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Supporting PIRGs: The Ongoing Battle on College Campuses

by Isaac Oommen

Bike workshop at the PIRG
Bike workshop at the PIRG

Also posted by isaac:

Public interest research groups, or PIRGs, are exactly what they sounds like: public student spaces that mobilize academic resources for social and environmental justice issues. Started by Ralph Nader in the 70s, PIRGs exist now all over America and Canada. The Simon Fraser Public Research Interest Group (SFPIRG) is British Columbia's largest, though not the only one in the province.

The groups are not by any means secure in what they do: they have been constantly attacked from coast to coast by campus conservative efforts. The SFPIRG annual general meeting (AGM) last year was almost taken over by a body of conservative students that, when their attempt failed, tried to push a motion with the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) to remove undergrad funding of the group.

“If people have issues with what we do, we want them to voice it constructively instead of doing what (the conservative student group) did by verbally bashing and spreading myths about us,” said SFPIRG Action Research eXchange (ARX) coordinator Setareh Mohammadi. “The concerns they brought up have actually been addressed about us doing a yearly financial audit and so on, even though a non-profit of our size does not have to.”

What concerned SFPIRG staff, volunteers and supporters was that the conservative group of students did not actually address their ideological issues, but instead attacked loopholes around process.

SFPIRG responded by calling for support from student and community groups, which poured in very quickly. A website called became the nexus of people writing in to show their solidarity with the group. Supporters included BC director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Seth Klein and Vancouver Status of Women.

The attack having subsided, SFPIRG is preparing for another AGM on February 9 at 3pm in the SFU Burnaby grad lounge, this time with free food and ending with a performance by local hip-hop group Los Migrantes. Tension is mounting, so SFPIRG is encouraging students to show up to support the bylaw changes and ward off attacks by any more right-wing groups. Non-students that support SFPIRG can also attend by becoming associate members.

“According to Campus Conservative Watch, there are conservative groups out there that hold workshops on de-funding PIRGs and taking over student government,” said Mohammadi. “They see us as a real threat because we form a bridge between the ivory tower of academia and campus as well as social justice groups.”

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so going to be there!

I suggest we all go!

Supporting SFPIRG is so imporant to our community and society.

I heart SFPIRG!

Tami Starlight - VMC editor collective


thanks for this...I had heard the term PIRG but didn't know what it was. 

Also, I didn't know that there was a Campus Conservative Watch.  *shudder*

Thank - you


Our SFPIRG AGM yesterday was smashing success, and a beautiful example of the results of supporting each other's work within the social justice community and in the broader community we are all apart of. SFPIRG is a critical space for students and community members, not only for the resources it has to offer, but as vibrant place for people to question, criticize, converse, and build an analysis of the struggles we share and the world we dream of.

THANK YOU to everyone who made it happen, especially those who took the time to come out and helped vote in our bylaw changes, and those who sent us good vibes from the other places they had to be.

Thank you to the Board of Directors and staff for all of the unglamorous work done this year and in many past; for discussing, deliberating and writing bylaws and policies late into many nights, preparing reports and audits, organizing moderators, media coverage, relentlessly spreading the word on campus and in the community about the event and gathering our supporters to attend, and especially for their commitment in uncertain times and regardless of very hectic lives outside of PIRG.

Thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers who took care of the set up and take down, printing, folding, email invitations, gathering support, making points of privilege and calling the question, recording, writing, tweeting etc, your time is very much appreciated.

Thank you to Magin for moderating, helping us to prepare and run a smooth meeting, it would not have been so great without you. And to Los Migrantes for the beautiful music and poetry they kicked as we celebrated and danced!

Thank you to all our friends at the VMC, especially Isaac (SFU grad student and VMC journalist extraordinaire.)  

Much thanks to everyone - especially those who we may have forgotten to thank!

We all feel energized for another year of social & environmental justice work and collaboration and alliances with all of you!


Sarah & Setareh on behalf of everyone at SFPIRG

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