Students encouraged to get involved with grassroots organizing at Wednesday’s MASSPIRG semester Kick Off meeting

By Anthony Rentsch

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian
Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Roughly 130 students packed into the Cape Cod Lounge Wednesday night for MASSPIRG’s Kick Off meeting to hear speakers discuss their experiences with organizing, as well as the five campaigns that the group is championing this year.

Back in April, MASSPIRG announced it would focus on saving antibiotics, textbook affordability, higher education and student debt, hunger and homelessness and solar energy for the 2015-16 academic year.

On Wednesday, attendees heard from each campaign coordinator about their previous accomplishments and goals for the future.

MASSPIRG’s  Save Antibiotics campaign played an integral part in pressuring McDonald’s to commit to using chicken meat free of antibiotics within the next two years. This year, coordinator Julia Seremba, a sophomore, told students the campaign was looking to lobby Subway to commit to antibiotic free meat.

“If Subway goes, everyone will fall in line,” said senior Lucas Gutterman, chapter chairperson and coordinator of the Higher Education and Student Debt campaign. “This would be the lynch pin.”

Other campaign goals include getting governor Charlie Baker to commit to getting 20 percent of state’s energy from solar power; educating students about their options to deal with college debt and confronting the issue on a policy level; working with the W.E.B. Du Bois library and professors to increase the use of open source textbooks and securing resources for the hungry and homeless, both locally and at the federal level.

Mansur Gidfar, communications director of Represent.Us, an organization he described as a “nonpartisan anti-corruption organization,” told attendees that nonpartisan grassroots organizing is the key to combat the “sense of hopelessness and powerlessness” that many activists feel.

“They really believe in the power of grassroots organizing and taking a nonpartisan stance, which are both core values for our organizations as well,” Gidfar said.

Many of the student speakers also relayed stories of how they got involved in MASSPIRG and what kind of work they had done with the organization previously.

Senior Shawna Upton, state board chairperson and vice-chairperson of the University of Massachusetts chapter, said she got involved her freshman year, working to get students to register to vote.

“I realized how much of an impact I could actually have,” she said.

Looking at this year, Gutterman was optimistic about how many people would work with MASSPIRG’s different campaigns. He estimated that out of the 128 people that signed the sign-up sheet at Wednesday night’s meeting, roughly half would stay involved with the organization.

Gidfar also complimented the group on its success in achieving its goals.

“They are very focused on picking smart, strategic achievable goals and then really good at organizing the UMass community and the student community to build actual power and get things done,” he said.

After the speakers had finished presenting, campaign coordinators led breakout sessions, where they talked with attendees about their goals for the year as well as plans for the first events of the semester.

Gutterman said students seemed genuinely interested during his Higher Education and Student Debt breakout sessions and wanted to get involved.

Rep. Ellen Story, D-Massachusetts, who was scheduled to speak at the event, was not able to attend due to travel constraints, according to Gutterman.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.