The student-debt crisis is another magnified arena where the Occupy protests shouted first and loudest—and in which serious policy shifts are now afoot. Occupy offshoot movements like Strike Debt, Rolling Jubilee, and Debt Collective are tackling America’s $1.3 trillion college-debt conundrum by buying back student debt for pennies on the dollar and forgiving it. Those movements also spurred a rebellion by student debtors, known as the Corinthian 15, who in April celebrated the closure of the for-profit Corinthian College chain, which they had accused of deceptive marketing and deliberately steering students into high-cost loans. In January, President Obama addressed the burgeoning crisis by introducing a $60 billion plan to make all community college free for two years. And in late April, nine Democratic Senators joined a list of 60 Congress members supporting a resolution to institute four-year, debt-free college nationwide—a dramatic departure from piecemeal proposals of the past.
Most significant, perhaps, is how the debate over inequality sparked by Occupy has radically remade the Democratic Party. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator-who-is-definitely-not-running-for-president and the party’s most dynamic leader, launched her political career in 2012 with the 99 percent movement’s message of Main Street versus Wall Street. Since entering the Senate, Warren has drafted numerous bills to address income inequality, including the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act that would separate investment banking from commercial banking and the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act that would allow students to refinance college loans at a lower federal rate. By fighting to strengthen financial regulations in Dodd-Frank, break up “too big to fail” banks, and impose stiff taxes on corporations and the wealthy, Warren is the closest thing to an Occupy candidate the movement ever got. And now an army of elected populists in both the Senate and House is unifying around her.