MATTHEW BOYLE ’19
Over the Trinity Days weekend, there was a regional retreat for PIRG chapters at Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, MA. Ethan Yang ‘20 and I went as representatives of Trinity’s ConnPIRG chapter. The retreat was attended by about 60 students from 10 different schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts. ConnPIRG is not just a club on campus, it is also part of a network of PIRGs that are active on other campuses across the country as well as at every level of government. Of course, in Massachusetts it is called MASSPIRG and in California it is CALPIRG and so on and so forth. Due to their proximity, the student chapters of ConnPIRG and MASSPIRG work closely together. Retreats like these are held on a regular basis in order to plan and train for the current semester and beyond. These retreats are great for anyone who wants to learn useful skills for running an organization, get involved in meaningful political action and have fun as well.
The skill sessions could be considered the main event of the first day. During these sessions, PIRG organizers and staff taught different skills and strategies that would be useful in accomplishing our goals on campus, particularly getting a commitment to use 100% renewable energy on campus by 2050. The sessions I attended were about planning events and running effective meetings. Yang attended sessions on power mapping (finding out who has influence over decision making) and semester planning. Having students that are trained on how to effectively organize and mobilize for a cause makes ConnPIRG more effective as a student activist group. It allows each student in a chapter to work more effectively as an individual, which gives the organization the ability to take on multiple issues even with only a few members.
However, the retreat was not all work and no play. After dinner, some people made a fire and roasted marshmallows to make s’mores. Others brought instruments and multiple attempts were made to sing various pop songs in unison. Meanwhile, X-Men: Days of Future Past was played for the people who preferred to stay inside and out of the cold. There was also a hilarious game of Cards Against Humanity. A group of students also recalled their bizarre and hilarious escapades that occurred on atrip to Washington D.C.
The second and final day of the retreat was much shorter but nevertheless had some important information. For starters, the rebranding of the student PIRGS was discussed. This has been talked about for a while now and is still largely a work in progress but students have decided that PIRG is just not a great name for our organization. Not only do people sometimes think it is pronounced like “purge”, it does not immediately suggest to an onlooker that it is the name of a student activist group. That is only the tip of the iceberg, but giving all the reasons the name should be changed would be unnecessary.
I also learned that one of the MASSPIRG students is leading her own campaign to get Dunkin’ Donuts to stop using Styrofoam cups. This is a great example of the kind of leadership opportunities PIRG provides. They will support anyone with a project that is at least potentially feasible and in line with their values.
With all that occurred during the retreat I could hardly describe all of it in this article alone. Suffice it to say that ConnPIRG provides a unique opportunity to learn skills that are not typically taught in the classroom. It also provides leadership opportunities, even if it is a student’s first semester with ConnPIRG. Last, but not least, it is an opportunity to meet some great people who are passionate about a variety of important issues.