Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group, a University of Oregon student-run lobbying organization, met with 18 state representatives and senators to secure their support for issues such as 100% renewable energy, hunger and homelessness and textbook affordability. But instead of piling into a car and driving up to Salem or Portland to meet with legislators in person, the students of OSPIRG lobbied from home over Zoom.
OSPIRG is a nonpartisan student-run organization that works on campaigns in the public’s interest. UO freshman Emma Ruby coordinates its 100% renewable energy campaign, and she said lobbying virtually has been just as effective as going in person.
“It’s definitely still a great experience for our campaigns to even get the opportunity to talk to these elected officials over Zoom, which is kind of a crazy concept,” Ruby said. “But it's super cool that we still get the opportunity to kind of make a legislative change, even just from our dorm room or living room.”
OSPIRG has been lobbying around climate change, textbook affordability, hunger and homelessness since the group formed, but these specific campaign goals were launched this term.
Ruby said one of OSPIRG’s main priorities over lobby week is to hear how the legislators’ priorities tie into what the student group is advocating for regarding student interest in Oregon.
On Feb. 9, OSPIRG met with Oregon Sen. James Manning, a Democrat who represents Eugene and Junction City, to discuss renewable energy, hunger and homelessness, textbook affordability, single-use plastics and student debt.
Manning said renewable energy is something he looks at not for his generation, but for five or six generations to come. It is an issue he cares about and has worked on for a long time; he said he was glad to see OSPIRG involved in it.
“I'm not looking for something that's going to make me feel good that I got something done,” Manning said to OSPIRG. “I'm looking for something that's sustainable over ages. And I think that that's the direction that we all want to travel in.”
He also supported OSPIRG’s stance on the student debt crisis, plastic pollution, textbook affordability, hunger and homelessness.
“I've seen people that are living from day to day, and that's not living, that's called surviving. And it's all because of lack of food, the lack of medical care, the lack of opportunities,” Manning said. “And we call ourselves the beacon of hope, the light of the world.”
The students only get about 15 to 20 minutes to meet with legislators or their legislative aides, so they must prioritize which issues to focus on in a short amount of time. Ruby said the group broke it down into five legislative priorities, with a primary focus on the 100% renewable energy campaign, as it is the lead campaign for the term. They can also bring up past campaigns that did not go through the first time, but may advance in the future.
OSPIRG prioritizes meeting with legislators who represent the areas with Oregon campuses, as well as those on the environment and higher education committees who are the first to vote on bills the student group advocates for.
“We want to show our elected officials that students on campus, whether it be UO or one of our other branches across the state or even across the United States, what we care about, why it's important to us and why they should also care about it,” Ruby said. “So I hope that we continue to keep lobbying.”