MASSPIRG’s year of virtual organizing: see what they’ve accomplished

Image taken from MASSPIRG newsletter.

New Voters Project: Increasing youth voter turnout 

MASSPIRG saw a big increase in voter turnout overall in the 2020 elections—breaking a 120 year old record! Young people were a huge part of that, and we know it has a lot to do with peer-to-peer outreach and an increased interest in politics and issues that matter to our generation. In Massachusetts, we made over 50,000 contacts with youth voters through text messages and phone calls alone to help people get registered and cast their ballot safely. Including the over 50,000 direct contacts we made to voters, we reached close to 120,000 students by activating emails, making virtual class announcements, and presenting in virtual student group meetings. Here at UMass Boston, they made almost 200 virtual class announcements to help register early 500 students at UMass Boston- making a big impact on voter turnout on campus! They did this by building a Vote Coalition right here at UMass Boston, including all of the faculty that allowed them to join their classes over Zoom, the Undergraduate Student Government, College Democrats, College Republicans, NAACP, Office of Student Leadership& Civic Engagement, and the Office of Off-Campus Housing.

 

Continued public awareness around COVID-19 

Since March 2020, MASSPIRG’s program and advocate staff have continued to find ways to protect people and our communities by advocating for more PPE and COVID-19 tests to help flatten the curve. They released and distributed a “home safe for the holidays” guide to help students and families be as safe as possible during the holiday season, and are now pivoting to more awareness about vaccines. As the vaccines are becoming more readily available, they will be continuing to spread awareness about protecting public health. 

 

Record-breaking engagement: Building our UMB Leadership Team! 

MASSPIRG kicked off the semester by recruiting hundreds of students on campus to join their team. Here at UMB, they partnered with faculty and student groups to educate over 3,000students about their lead campaign to power MA with 100% clean, safe, renewable energy through announcements in classes and club meetings which helped them identify and hire80+ interns in just the first three weeks of classes. That team of student leaders and volunteers recruited over 120 Beacons to join their virtual kickoff meeting at the beginning of February — which was the largest turnout in the chapter’s history!

 

Youth Earth Week: A celebration of student activism 

Since the founding of Earth Day in 1970, students have been celebrating Earth Day in creative ways. This year, the Student PIRGs went big. They not only celebrated the Earth, but also the hard work that they have been doing to protect it. From coast to coast, StudentPIRG chapters, clubs, and partners held over 200 events to raise awareness and take action to protect our planet. Over 1,500 students attended Earth Week events and took over 3,600actions to support our campaigns! Here in Massachusetts, they held an advocacy week to support the 100% Clean Act in Massachusetts. Over 40 students attended over 30 meetings to talk to their legislators and push for the bill which would commit the state to 100% clean electricity by 2035 and 100%clean energy by 2045. In addition to lobbying elected officials, their chapters took the chance to connect with their communities and the nature around them. They hosted events like a Boston solar event calling on those running for Mayor to prioritize climate change, documentary movie screenings, game nights, and more! See below for some of our chapters and campus partners celebrating! 

Democracy never stops: Young people turned out to vote at unprecedented levels!

Having our voices heard is critical to a healthy democracy, and that all starts with voting during elections. Oftentimes, college students are voting for the first time or are living in different places than their permanent address. This is why MASSPIRG prioritizes educating people about how they can get registered and turn out to vote every major election cycle. Last semester, they worked to mobilize young people to turnout to vote for the 2020 election. Including the over 50,000 direct contacts they made to voters in the days leading up to the election, they reached close to 120,000 students with the help of faculty, campus administrators, social media influencers, and our volunteers by activating emails, making virtual class announcements, and presenting in virtual student group meetings. This peer-to-peer outreach certainly paid off because they saw record breaking youth voter turnout nation-wide, and here in Massachusetts saw an increase in the young people who turned out to vote. Here in Massachusetts, youth voter turnout increased from47 percent in2016 to 52 percent in 2020. This is the highest in nearly 50 years, since the passage of the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1972. Despite the fact all of this work was virtual, they are excited to announce that the work to recruit and train students to mobilize their own communities, work! 76% of the young people who the Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project helped to register leading up to the 2020 election turned out to vote, and 70% of the young people contacted through our peer-to-peer GOTV program turned out to vote. But, democracy never stops! They are determined to build off the momentum of the 2020 election, and make sure that they continue to help young people have their voices heard in every level of government, not just presidential races. 

 

Addressing basic needs through our Hunger & Homelessness campaign

There have always been people in our community who are in need — whether that means access to adequate shelter, food, toiletries, or other medical/health related services. This has only been heightened during the pandemic and the economic crisis in the past year. There’s a heightened interest in addressing these issues from students and community members, and they worked to organize and mobilize people to take action by donating money, spreading awareness, and working to build a coalition of groups here on campus and in the community that will work towards long-term systemic changes to eliminate poverty in our community. Some of those partners include U-ACCESS and Father Bill’s and Mainspring. Over the course of the semester, our student volunteers and interns working with the Hunger and Homelessness campaign raised over $900 through grassroots fundraising. These funds were donated to Father bills and Mainspring in Boston, and U-ACCESS here at UMass Boston.

Making textbooks more affordable 

Along with many other chapters across the state, our chapter has been working to tackle the ever-rising costs of textbooks. Here at UMass Boston, they have focused on making progress statewide while keeping up momentum here on campus, to make steps forward in establishing an OER Program through the University Libraries. They have yet to finalize the program but are moving in the right direction! Statewide, they’ve been working to increase funding for programs and resources that will help more professors make the switch to Open Educational Resources instead of using more expensive, traditional textbooks. They generated petition signatures from students, lobbied our elected officials, and delivered a letter with over 150 student leader signatures. They’re working to pass a bill this session that will allocate $2.5 million to these programs - and they’ll keep you posted on how that effort goes. 

Protecting Pell Grant funding 

At the national level, they’ve worked for decades to protect Pell Grant funding and increase protections for students as consumers so they avoid becoming victims of predatory practices from private lenders. Right now, they need Congress to take bold, bipartisan action to make life-changing degrees easier and more affordable to earn. Learn more here. Pell Grants used to cover three quarters of the cost of an average four-year public tuition, but now it covers less than a third. Doubling Pell is an important step to restoring much of its intended purchasing power. They are working with a diverse coalition of more than 80 national groups to push Congress to double the Pell, and together they have a huge opportunity to make it happen. Congress has a lot of priorities to work through this budget season, and they need to remind them to invest in students by doubling the Pell grant. In February, students with PIRG chapters from across the country held 75 lobby meetings with their members of congress to share their stories about why getting an affordable education is necessary for them and asked their legislators to advocate for doubling the Pell grant (and more) in the upcoming federal budget discussions. 

All made possible by the $9 MASSPIRG fee

The problems that MASSPIRG tackles are large; impacting us locally but are also often national in scope. Our goals are not simply for students to “make their voices heard” on these issues, but to win concrete reforms that improve people’s lives and the world. In order to make real, substantial change, they combine student enthusiasm with professional staff to run our effective statewide organization. And all of this campaign work is made possible because of the students here at UMass Boston who pay their $9 MASSPIRG fee, and who reaffirmed their support of our chapter in the Student Government elections a few weeks ago. Every few years, they provide students with the opportunity to weigh in on the collective student decision to continue funding our MASSPIRG chapter. This year, a vast majority of students who voted affirmed that support! Learn more about our chapter’s funding here: masspirgstudents.org/umass-boston-fee/

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