Four months ago, nearly everyone thought the interest rate on Stafford student loans was going to double -- and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Republicans in Washington were beating the drums of austerity, trying to convince Americans that everyone, except the ultra-rich, should be tightening their belts. Common beltway wisdom held that students were going to be sacrificed -- especially since their lobbying sway in Washington D.C. is far from overwhelming.
But Washington wisdom doesn't always account for an outside game. And when everyday Americans stand up and fight for something they believe in, they often win.
The way I see it, there are three reasons why we won on this particular fight:
1. The fight looked lost, but we jumped into the ring anyway with all our force.
The Rebuild The Dream community alone sent nearly 300,000 letters and petitions to Congress, made more than 15,000 phone calls, and sent over 3,000 letters to the editors of local papers across the country. All that pressure attracted the President himself to jump in and campaign hard, and his support was invaluable for this win. Getting President Obama on board was an impressive coalition effort involving U.S. PIRG, USSA, Campus Progress, Young Invincibles, Credo Action, and Rebuild the Dream.
2. Grassroots pressure still works, and we proved it.
In the age of Citizens United, many progressives have lost hope in the power of individuals to affect change. We still have reason to hope: we might not be able to win in a battle of dollars, but we have the boots on the ground to stir things up. At the end of the day, every politician needs votes as well as money, and we used online and on-the-ground tactics to convince members of Congress and the President to join in the cause.
3. Young people matter, and they can do huge things if we let them.
Young people captured the media's attention on this fight. They stormed Sallie Mae's corporate headquarters and held a massive "debt for diplomas" fake graduation ceremony where new grads were given massive amounts of debt. Young people have the power to change the conversation, and here they did. Millennials will make up 1/3 of the eligible voters in 2016, so politicians should start paying more attention.
All of our organizations were firing on all cylinders, and it worked. We proved in this fight that millions of Americans are willing to stand up and fight for the American Dream. With that dream under attack by billionaires and bankers, it is more important than ever that we come together to organize on behalf of everyone's dreams. When we fight, we win, and this time-- we won.