bondage

INFOGRAPHIC: The New Indentured Servitude

While President Obama's "Student Aid Bill of Rights" is a prudent and necessary step towards aiding college students, his announcement comes late for the seven million borrowers already indentured to their education debt. In "Forgive Us Our Debts" (Sojourners, April 2015), Virginia Gilbert investigates the cause-and-effect battle of education debt and the way it is hindering a generation of college students. How big is the student debt burden? See below for the poor report card reveal. 

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Forgive Us Our Debts

SARA WAS DESPERATE. She was fleeing an abusive husband, living with her mother in a mold-infested house, and she needed to rent an apartment. A recent college graduate, Sara had a job at a hospital that paid well and provided benefits. Apartment rent was within her means. But the background check came back to the landlord: “Do not rent.”

Sara (not her real name) was $22,000 in arrears on her student loans. The more she tried to pay the debt, the higher the interest rate climbed. Only after she filed for bankruptcy did she learn that none of her student loans were eligible for even the basic bankruptcy protection afforded other debts. At any time, the lender could garnish her wages—even to the point of making it difficult to pay basic living expenses, such as rent and utilities.

Sara is one of the new 21st century debtors, in financial bondage because they borrowed money for education. In 2014, the education debt in the United States totaled $1.2 trillion. More than 7 million borrowers are in default.

Why are education loans so difficult to manage? Credit card debtors often can transfer high-interest debt to another lender for a better deal. Car loan borrowers can walk away from the loan and allow the car to be repossessed. Homeowners can refinance their mortgage or, if all else fails, default and save their money for a rent deposit while the lender goes through the foreclosure process. As a last resort, these types of borrowers can declare bankruptcy and have their debts forgiven or reduced in a manageable payment plan. Bankruptcy courts will not allow debtors to be made homeless just because they can’t pay their creditors.

But if the borrower of an education loan is late with a payment or goes into default, according to Andrew Martin of The New York Times, the lender can levy penalties up to 25 percent of the balance and legally increase the interest rate to several times the original rate.

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Bondage, Freedom, and #TomatoRabbis

Here come the #TomatoRabbis / Photo via T'ruah

Closer to home, one of the messages that many of us often hear is that there is slavery in the supply chains of the products that we buy every day: cotton, chocolate, produce. This can be paralyzing when we go to the mall or the grocery store. None of us want to purchase something that originates in an extreme human rights violation. But the solution cannot be simply to buy a different product. When we talk about labor trafficking, we must keep the focus on the worker who is enslaved rather than the product we consume.

As a rabbi, I know that is not my tomato or banana that is created in the image of God—it is the person who picked that product. Fighting for food justice means ensuring the human rights and wages of workers, and doing so in a way that places the needs, dignity, and expertise of the workers at the head of the table. This last piece is crucial: no one can tell us how best to solve human rights abuses in supply chains, including modern slavery, more than the workers who have the most at stake...

We must raise up the leadership of those most affected by forced labor and support their efforts to create new futures for themselves. Since 2011, T’ruah has taken more than 50 rabbis to Immokalee to learn from the CIW. The stories they hear—and the transformation they see—inspire them to go home and turn their congregations into more than just educated consumers. They become activists: they write letters to corporations urging them to join the Fair Food Program, stage protests, take Hebrew school students to meet with managers, write op-eds, and deliver sermons. Our #TomatoRabbis have become part of the larger movement of Fair Food activists, urging corporations to live up to their professed values and join the new day dawning in the Florida tomato industry that is the only proven slavery-prevention program in the U.S.

A Sermon on My Alcohol Addiction, the Tyranny of the Will, and Romans 7

Crossphoto © 2004 Phil Whitehouse | more info (via: Wylio)Even I can't help admitting that there is a bunch of stuff in the Bible that's hard to relate to. A lot has changed in the last 2,000 to 4,000 years, and I have no form of reference for shepherds and agrarian life, and I don't know what it's like to have a king or a Caesar, and I don't know a single fisherman, much less a centurion, and I guess I can't speak for all of you but personally I've never felt I might need to sacrifice a goat for my sins. That's the thing about our sacred text being so dang old -- it can sometimes be difficult to relate to. Things have changed a bit over the millennia.

But one thing has not changed even a little bit is the human condition. Parts of the Bible can feel hard to relate to until you get to a thing like this reading from Romans 7, in which Paul says, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."

Finally. Something I can relate to. This I know about. I too do not understand my own actions. I too can't manage to consistently do what I know is right. Paul's simple description of the human condition is perhaps a most elegantly put definition of what we now call addiction.

It's no secret that I am a recovering alcoholic. By the grace of God I have been clean and sober for more than 19 years. But, boy, do I remember that feeling of powerlessness that comes from not being able to control your drinking. I'd wake up each morning and have a little talk with myself: "OK Nadia, get it together. Today is going to be different. You just need a little will power." Then, inevitably, later that day I'd say, "Well, just one drink would be OK," or, "I'll only drink wine and not vodka," or, "I'll drink a glass of water between drinks so that I won't get drunk." And sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn't. In the end, my will was just never "strong enough" Like Paul, I did the thing I hated. But that's addiction for you. It's ugly. Yet on some level I feel like we recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have it easy. I mean, our addictions are so obvious. The emotional, spiritual, and physical wreckage caused by alcoholism and drug addiction has a certain conspicuousness to it.

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