Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Though not the type myself, most of my friends at Carleton were deeply integrated in Carleton organizing and activist community. So I was surprised when many of them told me they were opposing the renewal of MPIRG's (Minnesota Public Interest Research Group) automatic refundable funding program. I was even more surprised to find out that the very persons whom I had known as MPIRG leaders on campus were the same people leading the charge to defund it.

But the reason I was surprised is the same reason I take these people seriously. And their indictment is a serious one. MPIRG, they argue, is wasting Carleton student funds on overhead and salaries that could be put to better use on campus. MPIRG has set its agenda with an eye towards bigger chapters in the Twin Cities, while ignoring the goals, desires, and priorities of Carleton students. More damningly, they have dealt with the students they are supposedly "representing" in an arrogant and high-handed manner, effectively ousting several long-time student organizers, prompting a massive turnover in MPIRG's Carleton leadership as many of the group's longest-standing members left in solidarity. Those people -- who had direct experience with what MPIRG has and hasn't been doing -- have come to the conclusion that it's time for Carleton students to take control of their own destinies. The old MPIRG would have taken this groundswell of popular discontent as a signal. The MPIRG we have seems to see it as insolence.

MPIRG hasn't taken these charges lying down. And they are certainly entitled to state their case. But unfortunately, their argument seems to be high on mud-slinging and political tricks, and light on substance. They implied that the constructively dismissed student leaders had engaged in harassment -- a vile slander of some of Carleton's most hard-working activists. They took credit for the accomplishments of the very organizers they successfully pushed out of the group. And unfortunately, they've only brought more of the same to this campaign: bringing in their professional organizers to tear down opposition posters, accost students in class, and illegally place posters in campus bathrooms (in violation of election rules). I wonder if MPIRG supports EFCA -- for it certainly seems that their commitment to fair and deliberative democratic process is, at best, a fickle thing.

I know the students who are leading the anti-MPIRG fight. They are an incredibly accomplished group of activists who show the full breadth of Carleton's talents and ingenuity. If they feel stifled by MPIRG, I believe them. If they believe MPIRG is poisoning their efforts to enact progressive social change, I believe them. If they feel that MPIRG has been disrespectful of Carleton students and Carleton values, I believe them.

MPIRG proclaims itself to be a democratic organization. Democratic theorists will tell you that democratic organizations respond to one and only one type of pressure: that of the voting booth. So long as MPIRG thinks it can maintain the blind support of the student body without a corresponding commitment to humility, engagement, and respect, we can't be surprised when it doesn't enact those values. You make MPIRG better by sending it a message: shape up, or ship out. Vote no on MPIRG.

More on the "no" campaign can be found here.

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