What are we really voting on next week?

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) started in 1971 with a petition circulated on college campuses across the state. This petition was based on the simple idea that if students wanted to effect change on every level, we had to be present at every level, and that included at the Capitol. Student voices are often ignored by those in power, and only with a collective voice can we push for issues that are important to us. But to do this, we can’t rely on funding from the corporations we are trying to fight—we need funding from those we are fighting for. That is what the fee boils down to.

Besides our student funding, the other unique component of MPIRG’s founding is where that fee money goes: to staff. Our organization’s long history of organizing and mobilizing young people around public policy issues has been driven by staff that work with students every day to build up skills. The MPIRG staff organizer at Macalester, the incredible Ian, helps our task forces plan and implement strategic, timely campaigns on issues that students care about. Ian helps us run exciting and effective programming on campus by teaching us great organizing strategies and putting your activity fee money to great use right here. As it turns out, MPIRG puts more money into Mac programming than it receives in student fees from Mac.

The MPIRG Organizer, Organizing Director, and Executive Director work with us to formulate public policy dealing with pressing social and environmental justice issues. These are not issues that outsiders come up with and force on us—they are decided by us as Macalester students and by our student-run State Board of Directors. The staff then helps us present testimony at the Capitol to make sure the voices of young people are in the room when these issues are heard. MPIRG staff plug us into coalitions working on our state’s most salient legislation, give students a seat at the table, and empower us to speak strongly on how these campaigns can meet the needs of our generation. Without MPIRG staff, the presence of Macalester students in the important state public policy discussions would be severely diminished.

Some students have asked us why we can’t have an opt-in fee system. No student group would choose an opt-in fee system, including MCSG or other campus groups, because of the free rider problem. Economists have consistently torn apart opt-in systems as viable funding mechanisms, as many will want the work of an organization to continue but think that it does not need their financial support.

The same students have asked why we can’t apply for funding through MCSG like other student groups. The answer there is simple: this process is not open to MPIRG. MCSG bylaws prohibit donations made to “charities,” and this has been interpreted to include MPIRG. If MCSG were to change these rules and allow MPIRG to operate its programming through the same process as other groups, we would seriously consider moving over to that process if the student body agreed. Referendums take capacity away from our actual issue organizing, so we would welcome the less strenuous process. But for now, our current contract has been grandfathered in and we have no other way to fund this programming. A novote on MPIRG is not a protest vote against the contract terms, it is a vote to end the programming of an organization that has been empowering Mac students for over 40 years. There is a time and a place to engage in conversations about the stipulations of that contract, but that happens when this referendum passes.

Voting no would put an end to an organization that has given a voice to hundreds of students who have felt silenced by politics as usual, and take away that opportunity for hundreds to come. It would contribute to the quieting of young people at the Capitol, in our communities, and on our campus. So ask yourself, would you be willing to step up to fill the void created by a no vote? Will you stick around for generations of Mac students to ensure this work continues? If you are not willing to be held accountable for any of those, you should vote yes. Voting YES would be a vote for representation, a vote for student empowerment, and a vote to continue MPIRG’s great work at Macalester.