Opinion

Real Change: MPIRG & the Referendum

On a Friday night, no one wants to picture themselves in Olin-Rice. When it is hailing on April 3, standing outdoors for an hour is not where anyone wants to be. Yet, last spring, we did just that: 120 Macalester students showed up in OLRI for “Pipelines & Comedy: Climate Change Isn’t Funny,” and the following week 70 students bussed to downtown St. Paul to brave the cold and rally against the oil pipeline expansion. They were joined by students from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, U of M Duluth and a handful of other colleges. By the time the public comment period on the tar sands oil pipeline ended, Minnesota students had submitted more than 200 letters, and half were from Macalester.

Our voice as young people is strongest when we stand together. I picked Macalester specifically so that I could stay involved in campaigns that extended beyond just one campus during college. Everyone told me to join MPIRG, but they weren’t working on anything I cared about and their meetings were unproductive. By the end of my first semester, I quit.

Months later, a then-senior approached me about being a co-task force leader in MPIRG. I mulled it over: MPIRG’s dull campaigns and meetings were all a product of the leadership, not the organization itself. I realized if I actually wanted to see change in issues and activism on campus, the only responsible choice was to accept the position.

I was floored by the amazing opportunities wrought by having statewide networks and resources. The MPIRG fee pays for a small staff of campus organizers who help coordinate between schools. It was through Macalester’s staff member that we heard about the oil pipeline fight in northern Minnesota. We met with statewide MPIRG coalition partners and Duluth students, and with their help launched the on-campus campaign that culminated in “Pipelines & Comedy.” Coordinating through the MPIRG network, students from across the state then mobilized their campuses for the rally in April, turning out a third of the people who made headlines by completely packing the courtroom. Shortly thereafter, MPIRG took on pipeline resistance as an official statewide priority. The Minneapolis office was able to keep the momentum going over the summer, so when everyone showed up at Mac this fall, connections with coalitions and other campuses were ready to go.

This semester, 30 Macalester students headed to New York for the People’s Climate March, and our Environmental Justice Week brought speakers from around the state to Macalester. Next semester, we’ll roll out programming to keep these efforts connected with regional efforts on the Minnesota oil pipelines. All of this happens through MPIRG, because as a campus we have made the choice that having a united voice is worth a small amount of pocket change from each of us for the past 40 years. MPIRG isn’t one set of leaders or one campaign: it is the opportunity to involve Macalester in issues we care about.

Changing an org doesn’t mean destroying it, it means engaging. The networks and continuity that MPIRG provides are invaluable assets to the Macalester campus, and it is our job to engage and improve upon the organization’s relationship with our community, not eliminate it. Make it possible for those improvements to happen, and for powerful campaigns like the pipeline fight to continue on campus: VOTE YES on the MPIRG referendum.

November 14, 2014

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