NEWSLETTER: A year to remember!

NJPIRG Spring 2021 Accomplishments

Newsletter |

This year was unlike any other in terms of what challenges we faced as a society, as students, and as a community. However, despite all of the challenges, we persevered and still accomplished so much on behalf of students here at Rutgers and our community at large.

Fighting the climate crisis & Celebrating Youth Earth Week

Our top priority this semester has been tackling the climate crisis by asking RU to include a commitment to 100% renewable energy in the Climate Action Plan set to come out this summer. 

In just the past four months, we have collected over 3,000 petition signatures from students at all three Rutgers campuses in support of a 100% renewable energy commitment by 2030. The Rutgers Newark SGA and the Rutgers Camden SGA both passed resolutions in support of 100% renewable energy and we delivered a coalition letter with over 30 other organizations to the climate task force in response to the phase 2 report. See our full support package here!

Rutgers made a big step progress when they announced that they will divest from fossil fuels back in March. This came as a result of generations of student organizing calling for divestment. Those same leaders, and many more people are calling on RU to make the best plan possible. Students have submitted comments about the draft plans, attended town halls, and will anxiously await the final announcement over the summer months. 

Since the founding of Earth Day in 1970, students have been celebrating Earth Day in creative ways. This year, the Student PIRGs went big. We not only celebrated the Earth, but also the hard work that we have been doing to protect it. From coast to coast, Student PIRG chapters, clubs, and partners held over 200 events to raise awareness and take action to protect our planet. Over 1,500 students attended Earth Week events and took over 3,600 actions to support our campaigns!

Here in NJ, we held a slew of events all week that members from all three Rutgers campuses participated in to celebrate progress, learn more about various issues related to the environment, and take action to continue protecting the planet!

We kicked off the week with a co-hosted environmental justice panel with Rutgers University Student Assembly, Students for Environmental Awareness, Rutgers Amnesty International, and Rutgers Ethitech. 

Our panelists included:

  • David Hughes, Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers and the Climate Justice Chair of the faculty union, AAUP-AFT
  • Angela Oberg, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University and administrative director of the President’s Task Force for Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience
  • Paula Rogovin, retired NY public school teacher and community activist with Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition
  • Brian Ray, the chairman for the Environmental Justice committee of the Newark-NAACP with a background in student activism at Rutgers

We had some great discussions about the intersections between social justice and environmental issues in addition to the power of grassroots student organizing. 

On Tuesday, we hosted a screening of The Story of Plastic followed by a discussion about the plastic pollution crisis and what we as students can do about it. Throughout the week we also hosted events to collect photo petitions, create social media posts, and gather petitions in support of our 100% renewable energy campaign. We also had some fun social events to celebrate the Earth including a trivia night, a paint and sip event, a plant potting event, and a blackout poetry event. 

We wrapped up Earth Week with a “Voting and the Environment” panel, to discuss the importance of being civically engaged in our communities in terms of putting environmental protections into action. The panelists included Dr. Bethany Welch, professor of Urban Studies at Rutgers Camden with knowledge on civic engagement and putting environmental protections into place in cities, Tim Knievel, professor of Political Science who teaches a course on Environmental Politics at Rutgers Camden, and Nitan Shanas, Rutgers Camden Student Government Association President. 

We’re looking forward to continuing our work to protect our planet in the future

NJ youth voter turnout was the highest in the country!

We all know by now that the 2020 elections were historic. Not only did we need to overcome the challenges of the pandemic, but we also saw historic voter turnout – especially among young people, and especially in New Jersey! According to the CIRCLE report and analysis of the 2020 election, New Jersey led with the highest youth voter turnout in the country with 67% of young people turning out to vote. 

Through our New Voters Project campaign, we made over 20,000 peer-to-peer youth voter contacts between September and November to help educate many first-time voters on how to cast their vote. Data from State Voices Voter Action Network shows that our work to register and turnout students in NJ was extremely effective. After having a conversation with an NJPIRG student volunteer working on our New Voters Project, the vast majority of those individuals turned out to vote. Specifically, 97% of the people we helped to register leading up to the 2020 election turned out to vote and 95% of the young people contacted through our Get-Out-The-Vote campaign in the 10 days before the election turned out to vote. 

Looking ahead to the fall, we’re excited to continue our work mobilizing young people to participate in democracy. Our priority campaign next semester will be the New Voters Project. We know that it is essential to continue to work to build a culture of civic engagement on campus for all elections, especially local elections which have more of a direct impact on students’ lives.  

New Jersey Grassroots Organizing Conference

On April 11th, we hosted our annual New Jersey Grassroots Organizing Conference with over a dozen partner organizations, including League of Women Voters NJ, Sierra Club NJ, Action Together NJ, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, and more. Over 50 students and community members joined the virtual conference to learn about issues, build on their organizing skills, and hear from state legislators and community activists about the importance of grassroots advocacy. 

We kicked off the conference with opening remarks from Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker and Senator Vin Gopal. The rest of the day was filled with educational and interactive panels, issue briefings and training sessions on topics ranging from democracy reform to immigrant rights, and skills sessions like developing effective messaging and press strategies. Assemblywoman Angela McKnight and Assemblyman Daniel Benson wrapped up the day with some words on the power of grassroots organizing, especially amongst young people.

Addressing basic needs through our Hunger & Homelessness campaign

There have always been people in our community who are in need – whether that means access to adequate shelter, food, toiletries, or other medical/health related services. This has only been heightened during the pandemic and the economic crisis in the past year. There’s a heightened interest in addressing these issues from students and community members, and we worked to organize and mobilize people to take action by donating money, spreading awareness, and working to build a coalition of groups here on campus that will work towards long-term systemic changes to eliminate poverty in our community. 

Over the course of the semester, the Hunger and Homelessness campaign has raised over $850 through grassroots fundraising. These funds were donated to various organizations in the New Brunswick community working to tackle basic needs insecurities, including the Rutgers Food Pantry and Women Aware.

We are wrapping up the semester with a final webinar: A Conversation about Basic Need Insecurity with Elijah’s Promise. Drew McClendon, the Elijah’s Promise volunteer coordinator, and Jason Flatt, the Elijah’s Promise Food Recovery Internship Program Coordinator, will be joining us for the webinar. This conversation will explore how the pandemic has impacted the organization, how each facet of the organization came about, how students can help their community, and what we can plan to do next semester to continue this work.

Protecting Pell Grant funding

At the national level, we’ve worked for decades to protect Pell Grant funding and increase protections for students as consumers so they avoid becoming victims of predatory practices from private lenders. Right now, we need Congress to take bold, bipartisan action to make life-changing degrees easier and more affordable to earn. Learn more here.

Pell Grants used to cover three quarters of the cost of an average four-year public tuition, but now it covers less than a third. Doubling Pell is an important step to restoring much of its intended purchasing power. We are working with a diverse coalition of more than 80 national groups to push Congress to double the Pell, and together we have a huge opportunity to make it happen. Congress has a lot of priorities to work through this budget season, and we need to remind them to invest in students by doubling the Pell grant. 

In February, students with PIRG chapters from across the country held 75 lobby meetings with their members of congress to share their stories about why getting an affordable education is necessary for them and asked their legislators to advocate for doubling the Pell grant (and more) in the upcoming federal budget discussions. Next week, we’re participating in a national week of action for this campaign that will include letter writing, social media actions, and more. Stay tuned for how our efforts to make college more affordable plays out!

Funding makes all our work possible

All of the work we do is made possible because of the students at Rutgers who fund NJPIRG through the $11.20 per-student, per-semester waivable fee. The problems that we tackle are large; impacting us locally but are also often national in scope. Our goals are not simply for students to “make their voices heard” on these issues, but to win concrete reforms that improve people’s lives. In order to make real, substantial change, we combine student enthusiasm with professional staff to run our effective statewide organization.

Every three years, Rutgers students vote to reaffirm their support of our work by funding our NJPIRG Students chapter with the $11.20 per-student per-semester waivable fee. Students pool their resources together statewide with other NJPIRG Student chapters to hire staff, such as advocates, lobbyists, and organizers, to work with students on issues that they care about and represent students where decisions are made – in New Jersey and Washington D.C.

In addition, we could not run strategic local campaigns without strong partnerships with campus leaders and community members, or without advice and support from folks like you. Thank you for your ongoing support!