by Ashwin Prabu
This summer, I joined ten other student organizers representing four Bay Area schools — SF State, USF, Stanford, and UC Berkeley — in San Francisco Rising’s Summer Fellowship program. Together, we built up our organizing skills, learned about the issue of student debt, canvassed in the Bayview, and created emancipatory knowledge together.
This fellowship was truly a transformational experience. I joined a powerful activist community that was warm and accepting of me. In the political education sessions, I learned about the racial oppression embedded within our current capitalist system and the necessity for structural change. I learned about the dark colonial history of this country, from its role in dispossessing indigenous land to its interference in other countries. While it was gut-wrenching and emotionally taxing to learn all of this, I am grateful that I now know the truth about many of the current issues in our country and feel ready to do something about it.
Another incredible experience for me was canvassing in the Bayview neighborhood in San Francisco, an area that has been disproportionately impacted by student debt. I had many great and candid conversations with folks in the Bayview and learned so much from them about the negative impacts of debt and the inaccessibility of higher education.
The fellowship was also a safe space for me to truly discover myself and reclaim my identity as a second-generation Indian immigrant. For most of my life, I have been in predominantly white spaces and felt like an alien. But during the summer, being among other students of color, I was able to experience the power and beauty in BIPOC solidarity. I made amazing friendships that I hope to maintain for years to come.
My favorite part of the fellowship was co-leading the final project: a student liberation manifesto! We created 10 projects showcasing the impact of student debt and the necessity for change through written, digital, and performance media platforms. Our manifesto is grounded in our canvassing efforts – where we knocked on 1600 doors and surveyed 115 people in the Bayview – as well as our personal experiences and stories! I wrote a letter to my future self encouraging myself to continue pursuing public service as a career, even when the costs associated with education, the loan system, and the underpayment of public service jobs make it difficult to do so. We ended our manifesto with a list of demands for an ideal and equitable education system.
I have always viewed political and social issues through the lens of feasibility and moderation; the idea that we should take what we can get and not ask for too much. This fellowship challenged me to radically imagine a better world and gave me the belief that we can get to that better world if we organize our communities. As the issue of student debt begins to fade away from the popular discourse due to the recent announcement of President Biden’s Student Loan Relief Program, I believe that it is ultra important that we continue to organize and pressure the Biden administration to cancel ALL student debt. While I am pleased with the progress of cancelling $10-20k in loans per borrower, I demand more. We deserve more.