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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

MPIRG will continue to play an important role on campus despite “No” vote

<y 7, 2009, Governor Tim Pawlenty signed into law a bill to ban Bisphenol-A, a known endocrine disrupter and carcinogen, from baby bottles and sippy cups sold in the state of Minnesota. That seems like the sort of legislation that no politician in his or her right mind would oppose.

But only a year ago, a similar bill to ban phthalates, another hormone disruptor, was vetoed by Governor Pawlenty under intense lobbying from the chemical industry. This year, the Healthy Legacy Coalition’s extraordinary success in getting the governor’s signature was due in large part to the efforts of MPIRG students across the state, who flooded Pawlenty’s office with more than a thousand phone calls. The Carleton chapter alone collected 150 calls, more than any other nonprofit organization in the whole state.

With Pawlenty’s signature, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to restrict the use of BPA, a small but momentous step towards creating a comprehensive system to regulate the toxic chemicals in the products we use every day.

MPIRG was part of this victory. Carleton’s MPIRG chapter was part of this victory. And by extension, every Carleton student who paid the MPIRG fee was part of this victory.

Now that the MPIRG referendum has failed, and Carleton’s formal relationship with MPIRG has been terminated, it does not mean that we can no longer make phone calls and write letters and host events in support of MPIRG’s campaigns. In fact, you should expect our group to be very active and very visible (although under a different name) on campus next fall.

But MPIRG requires more than our phone-banking and letter-writing support; it requires our financial support, in order to continue hiring staff to speak with legislators, represent students on coalitions, and build support for bills to the point where our voices will make a difference. In order for MPIRG to function as a voice for students in the political process, MPIRG’s funding must come at least in part from students, not from corporations or wealthy donors.

The simple fact is that if every campus did what we have just done — defund MPIRG — then MPIRG would cease to exist.

A world without MPIRG is not a world we want to see. The greatest testament to MPIRG’s victories over the years is that they seem so obvious in retrospect: Of course we should have a wilderness area in the Boundary Waters! Of course we should give more money to affordable housing! Of course we should get carcinogenic chemicals out of children’s products! And yet, practically every piece of legislation pursued by MPIRG faces well-funded opposition from entrenched interests like the mining, forestry and chemical corporations. MPIRG provides a much-needed counterweight to those industrial lobbyists to make sure that our elected officials hear what is best for the public interest, and not just for the corporate interests.

On our campus and throughout the state, MPIRG has been a positive and empowering experience for the vast majority of the hundreds of students who have participated in making real change on a statewide level. The fact that a few students had a negative experience with the organization is no reason to deny all present and future Carleton students the opportunity to benefit from the training, the network, and the unique statewide activist experience that MPIRG offers.

For these reasons, it remains our goal and desire to reinstate Carleton’s MPIRG chapter and MPIRG fee at some point in the next few years. For the time being, we will continue to be an energetic and enthusiastic part of Carleton’s activist community, and we look forward to building new productive connections with the many students on our campus working actively towards a better world.

-Ben Hellerstein is a first-year student
-Christa Owens is a first-year student
-Michelle Hesterberg is a first-year

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