Toxic waste sites are going to be cleaned up because of work I was a part of

Jillian Gordner
Law Student, Former Make Polluters Pay Campaign Associate

When I started with PIRG as a campaign associate right out of college, I was faced with the daunting task of running a campaign with the goal of passing federal legislation to hold polluting industries accountable for the cost of cleaning up toxic waste sites, shifting that burden off taxpayers and ensuring a healthier future for communities plagued by toxic waste. It was exactly the kind of meaningful, goal-oriented, world-improvement work I had been hoping to do. Still, it wouldn’t be until we won the campaign, passing two pieces of federal legislation, that I believed I could actually do the kind of work I had been hoping to.

The magic of learning how to create and execute a strategy with such a lofty goal answered the major question I had when I left college: can I as an individual do something to create real, big change in the world?

It is intimidating to think of tackling any of the major issues facing our world today, such as homelessness, poverty, hunger, or climate change. But you can actually learn how to do it. I did. Through in-depth training sessions, working closely with experienced supervisors, and leaning on talented individuals from across PIRG and the other organizations within The Public Interest Network, I learned the nuts and bolts of making change. We may not solve these problems overnight, but working here showed me that I can do work that has a huge, positive impact on people’s lives.

As I was wrapping up my campaign, we had helped to pass two federal taxes on the oil and chemical industries, which are not the easiest industries to pass taxes on. The money from those taxes will go to clean up the most toxic waste sites in the country, which have been undergoing slow and inadequate cleanup for decades. Knowing that there are actual toxic waste sites putting people at risk that are going to be cleaned up quicker and better because of the work I was a part of reaffirmed my commitment to a career centered around actively improving the world.  

I’m now in law school and learning new skills. I’m not intimidated by the new problems I’m learning about. I’m better equipping myself to take them on.