CALPIRG garners funding from 10 percent of student population

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The California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG — one of the largest environmental groups at UC Berkeley — has managed to recruit nearly 10 percent of the campus population into funding its public interest campaigns.

According to the CALPIRG website, the group uses a combination of grassroots activism and state lobbying to “act on problems that affect the lives of all Californians.” Its $10 semesterly opt-in fee also helps the organization “stand up to powerful opposition” by providing the funding to hire advocates in Sacramento and Washington, DC.

“We get money from a diverse population of students who have different opinions, and we all take that into account,” said CALPIRG board member Elizabeth Nickerson.

Nickerson said such funds have contributed to the recent passing of Proposition 67, which bans single-use plastic bags, and to a successful campaign against KFC’s use of chicken raised on routine antibiotics.

In documents provided by UC Berkeley chapter organizer Emma Brower, the organization’s budget breaks down as the following: 61 percent for the campus organizer, 21.5 percent for advocacy staff members who lobby on behalf of the students, 8.6 percent for fundraising efforts and the remaining 8.6 percent for materials printing, travel funds and overhead, or miscellaneous office expenses.

“Students decide how they want to run their nonprofit organization, and they decide how they want to hire staff,” Brower said. “They hire advocates in Sacramento and Washington, DC because students … can’t work full time on these issues.”

Nickerson said every campus chapter is run by a student board elected by active members of CALPIRG — the size of which remains dependent on the population of the campus. Nickerson added that full-time staff such as campus organizers, who do not have voting power, aid the student group in its administrative duties.

Nickerson advised students who have pledged to support CALPIRG and are curious about the distribution of funds to come to the meetings.

The CALPIRG website also outlines the group’s current platforms, which include advocating for 100 percent renewable energy, saving the bees, making textbooks more affordable and saving federal student aid programs.

Campus freshman Suzannah Smith, who is a member of CALPIRG, said she appreciated the organization for teaching her more about local and state government. She added that campaigning for SB 100 — which advocates for 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 — in districts with primarily conservative constituents has been a major part of her CALPIRG campaign.

Similarly, CALPIRG member and campus freshman Nicole Inaba said the group brings forward crucial issues that are often “put to the back burner.”

“Learning the process of how to organize a campaign — that’s the coolest part — and seeing the smaller steps that go into creating a bigger change,” Inaba said.

Contact Francesca Munsayac at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fcfm_dc.