A blog to keep current on MPIRG'S fight for social and environmental justice.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

If You Have Plans This Friday Night, Cancel Them

Instead, you are going to Take Back the Night Twin Cities! Lucky you!

This Friday night (May 2), MPIRG and the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education are hosting a Take Back the Night event on the Coffman Memorial Union plaza.

Starting at 6 p.m., there will be food, music, and awesome people to mingle with. The event will be hosted by Sol Raz and there will be a performance by local performance artist Sha Cage. Three slam poets will also perform pieces.

Then the main event: there will be a march down around campus and down University Ave near Greek Row, followed by a candlelight vigil and an open mic for survivors of sexual assault to share their experiences.

So what is Take Back the Night all about?

The Take Back the Night Foundation was formed in 1999 by Katie Koestner, but TBTN rallies and marches have been happening as early as the 70’s. The TBTN movement has even led to international efforts. TBTN events are hosted in cities throughout the country. 

TBTN is an event of healing, compassion, and taking a stand against sexual assault and intimate partner violence in all forms. This is a chance to educate students about consent and sexual violence, as well as celebrate healing and progress. Taking back the night means taking away the fear and shame so many sexual assault victims face.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), one out of six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Victims of sexual assault are six times more likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Rape and sexual assault should never happen. MPIRG has been partnering with the Aurora Center over the past year to create a consent culture on the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities campus. Efforts have included tabling to talk about consent with students and creating a video to be used as part of the freshmen orientation curriculum.

Sexual assault is any form of unwanted sexual touching, contact, or penetration, with or without threats or use of violence or force. Consent is mutual, freely given, and not permanent. Consent cannot be given if either party is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or if either party is asleep (I mean, duh!).

So we’ll see you at the U Friday night, ready to stand against sexual violence and in solidarity with victims and survivors. Don’t be late!

Check out the Facebook event!

Shonna Korsmoe
Communications Intern

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Preferred Name Victory!

Imagine it is the first day of class and the professor is giving out roll call. When he gets to your last name on the list, he calls out a different first name. After a moment of silent confusion, you call out that that is your last name, but you go by a different first name. Students turn around in their seats to look at you, and you have to quickly explain why your name on the roll call sheet is not the name you go by. Awkward, right?

At the University of Minnesota, scores of students experience this at the beginning of every semester. Students whose legal name reflects a different gender than the one they identify as, international students who go by a name that is easier for American professors to pronounce, or students who simply choose to go by their middle name all have to run the proverbial gauntlet of explaining why their legal name is not what their friends and families call them.

This can be an extremely uncomfortable experience. It can cause anxiety, and for some students, essentially force them to out themselves to their professors or classmates. This is an unnecessary experience, so MPIRG’s Equality Task Force decided to do something about it.

Spearheaded by Ross Anders, the UMTC Equality Task Force leader, the task force undertook a mission to get a preferred name option on University documents and roll call sheets. Last fall, task force members met with registrar officials to begin a conversation about adding a preferred name option to relieve anxiety and difficult experiences for so many students.

Over the past several months, the task force collected 2,034 signatures on a petition to add a preferred name option and spent over 70 hours tabling and talking to students around campus about why this is such an important issue. They also had student groups and department heads sign 24 formal support letters.

All of these grassroots measures made a huge difference. Earlier this month, registrar officials confirmed to MPIRG that starting in early 2015, there will be a preferred name option on class rosters and grading rosters.

This is a huge victory for MPIRG! Congratulations to Ross and the hardworking Equality Task Force for their efforts in seeing this through!

Shonna Korsmoe
Communications Intern

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Minimum Wage Rage!

Step 1: Click here and follow the instructions.

Step 2: Ask yourself the following question: Can you live on minimum wage?

If the answer to that question was yes or maybe, take into consideration that this calculator is for a single person without children. What if you had a child, or several? What if you had a partner who couldn't work because of health issues, or what if you yourself had health issues? How would you make ends meet? How, on $7.25 an hour, would you buy food, gas, clothes, and still save for emergencies? For most of us, it is simply impossible. The minimum wage in Minnesota (currently sitting at $6.15 per hour, below the federal rate) is unrealistic.

Still not convinced? According to the chart below, a Minnesotan working at minimum wage would have to work 86 hours per week to afford a standard two-bedroom apartment. That breaks down to working 12+ hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, there is no state in which an individual working minimum wage can work 40 hours a week and still afford a standard two-bedroom apartment.

Since the start of the 2014 MN legislative session, the House and Senate have been engaged in negotiations on HF 92, a bill that would raise the minimum wage for large businesses to $9.50 per hour and implement an inflation index. This index would raise the wage each year by either the consumer price index or by 2.5 percent, depending on which option is lower. In Minnesota, minimum wage has not been increased in eight years. In 2006, the price of gas was about $0.50 cheaper. It’s time to raise the wage and prevent the need for legislative battles on this issue in the future.

According to MN Raise the Wage! coalition, if an index had been implemented when Minnesota passed its first minimum wage in 1975 ($1.80), the wage today would be approximately $9.50 and the argument would be obsolete. As the price of life’s necessities rises, so to should the living wage of Minnesota’s hard workers. It just makes sense.

Ideals aside, here’s where we're sitting in the debate. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has been quoted in MinnPost and the Pioneer Press adamantly arguing that the Senate would not pass a bill with an index. To further complicate things, the Senate negotiators have proposed more wage tiers such as a youth (below 18) rate of $7.25 per hour. They also argue that the new minimum wage should take effect in 2016 instead of 2015, as the House originally wanted. The House has conceded to a 2016 start date for the $9.50 wage, but remains adamant the compromise include an inflation index that will take effect in 2017.

Bottom line: without indexing, the value of the minimum wage erodes each year. Working at minimum wage, college students, families, and workers struggle to stay above the poverty line. In a reality where the cost of gas, groceries, rent, and other basic necessities rises each year, it’s time that our minimum wage reflects those changes and rises with inflation.

Shonna Korsmoe
Communications Intern

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Power Up! Solar Energy Policies in Minnesota: An Update

According to an encouraging report from the Solar Foundation released this month, solar energy jobs are up 73% since September 2012. This means 360 new employees were hired by the solar industry.

This increase in new hires is attributed to solar energy laws passed by the Minnesota legislature last spring. One new policy states that Minnesota energy companies must use solar power for 1.5% of their electricity needs by 2020. Companies like Xcel Energy, which produces around half of the state’s electricity, have their work cut out for them. Over the next six years, they must create and implement plans that work toward more renewable and earth-friendly energy sources, namely solar power.

Another policy passed by the legislature last year was a community solar energy law. This law requires Xcel Energy to create a program in Minnesota for community members, be they individuals, businesses, congregations, schools, etc., to participate in the creation of a solar garden. As Fresh Energy points out in their critique of Xcel’s proposed plan, solar gardens are high in cost and require specific qualification to be effective (specifications such as direction, amount of shade, and square footage).

A community solar garden would allow individuals or businesses to “subscribe” to the garden by paying for a portion. They would then receive credit for their subscription on their energy bills in proportion to their ownership. The details and guidelines for member subscription are laid out in the text of the law.

Last September, Xcel submitted its draft plan for the program to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for review and possible revision. On Tuesday, February 18 the PUC heard testimony on the draft and deliberations took place on the following Thursday. The PUC has indicated that it would likely reject Xcel’s proposal to limit the number of community solar gardens that could be installed. They also voted to increase the electricity rate originally sought by Xcel Energy and it said the company must pay for renewable energy credits associated with the solar gardens. An official decision will be made sometime this week.

Contrary to the state Department of Commerce’s own remarks on their website that there will be “no limit on the number of community solar projects that can be developed,” Xcel’s proposal will put a quarterly cap on projects for the first two years. According to Fresh Energy and Midwest Energy News, several experts believe that this limit will push smaller or mid-sized projects to the wayside, as the rush to submit a project proposal before the cap would most likely see only large, well-funded projects succeed. Xcel argues that the reason for this initial limitation is to allow for a learning curve and the update of Xcel’s technology to accommodate the virtual meter readings of solar gardens.

Xcel is already running a similar project in Colorado that has had success. However, critics of Xcel’s proposed plan have pointed out that the fees Xcel will charge solar garden subscribers is significantly higher than the fees charged in Colorado. Furthermore, the subscribers in Colorado earn more cents per kilowatt-hour.
Although most agree that Xcel’s plan is a positive step forward, it seems Xcel is not following the letter of the law as closely as it should. Solar energy is about to take center stage in Minnesota, and Xcel should revise its plan to be more accommodating and fair to those who wish to participate in this new initiative.

Shonna Korsmoe
MPIRG Communications Intern

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Just Ask!

Yes means yes and no means no. This is not only true when we’re talking about consent culture but true in every aspect of our lives. But what do we mean when we say consent culture? Consent culture is the basis of human interaction and is in no way limited to sexual activities. It comprises all interactions through communication. It is approval, it is permission, and it is agreement. Most importantly, there are absolutely no blurred lines when it comes to consent. Again, it is either a yes or a no.

Today, I will focus on what consent culture is in terms of sexual relationships. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), someone in the US is assaulted every 2 minutes, 60% of sexual assaults are unreported and approximately 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Campaigns and education around consent culture helps to decrease these numbers.

Consent culture and activism surrounding the topic has become a popular topic of discussion particularly among college students.  Through education, activists hope to expand the conversation and understanding of what consent really means.

Currently, the Feminist Initiatives Task Force at Saint Catherine University is exploring options for what would be the first consent workshop on campus. They are looking into workshops held around the country to see what works best and how to best utilize these techniques to fit St. Kate’s audience. The Task Force is working to implement the workshop during first year orientation. During first year orientation universities tend to focus on their adopted values and practices as an institution. Incorporating consent culture workshops into the orientations will help new students understand the importance of consent and also prepare them to advocate for consent culture throughout their daily lives.

While we’ve been hearing more about Consent Culture these days, it is crucial to understand and encourage simply communicating that message to the student body year after year. Consent is sexy and is a topic that everyone should embrace! 

Simge Okut
MPIRG Communications Intern

Monday, November 25, 2013

GOTV Works!

For years, voting was seen as a privilege not a right. In the United States today, after much struggle, voting is a right. However, that doesn’t always mean everyone has the same level of awareness that an election is taking place. Every election year, it's on MPIRG's to remind them, many, many times. That’s how it works!

Starting with phase one (Welcome Week until the last day of pre-registration), the UMTC chapter held tabling events and clip boarded throughout both Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses including residence halls and classrooms to register and pledge students to vote in the 2013 Municipal Elections. Municipal Elections tend to slip through the cracks of the schedules of young people. So the registration and the pledging act as a first point of contact. The educational events, Voterpalooza and the Mayoral Candidate Forum, served as second and third points of contact and brought Elected Officials and candidates to campus.
Phase two consisted of data entry. So much data entry. It was a necessary, albeit tedious, phase of the process. Enough said on that.

After entering the data from the collected pledge cards, MPIRG – UMTC entered phase three, Get Out The Vote! Beginning with phone banking, MPIRGers called everyone that registered and pledged to vote as a reminder of the upcoming elections, information on the new voting system ranked choice voting, and a personal poll finder. That was point of contact number four. The week before the election, the pledge cards (which doubled as post cards) were sent back with the addition of their polling locations as point of contact number five. A couple days before the election, students had a visibility day where they chalked and posted flyers all over campus. The day before, they knocked on thousands of dorm doors and had in person conversations and voting. Those were points of contact six and seven.

Finally, Election Day arrived. 26 volunteers went out to Dinky Town and Como neighborhoods to knock doors with voter information. Here are some statistics of the successful election process:
·         MPIRG registered and pledged number of 2619.
·         In total, MPIRG – TC knocked on 4,641 doors and talked to 1,619 people.
·         As a result, compared to the 2009 Municipal elections, the voter turnout in the student neighborhoods tripled this year.

The numbers speak for themselves. GOTV works!

Simge Okut
MPIRG Communications Intern 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Swap!

Simge Okut

Besides the benefits of a higher education, there is something else everyone can agree on: attending college is expensive. From tuition to living expenses, the cost that comes with an education puts more than a dent in the wallets of students. Outside the obvious price of tuition, most students are surprised by the additional cost of textbooks. According to the College Board reports, the average cost of books and supplies for the 2012-2013 academic year was $1,200 on top of tuition.

Additionally, studies show that the already high price of textbooks is on the rise. An article published by Michelle Jamrisko and Ilan Komlet in Bloomberg states that the college textbook expenses have more than doubled since the end of 2001. 

Although options like buying online, renting and purchasing digital forms of the textbooks are more cost-efficient alternatives to bookstores; they don’t solve the problem completely. To bring forward another option for students, MPIRG's UMTC Corporate Accountability Task Force is working on a book swap project in collaboration with the Minnesota Student Association. The book swap will work as a platform for students to exchange books and compare prices to other sources simply by entering the class name and/or the ISBN number of the particular book. The website may also feature a section dedicated to searching available housing options or subleases.

As the website approaches completion, MPIRG will focus on promoting its’ launch. The current timeline for the project has the website up and running around winter break allowing the students to utilize it for the spring semester.  There will be Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages devoted to endorsing the campaign as well as advertisements to student groups and flyers around campus. The more students that participate in the project, the more successful it will be.
Currently the University of Minnesota has a page on Facebook for students to buy and sell textbooks but this campaign will take that to the next level. More people will know about it and it will be easily accessible to those who are not a part of the Facebook group. The website will provide an alternative to the bookstore that will ideally cut down on some of the “extra” expenses that accompany tuition. Although it’s not going to fully eliminate the cost of textbooks, it will help bring down burden of extra payments at a considerable rate. As a student myself, I’m looking forward to using this website as the main way to exchange my textbooks.