Pride is a Battleground

by Izzy Milch

Pride did not start as a fight for marriage equality, for corporately-made rainbow gear, or for LGBTQ+ representation in Disney movies, and it certainly cannot end with the acquisition of those things. Pride started as a riot against police brutality carried out on transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color. It started as a refusal to be policed out of existence. Pride started as a fight for the right of LGBTQ+ people to live, in public, without apology. That is a fight that is not yet won, and we cannot win it alone. 

Recent research has shown that around 5% of young people in the United States identify as transgender or nonbinary. The numbers for the general population are even smaller, at approximately 1.6%. This tiny minority of Americans is being directly targeted by people, groups, and institutions with massive amounts of power and money. In 2022 alone, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in legislatures across the country. In Montana, where I live and work, it is now illegal for trans youth to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity, and a law barring trans people from access to accurate identification is caught up in a hotly contested court battle. An elected official in our state recently said, very publicly, that violence is an appropriate consequence for being openly queer. 

Through all of this, we keep fighting, we keep living and working and creating and dreaming, as we have always done and will always do. We find moments of joy, connection, and celebration. We throw glitter in the face of persecution. And we need your help. 

When I said that the fight for equality can’t end at corporate rainbows, I meant it, but there’s more to it than that. When young queer and trans people in a place like Montana see a t-shirt celebrating their identity in a small-town Wal Mart, that’s not nothing. Being seen is a lifeline. 

The same is true in organizing. When LGBTQ+ people are constantly barraged with messages that we don’t belong (in this state, this country, this sport, this bathroom), we need a chorus behind us saying yes, you do. We need to hear it from the local nonprofits, the schools, the politicians, our employers, our colleagues, our friends. We need your help to make it so obvious that trans people belong that it seems absurd that it was ever a question, because it is! If ever there was a time to be full-throated in your unconditional support for trans youth, it’s now. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know all the right things to say; if you show up for us, we’ll gladly teach you. Queer organizers have taught me what it means to work for a better world, and they’ll teach you, too. 

So, consider this a call to action. How are you committing to showing up, in ways big and small, for the queer and trans people in your workplace, your state, our country, once June is over?


Izzy Milch is the LGBTQ2S+ Advocacy Organizer at Forward Montana. They’re a Montana-born queer who believes deeply in the revolutionary potential of joy. When they’re not organizing for a safer, queerer Montana, they like to spend their time tending to their small zoo of pets, roller skating to Dua Lipa, and making gay little collages out of vintage Playboy magazines.

Let’s Fight Back: 3 Ways to Continue Supporting Abortion Access

Today, the Supreme Court eliminated the federal constitutional protection of abortion rights set by Roe v. Wade and gave the authority to decide abortion rights to individual states. This decision threatens the lives of millions who will seek an abortion, especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and people working to make ends meet. Let’s fight back.

Here are three ways you can protect abortion after the SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

1. Call your Senator

When the decision was leaked in May, the Alliance Network demanded elected leaders take action to protect abortion access. And it is the filibuster that stands in the way of progress. Senate Republicans have already used this “Jim Crow relic’ to block critical voting rights legislation. Call your senator today and tell your legislators to end the filibuster in order to codify our rights to an abortion.

2. Support Abortion Funds and Reproductive Justice Orgs

It will take all hands on deck to protect the lives of pregnant people seeking an abortion and there are many organizations that have been working on abortion access and justice for years. Learn from and donate to these orgs:

  • abortionfunds.org – The National Network of Abortion Funds builds power with members to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access
  • liberateabortion.org – The Liberate Abortion Campaign is an effort comprised of more than 150 reproductive justice and rights groups working in coalition to fight for abortion that is available, affordable, accessible, and stigma-free for anyone who needs it.
  • reproductiverights.org – The Center for Reproductive Rights is a global human rights organization of lawyers and advocates who ensure reproductive rights are protected in law as fundamental human rights
  • prochoiceamerica.org – The 2.5 million members of NARAL Pro-Choice America fight for reproductive freedom for every body.
  • sistersong.net/reproductive-justice – SisterSong is a Southern based, national membership organization to build an effective network to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities.
  • Black Feminists Fighting Abortion Bans and Advancing Reproductive Justice – Support Black feminist leaders as they continue to fight for abortion access and reproductive justice for us all!

3.

 Support Alliance Network Orgs

Youth organizers from orgs like New Era Colorado, Loud Light, Mississippi Votes and more are fighting to protect abortion access. Support these organizations in the network, so we can continue to protect our right to life-saving healthcare.

ICYMI: How the Threat to Abortion Rights Could Mobilize Young Voters

Last month, Alliance Network leaders from Mississippi Votes, New Era Colorado, and Loud Light spoke with NPR host Juana Summers about how young people will take action in a world without the protections of Roe and why we need our elected officials to take action now.

How Abortion Access Affects Mental Health

Revisit our post from Mental Health Week last month where we covered why access to an abortion is essential to creating safe and healthy communities. 

Research and stories from our community tell us that limiting abortion access will severely affect our mental health. When people do not have resources or the option to make decisions about their bodies, they experience fear, stress, anxiety, depression, and much more.

Abortion is healthcare. And having access to abortion is critical to the mental health of our communities. We deserve the right to make choices about our bodies

Together, we can pressure our elected officials to side with the majority of Americans who believe that abortion access is a human right. Call your senator, support youth organizers, and donate to abortion funds. It’s time to fight back. 

How Alliance Organizers are Honoring Juneteenth Today and Always

While we celebrate the Fourth of July as the day the United States won independence from England, Black people in this country would not gain freedom for another 89 years. It wasn’t until June 19th, 1865 – two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation – that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War was over and all enslaved people were now free. And now, Juneteenth is recognized as a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, but this isn’t enough.

We must continue to fight for Black people in the United States to be seen in their full humanity and treated as such. This week, the Alliance is celebrating Juneteenth by highlighting the youth organizers who are fighting for Black liberation in their communities. 

Black Liberation in the Alliance Network

We want to celebrate the youth organizers who fight for equal justice and liberation that has yet to be delivered to Black people across the country. Black and Brown liberation organizing takes shape in different forms throughout the network; here’s a look into what the Alliance youth organizers are doing to continue this work in their communities.

Restoration of Voting Rights

Chicago Votes has been leading some of the most revolutionary voting rights through their Unlock Civics program. In 2019, they wrote and passed landmark legislation – the Voting in Jails bill – that expanded voting access for incarcerated citizens who are eligible to vote. This made Cook County Jail the first jail in the country to become an official polling location allowing for 1,500 people in pretrial detention to vote. 

Now, they are organizing to pass new legislation that would restore voting rights to people in prison.

Next Up is organizing to pass legislation to restore voting rights to Oregonians in prison. This bill would not only restore voting rights, it would also address the disproportionate silencing of the voices of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx citizens due to their higher rates of imprisonment.

Washington Bus organized to help pass legislation that would immediately restore the right to vote for 26,000 Washingtonians who are convicted of a felony and released from jail, removing complicated and expensive barriers for returning citizens.

Mississippi Votes worked to defend against over 70 voter suppression bills and also supported 52 voter suffrage applications through the state legislature in the 2021 Mississippi legislative session. Today, MS Votes continues to lead voting rights restoration efforts.

Getting Cops out of Schools

Since their founding in 2018, Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) has been at the forefront of the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in their community. In 2020, after years of organizing, public pressure, and over 1,000 testimonies, the Milwaukee Public School Board unanimously passed a resolution to end all contracts between the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Public Schools! They’ve also blocked TSA-style metal detectors from schools and decreased police presence in and around Milwaukee and La Crosse area-schools.

Now, LIT is calling for Wisconsin universities to divest from policing on campuses and reinvest those funds to support BIPOC communities and students in their Dare to Divest campaign.

The Virginia Student Power Network is demanding the immediate dissolution and abolition of the Virginia Commonwealth University police department. They are also calling on the university system to re-allocate those funds to directly support Black and Brown students on campus and increasing support for University Counseling Services. In May of 2021, they took direct action across the state and dropped banners on campuses calling for cops off campus.

Divesting from Police and Holding Police Accountable

Ohio Student Association (OSA) worked in coalition to canvass, host educational events, and collect signatures to pass the Citizens for a Safer Cleveland ballot initiative and won this last November. This initiative would ensure independent civilian oversight of investigations into police misconduct and give final authority on discipline decisions to a board of community leaders.

New Hampshire Youth Movement is supporting the efforts of local Black Lives Matter chapters to defund the police and reinvest that money in local communities across the state. In 2020, they hosted trainings for young people to learn how they can support this work in Manchester, Keene, and Dover by focusing on city council budgets and ballot initiatives. New Hampshire Youth Movement also hosted letter writing workshops for young people to write to their local leaders about reinvesting resources away from police departments and into community services and health initiatives. 

This year, they launched “D.A.R.E” – the Don’t Alter Real Education program – to combat critical race theory and other banned topics in New Hampshire schools. 

Poder in Action has been holding the police in Arizona accountable for their violence against community members. In 2019, they conducted a report asking community members about their experiences with the police and found experiences of profiling, mistreatment, and distrust. Poder in Action is currently fighting to block additional city funds from being allocated to the police.

Affordable Housing for Black Families

Minnesota Youth Collective is part of the Minneapolis United for Rent Control coalition building a movement for strong rent control, mobilizing to council meetings, and community events. After the rent control ballot measure passed last November, the coalition is fighting for policies that reflect the needs of the majority-renter population in the city. With inflation at 8%, working-class people face a real choice between paying sky-rocketing rents with wages that aren’t keeping up with inflation, moving out of their communities, or losing their homes. Forty-five percent of renters in the metro area have become cost burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. As a result of systemic racism, the homeownership gap between white people in Minnesota and people of color is the fourth-highest in the nation.

Abortion Access is Black Liberation

Mississippi Votes knows that abortion care is essential to Black liberation. The burdens imposed by Mississippi’s law making most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy falls hardest on people who already face structural barriers to health care, especially Black, Indigenous and other people of color, and those having difficulty making ends meet.The only abortion provider in Mississippi is at the center of the case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. MSVotes is part of the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition assuring that Mississippians know that they still have access to abortion and contraception.

Spotlighting Black Leaders in the Network

Strong Black leadership is another way we celebrate Black Liberation. Get to know some of the Black leaders throughout the Alliance Network, and the work their orgs are doing this year!

Youth organizers in the Alliance Network know that the fight for Black liberation will transform our communities and create a better future for us all. We’re grateful for their leadership always – but especially today.

Stay Posted on the Primaries! Check back to stay up-to-date on what Alliance Network orgs are doing for their state's primary elections

Stay Posted on the Primaries

The Alliance Network works year-round to protect our democracy and expand voting access for young people, and that includes fighting hard for primary elections! After a not-so-off-year, election prep is in full swing again for states with early primaries. Here’s a glimpse of some of the organizing happening in the Alliance Network in the weeks ahead.

May 2022 Primaries

North Carolina Asian Americans Together

Leading up to their May 17 primary, NCAAT worked in multiple Congressional Districts, Senate Districts and House Districts throughout the state to help turnout Asian American voters in the primaries for progressive candidates who prioritized safe and inclusive communities, educated citizens, and fair representation. They sent 137,000 mailers, attempted 30,000 calls, knocked on 500 doors, greeted voters at the polls with slate cards, and promoted social media ads, which helped to raise the Asian American early vote turnout to its highest level since 2014 for a midterm primary election!

The NCAAT team gave us a look into their primary work on the Alliance Instagram! Check out our primaries story highlight to see their feature.

MOVE Texas

MOVE Texas worked in House District 28 to help turn out voters in the Democratic runoff between Jessica Cisneros and Henry Cuellar (the last anti-choice House Democrat). Through phonebanking, texts, and a weekend of door knocking, MOVE turned out as many people as possible for Jessica Cisneros in a tight race with a 177 vote difference that is still too close to call. 

Forward Montana

Last year, Forward Montana filed a lawsuit to challenge voter suppression laws passed by the state legislature that made it more difficult for Montanans to cast their ballot. In early April, a judge granted their request for a preliminary injunction on their voting rights case! This means that until a final ruling is made, Senate Bill 169, House Bill 506, and House Bill 176 are no longer in effect. Forward Montana also held five candidate forums ahead of their June primaries.

Early Spring Primaries

Leaders Igniting Transformation

LIT is getting Wisconsin vote ready! Their local primaries included a big mayoral race in Milwaukee and school board seats up for grabs in La Crosse, where LIT secured mental health resources and family assistance programs last month. Wisconsin’s first statewide election is April 5th.

MOVE Texas

The youth organizers at MOVE Texas are getting out the vote for early voting! They know that the future of their state –from civil rights, to healthcare, to climate change– lies in the hands of those who win these seats during primary elections:

  • Governor
  • Lieutenant Governor
  • Attorney General
  • 38 House seats
  • 3 seats on the Texas Supreme Court
  • Dozens of local or state legislative races

Legislative Updates

Chicago Votes x Next Up Oregon

Forward Montana

Forward Montana filed a lawsuit challenging their state on a bill that would have caused chaos by removing judges from pending court cases and decreasing accessibility of political activity for college students, and won!

Stay #VoteReady

✅ Make sure you’re prepared for your state’s first election this year by visiting our #VoteReady hub! 

✅ Stay up to date on voting rights legislation and take action – How to Protect Our Freedom to Vote 

✅ Check back to stay posted on local organizing in the Alliance Network

2022 Mental Health Week

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! Every issue has an impact on our mental wellness, so this week we are sharing messages from across the Alliance Network on how some of our key issues impact the mental health of young people. Check back throughout the week to see updates on topics ranging from abortion access to voter rights!

Abortion Access x Mental Health

Abortion access is a mental health issue. Research and stories from our community tell us that limiting abortion access will severely impact mental health.

When people do not have resources or options to make decisions about their bodies, they experience fear, stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

Learn more from:

American Psychological Association

Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH)

TODAY

Center for American Progress

Access to a safe abortion is healthcare.

Network Spotlight

New Era Colorado launched The Brazen Project, a student-led initiative dedicated to ending shame and stigma around abortion and empowering our peers to speak up and speak out about abortion access. They support students organizing on their college campuses to fight abortion stigma, to build support for abortion access, to share their stories, and to help students to advocate for better policies.

They also recently passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act!

How the Alliance Network is Organizing on Abortion Access:

Loud Light – Loud Light is fighting a constitutional amendment that would remove the right to an abortion from the state constitution. The amendment would give a simple majority of state legislators absolute control over abortion regulation including the ability to ban abortion without exception.

Mississippi Votes – The only abortion provider in Mississippi is at the center of the case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, trigger laws that ban all abortions occurring in the state will likely be enacted. Mississippi Votes is part of the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition assuring that Mississippians know that they still have access to abortion and contraception

Take Action

Learn from and Donate to these groups:


Voter Access x Mental Health

Research has found that states with more voting access and greater civic participation levels are healthier overall. States with more exclusionary voting laws are less healthy. When people have more access to the ballot box, they can directly vote on issues that affect their health and build better social inclusion and belonging in their community.

When our democracy is healthy, people are healthy.

Network Spotlight

MOVE Texas has always been a fierce advocate for voting rights. They’ve organized press conferences, rallies, protests, lobby days, and more to push back against harmful voter suppression efforts in their state.

Even when an anti-voter law passed late last year, they did everything in their power to ensure Texan voters could register to vote, learn about what’s on their ballot, and make a plan to vote. Most recently, the MOVE team helped voters in the primaries when many ballots were being rejected due to voting law changes.

How the Alliance Network is organizing around Voting Rights

Chicago Votes – Chicago Votes is leading legislation that would restore voting rights to the roughly 30,000 people incarcerated in Illinois prisons.

Forward Montana – Last year, Forward Montana sued the state over a last-minute anti-voter amendment to the constitution. When they are not fighting voter suppression efforts, they are organizing Student Voter Days and Candidate Forums to ensure our democracy is accessible to all.

Loud Light – Loud Light is continuously fighting back voter suppression efforts in Kansas. Now, they are battling it out in court and fighting gerrymandered maps that dilute minority votes.

Mississippi Votes – Mississippi Votes worked to defend against over 70 voter suppression bills in the 2021 Mississippi legislative session. They also supported 52 voter suffrage applications through the state legislature and are leading voting rights restoration efforts.

NextUp – Next Up is leading legislation that would restore voting rights to the roughly 13,000 people incarcerated in Oregon prisons.

Take Action

Learn more about our Democracy Done Right campaign

Support Alliance orgs fighting for voting access

Read about more ways you can protect our freedom to vote


Police in Schools x Mental Health

Research tells us that the presence of police in schools fuels the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline. At least 14 million students in the United States attend schools with police officers on site but not staff counselors, nurses, or social workers. Mental health providers in schools provide positive outcomes for students.

Students need support. Not punishment.

Network Spotlight

Since 2013, Poder in Action has successfully decreased the number of school resource officers (SROs) and increased funding to services that promote learning and wellness in the Phoenix Union High School District. Currently, they are working on urging the City of Phoenix to allocate American Rescue Plan Act funds for mental health to center BIPOC, migrant, working class, LGBTQ+ and communities and not the policing, surveillance and punishment of these communities.

How the Alliance Network is organizing to divest from policing

Leaders Igniting Transformation – LIT is calling for Wisconsin universities to divest from policing on campuses and reinvest those funds to support BIPOC communities and students in their Dare to Divest campaign. LIT staff went to the capitol to provide testimonies to vote ‘no’ on a bill that would give the state grounds to put armed police back in public schools, an issue LIT fought for and successfully won in Milwaukee in 2020. 

Virginia Student Power Network – The Virginia Student Power Network is fighting for public safety without policing and building alternatives to the injustice system. This includes finding alternatives to policing in universities and K-12 schools in Virginia. 

Take Action

Support Alliance Organizations Fighting for Divestment from Policing

Learn More About Transformative and Restorative Justice

Recommended Reading: We Do This Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba


Student Debt x Mental Health

A recent survey tells us that more than 60% of borrowers feel that student debt negatively affects their mental health. When people aren’t able to pay their bills or their student loans they often feel shame, guilt, and anxiety. Canceling student debt would not only heal more than 44 million people, but would allow them to focus on the future.

We should be building our dreams without debt.

Network Spotlight

Virginia Student Power Network is continuing to protect the progress they’ve made on recent higher education wins, including passing legislation to provide in-state tuition and state financial aid for undocumented students in Virginia!

Right now, Virginia Student Power Network is pushing VA Commonwealth University to implement a tuition freeze and stop them from raising tuition on students during a student debt crisis.

How the Alliance Network is organizing to cancel student debt.

New Era Colorado – Last year, New Era was Colorado passed the Student Loan Equity Act which protects students from private student loan lenders. Most recently, they passed legislation that ends the punitive practice of withholding transcripts and diplomas!

Ohio Student Association – OSA is fighting to defeat  anti-critical race theory bills by holding teach-ins, collecting testimonies, and hosting a direct action opposing the bills. They’re also working to get debt navigation programs passed in state legislatures to end the Transcript Trap.

The Washington Bus – The Washington Bus team is continuously pushing to make bridge grants available to students, stronger equity and diversity initiatives on campuses, and more mental health resources a reality for more students across the state.

Student Debt Stories

“I currently owe $58,929 in private student debt, which is almost $10,000 more than when I graduated less than 5 years ago, making it impossible to afford all my basic necessities and start paying the exorbitant monthly payment. The stress that has come along with this burden has deeply impacted my mental health. I’ve begun taking medication for anxiety and I am certain this is related to the economic instability I am facing.”

— Hayley Banyai-Becker

Denver Regional Field Manager, New Era Colorado

“Student debt affects my mental health because having an enormous, seemingly unending debt can feel so heavy. With the constant threat of payments restarting looming ahead, it feels like we are in a game of limbo where the only options are to lose. What is even more painful to me is watching our government continue to prioritize funding for wars and police while we are all struggling. It’s mental and emotional violence.”

— Kalia Harris

Executive Director, Virginia Student Power Network

“The student debt crisis has detrimental effects on mental health. I experience much internal conflict because I am unsure what I want to do in the future, and money is the focal point of those concerns. We need free college and student debt cancellation because they’re necessary steps towards guaranteeing autonomy for people’s lives.

— Ruby Wang

North Carolina

Take Action

Join Our Dreams Not Debt Campaign:

  • Sign the petition demanding Biden take bolder steps in canceling student debt, reform the student loan program, and make public colleges and universities free for all. 
  • Submit your student debt story
  • Share the actions with friends & family

Click here to join the Campaign


Alliance Self-Care

The Alliance is building a strong community of young leaders, and to do that we have to care for ourselves inside and out. So, what are you doing to take care of yourself this month? Here’s what some of the Alliance staff are doing to practice self-care.

Building Power, Organizations, and Leaders: Our 2021 Annual Report

Before embarking on the journey to implement our new five-year strategic plan, we wanted to take some time to celebrate 2021! The Sankofa bird teaches us to go back to the past and bring forward that which is useful. So, before we look forward to 2022 and beyond, let’s take the time to celebrate all the ways the Alliance showed up and showed out in 2021 to fight for our communities, our futures, and our values. 

Annual Report Highlights

Municipal Elections Matter

When it comes to elections and civic engagement, we know there’s no such thing as an “off-year.” In 2021, many of the Alliance Network organizations were some of the only organizations engaging their communities ahead of important municipal elections. For example, Forward Montana worked in coalition to pass legislation that would extend the Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force beyond its termination date, while organizers at Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) fought for an end to the policing and criminalization of BIPOC students on Wisconsin’s public university and college campuses.

Leadership Development in our Communities

Every organization in the network hosts powerful training programs to help build the bench of the next generation’s leaders.Throughout the year, Alliance orgs fostered the leadership development and civic education of young people in their communities through internships, fellowships, and other organizing programs. Our network graduated over 200 young people through local programs in 2021!

Leadership Development in the Network

Our Executive Director Bootcamp supported leadership transitions for five women of color in the network this year with a space dedicated to digging in with our national team on operations, fundraising, management, compliance, and more.

Community and Collaboration Through Cohorts

Our cohort spaces were created to serve as a space for communications, program, operations, data, and development peers to meet regularly and work through challenges together and learn from each other. Last year, we built upon our cohort offerings, expanded the program to include staff from Youth Organizing Partners, and launched an advocacy cohort!

Alliance Growth

In addition to bringing on Dakota Hall as our new ED, to better support the ever evolving needs of our network, the Alliance grew in size and in expertise. We added positions to the Communications, Data, Development, and Operations teams and promoted five staff members!

Strategic Planning

We created a strategic plan that directs us to strengthen the network by doing what we do best — centering capacity building for youth-led and focused organizations, raising and distributing funds to the network as a funding intermediary, and expanding the network, with young Black, Indigenous, people of color organizers leading the way. 

Thank you for being a part of building youth power, organizations, and leaders in the Alliance Network. Looking back on our successes in 2021 only makes us more excited for what’s to come.

A Look Back on the 2022 Dreams Not Debt Week of Action

In early April, we took a week to dream of a future without student debt. April 4-8th we took a series of actions to tell President Biden the time to cancel student debt is NOW. Here’s a quick recap of the week and how you can keep the momentum going!

Dreams Not Debt Actions

We dropped a new Dreams Not Debt video! At the rally we attended, we asked people what dreams they would make a reality if their student debt was canceled tomorrow. For many young people, student debt is the barrier separating them from their next phase of growth. 

To that we say, “no more!” With the stroke of a pen, President Biden can make all these dreams a reality. Sign the Dreams Not Debt petition calling on the Biden Administration to:

  • Take bolder steps in addressing the student debt crisis by canceling all current student debt
  • Reform the student loan program to mitigate future student debt
  • Make public colleges and universities free for all students

Since the launch of the campaign, we’ve been collecting student debt stories. President Biden must hear the words of those with student debt and take action on the student debt crisis. 

During the Week of Action, we highlighted the stories from youth organizers in our network, and had the chance to highlight a guest-writer on the Alliance blog! Akii Butler, student organizer with Ohio Student Association, shared his student debt story and what he hopes to do with a life free from his student loans.

Whether you currently have student debt or are worried about future student debt, we want to hear your story. We want to know what future you are not able to dream up for yourself because of student debt.

Rally for Student Debt Cancellation

On Monday, April 4th the Alliance team along with our network organizations Ohio Student Association and Virginia Student Power Network hit the streets to join an in-person rally outside of the U.S. Department of Education hosted by our friends, Debt Collective. Through the power of words, art, and dance, young people from across the country demonstrated the importance of freedom from student debt.

Dreams Not Debt Twitter Chat

On Tuesday April 5th, we hosted a Twitter Chat where we posed several questions to our followers around student debt. Here are some of our favorite tweets from the event:

Community Dreams

Virginia Student Power Network at a rally to cancel student debt in Washington, D.C.

We also shared what Alliance Network orgs are doing to build a debt-free future in their communities. We featured new updates from New Era Colorado, Virginia Student Power Network, Ohio Student Association, and The Washington Bus.

Check us Out in the Press

Alliance Executive Director, Dakota Hall chatting with Adrienne Lawrence on The Young Turks’ “The Conversation”

Alliance Executive Director, Dakota Hall, joined The Young Turks’ The Conversation with Adrienne Lawrence to discuss how young people are pushing Biden to cancel student loan debt.

Dakota Hall and Rachael Collyer, Program Director at Ohio Student Association, were quoted in this USA Today article on student debt and how Biden’s lack of action on one of his biggest campaign promises might hurt Democrats in the midterms.

“This is a promise that needs to be delivered on and could have some real implications for Democrats if they can’t,” Collyer said. “Like, actually deliver on the promises and make real change.”

Rachael Collyer, Ohio Student Association

Looking for more on Dreams Not Debt? Check out the campaign page on the Alliance website.

I have dreams, but with student debt they’re just fantasies

by Akii Butler

From my parents to my teachers, everyone told me how important it was to attend college when I grew up. However, no one prepared me for the harsh realities after college, especially the burden of student loans and how hard it would be to find employment. I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio – a city that has gone through many challenges, one of the biggest being the lack of jobs. I was inspired to want more for myself and my family. I believed continuing my education was the solution. 

Since graduating from college, student loans have been a dark cloud over my head. The constant phone calls and emails reminding me how much I owe is too much to bear. At one point, I had a loan turned over to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, threatening to garnish my wages. Even with a college degree, it is hard to get a decent-paying job that would allow me to pay my loans back. And with interest constantly building, I fear it may get to a point where I won’t ever be able to pay off the debt.

When President Biden made the campaign promise that he would cancel at least $10,000 of each American’s student debt, I felt like I had the chance to breathe and start over – no longer would the weight of my student debt be on my shoulders. Yet, Biden’s inaction on this campaign promise scares me because the possibility of student debt cancellation becoming a reality seems out of reach. It is too easy to point fingers and say I need to take responsibility because I have committed to pay back these loans. It isn’t that simple. We must not ignore the predatory nature of loan servicers. We can’t overlook how most borrowers can only cover the interest; many people haven’t made a dent in their debt. Or the fact that there is a lack of debt navigation programs and funding for those programs to help graduates understand the process. This system sets borrowers up to fail. 

When I reflect on my student loans, it feels like I am in a never-ending cycle. I can defer my loans and get a temporary break from paying them. Still, student loans are just another burden that continuously weighs me down in addition to the cost of rent, utilities, phone, car insurance, car note, and buying groceries. Student loan debt relief was the promise. To not yet deliver on that promise is an outrage. 

I have dreams. I want to accomplish so many things in this world before I leave. Whether I choose to put my journalism degree to use and start a magazine or further my education and get my law degree, with the weight of student debt on my shoulders, my dreams look more like fantasies that will never become a reality. But with the stroke of a pen, President Biden can turn this current nightmare of student loan debt into a dream of opportunity where I can build the life I want for me, my family, and my community.


Akii Butler was born in Virginia Beach, VA and raised in Youngstown, OH. He is Ohio Student Association’s student organizer for the Columbus area and Kent State University. Before joining OSA, Akii spent his time organizing as a student at Kent State University, and after with a local organization. During his time with OSA, Akii hopes to make an impact and bring emerging and unique college students together to help make the change they want to see.

Read more student debt stories from the Alliance Network on the Dreams Not Debt page.

Join our Dreams Not Debt Week of Action

Join us this week!

We are in a massive student debt crisis. $1.7 trillion is owed by 44 million people across the country, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown youth. That’s why we launched Dreams Not Debt – our campaign to put pressure on President Biden to deliver on his campaign promise to forgive student loans and take even bolder steps to address the student debt crisis. Dreams Not Debt also invites student loan borrowers to tell us their dreams of a future without student debt holding them back. Will you join us?

Week of Action

Monday, April 4th

PICK UP THE PEN, JOE: April 4th Day of Action for Student Debt Cancellation

The Alliance team is hitting the streets! We’re joining our friends at Debt Collective alongside our network organizations Ohio Student Association and Virginia Student Power Network in Washington D.C. in front of the Department of Education for a Student Debt Cancellation Action!

Check out our Instagram for updates!

Tuesday, April 5th

Dreams Not Debt Twitter Chat at 2pm ET

Join us for a Twitter Chat about the effects of the student debt crisis and how we can create a debt-free future.

Wednesday, April 6th

Community Dreams

Check back for or updates on how our network organizers are fighting to change the policy landscape for education at every level!

Thursday, April 7th

Student Debt Stories

We’ll be highlighting student debt stories on our social media. Whether you currently have student debt or are worried about future student debt, we want to hear your story. Stories are a powerful tool in the fight to pressure elected officials to take action.

Friday, April 8th

Sign the Petition

A problem as massive as the student debt crisis requires bold solutions. That’s why we’re calling the Biden Administration to:

  • Take bolder steps in addressing the student debt crisis by canceling all current student debt
  • Reform the student loan program to mitigate future student debt
  • Make public colleges and universities free for all students

Stay updated by following the Alliance on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And when you participate in these events throughout the week, don’t forget to tag us and hashtag #DreamsNotDebt

Young People Respond to the State of the Union: Keep Pushing Biden to Take Youth Priorities Seriously

This week, President Biden took the stage to deliver his first State of the Union Address where he spoke directly to the American people about his vision for the nation. And then it was our turn. 

There were major hits like Biden’s enthusiasm to nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman to join the Supreme Court and President Biden addressing COVID-19 on day one. The American Rescue Plan provided the essential overdue help that young people needed – especially Black, Latinx, and Indigenous youth and their families who have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19. 

But there were also major misses. At one point, his congressional colleagues cheered as Biden declared the answer to the recent spike in crime rates is to provide more funding to the police. We want more care for our communities, not more criminalization. Biden also failed to mention policy issues important to young people like the Build Back Better bill and student debt. A national poll we conducted in January showed that the majority of young people – 62% – support some form of student loan debt forgiveness. President Biden promised to deliver relief through debt cancellation and it’s time for him to follow through. President Biden can use his executive power to take action right now to deliver for the people. See how you can take action through our Dreams Not Debt campaign.

President Biden addressed the nation, then it was our turn.

On Instagram Live, Alliance Executive Director Dakota Hall joined Marlén Mendoza from Youth Action Hour & Young People Address the Nation and Eve Levenson from Youth In Gov to talk about President Biden’s address and what it meant for young people. They discussed what issues we still want to see action on and how we can keep the Biden Administration accountable to young voters who will be a key voting bloc for years to come.

“We have to make sure the Biden Administration is taking youth priorities seriously…I’m talking about investment into schools, investment into higher education, investment into youth mental health services, housing, food…Everything is interconnected.”

Dakota Hall, Executive Director

Our Live Reactions

Young People Address the Nation

Alliance Network organizers shared their own messages on the state of the union with Young People Address the Nation.

On Twitter, Loud Light Community Organizer Logan Byrd shared her thoughts on the importance of upholding our democracy, and giving young people a seat at the table.

Speaking on Justice, Mississippi Votes organizer Taylor Turnage said, “true justice means the fair treatment of people of all races resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.”

And over on Instagram, Izzy Milch from Forward Montana highlights three revolutionary individuals that inspire them

“I think a lot about how so much of queer organizing and the gay pride movement sort of coalesced around gay marriage as ‘the big thing,’ but that’s not all it’s about. It’s about our rights to be alive and live these lives in public, so I think a lot about [Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy] and continuing their work today.”