For students like Johanna Hussain, a graduating senior from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, activism became a calling.
“We will keep working until every eligible student is prepared to vote, the threats of climate change become a thing of the past, and every student believes they can make a difference, no matter how small that difference is,” says Johanna, who recently accepted a full-time job with us after she graduates. But she wouldn’t even be involved with us, much less turning to a career of activism and advocacy, without the PIRG Campus Action program.
A year ago, we launched PIRG Campus Action to expand our organizing program to new college campuses and give thousands more students the opportunity to learn the skills of effective grassroots organizing.
As we mark a successful year of organizing and engaging students, I wanted to give you a quick update on how our program is doing and highlight the work of students like Johanna, who are showing that change can still happen when young people lead the way.
Our team of professional organizers worked with and trained 1,300 students on over 100 campuses in 30 states, from North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan to Texas and Arizona. In turn, student leaders and volunteers generated over 21,000 campaign actions on pressing issues students care about, from combating the rise of plastic pollution and saving the bees to making higher education more affordable.
Read on for more highlights:
Breaking Free From Plastic
Dozens of clubs participated in litter clean-ups and brand audits to identify the companies responsible for the most plastic pollution (perhaps not surprisingly, the Coca-Cola Company was once again named the worst corporate plastic polluter in the world). At campuses such as Florida International University, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and North Carolina State University, students made progress towards winning university-level commitments to stop the use of single-use plastic.
Making Higher Education Affordable
While the cost of a college degree continues to skyrocket, one key area students are making a difference is the price of textbooks. PIRG Campus Action students advocated for open educational resources (OER), open-source and freely available materials like textbooks that are free for students and professors to adapt for their classroom. PIRG student leader Graceanne Hoback from Florida State University gave a briefing to Congressional staff about the cost of textbooks, and students at University of Central Florida and North Carolina State University passed student government resolutions in support of OER.
Addressing Housing and Food Insecurity
Students came together to help their communities address homelessness and food insecurity and set the stage for solutions. PIRG student leaders in Florida and Pennsylvania teamed up with Swipe Out Hunger to advocate for solutions to student food insecurity. In Florida, they introduced the Hunger Free Campus Act, a state bill that would create a grant program to eliminate food insecurity at Florida’s public universities and successfully passed the bill through two key committees. In Pennsylvania, students won funding in the state budget this year for a similar program. During Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, more than 30 PIRG Campus Action clubs organized dozens of educational and service events, resulting in $1,500 raised for local charities and 2,500 food and clothing items donated.
Saving the Bees
Texas student leaders worked with the city of Austin to certify the city as a bee-friendly city. The resolution commits the city to a variety of bee-friendly policies, such as expanding pollinator-friendly habitats and reducing the use of pesticides. Sonoma State University also committed to bee friendly campus certification after students presented to the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee.
Responding to COVID-19
Student leaders reached nearly 50,000 students in key states such as Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina with information on why and how to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including nearly 3,000 phone conversations.
Lobbying Elected Officials
Students in nine states organized lobby days at their state capitals and in DC, calling on elected officials to act on textbooks, student loan debt, climate change, plastic pollution, and student hunger. For example, in North Carolina, students called on North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper to sign an executive order that would call for the elimination of single-use plastics in public institutions. To help reach their goal, students educated their peers and collected thousands of signatures. At the end of March, students met with their local city and county representatives to urge them to sign on in support and take action to reduce single-use plastics in their municipalities.
I’m so proud of the work the PIRG Campus Action team accomplished this year. If you have any questions or want to know more about our work, feel free to send me an email or follow me on Twitter @DanLikeDawn.
Dan Xie // Political Director
Dan began her career in college as a student leader with CALPIRG, where she helped to bring high-speed rail to California. In her current role she directs the national political strategy for the Student PIRGs. She advises staff and students on strategic campaign plans and amplifies our work with coalition partners and at conferences. Dan has managed successful campaigns to cap global warming pollution, fight the high cost of higher education, and make voting more accessible for students. Dan lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she is an avid cyclist and climber.