Warren pinky promises to fight for college students

Illustration of Elizabeth Warren
Nishali Naik/Staff

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We are here today because of polls, plans and promises. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, is currently leading the pack of Democratic presidential candidates in California state polls — as well as some national polls. Polling numbers can be helpful indicators of where a candidate stands in a race, but are decidedly imperfect. They tell an incomplete story. With that caveat, an important trend has emerged with the uptick in Warren’s poll popularity.

As Warren traverses the country, giving speeches, hosting rallies and posing for selfies, she gathers an ever-growing coalition of followers, fans and devotees. She has become known by a small but significant gesture. After speeches and rallies, as crowds line up by the thousands to shake her hand and take selfies, she greets her youngest fans with her pinky finger and says, “I’m running for president because that’s what girls do.”

Warren’s pinky promises are emblematic of her run for president — a simple gesture that expresses a mutual faith between Warren and her constituents. These promises have struck a chord with college students.

Warren’s student debt cancellation plan, a cornerstone of her presidential platform, resonates with UC Berkeley students. It speaks to her faith in the potential of education and her recognition of the crippling effect of higher education’s unfathomable cost. But Warren does not stop with a plan to cancel existing debt. She traces an arc backwards, recognizing that opportunity in this country is given — and taken away — long before a student fills out a college application.

Opportunity is constrained by neighborhood safety, as a student assesses their daily priorities to see if college applications make the cut. Opportunity is constrained by the quality of public school education. It is constrained by the lack of affordable day care — and by the quality of prenatal and postnatal care. Debt cancellation is the final leg of a student’s journey. Warren is not just here for that final hurdle, however — and she makes that clear in her promise to students. She’s here to fight for every step of the process, so that every student has the opportunity to get the kind of education that currently saddles students with such unmanageable debt. And she’s here to make public college free, so that future students do not have to grapple with crippling debt at all.

This is why, on campuses across the nation, Elizabeth Warren has become an emblem of hope. Here at UC Berkeley, as graduation looms on the horizon  —  and many of us contemplate paying off loans for years to come — we still recognize that we are among those lucky ones who will enter the working world with a college degree. Our peers are answering her call to action, bolstered by Warren’s promise that she’s right there with us. From Massachusetts and Mississippi, to Pennsylvania, Louisiana and California — students have established Students for Warren chapters at their universities and schools. They have taken the baton passed to them, and assumed positions of leadership in a growing grassroots network of volunteers.

For us 18-24 year olds, Elizabeth Warren is the most potent example of a politician who champions research-backed policy with fierce, courageous leadership. Like every one of her plans, her pinky promises do not stand alone. They are integrated into a platform as deep as it is wide, as thorough and extensive as it is cohesive and, once spelled out, obvious.

The issues we care most about are intimately connected and interdependent. Warren’s platform recognizes this interconnection. To address affordable higher education is to address wealth disparity and an imbalance of opportunity. To address affordable housing is to address environmental degradation, the conflicting priorities of corporate entities and people —  and the damage we inflict on public and native lands. To address job creation is to address universal health care, foreign policy and clean energy. To address criminal justice reform is to open discussions on government lobbying, immigration law, the right to choose and the weight of Wall Street.

And to address the needs of students? The campaign commands the attention of every one of us — born in this country or newly arrived to its shores, rich or poor, old or young. We fight for education because education shapes our beliefs, our values, the path we choose or the one chosen for us. We fight for education because it is the very first equalizer, the very last divider. It is the best chance we have to recognize our own potential and to elevate each of our peers to theirs as well. We fight, and with Warren’s signature pinky promises, she’s fighting with us too.

Nicola Phillips is a senior majoring in global studies, with a concentration in peace and conflict studies. She is the director of recruitment for the Students for Warren chapter at UC Berkeley and is passionate about public advocacy and criminal justice reform.