In my role as a regional coordinator for Generation Screwed, I have the amazing opportunity to talk to students about the threat that government debt and deficits pose to their future. However, over the past year I’ve also had the opportunity to be part of another grassroots movement on my campus, fighting for fiscal responsibility and student’s rights. Fighting to remove the automatic fee for WPIRG; a group that has been wasting student money on radical politics for decades.
WPIRG, or the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group, was founded in 1973 to address “social and environmental justice issues” through radical left-wing activism. Instead of relying on voluntary donations like most non-profits, WPIRG was funded through a $4.75 fee collected from students every term.
The WPIRG fee is problematic for many reasons. First, since every student paid a $4.75 “membership fee”, students were assumed to be members of WPIRG by default. Prior to our campaign, most students didn’t even know about WPIRG’s existence, much less know their controversial positions on political issues. It was only when WPIRG started to engage on extremely controversial issues, such as a campaign to sever ties with Israeli universities, that people began to learn about WPIRG and question the existence of its mandatory fee. In addition, little of WPIRG’s funding went to support the causes in which they claimed to promote. In 2014, 73% of WPIRG’s revenue went straight to salaries, while a mere 6% went to WPIRG’s action groups. Thousands more in revenue went towards funding other Public Interest Research Groups across the province, as part of the PIRG network’s equalization scheme. In response, students banded together to start a wildly successful grassroots movement called Opt-In UWaterloo.
Opt-In UWaterloo was based on a simple premise: To give students the opportunity to choose where their money goes. Under the previous system, if students wanted to get their money back, they would first have to know about WPIRG and then go in person to WPIRG’s office to refund their fee. Through many months of perseverance and hundreds of hours of hard work, Opt-In Waterloo elected a majority of councillors to UWaterloo’s Students Council, which subsequently brought the WPIRG fee to the referendum.
In September, the hard work done by Opt-In organizers paid off. Students like me spent many hours in our student centre talking to students about WPIRG, the referendum, and our fight for the right to choose where our money goes. I even participated in a formal debate against WPIRG organizers, where we argued in favour of scrapping the WPIRG fee. Ultimately, 82% of students chose to remove the WPIRG fee with the largest turnout ever for a University of Waterloo referendum.
This same strategy must be applied in our fight against reckless government mismanagement. We must build a grassroots movement of concerned students, and we must, as I’ve seen in our fight on campus, make our voices loud and clear. This requires us to reach out to students, one on one, and expose them to the ideas of small, fiscally responsible government, ideas that are so rarely talked about on university campuses. I’m proud to be campus coordinator for Generation Screwed, where I work to build this movement on a national level. After all, it’s been said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people, can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.