Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reader Publicly Thanks Me: "You present these issues in such a calm, rational, and unemotional manner but with great moral clarity, and this is exactly the right way to raise awareness."

It is inevitable. If you decide to stick your neck out for a cause you believe in, you get attacked from all sides. That is simply a reality of speaking up and insisting that something about a system - any system that many people don't necessarily notice - is deeply flawed and unjust. In this case, as we know, it is about exposing the predatory nature of the student lending industry. As one friend recently put it, this unregulated, predatory industry has led to one of the biggest payday lending scams in U.S. history. I have the numbers to prove it, but for now one number will suffice: $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. That pretty much sums up this payday lending scam. 

Suffice to say, there is a lot at stake when analyzing and critiquing the student lending industry and all of its various facets. So, it will comes as no surprise to most of you - and many of you are aware of this fact - that I receive a lot of nasty emails from hateful, spiteful, bitter people. Conversely, I have built a strong network of people who not only support my work, but are also helping me spread the word. Just recently, for example, I received a grant to write an in-depth article on the crisis.

My gratitude runs deep. I am deeply thankful to the all the journalists, authors, and professors who have acknowledged my research on the student loan debt crisis, and consider me a fellow colleague. I also appreciate all of my readers and the countless activists who have joined me in this fight. There is also my amazing publicist, Kathy Horn. She is invaluable and always there to support my efforts. The same goes for my literary agent, Diana Finch, who has been working with me tirelessly on finalizing my book proposal. In addition, I have business leaders, like my husband's boss, who have encouraged me to fight for change. The business people in particular have also made me realize the challenges of being an entrepreneur, especially when fighting for those who have no money, no power, and have been sold a bill of goods by a corrupt and broken system. After reading Gary Rivlin's Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business, I understand more clearly how the indentured educated class are part of what drives, what Rivlin calls, the poverty industry. The model of the poverty industry is now on every campus in the United States, and even at your closest mall (more on that later). Financial aid officers are a new incarnation of the payday lender. 

But let's get back to gratitude. I am most grateful to my family. Without the tremendous support from my in-laws, I would not have been able to become a full-time activist and writer. Most importantly, I want to share my deep thanks to my husband. In a few months we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. He has never once told me to throw in the towel or questioned my work on this topic. (He has had to endure many Friday nights alone, waiting for me to get off the phone or put down the computer, to enjoy some time as a couple. Rarely does he ever voice any complaints about the long hours I work). In my darkest moments, he is always there for me. When I have doubted the validity of my activism, he has reminded me of all of you out there, the people who believe in me. On top of that, he has let me know how much he believes in me. And now, after being together for close to a decade, I am more deeply in love with him than ever. (If you can 'pick' up one of these - a partner like my husband - I recommend it!)

It is critical to remind myself of all of the thank you notes and words of encouragement that land in my inbox on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that seems to be easily forgotten when I receive the hate mail. As many of us know, people on the Internet can be vicious and cruel. You meet them in person? Well, that's another story.

Since I write about sensitive topics and readers share intimate details of their struggles with me, I decided long ago to moderate every single comment that comes my way. (This also helps with SPAM, like the ad I just got that said, "Buy Viagra." It had a dumb link to that lame product). In any event, I oftentimes hate opening these cruel messages, because they are filled with unkind words. Of course, that is often not the case, but I'm human and bullying tactics online are bothersome at times. On the flip side, I realize that my message has been amplified, because those who despise my position are now visiting the site. That is really a good thing. 

In any event, I received a very kind note today and wanted to share it with all of you. It was in response to my interview about suicidal student loan debtors with Rose Aguilar.

Here's what the reader said: 

Agree with the first commenter, you are a truly inspiring individual.

I bookmarked this blog a while back but need to follow it more regularly, for no other reason then to remind myself there are people left in the world such as Cryn Johanssen [sic] who actually care about the plight of others.

I dodged the student loan bullet many years ago through sheer dumb luck but looking back, could easily have been caught as badly as those for whom you advocate. I worry about these young people all the time, especially those who are unemployed and severely underemployed. They are always in my prayers and as well as my thoughts. I try to discuss this issue with people of various ages and backgrounds but their eyes glaze over, they do not wish to know since it does not effect them directly. I think about the cruelty these young folks must face on a daily basis from arrogant people who blame them for their plight, and as a result the discouragement and despair which they must carry in addition to the actual debt. My heart aches.

May you be blessed, protected, and strengthened in this fight you have taken on. You present these issues in such a calm, rational, and unemotional manner but with great moral clarity, and this is exactly the right way to raise awareness.

My only suggestion (and you may know this already)- do not let this become a partisan issue. Remain above the vicious left-right fray that has poisoned American political discourse, only highlighting political sides when the issue is being addressed effectively by particular politicians.

Should my own circumstances change for the better, I would be proud to be able to join you in this fight.

I want to thank you for your lovely note, and when the time comes and you're ready, I hope you join us in our fight. 

It is important to be grateful, and that I am. That I am. 

On a final note, I agree entirely with this reader's remarks about staying above the fray. While I have been critical of the GOP, I have also critiqued the Democrats. On Friday, I had a lengthy and positive conversation with a staffer who works for a Republican Congressman. And next week, I will resume talks with staffers who work for Democrats. I don't give a damned if you're a big D or a big R or a this or a that, if you wanna join me and solve this problem then let's do it.

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