Friday, October 11, 2013

Why the Shutdown Matters to Grad Students

My roommate and I were talking about what the shutdown hadn't done last night:

1. It hasn't completely destroyed our country.
2. It hasn't led to a run on banks.
3. It hasn't done anything to destroy our national security.
4. People aren't likely dying in the street.

So, why should we care?

Well, I actually kind of hate that nothing all that visibly bad has happened.  I mean, I certainly don't wish for chaos or people suffering.  That's the worst.  However, limiting the amount of people which are hurt is one way that the Republicans in Congress can take a stand without causing chaos that will lead to a call for action.  If people were running to banks, protesting en masse, and not getting life-saving services in a widespread way, it would be easy for people to hold legislators accountable. You see, voters are myopic.  They only care about their little world views not because they are apathetic necessarily but because they simply don't have the time to devote to looking outside of the immediate problems burdening them.  This is why we don't see protests en masse.

Another reason is that those most affected are generally too silent and disorganized to put up a fight.  They aren't consistent voters.  They are the young, the poor, and the less-able-to-protest. If you think for a second that this is accidental, it's not.  The Republicans know who they can piss off.  They are smart and shrewd politicians.  The Democrats know who they can afford to lose and who they can't, too.  That's just good politics.  The problem is that what is "good politics" is not necessarily "good for America".

Who specifically could suffer in this shutdown if it continues on for much longer?  Well, all of us if we default.  We would put the global economy into a tailspin.  And, after a large amount of "good days" on Wall Street, that seems a terrible solution to the problem.  Kids on SNAP, WIC, TANF, and other federal programs stand to lose a great deal, too.  They can't fight this.  They are children in need of food and a roof over their heads.  Regardless of your opinions about welfare policy, you probably don't agree with the idea of starving children.  Federal and state employees and people who work for non-profit contractors are also most at-risk of not getting paychecks.  Some are working sans-pay right now with no idea as to how they will pay for Christmas let alone life after the next few weeks.

More specifically, though, grad students should be concerned for two main reasons.  One, the GI Bill and other military tuition assistance programs are very at risk and either are not or will not be able to sustain themselves as programs much longer.  My cousin, who studies international relations and security as an undergrad on a GI Bill, is a veteran who is at-risk currently.  He has saved, so he will be okay without his assistance but many of his fellow veteran students will not.  He risked life and limb and is now being told he may be on the hook for the rest of that tuition this year.  I have a friend in my program currently who has taken the semester off of teaching to use his GI Bill and work on studying for the foreign service exam.  He needs a good job and the GI Bill has been a lifesaver.  Should he suffer?  He tirelessly worked as a medic.  Should he suffer?

Even if you are anti-war and don't see what the hubub is about with the military, you have to see the logic in my argument here.  To begin with, a large number of my students are ROTC and use tuition assistance programs.  We have many Military Studies students in the political science department and have had many masters students in the past (one which was in my cohort).  Many of my fellow students and current students I teach would be SOL barring this support.  This means withdrawals.  Withdrawals mean smaller class numbers next semester and fewer teaching assistantships for graduate students across numerous departments.  Moreover, people who are in ROTC or have been in the military often join out of a need for a way to pay for their education.  These are high-risk students.  Unlike some kids who can lose a scholarship and get their parents to pay or take out a PLUS loan, most of these students do not have recourse.  That's upsetting to me.  It's inegalitarian and it will be felt by the most at-risk disproportionately.

The second reason should probably hit close to home for a lot of us.  Without a budget and without raising the debt ceiling, two things will happen.  One, the we will default on loans and creditors will have issues.  Second, there will be no loans and there won't be federal education assistance.  This means that you and I will not only lose our ability to take out loans to pay fees but our students will as well.  This is a double-whammy.  Even if we can pay all of our bills sans-loans (I mostly could with some work), we may lose our jobs.  If there are massive withdrawals from the university, we may lose our jobs.  We may be able to stay on this next semester but come fall 2014, will we have jobs?

It's frightening.  Write your Congressional Reps and Senators.  Don't let your voice go unheard.  Young people and low income people are the least likely to have their voices heard but it's a numbers game.  If we start showing up in large numbers, they have to listen to us.

Again, it's about who you can and cannot piss off.  If we start becoming more credible threats, they will have to listen.


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