OSPIRG kicks off the term

August Frank

More than 30 people filled room 34 in Building 17 for the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group’s kick-off party on Thursday, Oct. 16.

During the party, different campaigns were outlined that OSPIRG will be working on throughout the fall term. Former social science instructor and faculty advisor to OSPIRG, Steve Candee, and Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson were invited to speak. They spoke about how they got involved with OSPIRG and what they felt its importance was.

With fondness, Candee remembered the first Public Interest Research Group established by Ralph Nader and looked back on his 20 plus years of working with the group since it began at Lane in 1990. “It’s been an amazing experience being with OSPIRG, being able to see students get engaged, excited and energized about working on issues that most people think is beyond their grasp,” Candee said.

Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson served on the first OSPIRG Board of Directors. He discussed the purpose of testing it out in Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The plan was to see if students would part with their money and give time and energy towards influencing politicians to take action on issues of student interest.

“You’re going to have the opportunity to put whatever time you have into it. You’re going to have the opportunity to get whatever leadership out of it you can receive,” Sorenson said. “You’re going to put the time in. You’re going to get some skills and in return and you’re going to get some reason and motivation.”

This term, before the kick-off meeting, OSPIRG had 25 new volunteers. That number could increase to as many as 50 people at the height of the term. OSPIRG is funded through the student activity fee, which is on the ballot for students to vote on every three years. The fee is $3 per student, per term. That money will go toward four campaigns the group will be working on this term.

“Clean Rivers” will be the group’s priority campaign and it will focus on closing loopholes in the Clean Water Act. “Textbook Affordability” will work with the student government to promote the use of open educational resources including free online textbooks.

The “Hunger and Homelessness” campaign will be working on acquiring housing for homeless students. The “Get Big Money Out of Politics” campaign will be holding a debate to inform new voters on issues they will be voting on. The campaign will focus on removing big money from politics.

Students who join OSPIRG will perform different tasks according to their schedules and their available time. Some students become campaign coordinators. Others do internships or volunteer.

Students working on OSPIRG’s Clean Rivers campaign will gather public comments at tables around campus, do river clean-ups and go on a rafting trip.

Acting Chair Anthony Molinari came to OSPIRG nearly two years ago. “These issues are huge. They’re really big issues and OSPIRG gives students the training and opportunity to actually make a difference on them,” Molinari said. “We have been meeting and exceeding our goals pretty regularly. Which is incredibly exciting.”