Spring Semester Brings Fresh Challenges and Faces to Campus Activism
With the new semester come new challenges for UMD’s chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), a statewide activist organization concerned with achieving social, sexual, economic and environmental justice.
While much of the fall semester for MPIRG was spent registering students for the presidential election, the winner of that election seems to be on the opposing edge of much of what the organization stands for.
“We are a non-partisan group, but after this election it does seem like there’s a lot more to address,” Rachel Hopwood, an environmental intern for MPIRG and junior at UMD, said.
“For instance, now with Trump’s executive order on Dakotah Access, it seems more important than ever that we continue our support for Standing Rock,” Hopwood said.
Within the first month of his term, President Trump has already issued an executive order pushing for the completion of both the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. MPIRG had been active last semester in organizing postcards and supplies to send to protesters’ camps on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
According to Hopwood, MPIRG will also be working to address Islamophobia. This is another issue which Trump’s presidency has brought to the fore, both through his executive travel ban on citizens from Muslim-majority countries and his inflammatory campaign rhetoric.
These are animating issues for a number of newcomers to MPIRG, including Alex Frey, a freshman Civil Engineering major, who attended MPIRG’s “Spring Kickoff” on Jan. 31st.
“It’s irritating to see the things the new president is doing, especially having already supported causes like Standing Rock’s,” Frey said.
The kickoff, MPIRG’s annual mid-year membership drive, was Frey’s first meeting with the organization. She was one of roughly 130 students in the Kirby Rafters on Tuesday night who came to learn how they can help with a variety of causes MPIRG supports.
“I’d seen them when they came into classes and it’s something I’d wanted to do, I just didn’t have the time while settling in last semester,” Frey said. “Now I feel like it would be stupid to just stand back and do nothing while things like that happen.”
At the meeting, petitions against the Enbridge replacement pipeline in Minnesota and the Twin Metals’ proposed sulfide mining in the Boundary Waters were also presented to students as they entered the room.
One signer of the petitions was Tony Reamer, a sophomore art design major and another newcomer to MPIRG.
“Living in Duluth this past year, I’ve come to appreciate nature a lot more than I had before,” Reamer said. “So this feels like the right place to be.”
Hopwood, who also joined MPIRG at their Spring Kickoff her freshman year, said that she feels now is the right time for students to start getting involved.
“I think that people have more reason to be motivated now than ever,” Hopwood said. “Before the election things might have seemed bad, but now as they seem to be speeding up people will start feeling called to action.”
MPIRG will also be to continuing other efforts this semester, such as their push for a Homeless Bill of Rights, affirmative consent education and prison voting rights.
Even amidst current events, Hopwood said she still believes in activism’s potential to effect positive change.
“I’m an idealist, and I believe that social justice is possible,” Hopwood said. “But there’s a lot to be done and it’s up to us.”