About OPIRG York
OPIRG York was established in the spring of 1992 by a campus-wide referendum, joining a provincial network of OPIRG chapters at eleven Ontario university campuses. We are a student-funded, student-directed organization mandated to do popular education and advocacy around social justice and environmentalism. We are committed to making links between issues including anti-racism, economic justice, the environment, Native rights, sexuality and women. Our primary mode of action is through our Working Groups. Working Groups are collectives of people who come together to mobilize around specific issues. OPIRG is here for all students as well community members. We provide skills, training and resources for research projects, organizing, public education and activism.
The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at York University is a student funded, student-run, nonpartisan organization on campus that conducts research, advocacy, organizing, lobbying, as well as educational and media campaigns. Over the years OPIRG York has stood at the forefront of social justice mobilization at York University, operating a dynamic space that acts as one of the main activist hubs on campus. OPIRG York is a bastion of creativity, passion and idealism.
Organizationally, we strive to promote anti-oppression politics, confront injustice, raise awareness about important issues and promote positive change. In the article, PIRG Power, Karen Farbridge and Peter Cameron assert, “PIRGs are not an academic exercise. PIRGs are not just another educational setting for students where they can read books on activism or hear lectures on what methods are effective. The authenticity of the PIRG experience for students is that it is an activist organization.” OPIRG York is just that.
Our main approach to activism is through a constantly evolving set of working groups and funded projects. These working groups consist of driven volunteers who are interested in one or many issues who then approach OPIRG for support. Over the years, OPIRG York groups have confronted issues ranging from anti-imperialism and sweatshop-free labour to animal rights and energy conservation. Our members have created community gardens, staged anti-deportation rallies, sent books to prisoners as well as collectively organizing Dis/Orientation, the radical orientation at York University.
History of the PIRGs
The student movement of the 1960s, including civil rights and the resistance to the war in Vietnam, illustrated that students had the potential for providing direction, person-power and idealisms that had a broad reaching impact on society. However, at the dawn of 1970s more complex issues emerged, demanding diverse and increasingly complex approaches. As consumer advocate Ralph Nader noted of the time, “The draft was gone, the Vietnam War was scaled down, and civil rights legislation had passed.” But this didn’t mean that society was free from racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, imperialist foreign policy, corporate exploitation and irresponsibility, environmental degradation, abuses of power and ongoing war and violence. Indeed, these issues were as rife as ever. It was in this climate that the concept of the Public Interest Research Group emerged.
The actual birth of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in Canada can be traced back to October 13th, 1972, during Ralph Nader’s address to over 1,800 people at the University of Waterloo. His speech confronted corporate irresponsibility, pollution and the importance of independent consumer groups collaborating and contributing to a central research body. Just four days later 90 students, inspired by Nader’s speech, organized support for a student fee to establish the first PIRG in Canada. Since the inception of the Waterloo PIRG in 1973, eleven PIRGs have spread across Ontario with OPIRG Toronto coming into existence in 1982 and OPIRG York in 1992.
While PIRGs are autonomous entities (from both Nader and other PIRGs) and focus on diverse issues, PIRGs throughout Canada share many common elements, including a volunteer Board of Directors, consensus based decision making, the employment of the popular education model and the ongoing commitment to enacting positive social change.
That is special about PIRGs is that they provide a base for consistent and focused activism on campus. The PIRGs represent the underrepresented - the broader “public interest”- as opposed to the many powerful and well-represented private or special interest groups. Students involved in PIRGs select the projects that are worked on and determine the tactics and strategies that are used.
Ultimately, what the PIRGs recognize is that to bring about meaningful and necessary change both on campus and in the greater community, there needs to be a group of informed, skilled and active people who work to make those changes happen. While an individual campaign might be won or lost, the goal of the PIRG is that each and every student involved would walk away having learned skills needed to be effective for social change.
By honing students’ skills in how to communicate effectively, write, organize, lobby and conduct research, the PIRGs contribute to the academic forum by building on the classroom experience and contribute to the community by giving students a solid footing in activism.
OPIRG York is committed to making positive change, and we welcome new students and community members to stop by the office any time and share ideas and energy. Tell us about an event you want to plan or a working group you need to start. Check out our resource room, chat with our staff, and hang out in a fun and progressive environment.
We are located in C449 in the Student Centre and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-736-5724.
Remember, campus is yours for the taking.