On Feb. 3, a quorum was reached at Brock’s chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group’s (OPIRG) annual general meeting (AGM). With over 35 students, and many more community members in attendance, the crowd accomplished a lot in terms of getting OPIRG back on the right track to once again effectively connect and support action groups and social justice initiatives both at Brock and in the Niagara community.
Recently, OPIRG has been criticized for mismanagement, and many of those that attended the AGM were former members and volunteers, many of whom claimed that OPIRG’s current leadership bullied OPIRG members, volunteers, employees, and abused their power. One community member in attendance referred to these incidents as a “trauma” that affected the entire OPIRG community.
In June of 2015, five of seven board members resigned, and drew both official and public attention to the mismanagement and disorganization of the group. OPIRG has been evicted from their office in the Student Alumni Centre as well, leaving them without a designated space on campus. One final blow to OPIRG was the departure of five action groups on Oct. 28, as Food Not Bombs, DIG, Brock Fair Trade, Cinema Politica Brock, and Brock Eco Club took to social media to draw attention to the lack of support and organizational failure to follow through on promises made to the sub-groups.
No time was wasted at the AGM, as the first order of business was the election of a new board of directors. Following the departure of the five directors of OPIRG’s board, the organization was unable to make financial or structural decisions, as Ontario law requires more than two directors for an organization’s board of directors to legally function. This was quickly amended however, as seven new directors were elected. The new directors are as follows: Calvin Eady, Stephanie Piovesan, Nona Baders, Argho Deb, Ahmad Smaiya, Kathleen Driscoll, and Lindsay Jack Brauweiler.
Beyond the election, the group, by consensus decision approved the motion “that all previous directors, whether they have announced their resignation or otherwise, be recognized as having vacated their position”. The two remaining OPIRG directors were not present at the meeting.
Despite being a smaller organization than BUSU, with a smaller operating budget, OPIRG’s AGM had a higher attendance than BUSU’s recent Winter AGM, which greatly speaks to both the passion of the supporting community, as well as the need for structural change throughout the organization.
“We’re fighting back,” said Lauren Quinn, a member of OPIRG and graduate student in the Social Justice & Equity program at Brock. “That’s why the room is so full. [It’s because] the fight is not done. We have to keep this power moving forward.”
Brad Evoy, the Provincial co-ordinator of OPIRG, described the AGM and the process of allowing members and former members to air their grievances as a process of healing. The issues that were alluded to at the meeting, as “garbage”, “poison” and “abuse” were never specifically named, but Evoy did mention that the Provincial network took an “active interest” in the things going on within the Brock chapter, and the possibility of ejecting OPIRG Brock from the provincial network had been discussed in the past.
As of Feb. 3, OPIRG Brock has a new board, and will begin the process of restoring OPIRG Brock to its position of prominence within the community, and re-establishing its necessity as an advocate for student social justice.
“I know this is difficult for a lot of people in this room, and as an organization,” said Evoy. “Hopefully we can use this momentum here to relaunch and heal the wounds both in this room and in the community… We can move forward. A lot of the issues with action groups and labour groups will need to be addressed by the next board.”
To learn more about the organization of OPIRG and the provincial network, visit opirg.org. To learn more about OPIRG Brock, visit YourBrock.org.