An interview with:

Dawn Thompson

"I think that people have to stick together and continue to fight together, lest we be shuffled under the rug and forgotten about. "

Dan Hong

Dawn joined with other people to declare a debt strike in 2015. She traveled to Washington to rally support for the cause and to convince politicians, including representatives from her home state of Illinois, to meet the group's demands. 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. : One thing I’ve learned is that it takes a lot of people getting together, protesting and fighting for what we believe in and what’s right, and I think that people have to stick together and continue to fight together, lest we be shuffled under the rug and forgotten about. To get what you want accomplished, you need to stick with it and let these politicians and higher-ups know that you’re not gone, you’re still there and you’re never going to go away.
Sometimes I feel like these politicians and higher-ups don’t really care. It took us three years! I was part of the original Corinthian 15 group that went to Washington DC. with the original Defense to Repayment disputes. We met with the Department of Education, and I sometimes think that they just don’t care. We’re just little people out in this big-man world and like, who cares? Sometimes I feel that way, and it took us three years and I still don’t have my discharge! I got a “notification” that it was discharged but it still hasn’t been taken off from my credit report, and I still haven’t gotten an official letter yet.

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.? : Well, at first they first thought that it was kind of stupid because they didn’t think that we’d ever get anything accomplished. But now that they’ve seen what was done, they’re proud of what I’ve done and what I hope to do. Referring to my kids… one of the things that these colleges did was preying on your soft spot. “Oh, your kids are going to be so proud of you when you get your bachelors’ degree and you’re working in the field!” I can tell you that my kids are afraid to go to college. My daughter and my son are finishing up high school, but my son did most of his college through scholarships and grant money, so he has very little student loans. But they are afraid to go to college because of what I went through.

Please tell me about what being an leader and activist has meant to you? : Spreading awareness, letting other people know about the wrongdoings of certain colleges and basically spreading awareness, letting people know what’s going on. When I found out that I was a also victim in what these colleges were doing to students -- I’m in Springfield, Illinois, and that’s the campus that I went to -- when I heard about it, I immediately emailed our local news station in my town, and they contacted me within in the hour and wanted to interview me about what I have done, the things that I have done to make people aware of these for-profit schools. It makes me proud that I’ve helped other people.

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 think about this a lot. I’ll tell you that I have a lot of medical debt, and my kids have medical debt, and I think it’s not fair. The insurance company, they pay what they want to pay, and the doctors… I think they bill you incorrectly to make you have to pay more than you have to. My daughter has been turned over to a debt collection agency now over her medical debt. Credit card debt… it’s just horrible. I got credit card debt, and it’s just terrible. Yeah… it’s horrible to be in debt. Just the thought of debt itself is horrible.

Tell me what makes you feel strong? What inspires you? : Just knowing that I’ve helped somebody. Like in my job right now, when I help people out and there’s something that I don’t know and I figured it out on my own… Just mainly helping out other people, that’s what makes me feel strong.

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? : Just to have other things to fight for other than student loan debt! I think that there’s a lot of other debt that we just talked about before: there’s medical debt, there’s credit card debt… Like the credit card companies having these high interest rates, where people will never get out of it! Also, having other people who share the same interests as you, that makes me want to keep going. Having gatherings, because I haven’t seen Laura or Ann or anyone else from the Debt Collective in a long time, and I sometimes think that we need to get back together and meet up, talk and figure out what else we can do.

Who is the Debt Collective?

Debt Collective member - Detroit

Latest Member Interviews

  • Nathan Hornes
    "I'm more willing to challenge the system instead of just going along with what I'm told to do."
  • Makenzie Vasquez
    "It’s been crazy to watch everyone be struggling, especially for these things that, you know, we have a right to!"

Special Reports

Debt Collective Members Join Members of Congress in Washington to Endorse the College for All Act

This is an historic week for organizers and others who have been fighting for years for debt relief and free public college. Since 2014 members of the Debt Collective have been pushing for relief. Now their demands have gone from the margins to the mainstream.

One American Family

Strike Debt talked to this family several years ago. Their story is one of millions of reasons we keep organizing.

Debt Collective joins statewide campaign to eliminate fines, fees and bail in California

The launch event was held at Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood, CA

Featured Artwork

Artwork by: Phil Ashworth