Pledging CalPIRG for Social Change

This week you will see hundreds of students across campus polka-dotted with bright orange stickers. The stickers read, ‘I pledged CalPIRG,’ and show their support for California Public Interest Research Group, a student-run group on campus that fights for social change, especially in the areas of environmental protection, poverty and consumer protection.
Students decide which campaigns to work on, often focusing on what can they do to benefit the most people. One of their largest campaigns is the Campus Climate Challenge. It is a program dedicated to getting 100 percent renewable energy through sources such solar and wind power. They’ve raised a lot of money to adopt a local homeless family from Orange Country for three years so they can find affordable housing. CalPIRG has organized a spring break volunteer trip to the Gulf Coast to help serve the area affected by Hurricane Katrina. They’re also working on getting students cheaper textbooks and a higher buyback price for used books.
To become involved with these campaigns, CalPIRG offers an internship course allowing students to get class credit for volunteering. ‘The neat thing about [CalPIRG] is that we really fill in the gap and show students how to take the research and learning they have done in the classroom and actually turn that into action. For example, you may be hearing about global warming in some of your environmental classes, can write a research paper on the topic, but may feel like you don’t know how to then take that and turn it into positive social change. That is where CalPIRG comes in, teaching, showing, educating and building the leaders of our future on these movements,’ said Katherine Doehring, campus organizer of CalPIRG.
Students are able to work on these issues due to funding that provides the resources to hire professional staff who help guide them to be effective with different social issues.
Funding for CalPIRG used to be through a democratic system, where students could vote whether or not they wanted to pay a CalPIRG fee. In 1990, CalPIRG worked on a state proposition called the Big Green Initiative, which pushed for regulating pollution, having cleaner waterways, and a ban of cancer-causing chemicals from being put into playgrounds. Some members of the UC Regents had invested in one of the biggest companies that was being targeted by the initiative, so they pushed to get CalPIRG off campus. This eliminated the referendum and ‘the UC Regents actually made that funding system illegal,’ Doehring said.
After a few years of negotiation, CalPIRG was allowed back on campus by getting their funding through the pledge system. Every quarter they need to meet their threshold of 10 percent of students to pledge CalPIRG in order to receive funding and stay on campus. By pledging CalPIRG, $5 is added to a student’s Zotbill each quarter. This week, CalPIRG’s goal is to have 1,200 new pledges.
‘Unfortunately this system allows for a small number of people to pay the price while allowing everyone to reap the benefits of a chapter. While this is not idea, it is still the case that CalPIRG is able to exist as the chapters were originally set out to be: completely student-funded and student-run, giving students the resources they need in order to create positive social change in our world,’ Doehring said.
CalPIRG’s efforts have proven to be successful. Some of their recent accomplishments include working on a national coalition, which cut the interest rate on student loans in half. Their advocacy against global warming played a strong hand in having California legislators pass the AB 32, which will cut 14 percent of carbon pollution from big industries by 2020. Last year, CalPIRG convinced Governor Schwarzenegger to protect 4.4 million acres of the last wild forests in California from development.
Over 30,000 students across California pledge CalPIRG each year. Through the support of students who pledge, CalPIRG is able to maintain its continual efforts of advocating for students, the environment and the impoverished.