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The Carletonian

Building a better MPIRG: We need your help

<u may have seen us around campus this week, asking students to sign a petition to restore funding for MPIRG at Carleton. We are some of the leaders of Carleton MPIRG, and we would like to take this opportunity to explain why we believe that MPIRG has a vital role to play at Carleton.

Two years ago, we lost our funding. Our opponents raised a couple of legitimate concerns, and we are working to address those concerns. We want to build a better MPIRG, a bigger MPIRG, a stronger MPIRG – an organization that will empower all Carleton students to make change happen on the issues they care about. And we need your help.

When we work with MPIRG, we have the power to make change happen in politics. MPIRG provides us with two key resources: a statewide network of students who work with us to build a broad base of political support, and a voice at the Capitol in St. Paul for the times when we can’t be there.

Over the past forty years, Carleton MPIRG students have played a part in dozens of victories – from the creation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 1978, to the first-in-the-nation ban on the use of Bisphenol-A in children’s products in 2009.

And MPIRG remains a 100 percent student-controlled organization. Students from across the state vote on the issues that the statewide organization will focus on each year. On each campus, students have the option to work on these statewide campaigns, or to choose other issues that interest them. A board of students featuring representatives from every campus has the authority to hire and fire the organization’s staff and set its budget.
Carleton’s MPIRG chapter was funded through a small optional fee on the tuition statement, approved by the student body in a referendum each year. This year, we are working to win it back.

A few former MPIRG students said they had a bad experience with the organization. They said that the staff person who worked with Carleton at the time had tried to make them use tactics that they didn’t want to use, and to work on issues that didn’t interest them. And they said that when they didn’t comply, the staff member asked them to leave the organization.

Over the past few years, we have spent hundreds of hours working with MPIRG staff members, and we have never felt like they were trying to make us do anything we didn’t want to do. We have spoken with dozens of MPIRG students across the state, and they tell us the role of MPIRG staff on their campuses is to provide advice and support on the issues students choose, not to dictate the agenda.

Because MPIRG has been such a good experience for us, we are troubled that any student would feel they had a negative experience with MPIRG. We are working to improve communications between Carleton MPIRG and the state office to ensure that staff members are aware of the unique character of the Carleton campus, and to address potential conflicts as soon as they arise.

More importantly, the students who opposed us claimed the money spent on MPIRG was not being used to benefit the student body. The fact is that the MPIRG fee pays for a unique set of tools and resources on campus that enable us to make our voices heard more effectively and to develop our capacities as leaders. But we learned we were not doing enough to include the rest of the Carleton campus in the work we do, and we were not doing enough to spread the word that these resources were available for all students to use (not just those who attend our meetings).

Once we win back our funding, Carleton students will once again have full access to MPIRG’s tools and resources. We will have a professional organizer on campus multiple days a week, whose job it is to help us develop our skills as activists and leaders. The organizer will lead regular trainings open to the entire campus community, and he or she will help us to build campaigns around the issues we choose. The organizer will be available for consultations with any student organization that would like to increase its membership or develop a campaign around any issue.

Carleton students will have access to MPIRG’s statewide network of student activists and MPIRG’s extensive connections with other nonprofit organizations. All Carleton students will have the opportunity to attend statewide training and lobbying events.

It costs money to provide these resources to Carleton, and that is why we need to fund the Carleton MPIRG chapter. But the funding we are requesting is small – only $9 per student. And it is optional, meaning that you will have two easy opportunities to decline to pay it by opting out or requesting a refund.

We know MPIRG is a good organization. Over the past forty years, it’s enabled Carleton students to make real change in politics, in a way no other organization has. We have personally worked with MPIRG staff members, and we know they work to empower students.

Today, at this very moment, hundreds of students are active in MPIRG chapters across the state, at schools like Macalester and Augsburg. They are making their voices heard in the political process, on the issues they choose. And they are having a great time doing it.

If MPIRG were not a good organization, could it ever have made it this far? Could it have been so effective? Could it have had such a transformative impact on the lives of thousands of students, helping them to become better leaders and stronger advocates for change?

It’s time for us to bring MPIRG back – not so we can return to what we had before, but so we can build something better. This is our promise: the power for Carleton students to make change happen on the issues we care about.

That is why we are asking for your support.

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