Happy November! As many of you might have heard, Dorm Wars, the energy-saving competition that pits dorms against each other to see who can reduce their energy usage the most, started yesterday. What you may not know is that Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG,) one of the groups behind Dorm Wars, is holding a referendum next week to continue their funding and the existence of a chapter at Trinity.
I strongly believe that every student should vote ‘YES’ on Nov. 7-8 to keep ConnPIRG on this campus.
Before I tell you why I am voting yes for ConnPIRG, and why you should too, I want to lay out some of the basic facts about the funding system currently in place. ConnPIRG is funded through a $5 per semester, per student refundable fee. Any student that does not agree with the work we do or who does not want to pay the fee can obtain a refund at the end of each semester.
This system has been in place since ConnPIRG was first founded in 1973 by Trinity students who decided to pool their money together in order to hire advocates to make their voices heard. Ever since then, ConnPIRG has been helping students make a difference on the issues they care about — issues like the environment, higher education and consumer protection.
As I’m sure you know, we’re facing a lot of problems in today’s world — special interests want to weaken laws that protect the environment and consumer protection while pumping big money into the political system that could easily dominate the democratic process. The $5 per semester fee gives ConnPIRG the resources to team student activism up with professional advocates and organizers in order to run campaigns that counterbalance special interest influence in government. And you know what? It works.
Over the past 30 years, ConnPIRG has accomplished a lot, both locally and nationally. Ever noticed the choking hazard warning label on toys with small parts? ConnPIRG helped pass the first toy safety laws that made these a requirement. We also helped pass the first Lemon Law in the country, which protects consumers from faulty cars.
More recently, ConnPIRG worked with Connecticut legislators to pass an energy bill that will increase renewable energy while protecting citizens from anti-consumer utility practices. We worked with students across the state and nationwide to take on the publishing industry to fight unfair practices that raise the cost of textbooks. We helped convince Congress to make higher education more accessible and affordable by increasing need-based grant aid by $36 billion, cutting the interest rates on student loans in half and capping the percentage of income that can be used to repay these loans.
In the last two years, we have raised over $3,000 to benefit Connecticut hunger organizations during our annual spring Hunger Cleanup and have cooked meals for hundreds of homeless people through our community kitchen program.
This year we’re been working to promote energy efficiency, help students navigate bank fees and end wasteful agricultural subsidies that are fueling the nation’s obesity crisis. This fall, we raised over $350 for famine relief in Somalia and collected petitions to encourage our legislators to end wasteful agricultural subsidies.
Starting this weekend, we’ll be helping local residents make simple changes that will make their homes more energy efficient and lower their bills. We’ll also be teaching local kids about energy efficiency and hosting our annual Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week at the end of this month.
But ConnPIRG does more than just run successful campaigns. It gives students a voice and teaches them the skills to make a difference on the issues they care about. College should be about more than classroom learning and preparing for the working world; it should also prepare students to be effective citizens. And ConnPIRG helps to fulfill this function at Trinity by teaching students the skills — like petitioning, working with the media, and building coalitions — that enable them to make a difference now and in the future.
ConnPIRG has given many of your peers, including me, the opportunity to make a real difference on the issues we care about. I am currently running a ConnPIRG campaign to urge Congress to end wasteful agricultural subsidies. Here on campus, I’m working to raise awareness on the issue and collect petitions to send to our senators and representatives (you’ve most likely seen me around Mather, asking for signatures). But there’s only so much we can do to influence the government in Washington from here in Hartford. I don’t know about the rest of you, but as a student, I can’t hop down to D.C. and lobby the government directly. With ConnPIRG, I know that there are advocates speaking on behalf of students here at Trinity to make sure our voices are heard.
There are a lot of groups here on campus doing a lot of great work on many different issues, but ConnPIRG fills a unique position. By teaming up student activism with professional advocates and organizers, ConnPIRG enables students to run campaigns that have an impact on a statewide and national level. We make a difference!
Overall, ConnPIRG is an effective organization and an asset to this college. It gives students the voice and the skills to make an impact on the issues they care about. After over 30 years of helping Trinity students make a difference, it’d be a shame to not have a ConnPIRG chapter on this campus. So vote ‘YES’ for ConnPIRG on Nov. 7-8 so that we can continue to help students make a difference.
For more information or to get involved with ConnPIRG, you can e-mail me, Elizabeth.Whitman@trincoll.edu, or contact Rachel Konowitz, our campus organizer, at Rachel@connpirgstudents.org.