For the first time in three years, PIRG student leaders from around the country converged on Washington, D.C. for our National Student Training, followed by an action-packed day of direct advocacy to Congress and the White House.
The Student PIRGs are proud to help college students gain the skills and experience necessary to be effective organizers and advocates, whether on their home campuses or at the seat of our federal government.
With our support, students from across the country met with 80 congressional offices from their respective home states, plus the White House, U.S. Department of Education and U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce in order to make the case for concrete solutions to problems such as the affordability of textbooks, mounting plastic pollution and tech manufacturers’ monopoly on repair options for our phones and tablets, farm equipment and more.
PIRG student leaders with U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Vancouver, Wash.) (below middle), supporter of PIRG-backed Right to Repair legislation.
The day brought many stories of progress made, experience gained, relationships deepened and commitments to activism strengthened. I’d love to share stories from two PIRG student leaders with you.
Quanzelle Austrie, University of South Florida (USF) – Tampa
It was a moment that was years in the making when Quanzelle personally asked Biden administration officials to advise campuses nationwide to include voter registration in new student orientations every year as a matter of common practice.
A first-generation American, Quanzelle got involved with the Student PIRGs at USF in 2020. Working on our non-partisan youth voter registration and mobilization campaign, New Voters Project, she helped with campus visibility events and peer-to-peer outreach, which drove an 11.5% increase in campus voter turnout in presidential elections from 2016 to 2020.
For the next election cycle, Quanzelle, now a New Voters Project leader on campus, was determined to do more to help get young people involved in our elections. With our support, her team helped convince their school’s administration to add voter registration to freshman orientation—setting her up to seek the Biden administration’s help in institutionalizing this practice for the 2024 elections.
“I feel extremely proud,” Quanzelle said of her experience sharing her results at the White House. “You could see that [White House staff] were impressed. I said, ‘These are the facts. This is our work. We have the proof.’ And they said it was a priority of the president and vice president to make sure that young people vote.”
Quanzelle remains focused on making registration and voting visible, easy and accessible on Tampa Bay area campuses. “For people my age, exposure is the biggest thing,” she says. “Even students I don’t get to talk to myself, just knowing that they see me when they walk by my table, that they see our emails, every bit of exposure matters. That’s why we push for awareness and voter education.”
Chelley Trammel, University of North Carolina – Charlotte
It’s said that sharing a compelling personal story is among the most powerful ways to advocate for change. Chelley was able to share an experience she had while traveling to this year’s D.C. lobby day in order to convince congressional leaders to support consumers’ Right To Repair their phones, tractors, wheelchairs and other electronic devices.
Coming to Washington was my first trip away from my parents. I have noticed a decline in my phone battery’s lifespan over the last couple years. My dad warned me, ‘If you go and you get in trouble, you might not be able to reach us.’
Sure enough, my phone died while I was on the flight there. And I was alone! I had to approach a stranger, a mom of young children, who helped me find my way on the D.C. Metro.
Now, one of my friends is a computer science major. She says that she could open up my phone and replace my battery for $50. But if she messed something up while trying to fix it, Apple would void my warranty. With Apple closing the closest store to me, my repair options as a consumer are limited. And I can’t afford to throw this phone away and buy a new one.”
According to Chelley, “you could see a look of understanding,” when she conveyed this story directly to U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Right To Repair leader in the House of Representatives.
And Chelley was excited to find that the same held true in her seven meetings with staff from North Carolina’s congressional delegation—no matter the political party the office she met with. “I got the best responses from offices that I thought would not be interested! People respond when you make it real and personal.”
As president of her PIRG chapter, Chelley works to bring farmers and small business leaders together with campus voices to call for a Right To Repair in North Carolina, and she also runs campaigns to protect bees and other pollinators and to make textbooks affordable. Of her experience on Capitol Hill, Chelley advises, “If [political advocacy] is something you’re interested in, go for it, and go into it with an open mind…and wear comfortable shoes!”
PIRG student leaders who joined us in D.C. have been taking what they’re learning and putting it to good use back home:
- After a conference and training at the University of California – Davis, CALPIRG students just met with 55 state senators and assembly members to discuss ocean protections, textbook price transparency, climate solutions and more;
- In Oregon, OSPIRG students held 25 meetings with state legislators to urge a statewide ban on single-use foam food- and drinkware as well as Right To Repair and hunger-free campus laws;
- MASSPIRG students held 20 meetings with state legislators to advocate for the 100% Clean Act, which would commit Massachusetts to be fully powered by clean energy by 2045; and
- In Florida back in January, PIRG student leaders from Florida State University, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and Tallahassee Community College advocated to state legislators to pass Hunger Free Campus legislation. These students also organized an event to distribute 6,000 pounds of food.
I’m thrilled to see PIRG student leaders everywhere work to turn their training and experiences into real results for a better world.