I Escaped a Cult: Surviving Calpirg

The first Saturday of the month. I was told to bring my most prized possession to our bi-daily meeting. We’re meeting on the beach tonight. As I get off my bike I hear the chatter of the organization. They stand in a circle, talking about the advantages their internships would give them in the job market. Clutching my backpack, I approach, scared yet exhilarated. The circle parts, my CALPIRG brothers are staring at me.


I see it now. The garbage can fire. I know what needs to happen. I unzip my backpack and take out the gloves, the gloves my grandfather stole off the warm corpse he created at the Battle of Nancy in 1944. I feel the supple, aged leather. I hold hands with this Nazi’s ghost. My grandfather killed to save. Now I must do the same. I throw the gloves into the fire. They hand me a clipboard. I’m crying.


This is the story of how I joined CALPIRG. The next year of my life I would sacrifice everything to this band of really, very sane activists (normal people!). I didn’t realize how bad it got until I woke up in a windowless basement, signs covering the CALPIRG office’s brown carpet. One, two, three… I cannot count anymore. I must make more signs. No Bees, No Food. How long had I been there? #SaveTheBees.


I lost one year of my life—my family, my possessions, my prized collection of vintage sunscreens all gone. “You don’t help CALPIRG, CALPIRG helps you,” they told me. I must pay my debt to the lobby. I am inherently evil. I created global warming. I bleached the coral. I owe it to CALPIRG to get them their $10 per quarter. What would they do to me if I don’t?


I’ve been running from CALPIRG for most of my life now. I fear what they will do when they find me. Still, I can’t help but miss CALPIRG. It gave me purpose. “Do you have a moment to save the bees? Forcing eye contact with passersby, asking for money until my acid reflux acted up. Every rejected pledge was another bee’s death. I had to keep asking for pledges. There was blood on my hands. I can hear their tiny bee screams.


Now at night I wake up in cold sweats. Shaking, head pounding. “Bees are dying at an alarming rate,” I hear over and over again. I want to share my story to empower all the other victims out there. Speak your truth. No one else must suffer at the hands of CALPIRG. Also, buy my book I Joined CALPIRG: A Memoir from Behind the Clipboard.