UConnPIRG’s switch to a virtual lobby day for the Connecticut Styrofoam ban increased the number of student petitioners, Jessica Gagnon, Vice Chair of UConnPIRG, Legislative Director of ConnPIRG and an eighth-semester human development and family sciences and psychological sciences double major, said.
UConnPIRG initially planned to bring students to the Hartford statehouse to talk to their representatives and senators in favor of the bill SB 99: “An Act Concerning Use and Distribution of Polystyrene Products,” Gagnon said. However, travel precautions related to the coronavirus led the group to switch to video testimonies.
“The government is still functioning, discussing and making important decisions that will impact our students and the future of our Connecticut,” Gagnon said. “If we can organize in a safe way, we must do so. If we just stop now, then legislators won’t be hearing from UConn students on the polystyrene ban, the SNAP bill, the bill related to renewable energy on campus or the multiple elections bills.”
On Wednesday, 182 students gathered on Fairfield Way from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to film their testimonies. Every video petition will be emailed to each student’s representative and senator, for a total of 362 legislative contacts, Gagnon said.
The number of testimonies was higher than the number of students UConnPIRG would have been able to bring physically to the statehouse, Gagnon said.
“When legislators see the dozens of emails flowing into their emails, they will realize that UConn students are behind this bill and are willing to organize around it,” Gagnon said.
She said that UConnPIRG encouraged students to write their own statements but they did provide guidance if needed.
“It really is so impactful when students add in their own personal stories of why they support bills and causes, so I really hope students take this opportunity to speak directly to their legislators,” she said.
Eva Knudsen, a fourth-semester communication major, said she gave a testimony because she hopes the bill will help to reduce ocean pollution.
“I would say I am a big advocate for helping the environment,” Knudsen said. “If there is anything we can do to save the oceans because it is a big problem these days, especially with climate change and pollution that goes into the ocean, and I just want us to have a better future.”
The Daily Campus previously reported that ConnPIRG, the statewide student-run advocacy organization that UConnPIRG is a subset of, testified in support of the bill in February.
Dylan Demoura, who attended the in-person testimony as ConnPIRG Zero Waste campaign coordinator and a UConn sixth-semester political science and history double major, said the virtual lobbying helps keep attention on the bill.
“We wanted to still have a day of action and still keep pressure on the bill and make sure that legislators keep it in mind, because there are so many bills for discussion right now in Hartford,” Demoura said. “We want to make sure there is still a priority on the ban of Styrofoam, going off of the plastic bag ban from last session.”
Gagnon said that the virtual lobbying allowed students to give their voice without risking their health.
“In a time when we are faced with health concerns, it’s absolutely vital to protect the health of our students and citizens of Connecticut,” Gagnon said. “However, it’s also really important that we continue organizing because legislators are still in the statehouse making these important decisions. If we can organize in a safe and healthy way that doesn’t put people at risk, we should do it.”
Rachel Philipson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.