In the Jan. 15 issue of the Daily Nexus, Alec Mouhibian expressed a rather ignorant and distorted view of the Public Interest Research Groups (the PIRGs) as “totalitarian and anti-human rights” (“Campus Littered With CalPIRG Representatives,” Daily Nexus, Jan. 15). Although we like to think that we get a lot accomplished, we think he has overstated CalPIRG’s goals in his enthusiasm.
For a little background, the PIRGs – including CalPIRG – are state-based organizations that work for the public interest. For example, most people want clean air, safe drinking water and an affordable college education. Unfortunately, the interests and profits of special interests tend to directly conflict with public desire. This happened on Nov. 13, when engine manufacturers’ lobbying efforts resulted in an amendment to California’s Clean Air Act being passed, allowing engines to spew more pollutants into our skies. Although a recent survey cited in the Los Angeles Times shows Californians overwhelmingly support clean air efforts, special interests were able to push their agenda through. When conflicts of interest such as this occurs, the PIRGs come into play.
To return to Mouhibian’s letter, he made several grossly inaccurate statements about the PIRGs that need correction. First, CalPIRG is not one of many state offices of U.S. PIRG. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. CalPIRG students tell U.S. PIRG what to do, not the other way around. Students from UCSB and other UC schools decide how our money is spent and what issues we address. U.S. PIRG is an organization designed to give students power at the federal level while they are thousands of miles away from Washington, D.C.
Secondly, he maintains the contention that U.S. PIRG is a partisan organization “run and headed by Ralph Nader.” Not only are we a completely nonpatisan group, but we, the PIRGs, have had no affiliation with Ralph Nader since 1980. The PIRG campus chapters are overseen, endorsed and sponsored entirely by students.
Thirdly, Mouhibian was in support of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, referring to the 19 million-plus acre plot as destitute barren land “hospitable to nothing but the caribou.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a slightly different outlook on the area. They refer to the refuge as “the center of wildlife activity.”
In addition to housing all three species of bear, gray wolves, Dall sheep and thousands of migratory birds, this area is also home to the Yukon tribe, a group of indigenous people who have inhabited the area for over 20,000 years. We’re sorry, but drilling for oil at the sake of one of the most thriving wildlife areas in the United States isn’t something that we support.
Mouhibian didn’t get absolutely everything wrong. We do hire advocates to pass legislation that protects the environment, defends consumers, fights against homelessness and promotes a better democracy. However, we are a little confused about his problem with students hiring advocates. Students need a voice in government.
Our air is dirty, our fish are toxic and students can’t afford to go to college. Students can and should speak out about these problems. That’s why we collect thousands of public comments from students, raise tens of thousands of dollars for the homeless and pull out several tons of garbage from our waterways.
Unfortunately, the decisions that address these problems are generally made in places like Sacramento, Washington, D.C. and the courts. So, only doing a letter-writing drive on campus or doing a beach cleanup won’t really change the minds of decision makers. The bottom line is that public policy is made through both grassroots organizing and direct advocacy.
Through CalPIRG, students on different campuses pool their resources and hire a staff of professionals – lawyers, scientists and issue experts – to work directly in places like Sacramento and D.C. So, to the 1,060 students that pledged CalPIRG in week seven, and to the 2,935 that have already pledged at UCSB, we would like to say thanks for the support. For the price of a smoothie, you’re making a difference.
Brandon Laws is the UCSB CalPIRG internal chapter chair and a political science and economics major.