How Local Organizations are Building a Debt-Free Future

We believe that higher education should be free and accessible for all. While we are trying to solve the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis at the federal level, it is critical that action be taken at the local level to protect students. That’s why youth-led organizations in the Alliance for Youth Action Network are fighting to protect student borrowers and ensure higher education at every level is accessible and affordable for all.

Last year, our organizers were making moves in reforming education systems in their communities, so we checked in with them again to see how they’re making equitable and accessible education a reality for all. Here’s how they’re doing it:  

New Era Colorado

2022 Update

In Spring of 2021, New Era Colorado passed both of their priority bills, the Student Loan Equity Act and Financial Literacy Standards! The New Era team engaged 85 different volunteers to mobilize their peers around student debt last year, which resulted in over 1800 young people taking action. In addition, they developed two educational videos on student debt which led to multiple earned media hits including an interview with Elite Daily and an Op-Ed in the Colorado Sun.

New Era has also helped students through the The New Era Colorado Foundation Student Assistance Fund. This program assists students who owe debts to an institution of higher education through individual grants. So far, they’ve assisted 86 applicants, 79 of those applicants being people of color.

This year, New Era’s priority in legislation is around a harmful student debt practice that inhibits the economic freedom of many young people, particularly young people of color: transcript withholding. HB 22-1049, which would prohibit transcript withholding,  just passed the House, and is heading to the governor’s desk very soon where New Era is confident it will be signed into law!

2021

New Era Colorado worked to pass the Student Loan Equity Act—a trailblazing bill that would create protections for private student loan borrowers in Colorado. Private student loans don’t receive many of the basic protections afforded to borrowers of other types of loans. As a result, borrowers are vulnerable to shady loan industry practices, like robo signing and auto-defaulting. The Student Loan Equity Act will protect these borrowers, create greater transparency, and offer better recourse if lenders break the law.

Ohio Student Association

2022 Update

For the last eight years, Ohio Student Association (OSA) has been dedicated to changing the policy landscape for higher education. This year, OSA is fighting to defeat HB 322 and 327, Ohio’s own 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 Transcript Traps. 

In regards to Black student equity, OSA is making big moves this year! Their Black Student Equity Report will survey Black students’ experiences at colleges and universities statewide. This report will be the first of its kind. It will assess affordability and equity issues that uniquely affect Ohio’s Black student population.

2021

The Ohio Student Debt Association has worked hard to center student voices in these fights and uplift student debt stories. They are working in coalition with other organizations across the state to tackle student debt. Read their report with Policy Matters Ohio on higher education in Ohio. The OSA team met with Senator Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur to share student debt stories.

Virginia Student Power Network

2022 Update

Virginia Student Power Network (VSPN) 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, VSPN is supporting legislation that would increase access and reduce barriers to higher education for students.

On campuses, VSPN organizers at University of Virginia won a tuition freeze at their university, meaning tuition rates on this campus are guaranteed to stay stagnant until the 2024-2025 academic year. Their staff has also done research to increase transparency on campuses around federal stimulus funding for Virginia universities. Throughout the VSPN network, students are demanding tuition freezes, hybrid classes, mask mandates, availability of testing on campus, and funding for mental health resources. 

2021

VSPN has a track record of organizing and winning issue-based campaigns for college affordability across the state. In 2014, they won a campaign to create a $1 million emergency fund at George Mason University for low-income, first-generation, undocumented, and homeless students. For four years in a row, they have mobilized students for annual advocacy days at the General Assembly calling for an end to student debt and free public college. 

During the 2020 legislative session, Virginia Student Power Network worked in a broad coalition and engaged 30 student leaders to advocate for in-state tuition for undocumented students, which was selected by the Governor as a priority bill and was written into law after a 15-year fight. They built upon this work during the 2021 legislative session, and Virginia is now the seventh state in the nation to give undocumented students access to state financial aid!

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they launched a statewide pressure campaign on universities to provide equitable COVID-19 relief to students, staff, and community members. They conducted research on federal CARES Act and American Rescue funding to Virginia schools to illuminate the fact that universities were still profiting from the deadly pandemic while students were incurring more debt than ever. Student organizers at the University of Virginia fought and won a tuition freeze through their “COVID Action Now” campaign. VCU student organizers held a town hall with administration and hundreds of students, faculty and staff to hold the university accountable for mishandling the pandemic. 

Washington Bus

2022 Update

The Washington Bus team spent this legislative session mobilizing on College Equity on House Bills 1659 and 1840. HB 1659 would have expanded Washington’s Higher Education grant program to include more folks to receive the full grant. This bill would have also added bridge grants to recipients for things outside of tuition and fees. HB 1840 was the core of the draft legislation Washington Bus organizers worked on with Communities for our Colleges. This bill would have established the task force on improving equity and diversity at the community technical colleges, and expanded mental health counseling to an additional four colleges.

Sadly both bills haven’t made it into law, but 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.

2021

The Washington Bus helped to pass the Our Colleges our Future Act! They won a $33 million investment in Community and Technical Colleges (CTCs) in Washington State, with a focus on racial equity and investment in low-income, BIPoC students.  This bill included mandating diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plans for all CTCs in Washington, winning funding for 200 new full-time faculty positions, funding for a pilot mental health counseling program, and funding for outreach and retention program for BIPoC students. The Our Colleges Our Future Act also changed residency requirements to make financial aid more accessible for undocumented students. Community Colleges are the backbone of our higher education system, and the Washington Bus worked tirelessly alongside partners to make sure they are investing in the education of BIPoC and low-income students. 

Join our Dreams Not Debt Campaign

Wanna take action around student debt? Check out our Dreams Not Debt campaign! Millions are putting their futures on hold –  buying a house, getting married, having children – because they can barely keep up with their monthly student loan payments. We’re urging the Biden administration to keep their campaign promises and cancel ALL student debt.

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.”

Our Latest Poll: Young People on the State of the Nation

One year ago, President Biden took office with Democratic control of the House and Senate because young people turned out across the country to deliver their victories in 2020. But right now, it is clear that young people believe the Biden Administration and both parties in Congress are failing them.

Our sister organization, Alliance for Youth Organizing, in collaboration with Civiqs, surveyed young voters ages 17 – 39 nationwide from across the political spectrum. We asked how they feel about the country’s future, what policies the Biden Administration should prioritize, how they plan to engage this year leading up to the midterm elections, and more.

This poll should ring the alarm for political leaders in Washington to focus on the policy priorities that young people care about well ahead of November.

Some Highlights

Political leaders need to make a major course correction to court young voters this fall

When asked about the future of the United States, sixty-six percent of young voters said they feel pessimistic. Gen-Zers were the most cynical of the group. When asked about national politicians, most young people said they have a negative view of politicians in DC and Congress as a whole. In fact, no national politicians or parties in Congress are viewed positively by most young people in America. The majority of young people – fifty-six percent – say they are frustrated with politicians in Washington, D.C. However, young voters feel more positive about their local governments, highlighting the importance of year-round local organizing to civically engage more young people.

Young people are clear about their policy demands 

Nearly half of young people, including twenty-one percent of Democrats, do not believe the Biden Administration is working on policies that positively impact their lives. Instead, more than seventy percent of young people believe politicians prioritize the interests of wealthy Americans, a view shared by Democrats, Independents, and even Republicans. Young voters want to see elected leaders in Washington prioritize increasing taxes on the rich, transitioning to clean energy, Medicare for All, stronger voting rights protections, and canceling student debt.

Young voters will be a critical electoral force this November 

Despite negative views on national politicians, interest in voting in the midterms is still high amongst young people – eighty-nine percent say they intend to vote this year. They also indicated that supporting more young people to run for office is the best way to get politicians to work on policies that benefit young people.

Young people are sending a clear message to our elected leaders – you’re failing us. Just last week, the Senate failed to pass crucial voting rights legislation and President Biden has yet to deliver on his promises like student loan debt forgiveness. But youth organizers in the Alliance Network will not stop combating voter suppression in their states, fighting for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and youth of color to have access to the ballot box, and mobilizing Gen-Zers and Millennials to stand by their demands. 

Now, it is time for our elected officials in Washington to have the same energy and commitment as youth organizers on the ground.

Read Our New Strategic Plan

After embarking on a year-long process, Alliance staff, Board members, and executive directors in our network have crafted a five-year strategy that will guide the next phase of the Alliance. Download a copy of our new strategic plan to get a full view into the next five years of strengthening the Alliance Network!

For the next five years, we will prioritize deep network capacity building, embrace our identity as a funding intermediary, and expand the network. As a part of network expansion, we will center and support the growth and development of emerging Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders who are spearheading youth-led civic engagement organizations that have historically been and continue to be systemically under-resourced.

This strategic plan re-envisions how we fuel the growth and sustainability of year-round grassroots organizing and local power building led by the youth organizations in the Alliance Network. But the why remains the same – to create a world where our democracy works for everyone and where all people – no matter where they come from, what they look like, or how they identify – live in loving, safe, and thriving communities.

The Year Ahead

In addition to the release of our strategic plan, we have a big year ahead! Here’s what’s to come from the Alliance in 2022.

Getting Young People #VoteReady

We saw record breaking youth voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections and we plan to bring that same energy to the 2022 midterms. The Alliance Network knows what is at stake this year and won’t hold back! Make sure you and your community is #voteready this year.

Fighting for the Issues Young People Care About

From asking President Biden to take on a bold, progressive agenda to keeping Congress accountable, we are ensuring that every person in power knows where young people stand on big issues. This year, we’re keeping up the fight and turning up the heat. Join us and take action today.

Centering Storytelling

In 2022, we will center more stories from BIPOC youth in our Network who are on the ground organizing and building youth power in their communities. Stay up to date with all things youth organizing by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Building a Stronger Organization

This year, the Alliance staff will intentionally and thoughtfully collaborate with executive directors in our network and our Board members to begin implementing our new strategic plan to re-envision how we fuel the growth and sustainability of year-round grassroots organizing and local power building led by the youth organizations in the Alliance Network. This is the work behind the work. Download a copy of the new strategic plan today.

Celebrate Our Biggest Wins of the Year: The Alliance’s Greatest Hits of 2021

We are wrapping up 2021 by celebrating our greatest hits of the year! From passing progressive policy in state legislatures to turning out the youth vote nationwide, the Alliance Network made this a year to remember.

Track 1: We took action to impeach and remove Trump from office

On January 7th, we released a statement demanding that Trump and allies in Congress be held accountable for the acts of violence on January 6th. Although young people know our democracy is nowhere near perfect, the events of January 6th were a sobering reminder of how far we have yet to go.

Track 2: We fought for federal and local voting rights action

Our vote is one of our most powerful tools for change, and right now, our voting rights are under attack. We will continue to fight to protect our freedom to vote. Youth-led organizations in our Network are fighting back to defend our democracy, but we need everyone in this fight.

Track 3: We advocated for a future free of student debt

This year we launched our Dreams Not Debt campaign. With $1.7 trillion owed by nearly 44 million people in the US, it’s safe to say we are in a massive student debt crisis that especially hurts young people already stunted by rising housing prices, low wages, and recession. We launched Dreams Not Debt to build a future where young people are financially free to dream.

Track 4: Our network celebrated progressive wins in state legislatures

Young people have been at the forefront of the most critical fights for our communities taking place in state legislatures.This year our Network orgs took the necessary steps to strengthen our democracy and block harmful legislation that threatens it. 

Track 5: We hosted an IG Live with Vice President Kamala Harris and Storm Reid on voting rights

Track 6: Our Network graduated 100+ young people from leadership development programs

This summer, Alliance Network orgs fostered the development and civic education of young people through internships, fellowships, and other organizing programs! Take a look at our Hot Organizing Summer recap.

Track 7: Alliance orgs got young people #VoteReady during the civic holidays

Who said 2021 had to be an off-year?! This fall Network organizers were hard at work getting young people #VoteReady. As our youth continue to be innovative on the streets and online getting people registered to vote, we encourage you to get #VoteReady ahead of another big election year.

Track 8: Our Network turned out the youth vote for the election

This year, in addition to electing progressive candidates and winning on key issues, Alliance organizations did what they do best – turn out young voters! Check out our Election Day recap to see what our Network orgs were up to this election season.

Track 9: We welcomed a new Executive Director

And if you haven’t heard, we recently welcomed Dakota Hall as the new Executive Director of the Alliance! We are incredibly excited to see what he has planned for the future of youth organizing. Get to know Dakota with this blog post announcing his hire!

Join us for A special Instagram Live Conversation with Dakota Hall and Paola Ramos on Wednesday 12/8 at 12pm ET

Future of Youth Organizing: A Live Conversation with Dakota Hall and Paola Ramos

Watch our new Executive Director, Dakota Hall, have an exciting conversation about the future of youth organizing with journalist and Alliance for Youth Action board member, Paola Ramos.

Follow us on Instagram & Turn on Live Notifications

Have you followed the Alliance on Instagram yet? Be the first to see new video content and photos, get frequent updates about Alliance Network orgs, and discover new and exciting ways to engage with us! 

Get notified any time new Alliance content is available. Head over to our Instagram profile and click the bell icon in the top right corner. To receive a notification when we go live, make sure “Live Videos” is switched to “all.”

Learn more about Dakota and join us in welcoming him as the Alliance’s new Executive Director.

Tohono Indian Women led the Tucson 2019 Women’s March with a show of strength, resilience and power. This woman’s sign said: My Mom, Sisters, Aunties and Grandmas are sacred. Her son was by her side. International Women’s Day

Into The Light: Addressing Indigenous Issues Today

Written by Incoming Executive Director, Dakota Hall

It is that time of year again where the old false narrative of Pilgrims and Indigenous peoples coming together in harmony deeply roots itself into the American psyche – Thanksgiving. We can not, and must not, continue rewriting history.

From textbooks to school theater productions, the blatant lie told to our children of the romanticized relationship between Indigenous peoples and Pilgrims is the bedrock of the erasure and discrimination of Indigenous peoples in this country. Now more than ever, we must tell the truth about our past and address all that Indigenous peoples are facing today. 

For far too long, Indigenous peoples’ systematic and institutionalized discrimination has existed with little to no mainstream attention. We must shed light on the immense challenges Indigenous communities face from the climate crisis and ongoing global pandemic to the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. And the remnants of centuries-long abuse and neglect by the federal government still exist across Indigenous reservations today  – lack of infrastructure, access to clean drinking water, investment in schools and healthcare, and more. These struggles are due to the federal government failing to honor treaties and provide Indigenous communities with resources and basic necessities to live. 

Thanksgiving is not the only holiday that attempts to rewrite American history. Many holidays, including Columbus Day and Independence Day, are rooted in the genocide, oppression, and erasure of Indigenous people. Not confronting our past contributes to systematic and institutionalized racial abuse as well as societal discrimination seen in the racist team mascots and school plays with white and non-Indigenous who “play Indian” while often mocking sacred dances, clothing, and ceremonies. 

While millions come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, many Indigenous folks wonder what exactly we can be thankful for when our communities face so much. In 2020, our country had a so-called racial reckoning after the civil unrest, protests, and uprisings due to the police murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others. However, when confronted with opportunities to make a systemic change or to right the wrongs from centuries past, white America balks time and time again. 

Join me in taking action and supporting Indigenous-led organizations that center the voices and issues impacting Indigenous communities every day. We must not forget the past sins of disease, warfare, and massacres while we fight for Indigenous peoples to survive today and thrive in the future. 

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Photo of Dakota Hall

Announcing our new Executive Director, Dakota Hall 🎉

Today, we are thrilled to announce the Alliance’s new Executive Director: Dakota Hall!

A graphic with a blue background and a photo of Dakota Hall with the text "Major News the new Executive Director of the Alliance is Dakota Hall (he/him)"

We are beyond excited to welcome Dakota to the Alliance as we usher in a new era of leadership. Dakota will be the third executive director in the network’s eight year history and the first Black and Indigenous leader of the organization.

Dakota has been an integral part of our network as the transformative Executive Director of Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT). Dakota will officially start as our new Executive Director on November 30th.

Dakota is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He started organizing in 2012 with the United Council of University of Wisconsin Students during Scott Walker’s tenure as Governor. As a student organizer, Dakota mobilized students to fight against budget cuts that undermined the student experience.  In 2017, he founded LIT to create a political home for Black and Brown youth in Milwaukee. Under his leadership, the organization has flourished, directly impacting thousands of young people across the state. LIT successfully advocated to remove the Milwaukee Police Department from Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, and ended the use of metal detectors on campuses and suspensions for children in elementary school. Thanks to LIT’s dedication to fighting the school-to-prison and deportation pipeline, young Black and Brown students can attend school safely in Milwaukee.

Dakota’s ambitious vision for LIT led to dramatic growth and expansion outside of Milwaukee and impacted the critical youth vote in the state. In 2020, LIT made 1.3 million calls, sent 2.1 million texts, and sent 250,000 pieces of mail to turn out young voters in Wisconsin and help flip the state blue in one of the most important elections in history. Now, LIT is stronger than ever and its own young leaders are ready to rise up.

Dakota will lead the Alliance at a pivotal moment of growth and opportunity. With 2022 just ahead and 2024 coming in hot, he is ready to take on the challenge of supporting the nation’s largest network of youth-led organizations dedicated to building power year round. And we have absolutely no doubt that he is up for that challenge.

Join us in celebrating Dakota with a contribution today!

photo of sarah audelo

Sarah’s Fearless Leadership

It is with a bittersweet heart that we say goodbye to our fearless leader, Sarah Audelo.

After four incredible years leading the Alliance for Youth Action, Sarah is transitioning out of her role as Executive Director at the end of this month. Sarah led this organization to new heights and now it is time to usher in new leadership.

Before we officially say goodbye, we have to take a moment to honor and celebrate the incredible growth the Alliance has experienced under Sarah’s leadership. And Sarah herself has some parting words of wisdom from these victories.

1 Sarah has successfully led the Alliance Network to expand in more communities centering more young people of color.

Every young person should have access to a community with whom they can organize and take action. Sarah had this opportunity when she was younger and envisions a similar experience for every young person.

  “​​The long-term vision is every young person needs a political home and an organizing home in their communities.”
— Sarah Audelo in Politico

2 Sarah helped push more than $20 million to field organizations and young organizers.

Her parting message to funders is to continue investing in young people because that is how we build real power for the long haul.

“Grant makers who want to see real change should commit to long-term sustained investment in the youth sector. Young people — with their joy, optimism, and innovation — will take it from there.”
— Sarah Audelo in The Fulcrum

3Sarah helped shift the narrative on the youth vote and youth organizing.

Sarah has held the role of hype woman for young organizers across the nation. Through countless interviews, panels, and media appearances, she has driven home that young people are here, engaged, and taking action in their communities.

“There’s so much negative energy and information or stereotypes out there about young people. I love busting through all of that and saying, ‘Let me tell you what young people have been doing.'”
— Sarah Audelo in NPR

4Sarah built an incredible team that continues to innovate, inspire, and drive the work forward all while facing the challenges of being an executive director of color.

Being an executive director of color comes with its own hurdles and barriers. During her time, Sarah has faced these challenges head-on and continues to improve the space for leaders who come after her.

“Any progressive nonprofit serious about dismantling our nation’s inequitable systems should of course consider hiring an executive director of color. But if the organization doesn’t put the pieces in place for that leader to succeed, it will merely perpetuate the inequities it is seeking to overcome.”
— Sarah Audelo in the Chronicle of Philanthropy

Check out the latest articles, opinions, and articles featuring Sarah:

Thank Sarah for her outstanding leadership and send her a thank you note!