Emerald: What issues do you hope to address regarding college students?
Lewallen: I am concerned with student debt. This is something that strikes right at home for me because I had to borrow money in order to go to undergrad (University of Colorado Boulder), and I am now paying off student debt from going to law school (Lewis & Clark College). I think this is an area desperately in need of regulation.
In my experience, my [federal] student aid package was better during my first year of school, and it got worse throughout. The first year, [the government] gave me more subsidized debt and more grant money, but as I progressed through both undergrad and law school, the package got worse. By the end, it was all unsubsidized debt, which accrues interest as you go through school. So, I think that there is a lot of regulation that needs to be done in the student debt market.
I also envision a broader spectrum of loan forgiveness for doing public service related jobs: a lot of people in medical professions can come out of school and get debt forgiveness by working in an underserved area, but I think that we need people in professional capacity to solve a lot of the issues of our day. So if a person could come out of school, and in a short number of years work off student debt, and still get training on the job and a stipend, that would be a jobs growth program that would start to address those issues.
E: Can you tell us a little bit about your advocacy background?
L: When I was coming out of college, we were getting ready to go to Afghanistan and I protested that invasion. I felt that the invasion was in the interest of profit and was being blown out of proportion to what it should have been, which I thought was a cooperative intelligence effort as opposed to a full scale war. Then, I protested the Iraq war in Northern California. When I came up to Portland, I got involved in the labor movement when I started working my way in the longshore union. … During that time, I decided to go to law school to strengthen my advocacy.
And now that I am out of law school, and entered into this community of lawyers representing the underdog, whether it’s from suing employers, creditors or insurers, that kind of evening the playing field has always spoken to me, and because I have gotten to do it in the environmental, anti-war and labor movement. I’ve seen that, although these groups are often played against each other and by the scarcity of the concessions that are given to the progressives; when they join together, it becomes a real transformative threat to the establishment.
E: How long have you worked as a longshoreman?
L: I’ve been working on the docks 12 years, that’s how I make a living. … [In Oregon] we export mineral wealth — whether its soda ash, pot ash and wheat — and import manufactured goods. It reminded me of when I was studying anti-colonialism in college: … There was all this writing about dependency theory — where you loan a bunch of money to a country so that they can develop their resources, export their wealth to be manufactured somewhere else and then be shipped back at a profit to the country providing that wealth. That’s essentially what we are becoming: a country that is dependent on authoritarian regimes throughout the Pacific Rim to provide things we need.