Nader still a spark for MPIRG

by Chris Vetter

Ralph Nader said faculty members and regents at universities across the country are stifling student public interest groups by opposing students’ request for a group. The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, however, is growing stronger despite resistance because of strong student involvement, Nader said.
“MPIRG gives us a glimmer of the enormous potential of college students,” Nader said.
Nader, a nationally known consumer advocate, spoke at MPIRG’s 25th anniversary banquet Tuesday night on the importance of grass-roots citizens working for the greatest public interest. The party drew about 200 people to the Landmark Center in St. Paul to hear Nader, who inspired the organization’s formation years ago.
Nader said too few students learn about the importance of civic involvement or about the problems of the world while in college. He said MPIRG addresses those problems. Nader also cited the group’s work on reducing poverty, protecting the environment and addressing the growing number of big businesses in society.
“The concentration of corporate power has greatly increased over the past 15 years,” Nader said. “Their power is pronounced over labor, (and) stopping labor from organizing.”
Nader called for public watch groups to monitor the government to make sure it is looking out for all citizens. “We must monitor city hall and the Pentagon,” Nader said.
Heather Cusick, MPIRG’s executive director, said the organization is beginning to grow again after a membership slump in recent years. “We view MPIRG as a stable organization that has rebuilt chapters in the past few years with strong grass-roots supports,” Cusick said.
The group has chapters at several universities in Minnesota. The group raises money at the University through a negative check-off on students’ fee statements.
Aimee Tsuchiya, the University’s chairwoman of the MPIRG board, said students get involved in the group because they want to have an effect on the formation of public policy.
“Today’s University students are all actively searching for ways to make the world a better place,” Tsuchiya said. “MPIRG allows students to learn these principles, and take them to their communities.”
MPIRG works to bring focus to student issues in the state Legislature, and to educate society about these issues. The group also attempts to bring more apathetic students into civic involvement. MPIRG’s specific goals this year include promoting environmental standards and doubling the size of the state park system.
About 30,000 students statewide worked for MPIRG this year.
Nader ran for the presidency this year as the candidate from the Green Party. His platform focused on protecting the environment and reforming campaign finance laws.
Nader’s campaign did not gain much media attention, however, and he received only about 500,000 votes nationwide, garnering almost one percent of the popular vote.
Tsuchiya said she was excited that Nader chose to speak at the banquet. “Ralph Nader has always been looking out for the American consumer and the American citizen,” she said.