FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Let the PIRGs Begin!

Ask a Washington, DC taxi driver about student activism in the United States and you will likely hear about student involvement in the Civil Rights movement and student opposition to the war in Vietnam. If you push a bit, the driver may mention Earth Day.

Don’t blame the driver for providing you with a snapshot of activism that only deals with the 60s. When it comes to students, the media lens is narrow. It focuses on mega events. And it focuses on the zany: swallowing goldfish in the 50s, Nehru jackets in the 60s, streaking in the 70s, toga parties in the 80s, the Macarena in the 90s and so it goes. News of student initiatives after the early 70s barely captures the tip of the iceberg. Just below the surface, however, there is a vibrant and enduring student movement.

One of the shining examples of this student movement is the student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs). With the help of our organizers, this campus-based phenomenon that started in 1970 has grown broader and deeper on campuses throughout the country. Students in Oregon and Minnesota launched the first PIRGs. After the initial success in these two pioneering states, attorney and organizer Donald Ross and I wrote a book titled: Action for a Change: A Students Manual for Public Interest Organizing. this

This 1971 how-to blueprint helped students in other states organize PIRGs. Today they operate in 29 states nationwide ­ from California to New York, in small states like Vermont and in other states as diverse as New Jersey and Colorado.

Each local PIRG is financed and controlled by students, but guided by a professional staff of attorneys, scientists, organizers and others. Core funding comes from modest annual fees of $5 to $10 automatically billed to all students on campuses who approve a campus PIRG by a majority vote. Once underway, PIRGs work on local, statewide and national issues ranging from improving the quality of subway service in New York City, to making polluters pay for their toxic waste dumps, to reducing fees for banking services, to promoting renewable energy policies. PIRGs are non-partisan, non-ideological, no-nonsense groups that make good things happen with creative approaches and hard work.

In 1983, the state PIRGs banded together and created a national lobbying office and a full time staff of advocates working with the state PIRGs on environmental issues such as preserving the Arctic wilderness, protection of forests, and reversing global warming. The PIRG consumer agenda is as broad as the marketplace. It includes challenging the production of genetically modified food, concentration of media ownership, and safeguarding privacy as well as advocating laws to limit the potential of identity theft. US PIRG also works to prevent fraud and gouging of consumer borrowers and depositors.

And, the PIRG democracy initiatives range from campaign finance reform, to ballot access laws that provide equal access to all political parties, to proportional representation, to open access to government information.

Doug Phelps, a student activist in the 60s and a graduate of Harvard Law School, is the chair of the State PIRGS. Phelps says for, “over three decades in dozens of states on many issues – there is a common thread: research, organizing and advocacy. In each case, state PIRGs began by investigating the problems at hand, building support for concrete solutions among the public, and then persistently advocating change.”

Gene Karpinski, the Executive Director of USPIRG, notes that, “beyond the lobbying, litigation and investigative reports, the PIRGs teach students about the role they can and should have in a democracy.” And, the role is indeed significant.

This country has more problems than it should tolerate and more solutions than it uses. Few societies in the course of human history have faced such a situation: most are in the fires without the water to squelch them. Our society has the resources and the skills to keep injustice at bay and to elevate the human condition to a state of enduring compassion and creative fulfillment. How we go about using the resources and skills has consequences which extend beyond our national borders to all the earth’s people. These words ring as true today as they did in 1971.

PIRGs have taught students that they can “fight city hall” and that they can win important victories for our society. They have published hundreds of groundbreaking reports and useful guides, helped pass scores of important laws in their state legislatures, called media attention to environmental threats and stopped consumer abuses by corporations. But the work of building and improving our society must continue. The injustices of tomorrow will require the next generation of student activists to rise to the challenge of building a more just and humane society. And just as I said in 1971, “The problems of the present and the risks of the future are deep and plain. But let it not be said that this generation refused to give up so little in order to achieve so much.”

For more information on the PIRGs visit:
http://uspirg.org/ and http://www.pirg.org/

 

 

 

More articles by:

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail