I could overlook Mr. Mattinson’s rage against critical thinking, which is what the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) stands for, so long as derogatory terms such as “ripping off” were not used to describe a politically engaged and cutting-edge research organization. After all, as a future scholar I know my battles. Nonetheless, as an elected board member, I find it is my responsibility to illustrate OPIRG’s activities and the hard work of our staff and our student volunteers.
OPIRG is a community research interest group that advocates for social, economic and environmental justice. We are a hub for projects and working groups that focus on issues that often go unnoticed and are under-evaluated by market-oriented policy and academic approaches. Our activities range from community gardening, communal cooking, and community-oriented, accessible transportation, to research projects (some have been funded by renowned funding bodies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) including Statelessness Summit, Living and Coexisting Project and Critical Urban Research.
At OPIRG we support numerous action groups which pursue fighting against violence inflicted on the land by capitalist corporations, police brutality, rape culture, food insecurity, racist, ableist, and sexist discrimination and other forms of oppression. Through publications such as the Leveller, the Wrench (shared between OPIRG Ottawa and Carleton), and our newsletter, we encourage students and community members to get involved with OPIRG through volunteering, writing and art making.
Only this semester we have 40 students in placements, who contribute to our projects working under the supervision of their professors and in collaboration with OPIRG. Three out of six members of OPIRG’s research board and one of our staff members are university professors who dedicate their time for helping students learn and develop critical analysis and research capacity.
Our latest achievement was sponsoring Ottawa Healthy Transportation Coalition in establishing grounds for a low-income bus pass—a long, city-wide struggle in Ottawa, which would not have been possible without the contributions and dedication from OPIRG’s student volunteers.
Every year we hold an Alt 101 week which gives students a safe place away from the discriminatory and rape culture-famous environment of frosh week. As one of the event organizers in 2016, I shall say that the résume of the artists who performed at Alt 101 alone should disprove Mr. Mattinson’s argument altogether as to whether OPIRG should get defunded to if it actually deserves more funding.
OPIRG is continuously involved in cultural activities; on Friday Oct. 21 for instance, we co-hosted Konnected TV’s documentary screening with the Department of Canadian Studies in Morisset 218. Our next step is to launch a radio program in collaboration with CHUO, beginning with program portions to air during Winter 2017.
Revolutionary Student Movement existed independently of OPIRG prior to acquiring the status of as an OPIRG action group. RSM continuously organizes reading groups, campaigns and book fairs to give students an insight towards the colonial and imperial context intertwined in Canadian history—what Mr. Mattinson calls essential steps in early Western civilization.
On a side note, Thatcher’s rule, an era stained by the death toll in Falklands war and police brutality during Poll Tax Riots does not seem to be a great justification for Mattinson’s “academically honest” argument. I must admire the consistency though—quoting such a mega capitalist/neoliberal must be as exciting as killing innocent birds.
If anything, subjectivity to a “profit over people” view point is a universal problem, a contemporary colonial mentality that runs across many factions of states, and has been internalized by the majority of politicians.
What we all should be cautious about is that after nine years in the office, conservatives are now trying hard to take over academic institutions; as if higher education has not been commodified enough, as if there has not been enough hikes in the tuition fees in the past decade!
This has been done intensely by portraying activism as irrelevant and by tapping into the infamous austerity mind game. This begs the question, based on what logic can one encourage students to save a few dollars on their tuition fees for which they have such a priceless resource centre like OPIRG on campus to provide opposition to the ridiculous tuition hikes across the province and the country?
Nonetheless, unlike some recent scandals and controversies for which voters and “tax payers” have no chance of opting-out (including a weapon’s trade with Saudi Arabia, one that even the new government cannot opt out of), OPIRG has a levy policy that allows every individual student to ask for their levy back.
To conclude, we always welcome students in our office and will be more than happy to walk anyone who is inspired to know more about OPIRG through our activities and working groups.
—Golbon Moltaji, PhD candidate in Canadian studies at the U of O, board member of OPIRG.