Two Tramps in Mud Time

The poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time” by Robert Frost illustrates the self-awareness the main character has after two strangers make him question his joy in splitting wood. While the man sees splitting wood as an enjoyable task, the two strangers see it as a means for survival to earn money. This forces the man to reconsider how privileged he is to have a hobby that others would value as an opportunity for advancement, “They knew they had but to stay their stay / And all their logic would fill my head: / As that I had no right to play / With what was another man’s work for gain. / My right might be love but theirs was need. / And where the two exist in twain / Theirs was the better right–agreed.”  He concludes that he would only find fulfillment by uniting his passion (splitting wood) with prioritizing the needs of others, so he passes off the axe to the two strangers.

The message of this poem resonates with me, as I see my work and uplifting others as synonymous. I make it an effort to prioritize cultivating means of advancing others in alignment with my role as an organizer. Over the past three days, I facilitated training workshops for our Summer Advocacy institute, mentoring high school students on how to build a campaign and how to organize. Sharing my knowledge and experience, in addition to recognizing the advantageous position I have as an intern within a well-resourced civil liberties organization, allowed me to “pass off the ax” to the next generation of organizers whom need the resources I may take for granted. Alternatively, I can envision myself as one of the strangers demanding to be passed the ax at the beginning of my internship experience, and now I am empowered to share my newly earned wealth with others.

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A Time for Reflection

This past Saturday, I was the designated group leader for our community service day with ASU alumni. I was nervous to see our group slowly trickle in to the lobby to leave as a group, considering how early in the morning in the morning it was. Thankfully, everyone in our group arrived on time, and we headed to the Metro for our commute. Upon arrival, we were greeted by Jessica, who coordinates ASU alumni community service events in the D.C. area. We toured the extensive operations of the Capital Area Food Bank, including their sub-zero freezer, their client-facing shop and their sorting area, which is where we spent the morning. At first, it was confusing to figure out our volunteer roles among the chaos, but we soon established a smooth working order. It was daunting seeing the amount of food stacked on palettes being brought in via forklift, but I was amazed at how fast the time went by as we worked with each other and other volunteer groups. If one team was confused about how to sort a specific load of items, they communicated with the other teams to come to a consensus, which was essential to our accomplishing our goals. Although most of us were less than enthusiastic at waking up early on a Saturday morning for our community service activity, we were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed working as a team and how fulfilling it was to know we contributed to the local community.

This past week, I went to my first Senate hearing because one of our national security and technology experts was testifying on the constitutionality of phone searches at the border. She argued that the recent Carpenter v. United States case and the Fourth Amendment argues for sanctions on searching phones at border checkpoints. Since I knew one of the witnesses testifying, I was able to sit in the front row. I was amazed at how close I was to the committee, which included Rand Paul and Kamala Harris. This also meant I was in direct view of the cameras, so I was also filmed throughout the hearing. When I came back to the office, my coworkers were entertained by my facial expressions as we replayed the live stream. I was trying my best to maintain neutrality, but somehow this came across as a dissatisfied expression. Paranoid that I would become a meme, I live streamed other hearings to observe intern behavior and put my facial expressions in perspective and was relieved when I saw an intern’s nose start bleeding.

This week, I am preparing for the ACLU’s annual Summer Advocacy Institute, in which high school students participate in a week long intensive course to strengthen their skills and knowledge as organizers. I am excited to help facilitate two workshops for the students, which include campaign planning and creating a lobby day plan. I have never developed a curriculum or agenda for an event of this scale, but luckily, I have the support of my team to guide me. More importantly, I am excited to meet the next generation of social justice advocates. During my short time in D.C., I have had a glimpse of how emotionally and physically draining the political environment can be, so I am looking forward to being re-energized by this inspirational group of students while also maintaining a mentor role. Winding down my internship within a mentor capacity will provide an opportunity for reflection of my experience this summer as I share my advice with younger students. Although it can be discouraging to work in this environment at times, I am constantly reminded of the good in this world. I am so grateful to be in D.C. at this point in time, and I hope I can share this optimism with these students.

Staying Away from the Shiny

Reading “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Success” by Greg McKeown over the past few weeks has allowed some insight on my counterproductive habits. The underlying theme throughout the book is the process of elimination and the pursuit of less. I feel as if I am always pursuing the “next step” and ways to advance, but at the cost of not appreciating where I am in the present. At the beginning of my college career, I seized every opportunity to get involved on campus to be proactive about the possibility of feeling isolated as an out of state freshman. This created a pattern in which I became focused on using every opportunity as a calculated stepping stone to my next goal. While I felt that this was a productive strategy to achieve my goals, it has become draining to always be actively searching for the next shiny opportunity to advance myself instead of appreciating the current moment.

A couple weeks ago, one of my supervisors told me a story of a former coworker who, like me, developed a habit of getting distracted from their long-term career goals by grabbing the next “shiny” campaign, always saying it would be the last one before settling down in one position. Before they knew it, they were in their late 40’s and just starting to begin their social life. Although many find fulfillment in this career path, it was never this individual’s intent at the outset of their career. While perhaps this is an extreme case, it speaks to McKeown’s point of being more conscientious and selective of the work you choose to do and excelling at it. By pausing to discern what it important when considering a new task, you feel more in control of the situation instead of being susceptible to fleeting, shiny opportunity. In my daily routine, I can incorporate this concept by being more selective when accepting new tasks. I try to compensate for my young age by always saying ‘yes’ in order prove my value and competency in comparison to those with more experience. As an intern, you are expected to dive in head first into all facets of the company with limited experience and knowledge. As a result, interns feel pressure to say ‘yes’ to not fall short of expectations. This week, I was asked if I had the bandwidth to handle multiple projects at the same time. I was honest with my capabilities for the week by evaluating what would be required of me to achieve what was asked and concluded that I would not be able to do a thorough job if I had accepted them all.

Another lesson from the book that I found useful was on the value of an effective routine, “The Essentialist designs a routine that makes achieving what you have identified as essential to the default position. Yes, in some instances an Essentialist still has to work hard, but with the right routine in place each effort yields exponentially greater results,” (205). Oftentimes, most frequently in the morning as I get ready for work or class, I am distracted by going over a mental checklist of things I need to do before leaving. When you establish a routine by practicing often, your brain starts to operate on auto-pilot, allowing you to work less and be able to concentrate beyond the immediate task. I have a general morning routine which includes getting dressed, brushing my teeth, walking my dog and then eating breakfast. If I designate specific time frames or modify the content of my routine, I would not have to be consciously thinking about each step and going through my mental checklist. Before reading this chapter, I never reflected on how much time I waste deliberating over my routine. I also did not consider being more specific about my routine beyond rough time frames for each step, but reading this chapter offered a new perspective which I believe will allow me to optimize my time in all aspects of life.

Forgetting the Fireworks

I have been looking forward to spending the Fourth of July in D.C. since our inaugural week. The morning of, I met with a friend from ASU who now works in D.C. to watch the parade. There were many foreign tourists spectating alongside us, as several had come to D.C. on July 4th for the ultimate “American experience”. It was interesting to see how excited they were to see members of the police and military in the parade, asking to take pictures with them. The U.S. places heavy emphasis on honoring and appreciating our military in comparison to other countries, so perhaps seeing them so widely recognized and applauded was an anomaly to foreign tourists.

After the parade, we realized we had several hours before the fireworks and concert began, so we took refuge inside the National Museum of the American Indian. At first, I was disappointed as we were greeted by two large gift shops that took up most of the first two floors. However, I was quickly proven wrong as we explored the exhibits further. I initially assumed that the museum would focus on Native Americans within the current U.S. border, but since Native Americans have long existed before our government-created borders, it made sense that the histories of Native South Americans were also included. My favorite part of the museum was an exhibit which illustrated how heavily ingrained Native American culture and imagery is within our own popular culture, yet we do not recognize or attribute it properly. Many popular brands and the media use demeaning caricatures of Native Americans to market products or to add an “exotic” element to their story line, and mainstream society fails to recognize this. My high school mascot is the Warriors (yikes), my hometown, its surrounding areas, and my home state is named after the people who first lived there. I also appreciated the exhibits featuring Native American religions and traditions, as embarrassingly I was unaware of the great variation of tradition and ceremony among Native Americans.

The last exhibit featured contemporary Native American-driven activism, and how their fight for preservation of their culture and rights is ongoing. This museum turned out to be my favorite in D.C. because I was surprised of how ignorant I was to Native American history, culture, and struggle. However, as I learned when researching the museum

nmai
Exterior of the National Museum of the American Indian

online when I got home, even the Smithsonian is not completely transparent on their disenfranchising practices. The National Museum of the American Indian Act of 1989 (NMAI) ordered the Smithsonian Institution to identify the origins of its Indian human remains and objects and repatriate them to the proper tribal communities. Since 1989, only 1/3 of individual remains have been repatriated.

Although the fireworks over the National Mall and the concert were fun, I still kept thinking about what I learned in the museum earlier that day. Even the Declaration of Independence, the document at the center of our celebration, refers to Native Americans as “merciless Indian savages”. I was conflicted having a celebratory view on that day knowing our

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Native American children who were forcibly removed from their families to attend “assimilation” boarding schools.

history of treatment towards native people, among other marginalized groups. I just happened to go into that museum because it was the closest, air-conditioned space to kill some time in, but it turned out to offer me a life-changing perspective. Although I knew the summarized version of colonization given in history classes, it was not representative of the true extent of our impact. I’m ashamed to admit how ignorant I was to most of the history and atrocities, but I think that is indicative of how our society sweeps unfavorable history under the rug under the guise of patriotism. So I dedicate this post to the Native Americans whom we have persecuted, decimated and continuously disenfranchise.

 

The Art of Field Organizing

This week, I had a conversation with one of my department supervisors on career paths, professional advice, and the learning experiences which shaped her journey. On the first day of my internship, she invited me out to lunch to get to know me better, which was the warm welcome that set the precedent for how approachable and open the work culture is at the ACLU. I am passionate about community organizing and advocacy, so her career as an organizer and trainer was of interest to me.

She started as a research intern in college, shadowing an artist in Boston for her thesis. The focus of her thesis was on SUVs and how they became one of the most popular vehicles on the road, and the unintentional consequences of this trend. Not only did she consider the environmental consequences, but also the political ones as well, as people were organizing around SUVs. The artist she shadowed would create fake parking tickets, citing the disadvantages of SUVs, and placed them on SUVs. Upon further research, she discovered that it was a set of policies created by a trade war that created this condition and niche issue campaign. The resulting thesis paper and according to her, a combination of luck and circumstance, helped her get a job out of college. Her first job involved galvanizing a variation of interest and coalition groups to change the way we consider the connection between clean energy and job creation. Her background knowledge from researching her thesis allowed her to understand the legislative specifics and dynamics within interest group coalition building set her apart as a candidate. The lived experience that she gained through this internship, in addition to the technical knowledge gained through her research, gave her substantive material to expand upon and discuss during her interview. Although she was always active in various organizing groups in high school and college, it was during her first job that she achieved a deeper understanding of what organizing is. The organizing component of her first job became the common denominator for the rest of her career path.

At the National Wildlife Federation, she led their fair climate program, which empowered those who were affected most by climate change to have a voice in the solution. In 2009, when the Obama administration was in office, one of influencing factors in a career change was the passing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allocated more funding into job training programs specifically for green jobs. At that point, the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) opened a center for green jobs, which prompted her to make a shift into working with organized labor for the next 10 years. While she had done policy work in the past, this role was more policy-focused in comparison to other roles she had held. However, her organizing background proved advantageous when working with Trade Adjustment Assistance program. This program allowed those who lost jobs due to an impact from trade to be eligible for benefits, such as job training or health care. In her experience, those most impacted by unemployment due to changes in trade were people in their 50s and did not have higher education. The process to participate in the program benefits, she found, was convoluted and inaccessible. As a result, her team focused on educating impacted workers of not only this program’s benefits, but of its existence as well.

After working with the AFL-CIO, she started working with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which helped her to solidify her views on organizing and educating. This was not a result of the nature of the work, but rather a shift in how they approached their work. She loved the work that she did and realized there was plenty more left to do. This realization, compounded with a desire to expand her skillset, led her to move in a different direction. Now, she feels like she is where she needs to be and says that sometimes means working in areas in which you are not entirely comfortable with. This growth, she believes, will be essential in her role as an organizer and professional career.

 

I should’ve taken CIS105

 

My networking skills have improved since our alumni mixer; now I feel like my conversations flow more naturally and I am less hesitant to ask questions or exchange contact information. Last week, I followed up with a staff member from the ACLU affiliate in Arizona who I met at our membership conference. During the conference, I had the opportunity to speak with many Arizona residents, and was pleasantly surprised to meet some of the delegation from our Arizona office, including the organizing director. We briefly chatted about the workshops taking place and my experience working with the Washington Legislative Office (WLO). I had already researched the fall internships the Arizona office offered, as my experience working in the WLO had been so rewarding already, and expressed my interest in continuing to work with the ACLU once I return to Arizona. We exchanged contact information, and later in the week I sent a follow up email with my resume included. They encouraged me to contact them again closer to the start of the fall semester, when we could discuss further details about the internship. The prospect of continuing my relationship with the ACLU into the school year is exciting, but my primary focus is still on gaining the most out of my current experience. Over the rest of the summer, I plan on attending as many intern social networking events and local events as possible from newsletters such as 730DC. Reading 730DC on my morning commute has become part of my routine, as it briefs readers on local politics and approachable ways to be civically involved. Typically, I save any events or workshops that are of interest to me, and prioritize the ones that are practical given my work schedule.

Another networking opportunity given to our group of interns is a series of “Brown Bag Lunches” in which an expert in each department has lunch with us and talks about their specific work. This week, we sat down with a staff attorney who works with the Trone Center for Justice and Equality. I appreciated that the lunch was more conversational as opposed to a lecturing style, as he was very receptive to our questions and ideas on criminal law reform litigation. In fact, he even asked us questions on how we would envision and quantify a reformed prosecutorial and criminal law system, taking notes on our comments, which surprised me.

One of my supervisors asked me to create an adjustable spreadsheet measuring and comparing rates of successful voter education and outreach for each method used (phone banking, canvassing, volunteer vs. paid, etc.). Somehow (or rather, with finesse), I have managed to evade creating Excel formulas thus far in my college career. Although I was not entirely confident in my knowledge, I accepted the task and researched how to execute what was asked of me. I also asked my desk neighbor, David, for his tips and he showed me some useful shortcuts that I will definitely be using in the future. One of the first projects I was assigned was to create a list of goals I would like to achieve as an intern, which included relationships I would like to form, skills specific to our department, or just general soft skills applicable to various situations. One of the first goals I wrote was to be challenged with a project that I had no idea how to approach, and to navigate a solution using resources available to me. This week, I think I can tick that goal off the list. Accomplishing this goal is essential to not only my professional development, but to my personal advancement as well. Being adaptable to a foreign situation and adjusting your perspective accordingly to meet that challenge is an opportunity to evaluate your problem-solving processes. By stepping out of your typical frame of thought, you are forced to be conscientious of unproductive tendencies you find comfort in, and are compelled to think or act in an improved form.

“To travel hopefully is better than to arrive and the true reward is labor.”

The team I am working with, the National Political Advocacy Department (NPAD), was created in 2015 to strengthen the work of the ACLU at the federal, state and local levels of government. Specifically, our focus is on consolidating the political influence our members and state affiliates have through organizing grassroots lobbying and issue campaigns. The first week of my internship was during an atypical time at our office, as we were preparing for our first membership conference in 10 years. Since my team was responsible for organizing many of the workshops and activities taking place, I was charged with creating one-pagers specific to each state affiliate’s issue campaigns so attendees could be informed on how they can engage with the ACLU beyond the conference and in their home state. By the time the conference started, I had produced one-pagers for 48 affiliates, which I was both relieved and proud to have completed. Although I was exhausted by the end of the three-day conference, it was inspiring to converse with the attendees, many of them being young activists who had traveled by bus across the country (for 22 hours!) to learn how to become better organizers and to raise awareness for issues they were passionate about. While the ACLU’s principles remain unchanged since its conception, the means by which its core values are upheld has evolved greatly.

The ACLU was created in 1920 as a result of the first Red Scare, when nationwide hysteria spread out of fear that a Bolshevik revolution in America was looming. To alleviate these anxieties, the U.S. General Intelligence Division went after union organizers, anarchists, and European immigrants and became known as the Palmer Raids. These raids swept up thousands of people without warrants, detaining and brutalizing them. As a result of these civil liberties infringements, a small group of activists formed to create a new legal corps dedicated to defending a “labor’s right to organize, picket, and strike”. After the first Red Scare, the ACLU expanded its mission to defend people historically denied the protections granted under the Bill of Rights. Some of their more recognized accomplishments include fighting the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, desegregating schools through Brown v. Board of Education, defending reproductive rights in Roe v. Wade, and the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, among many others.

Although the ACLU is often questioned on its defense of controversial people or groups, its commitment to their principles of defending basic civil liberties supersedes whether or not they agree with whom they represent. According to their website, “Historically, the people whose opinions are the most controversial or extreme are the people whose rights are often most threatened. Once the government has the power to violate on person’s rights, it can use that power against everyone. We work to stop the erosion of civil liberties before it’s too late.”  While the ACLU has been known to defend civil liberties in courtrooms, they are now expanding to get more involved in citizen-driven, grassroots campaigns. Last year, the ACLU introduced People Power, a mobilization effort encouraging constituents to be organizers and to make ACLU campaigns their own.

On my way home from the convention center on Monday, I was approached by two women who were also leaving the conference and looking for directions to the Metro station. Since I was heading to the same station, I invited them to walk with me. One of the women looked familiar to me, but I could not place her exactly. It was only until she introduced herself as Mary Beth that I drew the connection; she was Mary Beth Tinker from the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District Supreme Court case. Previously, I had met her at the 2013 NSPA (National Scholastic Press Association) Convention in Boston. On the train ride home, she asked me what I thought of the city so far, to which I responded how exciting it was to live in a place with a diverse population and how “everyone is a transplant”. This prompted a discussion in which Mary Beth pointed out how gentrification and the influx of young professionals have affected the life-long residents of D.C.’s neighborhoods. I am glad she brought up this point to me, and it made me reevaluate how I view D.C. and its shift in population demographics. When I ran into her again on Tuesday at the convention, I expressed my interest in getting more engaged with the local community, and she invited me to canvass with her on a future weekend.

Roger Baldwin, one of the founders of the ACLU, quoted Robert Louis Stevenson at a National Convocation on Free Speech, “To travel hopefully is better than to arrive and the true reward is labor.” This resonates with me as I start my journey this summer interning in D.C. Ultimately, this summer will not be defined by completing my internship, but rather by the experiences, tribulations, and relationships made along the way. Although the tasks assigned to me during the first week of my internship required me to be the first intern to arrive at the office and the last to leave, the close attention to detail and organization that was expected of me allowed me the opportunity to authenticate a relationship with my team that an orthodox first week would not have.