In the vicinity of Wellman Hall or the ASUCD Coffee House, an enthusiastic person with a clipboard approaches, talking a mile a minute while escorting a student to class. After their spiel, the only options are to either sign the form or duck into the nearest classroom.
The California Student Public Interest Research Group is always looking for new members to join its various campaigns. The student directed and funded statewide organization operates chapters at University of Southern California and all UC campuses, except UC Merced. Their objectives: Round up college students, spread awareness of today’s pressing issues – and do something about them.
“The first step is to educate students about issues and on what they can do about them,” said Margaret Howe, campus organizer for CALPIRG. “Then we want to make actual progress on issues – go to the capitol to lobby and collect petitions.”
CALPIRG volunteers, interns and coordinators are currently concentrating on five different issues. Hunger and homelessness, global warming, oceans, textbooks and “college success” are winter 2009’s highlights. A recruitment drive during the first two weeks of the quarter sent the group into action by making announcements in classrooms, tabling on the quad and asking people to fill out interest cards.
“Within a few days we give them a call,” Howe said. “When people want to be an intern we schedule an intern overview. They come into the office, we interview them and tell them about the program, which campaign they are most interested and assign them a role in a campaign.”
Through the pledge system CALPIRG has 30,000 UC students statewide. By pledging, each student agrees to pay $5 per quarter through their student account.
Junior psychology and communication double major Tu-Han Phan said she filled out a quick form her freshman year with her name and student account number. She is still being charged every quarter. Another student in the same situation said she finally called several times to stop the charges. This quarter’s pledge week is Feb. 9 to 13.
“That money allows us to hire professional staff – scientists, lawyers and organizers who work full time on behalf of students,” Howe said.
The main priority is the global warming campaign. Ramneek Saini, statewide vice chair of CALPIRG and UC Davis Global Warming Campaign coordinator, joined CALPIRG three years ago.
“I thought it was the most effective organization on campus that actually got real results,” said the senior political science major. “That’s why it stood out to me. It’s a grassroots organization doing grassroots work.”
Saini’s campaign is currently working on the 100 Days to Cool the Planet project. Every 10 days there will be an event on campus to talk to students and make efforts to reach legislators. On Feb. 5’s Teach-In Day, the campaign will contact professors and ask them to talk to their class for a few minutes about global warming.
We are working to make sure the new administration stands up to make a new energy law within the [first] 100 days,” Howe said. “They have already said they are going to work to stop global warming, but we are going to hold them accountable.”
The global warming campaign is also organizing a spring break trip to spread awareness.
“Instead of going to Cancun we are planning to do a global warming spring break tour where we travel the coast of California in five days and hold press conferences and invite key Congress members and legislators, and get them to talk about global warming,” Saini said.
Next week, they will release a YouTube video called “President Obama has 100 Days to Save the World,” based on Madonna’s song, “Four Minutes to Save the World,” urging the president to take a stance and pass legislation.
The textbook campaign, led by Levi Menovske, aims to encourage professors to use open textbooks, which are written by professors and available online for free. Open books are not bound by normal copyright laws, so other professors can use a text and adapt it to fit their own course.
Focusing on the business, economic and math departments, the campaign is asking professors to sign a statement of intent saying they will look into the possibility of using open textbooks. Forty-five professors have already signed the statement and Menovske hopes for 30 more before the quarter is over.
“Students don’t know [open textbooks] are an option because the faculty doesn’t know,” Menovske said. “A number already use open textbooks. Slowly the word is spreading. We want quicker results and to save students’ money quicker.”
CALPIRG’s main offices are located in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The UC Davis chapter contains 88 interns, who do not get paid but receive course credit and transcript notation, and 50 volunteers.
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.