Any successful modern movement that has changed our country for the better, from civil rights to environmentalism, has featured students and young people at its forefront. Today, that’s as true as ever. Despite a pandemic that forced millions of students to attend college online, student activism and organizing are going strong—and still gaining strength. Students remain hungry for change and are more motivated to get involved and make a difference than at any point in recent memory.
Our friends at CIRCLE found last month that 84 percent of young people agreed that work to help their communities must continue after Election Day, and 80 percent believe it’s young people’s responsibility to lead the way.
That data came to life last month. For 50 years at the start of semesters, we’ve helped student leaders set in motion a wave of campus activism. This wave starts with “general interest meetings” and culminates in hundreds of thousands of political actions taken over the course of the semester, as thousands of young people begin their active civic lives. Judging by student attendance and involvement at general interest meetings across California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington, PIRG students are ready to make serious waves this year—despite difficulties created by the pandemic.
Already, more than 3,200 students are taking on roles in campaigns to address the climate crisis, respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, ban single-use plastic products, alleviate hunger and homelessness, and more.
We’re experiencing remarkable engagement at PIRG stronghold chapters and newer ones alike:
In California, the eight CALPIRG chapters hosted more than 1,200 students in total at their meetings
NCPIRG at UNC Chapel Hill’s kickoff meeting had over 80 students, the biggest in UNC’s history.
OSPIRG’s kickoff at the University of Oregon had more than 100 students in attendance
Florida PIRG kickoffs at the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida both had more than 110 students
The University of Washington’s WashPIRG chapter held its largest kickoff meeting ever with 116 students
Maryland PIRG’s kickoff at the University of Maryland turned out 181 students
And that’s just the meetings. Already this fall, student leaders with the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project made 390,000 Get out the Vote contacts on more than 100 college campuses across 17 states leading up to the 2020 election. More than 2,000 interns and 3,000 student volunteers focused on peer-to-peer outreach to help register, educate and mobilize their fellow students to vote despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
CALPIRG at UC San Diego’s kickoff meeting featured newly elected Assembly member Chris Ward as a guest speaker.
All that student engagement gives us more reach than ever, so we’re gearing up to give thousands more students the skills and the opportunity to make a difference on the issues they care about.
The Student PIRGs are launching PIRG Campus Action clubs, an expansion of our organizing program on more than 60 new campuses in 23 states and in Washington, D.C. this year, including campuses where we ran our New Voters Project. At Brown University; Howard University; Florida A&M University; the Universities of Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin-Madison; Yale University; and many campuses in between, we’re helping students stay organized, mobilized and energized.
For now, our program remains entirely virtual, allowing organizers to reach more campuses at once and determine the best opportunities to launch our program, including which issues are salient to the campus community. We’re thrilled to give so many new students hands-on experience and training from our team of organizing experts. This expansion also means we’ll be able to build stronger campaigns, win more local and state victories, generate more attention for issues at the federal level, and launch the careers of a new generation of activists.