The Power of Student Activism (or the Story of How I Met President Obama)
At the beginning of June, I was one of 200 interns and students in Washington, D.C. to participate in Student Debt Day, a Capitol Hill lobby day organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Campus Progress. The purpose of this day of action was for students and interns in D.C. to meet with our Senators to urge them to take action so that the interest rate on Stafford student loans would not double on July 1st. We spent the day visiting offices and sharing our stories on the importance of higher education, and on how having debt after graduation would affect our lives, the lives of family members, or other students in our communities.
President Obama has long been an advocate for lowering student debt. He visited Ann Arbor (January, 2012) to speak on making higher education more affordable. After recognizing the level of action students across the country were taking to urge Congress to come to a deal, the White House invited all of the students who had participated in the Student Debt Day to attend a press briefing in the East Room. I was lucky enough to be one of the few chosen to stand behind him while he gave his speech, and had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and shake hands with the President of the United States.
In his speech, President Obama framed the issue of student debt in terms of improving the economy by helping hard-working students afford higher education before entering the workforce in some of the toughest economic times in recent memory. He encouraged college students to continue pushing our elected representatives to do the right thing.
Thanks to the advocacy of hundreds of students, President Obama signed an extension of low interest rates on Stafford loans into law on July 6. When I inevitably recount this amazing experience to my children and grandchildren, I won’t only tell them about how awe-inspiring it was to meet the President of United States. I will also be sure to emphasize that standing up for yourself and your community is not only important but necessary to create policy change. The President’s support was invaluable, and college students would not have had this victory if we hadn’t taken action.
Andrea Alajbegovic was in the Winter 2012 MIW cohort. She did her internship at the National Women's Law Center, and wrote a research paper on the relationship between party compostion in U.S. state legislatures and abortion policy. She will be returning to campus this fall for her senior year to complete a degree in International Studies and Political Science. She plans to work in DC and attend law school after graduation.