In the news

CALPIRG Students
|
The Guardian, UCSD
By
Lara Sanli

On Wednesday night, approximately 100 students convened in Center Hall for California Public Interest Research Group’s first Winter Quarter general body meeting and the formal launch of its new campaigns. The room was filled with the sound of students chatting as they hastened to grab some free pizza and a slideshow of CALPIRG’s accomplishments was rolling at the front of the lecture hall. In it, CALPIRG members were pictured posing with famous politicians, lobbying in Sacramento, and posing with brightly colored “100% Renewable Energy” signs on Library Walk. It seemed like CALPIRG brought genuine happiness to the students smiling in the photos.

CALPIRG is a political advocacy group with chapters at eight of the 10 University of California campuses. As a nonpartisan, student-funded, and student-directed nonprofit, it partners with professional staff to run grassroots campaigns, educate the public, and even do lobbying of its own in Sacramento and Washington D.C.

This quarter, CALPIRG’s main priority is to help pass SB 100, the bill introduced by Senator Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles) that would commit the state of California to 100-percent renewable energy by 2045. Not only does CALPIRG hope to pass SB 100 at the state level, but it also hopes that UC San Diego can become a 100-percent renewable energy campus by 2045 as well.

In fact, CALPIRG has already achieved remarkable success when it comes to implementing the legislation on UC campuses. CALPIRG worked with the Energy and Facilities Management Services of the UC Office of the President and reached an agreement to procure all purchased electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. However, there is still a long way to go.

Thurgood Marshall College junior Kol Chaiken, head of the 100% Renewable Energy campaign and chapter chair, believes that climate change is one of the biggest issues of our time.

“We’re already starting to see the effects of climate change — the fires in Sonoma, [Los Angeles], Santa Barbara; the mudslides; the hurricanes in Puerto Rico … ” she said. “We have a chance right now to stop all of this.”

The primary cause of climate change lies in the use of dirty energy (fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal), which release greenhouse gases, which in turn release harmful pollutants considered toxic for human and animal survival.

CALPIRG’s grassroots efforts will hopefully make a substantial difference in passing SB 100. And if SB 100 does indeed pass, California will emerge as a global role model for renewable energy.

“California has one of the biggest economies in the world and one of the biggest populations in the United States,” Chaiken stated. “If California does something, the world listens — so the world will probably follow too.”

Sixth College sophomore Sophie Haddad, vice chair of the UCSD chapter and member-at-large of the state executive committee, also believes that CALPIRG’s Renewable Energy campaign is of critical importance.

“Climate change is a big issue that affects students,” Haddad said. “We all know that we’re the first generation to feel the real impacts of climate change, and the last generation that will be able to make a real difference on it.”

To build even more support for SB 100 in the next few months, CALPIRG will be organizing days of action, calling legislators, and lobbying in Sacramento. It also plans to host a solar-powered concert sometime in the spring.  

In addition to the 100% Renewable Energy campaign, CALPIRG is running several other campaigns: Save the Bees, Hunger and Homelessness, Make Textbooks Affordable, and New Voters Project.

That being said, activism is by no means an easy job and it can be especially difficult to mobilize UCSD students. As students living in famously idyllic La Jolla, many are too engrossed in their academics to notice the magnitude of the events going on in the rest of the world.

“THERE ARE FEWER AND FEWER OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS — OR FOR CITIZENS AT ALL — TO BE ENGAGED IN PUBLIC LIFE,” HADDAD INSIGHTFULLY REMARKED. “AND THAT HAS A LOT TO DO WITH THE AGE THAT WE LIVE IN, THAT MANY PARTS OF THE GOVERNMENT ARE VERY PRIVATIZED … BUT I THINK IT’S VERY IMPORTANT FOR STUDENTS TO REALIZE HOW IMPORTANT CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IS, ESPECIALLY NOW, AND THAT THEY SHOULD FIGHT TO HAVE THEIR VOICES HEARD.”

The very essence of CALPIRG lies in this student capacity for civic engagement because it directly involves students in creating substantial change.

“We run grassroots campaigns, and so that basically means that we make a backward plan from the decision maker of how to win the campaign,” Haddad explained. “And then depending on the campaign, it usually involves collecting petitions, because we believe that people power is the key to standing up to powerful special interests.”

However, CALPIRG is currently going through contract negotiations with the university to maintain its status as a legitimate organization on campus. Since it receives no funding from the university, it is completely dependent on voluntary student pledges and the guarantee of student involvement.

In April, there will be a referendum to continue this student pledge-funding system. The referendum needs at least 20 percent of the student body (approximately 6,000 students) to pass. If the referendum were to fail, CALPIRG would have to find alternative ways of funding.

Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman Ryan Roden, an active member of CALPIRG and the coordinator of the Hunger and Homelessness project, stressed the importance of student involvement and voting in the referendum.

“Without this, CALPIRG is not going to be in a very stable position. We can’t ask from the school, so we ask from students, and if we can’t ask from the students, we have nothing.”

CALPIRG is extremely important to Roden, who believes he has already garnered many life skills from his involvement in the group as a freshman.

“We have frequent meetings, and we communicate heavily on things — being able to continue to be in touch with someone on that level of depth about the work you do, really keeps things at an urgent pace, but also helps you stay controlled and not stretch yourself,” he remarked.

Roden also admires CALPIRG’s “effectiveness in trying to push senate policy, or even city policy.” This sort of personal involvement in creating change is something he and Haddad both cited as one of their main reasons for joining CALPIRG.

“What I want to promote, besides people learning about CALPIRG, is knowing that you as a student can really change a lot,” Roden reiterated. “This referendum isn’t really just about us, but that students have a direct say in things coming into action.”

CALPIRG still has volunteer positions available and students are encouraged to join because it is an excellent way to make a lasting difference.

“I wanted to make a difference on something important that affected a lot of people’s lives,” Haddad said. “I realized that working with students directly was a huge way in which I could not only make significant social change but also set up other students to become leaders and empower them to change their lives.”

Related Chapter

CALPIRG at UC San Diego