If Sanders is going to win, and provide students with the most reasonable route to meaningful reform, then students are going to need to show up.
In an election season where media coverage for Bernie Sanders is rare, there are a few common accolades every outlet has no choice but to concede. The biggest compliment many have for the Bernie Sanders campaign is his appeal with young voters. It might seem strange that the 73 year old Senator from Vermont is making such a splash, but when you take a deeper look at his policies it becomes abundantly clear why young people, and so many others, have flocked to the Democratic hopeful. Still, if his supporters intend to turn this support into an election or meaningful reform they must be willing to work hard in the primary election, general election, and political life well into his presidential tenure. For Bernie Sanders to win young people are going to need to show up to vote in historic numbers, but unfortunately nothing like that has happened for decades. That said there is definitely a historical precedent for an American youth movement to shape American politics and it seems as though times are getting dire enough to warrant mass political participation.
As it stands now there is an education crisis in the United States. Millions of hard working students around the country are forced to squander their potential because of the increasing cost of higher education. According to the college board survey of colleges in 1983 the average cost of tuition was $2,810 which has since risen to $9,139, where it sits today.An almost 400% increase, when accounting for inflation it’s still over a 200% increase. On top of that the cost of living, gas, food, books and nearly everything else has risen considerably. Unfortunately wages have not kept up, especially in the industries where most college students work, entry level, food service, and retail. All of which are for the most part minimum wages jobs. For decades American students have been pushed to pursue a college education at any cost and until recently that was feasible for everyone able to get in. The result of easily obtainable college education was generation after generation of college educated Americans, but was once a guarantee is becoming harder and harder to obtain.
For many the rising costs make it a financial impossibility and many who do choose to attend walk away with an average of over $30,000 in student loan debt. Considering that is half a small house in some areas, it is no wonder many are choosing to forgo college entirely. Even with college costs soaring, the value of a college degree cannot be denied. Workers with a degree almost always tend to make more throughout their lifetime and the job market itself is increasingly unforgiving to those without a degree. Perhaps even more important than job opportunities is the tools a college education provides citizens. Without extended education making informed decisions and analyzing the world becomes a lot more difficult. Which is why increasing the availability of a college education must be a priority in 2016 and no candidate has fought as hard for affordable higher education than Bernie Sanders.
Recently Sanders introduced legislation to publicly fund universal higher education in the United States. His plan would only cost $70 billion dollars and while that is over double current pell grant expenditures, universal education is too important to not foot the bill. Almost no investment provides as much utility as universal higher education. Bernie Sanders himself has said time and time again that, “in a global economy, when our young people are competing with workers from around the world, we have got to have the best educated workforce possible.” People from all around the world flock to the American university system, but that success is far less meaningful when millions of would be American students are held back for financial reasons which are almost always entirely out of their control.
Every student in the country should support Bernie Sanders and his proposal to fully fund universal higher education. Not only would it only cost a quarter of what we spend on defense each year and roughly the same as we spend on incarceration, the social benefit would be enormous. As it stands now students everywhere are being punished with high interest rates and ever increasing tuition costs. Another issue which Bernie Sanders legislation would address. There is over $1.2 trillion dollars in student loan assets in the United States and while simply absolving people of their debts may have disastrous economic outcomes the situation should have never gotten so dire in the first place. That money should have been flowing through our economy all along. As it stands now that is not the case and millions of students are stuck with large payments that make starting a good life nearly impossible. Admittedly a decent portion of that money goes back to the government, but still our government should be investing in our country’s citizens, not profiting off one of society’s most beneficial institutions. Thankfully Sanders’’ plan would end the current practice of profiteering off students.
If Sanders plan was adopted it would allow students the opportunity to refinance their student loans to 1% or 2% interest down from the current 4%, 5%, or even 9% some students must contend with. The amount of money tied up in student loan debt is simply outrageous and would have been better spent in local economies throughout the country. Providing students the ability to refinance their loans would be a good first step to solving the student debt crisis, but only universal higher education can prevent another. Universal education isn’t some pipe dream, it’s a realistic solution to a disastrous systemic problem facing the United States and Bernie Sanders funds it responsibly. His proposed tax on Wall Street speculation would bring in an estimated $300 billion a year. Which would cover the $80 billion per year congress estimated universal higher education would cost and a lot more. At a time when Wall Street executives and various corporations are experiencing record profits, it is unacceptable that we are squeezing students for every penny. It’s an incredibly pressing issue, but young people will have to make history if the government is going to make any meaningful reform.
So far Bernie Sanders has done well tapping into the restlessness a poor outlook on the future has created amongst young voters. However turning it into a historically significant movement will take a lot of work. Bernie Sanders entire career has been based on tapping into the majority of Americans that is usually anything but politically active. Bernie’s first statewide election ended in bitter defeat, as did the second, but he continued spreading his message to people who generally try their best to avoid anything political. During his first bid for office in Burlington Vermont Bernie Sanders went door to door alerting people to the fact that a third party candidate was in the election. About a decade later Sanders found himself running for House of Representatives, once again as an outsider, once again forced to the streets for name recognition, once again the election ended in an almost upset. Sanders once again returned to the drawing board and waited until one of his Republican opponents in the first Except this time the long shot 3rd party candidate running as a socialist during the height of the Cold War prevailed. Bernie Sanders has spent his entire career as a long shot, yet he is continually able to tap into apathetic voters, the one resource establishment politicians spend billions year after year with no results. While young people are apathetic for a lot of reasons, a big one is the seeming ineffectual nature of political participation, but right now the stakes are simply too high to take a back seat.
Pretty much everybody universally agrees that college costs are too high, yet many students fail to voice that opinion in the ballot box. In 2008 only 48.5 percent of people 18-24 voted, and that was an election which saw the third highest youth voter turnout in history. In 2012 that number dropped to 41.2% and in 2014 it sank to the lowest turnout in history at 34% as a whole. Youth voters are always highly underrepresented and that needs to change. In 1972, just a year after 18 year olds were granted the right to vote, only 55% of youth voters hit the polls. If Bernie Sanders is going to win in 2016 he will need students to vote in at least 2008 levels, but for the government to actually respond to students needs that percentage will need to reach historic levels. The same levels as 1972 may be enough, but if young people hit the polls in historic numbers the political agenda of this country will have to shift quickly to accommodate them. As it stands now students are such an underrepresented group of voters that their political needs will continue to be ignored until that changes. It needs to change quickly because the student loan system in the United States is fatally flawed and desperately needs reformed.
It’s not just young people who are under represented, the average American doesn’t seem to have a meaningful impact on policy through political participation either. Students have a massive political incentive to become politically engaged, but the average American has a lot to gain as well. Campaign finance reform, meaningful tax reform, federal infrastructure building jobs programs, and a minimum wage hike are all beneficial to every American outside of the political and economic elite. When Bernie Sanders says he is determined to foster a political revolution he is being incredibly realistic. He knows what it will take to get him in the White House, but he’s banking on the people who need a responsive government to become engaged and fight tooth and nail for much needed reform.
As a normal part of his campaign speech Bernie Sanders regularly laments the incredibly low voter turnout among various groups in the United States. In his words, “63% of the American people did not vote, 80% of young people did not vote, 75% of low income working people did not vote.”’ Those are the people that need to vote for Bernie Sanders and a government which works with their best interest in mind. Luckily those are the people who Bernie Sanders has continually worked hard to draw to the polls and the people he has worked tirelessly defending.Nobody needs a responsive government more than working people and students suffocating with student loan debt. Voting for Bernie Sanders isn’t about voting for a man who can solve all these problems on his own, it’s about appreciating that getting a candidate depending solely on the people in office is, as it stands now, incredibly difficult. Bernie Sanders appreciates that fact which is why he calls for a “political revolution”, because for Bernie Sanders to win he will need his supporters to show up in revolutionary numbers. Young people especially and now more than ever young people need to engage and demand the system respond to their needs.
If young people expect these problems to go away, for the system to respond to their needs, they need to participate in the system. Enough young people abstain from voting every year to win every election in recent history. This trend needs to end, young people need to actively discuss these issues with their friends and encourage political participation. It needs to become taboo not to vote, because there is simply too much at stake for all of us to just let people stand on the side lines. if Bernie Sanders is going to win in 2016 and provide students with the most reasonable route to meaningful reform, then students are going to need to show up for Bernie Sanders. Young people have changed American political history before and it desperately needs to happen again. We need a political revolution and students everywhere need to get their friends involved and in the booth voting. As it stands now the youth vote is one of the most underutilized resources in American politics and could be a meaningful driver of social change. Getting to the polls and helping Bernie Sanders utilize the untapped gold mine of voters is the only way to win, it’s how Bernie Sanders has won in the past and hopefully it’s how he will win in 2016.
Justin Ackerman is the convenor of grassroots group Students for Bernie Sanders.