Evan Preston | History
Hometown: Jacksonville, IL
Employment: Director of the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG)
If it weren't for grassroots political organizers I might not have ever made it to Pomona. My grandparents grew up in thatch-roof homes with minimal education in Ireland and moved to the west side of Chicago in the 1950s. One day a few years after my grandparents had settled into Chicago someone showed up on their doorstep to warn them that because real estate companies had struck a deal with the city government, they were going to lose their home along with most of the predominantly immigrant families in their neighborhood. My grandmother hadn't done anything political before in her life but because someone, an organizer, had a conversation with her and told her how she could defend her neighborhood, she stood up. She wrote letters to public officials and testified at community meetings in an organizing campaign to block the proposal and save their homes. She won. She and my grandfather were able to raise my mom in that home because they and many other people from many different backgrounds worked together and organized.
Not until I was at Pomona did I learn about the details of that story. Once I learned what my grandmother experienced, it informed what I sought to do. The lesson I learned from my grandmother was to recognize the power of something as simple as showing up on someone's doorstep with a tangible solution for people to defend what they care about.
Since I graduated, I've worked to try to be like that person at my grandmother's door with a concrete solution that anyone can take action on to make positive changes in their community. I ran a grassroots campaign in Oregon that brought together Tea Party chapter founders with Occupy Portland activists to convince an overwhelming majority of legislators in that state, both Democrats and Republicans, to pass a resolution calling to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United.
Now I am the Director of the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, a non-partisan advocacy organization. During my time in Connecticut, ConnPIRG led campaigns to make college more affordable by passing the first in the nation Student Loan Bill of Rights to hold abusive educational lenders accountable and creating an open-source textbook program. In any of the campaigns I work on, the only power I have comes from the people who organize with me. Last year alone, dozens of people came to the capitol to testify in support of affordable college, hundreds of people called their legislators to oppose letting more special interest money into politics at the state level and thousands of people signed petitions urging companies to end the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.