the Debt Collective. For if it wasn’t for that initial letter [announcing that my student debt had been cancelled by Rolling Jubilee], I’d probably still be at home thinking: “Woe is me! What do I do? What do I do?”, instead of actually getting out there and doing it!