WPIRG gets picked on a lot, so it is no surprise that eventually its existence would be decided by referendum. Some people don't understand what WPIRG does. Others believe it is ineffective, redundant, bureaucratic, expensive, and the last bastion of extreme liberalism. At times the organization is guilty of these charges, but for the most part WPIRG and its volunteers do good work. WPIRG makes lasting positive contributions to the university and the broader community. Overall, we benefit from its continued existence on campus.
Put simply, the $4.75 refundable fee full-time undergraduates pay each term finances infrastructure -- infrastructure to broaden student education, and infrastructure to provide opportunities for students who want to volunteer time and energy to social and environmental justice issues. Infrastructure is not cheap (especially when it comes to paid staff) but it is important. Too many good student ideas fall apart when midterms and class projects roll around. Too many good ideas get abandoned because students have to scramble around for petty funding instead of devoting time to turning their projects into reality. Too many successful projects lose all momentum when key members graduate. WPIRG action groups are not immune to falling apart, but their survival rate is improved thanks to the services and stability WPIRG offers. This stability shows: over the years WPIRG has nurtured such long-term projects as carpooltool.org, the Food Not Bombs collective, and Recycle Cycles. WPIRG also collaborates with other groups on campus: it has recently supported Engineers Without Borders, The UW Sustainability Project and UWHIDA. All of these projects are initiated and driven by students and community members; WPIRG's job is to provide support. By supporting the fee you are guaranteeing that WPIRG is able to continue providing this infrastructure.
If you don't have the time or inclination to volunteer with WPIRG, why should you support WPIRG and its fee? There are several reasons. First, you can benefit from the many events and speakers that WPIRG brings to campus. Many of these talks are fantastic, and none of them requires much of a time or energy commitment to attend. Secondly, supporting WPIRG you are making a strong statement that social and environmental justice work is worth money. Those who would relegate all social and environmental work to volunteerism are in essence saying that nonprofit work is not an activity that is worth money. Those who would leave nonprofit work to the free market do not realize that nonprofit organizations generally do not make money from those they serve because those they serve have little disposable income to begin with. Sustainable nonprofit organizations get external funding, and if you believe that nonprofits deserve funding then supporting the WPIRG fee is a good way to put your money where your mouth is. Remember: terminating the WPIRG fee will not reallocate the money to some more worthy nonprofit cause. Although in principle people could donate the money they save to their favourite charities, it's not hard to see that in practice this will not happen.
This referendum is more about ideology than economics. For all our debts, most of us can afford the $4.75 per term, and our spending power will not increase much by striking the fee. In contrast, we will lose an organization that we can change and improve, and which opens opportunities for us to further our educations and build our skills.
If you are eligible to vote March 28 and 29, I hope you will be able to see past your fee statement to see the value that WPIRG offers. WPIRG has been doing good work for over 30 years. With your support this good work will continue.