Group fights for worthy causes

We are writing on behalf of the Williams College chapter of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG). On March 10th and 11th, in conjunction with the College Council elections, MassPIRG will be holding its reaffirmation vote, which takes place every two years. This vote is to determine whether the Williams College student body wishes to keep MassPIRG on campus through its four dollar refundable fee on each student’s term bill. As student members of MassPIRG, we would like to take this opportunity to explain who we are, what we do, and answer some common questions about the funding system.

MassPIRG is a nonpartisan, student-directed, statewide organization which focuses it efforts on activism in areas such as hunger and homelessness, endangered species, pesticide use, and consumer protection. MassPIRG has been active on the Williams College campus for over ten years.

Over the past semester, the Williams College MassPIRG chapter has sponsored several important and noteworthy events. In November, we coordinated an a cappella benefit concert for the Berkshire Food Project. Thanks to the participation of the Springstreeters, the Octet, the Accidentals and Combo Za, we were able to sell out Brooks-Rogers and raise over $800 for the Berkshire Food Project.

Endangered Species Week was also a huge success. You might remember the tombstones on Baxter Lawn on Halloween: Professor Hank Art delivered a eulogy at the mock endangered species funeral to heighten awareness. The week also included a nature hike led by Pam Weatherby, a local naturalist, and a panel discussion with Williams faculty and local environmentalists.

Over the semester, we also collected four hundred postcards from Williams students, urging Representative Olver to support the Endangered Species Recovery Act sponsored by Representative Miller of California.

This past month, we sponsored the Pesti Challenge taste test in Baxter mailroom, Dodd, and Greylock dining halls. In it, Williams students overwhelmingly preferred organically grown food to that grown conventionally with pesticides. MassPIRG is also looking forward to the Hunger Cleanup and Week of Community Service, in conjunction with the Lehman Council and other campus groups. We hope you agree that MassPIRG, through our emphasis on awareness and activism, plays a vital role in the Williams College community.

If still not convinced of MassPIRG’s worthiness on campus, we offer our responses to some of the frequently asked questions of MassPIRG.

Tell me about the fee.

Each semester, a four dollar ($4) fee appears on your term bill, with a notice explaining that this money will go to MassPIRG, followed by a brief description of our program. Refund slips are also placed in SU Boxes each semester, and any student who chooses not to support MassPIRG will have the fee credited to their term bill. This opportunity for a refund, coupled with the vote every two years, truly safeguards the rights of the minority of Williams students who choose not to support MassPIRG.

Why is MassPIRG the only group that gets its funding from a fee that goes directly on my term bill?

Actually, any campus organization could set up a system similar to MassPIRG’s. All they’d have to do is: 1) convince the Board of Trustees to allow the fee on the term bill; 2) lobby the entire administration; 3) win over a majority of the entire Williams student body every two years! MassPIRG is continually going through this process to make sure that we stay accountable to the entire Williams College community.

Why doesn’t MassPIRG have a donation system instead of a fee?

Every two years since 1986, Williams College students have made a community-based decision to set up this specific fee system. This comes with the realization that with a donation system, MassPIRG would have to spend a majority of its time and resources fundraising, instead of working on issues that are important to our campus (remember the A Capella Benefit Concert, Endangered Species Week, or the Pesti Challenge?) The all-student fee makes our work truly for the public interest. If only a few of the Williams College students donated to MassPIRG, we would not be accountable to the entire student body.

So why doesn’t MassPIRG submit itself to the rigors of a College Council funding system?

What could be more rigorous (or democratic) than a campus-wide vote every two years? Also, educating and informing an entire campus makes us DIRECTLY accountable to Williams students. Due to the nature of the important political (but nonpartisan) work that we do (such as lobbying your Representatives to pass the best environmental legislation, petitioning to put statewide campaign finance reform initiatives on the ballot, and holding press conferences to call our elected officials’ attention to these issues), the College Council is unable to provide us funding. Their constitution specifically forbids them from funding political activities.

Where does all our money go?

One of the main reasons that MassPIRG exists is to give students the power to influence statewide and national issues, as well as to make a difference on their own college campuses. The money our college gives is pooled with funding from campuses all over the state. There, the money is allocated for various tasks by an all-student board of directors, made up of representatives from every college and university in the organization.

Our Williams College board member is Julia Goren ’01. She helps to set the direction for the statewide organization, including what issues the chapters will focus on each semester. The budget is approved at each local chapter, regionally, and finally, at the state level. The money goes to pay for lobbyists and researchers, and to a local campus coordinator who helps students at Williams organize and focus their campaigns. Also, a good portion of the money raised by the fee is rechanneled to each campus as a resource for local action and education.

We urge all Williams College students to vote YES for MassPIRG on March 10th and 11th! If you have any questions, please feel free to call the MassPIRG office at x3226, Graham Lee at x6946, or e-mail 01gsl. Thank you.