As UMD’s student led- activist organization, MaryPIRG, enters another fall semester with energized leadership, five exciting campaigns (one of them brand new to PIRG), and new tactics that will stir things up on campus, we thought it would be helpful to reflect on past successes to see what we can learn from changes we have already made.
In just the past year, MaryPIRG has launched several new campaigns and continued the fights we are best known for: protecting the environment, advocating for students, and encouraging civic engagement. We continue our legacy of training students by providing them with an activist toolkit, teaching skills like lobbying, planning, communicating, public speaking, and so much more.
With so much fantastic work being done by our student leaders, it’s hard to choose our top 5 wins of the 2018-2019 school year, but we will try.
1. Registered 2800 students to vote through the New Voters Project alongside our student partners TerpsVote.
Student PIRGs have historically been leaders in encouraging participation in the Democratic process, and have a track record on activating the student voting block. MaryPIRG is no different. In 2018, The New Voters Project alongside student coalition partners registered an impressive amount of voters using tactics like our Party at the Polls, which helped get out the vote, and engaging face-to-face with the student body on a daily basis at tables all around campus. Our training and tactics energized over 200 student volunteers, making it one of the biggest campaigns in MaryPIRG history. In 2020, we expect to break our personal records and plan to work with UMD Administration to institutionalize voting and civic engagement on campus.
2. Banned polystyrene from restaurants and business in the state of Maryland.
Polystyrene, commonly known as styrofoam, is a plastic that is commonly used in takeout containers but can’t be recycled in Maryland and ends up in our waterways, harming our environment. The fight to ban polystyrene has spanned several semesters at UMD through our Save the Bay Campaign, but finally, after years of advocating for the bill, spreading awareness on campus, and lobbying lawmakers, this spring it was finally passed in the general assembly. Students in the Save the Bay campaign collected petitions, and called and wrote letters to their representatives, putting on the pressure for the bill to pass, ensuring protection to our waterways, ecosystem, and public health. This bill will prevent restaurants from using styrofoam in cups, takeout containers, and any other packaging within the state, going into effect July 2020.
3. Gained 1000 in-person student signatures and over 100 faculty endorsements of open textbooks.
The MaryPIRG Affordable Textbooks campaign is the leader in the fight for ensuring access to educational resources for all students on campus. Textbooks are extremely expensive, and we know we aren’t the only ones who think so. In the past school year, our campaign has worked hard to help students access the materials they need without going into debt, or receiving a lesser grade because they didn’t purchase the textbook. We relied heavily on petitioning students and canvassing faculty in support of Open Textbooks. The groundswell of student and faculty support achieved last year will help the campaign pass textbook affordability legislation in the Senate and SGA to achieve real results for the University Community.
4. Donated 352 food items and $267.38 to the campus pantry for food insecure students and faculty.
College students should have food security, because with all of the various stressors of college, knowing where your next meal is coming from should not be an additional concern. UMD has a resource called the Campus Pantry for students to get food, no questions asked. Our Zero Hunger campaign provides support each semester by sourcing donations, both food and monetary, and getting the word out about the Campus Pantry for those who don’t know about it. This semester, Zero Hunger was able to donate 352 food items and $267.38 to the campus pantry for food insecure students and faculty. With $0.18 buying one pound of food, the monetary donations alone constituted almost 1500 pounds of food!
5. Launched Fossil Free UMD and organized a student climate rally alongside the Sustainability Cooperative.
With only 12 years to act on the climate crisis, we believe it is imperative to think globally and act locally. That’s why we started the Fossil Free UMD campaign to advocate for renewable energy on campus. By educating students about the benefits of renewable energy, which range from decreasing our carbon footprint, to providing opportunities for energy research for students, we know renewables will bring alot to our campus. We will also set an example of clean energy leadership as Maryland’s flagship university and a member of the Big 10 Conference. Over just a few weeks, Fossil Free UMD collected over 200 petitions to be sent to the administration. We collected several hundred more sticky notes on why students want the university to go fossil free, which were stuck to the power plant as an act of protest during our Student Rally for Climate Justice. We hosted speakers from various organizations including the SGA Sustainability Committee, the Sunrise Movement, and McKayla Wilkes, a Maryland congressional candidate who even signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge at our event.
Though we have done a lot in the last year using the power of student activism, there is so much more we hope to accomplish in fall of 2019. Want to get involved? Go to https://marylandpirgstudents.org/volunteer-on-campus/ for more information.