From the Break Free from Plastic Pledge signed last semester to getting more students to vote in the 2020 Presidential Primaries, PIRG has worked to promote student bring change to colleges and the government. Like all of the Eckerd community and the world, their plans for the spring were rewritten due to the COVID-19 and they retooled to adjust to the remote climate.
PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is a non-partisan, student non-profit, with 35 chapters in the U.S. and 200 volunteers in Florida. This year, Eckerd’s chapter of PIRG has had five main projects, including the New Voters Project, Ban Round-Up Campaign and COVID-19 Response Campaign. Along with these efforts, they have worked with different clubs and students to keep the Eckerd community going when everyone is scattered across the country and world.
PIRG Chapter Head Isabel Muir has been on PIRG for four years and said it was amazing to see students continue to mobilize virtually.
“A lot of our conversations in meetings have been how do we advocate for banning things like Roundup, when there is this just absolute crisis going on in our country. And so that's why we decided to establish a COVID-19 campaign that I'm coordinating,” Muir, a senior, said.
‘You don’t have to fix a whole pandemic’
Changes happen every day due to COVID-19, so PIRG has to constantly ask what people need, as well as research and select where to donate from the many nonprofits.
This COVID-19 Response Campaign involves getting donations of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), letting people know how they could help by donating blood and seeing what the Saint Petersburg community needs, specifically homeless shelters and food banks.
“And it might seem really daunting, it's like ‘I can't fix a whole pandemic.’ Well you don’t have to fix a whole pandemic, but here are some small things we can do to apply public pressure to our legislators to make sure that they are doing their job and taking care of us during this time,” Muir said.
PIRG has worked to get different groups to pledge to stay home and has created petitions to increase COVID-19 testing. Muir also said they are campaigning for ventilator manufacturers to release repair information to hospitals.
Gordon, PIRG chapter head for 2020-2021, also said during these stressful times, PIRG had to be careful not to sound tone deaf when talking about PIRG’s efforts to reduce plastic. “Some people consider single-use plastics as the clean alternative, like ‘This is the safe thing, I'm not gonna get sick. Reusables have the potential to carry a virus,’” Gordon said.
Gordon, a sophomore, said that there is a lot of research saying the virus can last 2-3 days on plastic, while washing sustainable alternatives for 20 seconds can eliminate the risk.
“So we've just been really clear making sure that people understand banning plastic isn't going to make you any more at risk for COVID-19 as long as you take the necessary precautions,” Gordon said. “But other than that, they have been extremely, extremely receptive.”
Changing with the times
Gordon said that PIRG’s core values are still the same despite the remote change.
“The problems of plastic pollution and voter education aren't going away with a pandemic. They're just changed, so we're working with the environment as much as we can,” Gordon said
Part of their work has been a vote coalition of group of different clubs and students to increase the number of voters on campus, as well as general understanding of the election process.
PIRG has set up individual meetings with Eckerd clubs to answer questions and introduce the idea to different groups. At the first vote coalition meeting, eight student groups were present, such as Scubi Jew and Women’s Rugby, according to Campus Organizer Arielle Mizrahi.
“So I think there is a lot of energy, but now it's actually solidifying the relationship and what does your dedication to this actually look like in the now and the long run,” Mizrahi said.
One of the projects that students have been working on is the New Voters Project. The chapters of PIRG in Florida have a goal of registering 10,000 student voters in the fall, which they did for the 2018 Midterm Elections, according to Muir.
Muir said the one of the best way to register Eckerd students is talking in-person, going door to door and tablings by the mailboxes and the Triton Pub. Since these methods aren’t possible with dorms closed and working remotely, PIRG changed their focused on census awareness, including days of action on their Instagram.
Eckerd students who live on campus don’t have to fill out the census because the college counts them, according to Muir.
“So now it's like “Okay, well let's make sure my family's counted,” Muir said.
As well as working on the New Voter Project, PIRG has been working to pass the Break Free From Plastics pledge at other colleges in Florida.
Before the campus was evacuated, Gordon met with students and officials from other colleges to discuss passing the pledge. Since her meetings were already remote, her work did not see a significant change with since the dorm closures.
Gordon said if a majority of students want the pledge to happen, their school’s administration would be willing to put it in place. She went into the long-term goal of her work.
“So the ultimate goal is to form this coalition kind of Florida institutions are working on plastics works in our environment work in general, and just show our legislators that college students really care about the environment.”
According to PIRG’s Instagram, USF Tampa’s student government passed the Break Free From Plastics pledge on April 21.
Alongside the New Voters Project, Ban Round-Up and COVID-19 Response Campaign, PIRG had two other efforts: Hunger and Homelessness Campaign and Affordable Textbooks Campaign.