The University’s chapter of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group will promote three campaigns around campus this year that address political, social and environmental issues affecting people at a university, state and national level.
One of the campaigns, End Citizens United, collected 350 petitions last semester opposing corporate spending in politics and hosted a panel discussion with four University professors, said Justin Habler, the campaign’s lead coordinator.
Another campaign, Hunger and Homelessness, responded to the devastation of Superstorm Sandy by organizing ‘Dodgeball Knight,’ a Sandy relief dodgeball tournament that raised almost $2,000 for the cause, said Marta Adamu, co-lead coordinator of the campaign.
The Stop Global Warming Campaign is new to the University’s PIRG chapter, but will serve as its lead campaign, said Christi Capazzo, event coordinator for the campaign.
As officials in Washington, D.C. continue to dispute an array of environmental issues, NJPIRG’s newest campaign, Stop Global Warming, will be this year’s lead campaign in hopes of pushing politicians to focus on keeping the environment clean and safe, said Capazzo, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
“I personally think that the Stop Global Warming campaign is a great lead campaign because it’s really diverse. It has a political aspect, environmental aspect and also allows … anyone to get involved at any level,” she said.
The campaign was voted into the University’s PIRG as a response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to track emissions and enforce better standards for coal plants, she said.
Capazzo said NJPIRG wants to show the EPA that students support the agency’s efforts.
The campaign hopes to collect 6,000 petitions this semester and will push to educate the public about environmental issues by tabling and informing students at resident halls. She said the campaign will host events but no events have been planned yet.
She said students should know that global warming is a real issue.
“There’s an entire coal industry that would not be very happy if students were actually thinking these issues,” she said. “EPA regulations are a federal issue but at the same time we really do feel like it relates to New Jersey because of New Jersey’s really poor air quality.”
Capazzo said 18 out of 29 New Jersey counties have some of the worst air quality in the nation. In some counties, more than 1 in 10 children have asthma.
“People in New Jersey really do need to have a healthy environment that they can feel safe breathing and living in,” she said. “It was really something that I thought would hit home with people. This is really in their neighborhoods and in their state and I hope that they remember that.”
END CITIZENS UNITED
As corporate America grows in power, NJPIRG’s End Citizens United campaign pushes to keep corporations out of politics, Habler said.
The campaign is based off Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, a 2010 Supreme Court case ruling that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individual citizens, he said.
Corporations can therefore exercise the right to freedom of speech and translate that to their ability to donate money to individual political campaigns, said Habler, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
“We feel like this is wrong. This is an attack on our democracy because people have such sway in the elections,” he said. “It could create a lot of corruption and also lowers the value of the average citizen’s vote.”
Habler said before Citizens United, the McCain–Feingold Act regulated the financing of political campaigns. But since the 2010 ruling, the country saw a spike in corporate spending on politics when $6 billion of corporate money mixed into the federal election cycle.
Eleven states, including New Jersey, passed resolutions declaring their opposition to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, he said.
But despite New Jersey’s open opposition, Habler said the End Citizens United campaign would focus on passing local resolutions in New Brunswick and Piscataway this semester.
“[State resolutions] … reflect the interest of the state, but they don’t reflect the interest of every single citizen as well as a local resolution does,” he said. “The point is to have thousands of local resolutions across the nation, then the Supreme Court knows a constitutional amendment needs to pass.”
To date, 400 local resolutions have passed across the nation, he said.
The End Citizens United campaign also aims to educate people about corporate spending on politics. Habler said they hope to gather 1,000 signed petitions from members of the University community and surrounding municipalities.
THE HUNGER AND
Since Hurricane Sandy stripped many New Jersey residents of important necessities, NJPIRG’s Hunger and Homelessness campaign focuses on providing aid for hurricane victims.
“People are still suffering, the shore still isn’t fixed,” said Adamu, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “A lot of people still need food and supplies.”
This semester the University chapter plans to join with chapters in Trenton and Newark for a service trip to the shore. She said the logistics of the service trip are still a work in progress.
“It will be a great opportunity for us to be united and do something wonderful,” Adamu said. “This could be the most challenging thing that we’re doing but probably the most rewarding.”
Adamu said the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy helped many understand the hardships of those living without food and shelter.
“A lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about the homeless people that are hungry and I think with this hurricane it gives us an opportunity to really put into perspective people that are going through these challenges,” she said. “It can happen to any one at any time.”
But Adamu said the campaign would continue to focus on working toward alleviating poverty in the local area as they have in previous years.
“We do want to tend to the local community, but we do understand that a lot of people are still suffering from the hurricane and we have a lot of energy and I think we can really do it,” she said.
The chapter aims to raise $10,000 this semester and cumulate 500 hours of service work in the surrounding areas, Adamu said.
“The beauty of PIRG is that it’s student run, so we can already see what it’s like living in New Brunswick,” she said.
The campaign also aims to focus on education, she said. NJPIRG plans to host fundraisers at local schools to give students the opportunity to do hands-on service work.