Hundreds of Nurses Join Million Student March

In solidarity with students across the country protesting the outrageous costs and crippling debts of their college educations, more than 800 registered nurses with the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and National Nurses United marched and rallied Nov. 12 with University of California at Berkeley students as part of the Million Student March.

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders inspired students to stage the Million Student March as part of his campaign platform push to make public colleges in the United States tuition free through the College for All Act, which would be funded by a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street financial transactions that would raise up to $300 billion a year.

Activists collected at Sproul Plaza

Chanting “Free college, free your mind, vote for Bernie, now’s the time” and “We need justice for our students, NOW!” nurses marched onto the UC Berkeley campus to join students assembled at Sproul Plaza.

Total student debt in the United States has now reached crisis levels, now estimated at $1.3 trillion, and has quadrupled in just the past 10 years. While millions of students are trapped in never-ending student loan payments that often prevent them from saving money, buying a car, purchasing a house, or starting a family, Wall Street is making millions off lending money to both students and higher education institutions and stock market trading of debt.

CNA Board Member Katy Roemer addressing CNA nurses and student activists

Nurses held signs with how much student debt they owed – some as high as $100,000. They struggle under the weight of their own debt while worrying about what their children face when they go to school.

“We are here with students all across the country to protest a growing debt crisis. We are not alone. Debt is a huge problem all across the United States,” said Katy Roemer, a registered nurse member who sits on the CNA/NNOC board, to huge cheers from the crowd. She shared a story about how she is happy to have recently, after 20 years, finally paid off her loans for private nursing school, but how disheartened and scared she is to be taking on thousands of dollars of new debt to fund her eldest son’s college education. “Our colleges and universities should not be profit centers for the 1 percent. That is not okay and it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Nurses and student activists posted how much student debt they'd accrued

College students in California are calling for free tuition and a return to the ideals and goals of the California Master Plan, a program created by state leaders in the 1960s calling for creating a free higher-education system consisting of junior colleges, state colleges, and the University of California for all Californians to be able to attend college regardless of their income levels.

“We need to normalize free education,” said Lauren Butler, a UC Berkeley senior who is majoring in agriculture and is the lead Robin Hood Tax organizer on campus. “We have to resist the idea that free education is radical. We must not trick ourselves into thinking that we are asking for something too big. What we are doing is reclaiming our education.”