Learning How to Manage: NARAL Midpoint Check-In

I hop in the car and pull out of my house on Shakespeare Road, driving past Brandeis and onto the interstate as I make my way into Boston. The early summer sun shines hot through the windshield. I look out the window at the highway, shimmering upwards in convoluted waves, and I feel a surge of appreciation for my interns who will be spending three hours outside today canvassing for our endorsed candidates.

Six weeks after my first blog post, my job at NARAL has swelled to encompass a new set of managerial responsibilities. In addition to doing substantive work – helping my supervisor brainstorm creative field operations, draft LTEs, and strategize political campaigns – I now manage a team of nine interns, and am responsible for distributing them to our four-plus priority campaigns. This task is surprisingly complicated; I have to take into account more variables than I initially thought when I began drafting my interns’ schedules. On a daily basis, I have to consider whether or not the interns have a car, how far away the campaigns are and whether or not they are accessible by public transportation, how many hours we should be devoting to each campaign based on its priority level, etc. I spend the better part of my office days with my eyes glued to Google Calendar, attempting to utilize our interns as best we can.

Last week, I finally managed the interns’ schedules such that they are traveling to work on each of our priority campaigns at least once a week. This is no small feat; NARAL’s Political Director reported that our Political Committee was thrilled that we are able to assist our endorsed candidates in such a way. Today is the first day that our interns are traveling throughout the state in groups of two or three. Two are in Bedford, knocking on doors for Representative Kenneth Gordon; two will be in Cambridge making calls for Representative Marjorie Decker; and two will spend four hours this evening traveling to Methuen to phone bank for Representative DeCologero. I am acting as a chauffer for the Bedford folks, and will bunker down in a coffee shop to work remotely while they are in the field.

Of course, this is just a typical Monday. Tuesdays are similar, with interns in the field; Wednesdays begin with a weekly intern meeting, facilitated by me, that features a brown bag lunch and guest speaker plucked from the ripe Boston political scene. On Wednesday evenings, our intern team helps conduct research for NARAL’s (c)(3) committee; on Thursdays, our interns are in the field, collecting signatures for our campaign to have Massachusetts Congressmen Lynch and Neal sign on to the Women’s Health Protection Act. On Fridays, interns are working for campaigns yet again. Sometimes, we break our typical schedule to participate in special events, like tabling at Boston Pride or having organizing and canvassing trainings with Planned Parenthood.

It is an utter whirlwind, and I am consistently amazed by the amount of organization and attention to detail my job requires.  Serving at NARAL in this capacity has increased my managerial abilities tenfold. I have grown to feel comfortable delegating tasks to my intern team, although some are older and more experienced than me. The staff has been exceptional in their eagerness to accommodate my needs and treat me as one of their own. I sit in on staff meetings, assist in building strategy and blueprinting campaigns, and am privy to exclusive conversations among the Political, Communications, and Field teams.

More than anything, this internship has given me an in-depth look at the machinations of the political non-profit sector. Though I previously worked at NARAL for a year, I have never understood the extent to which fundraising and membership building are critical to the maintenance of a non-profit. Sometimes I become disenchanted by the reality that a significant proportion – if not a majority – of NARAL’s work is dedicated to maintaining the structures that already exist instead of directly propelling forth a pro-choice agenda. In this field, progress comes more slowly than I expected, and victories are few and far between. (It becomes even more discouraging when the Supreme Court strikes down laws and provisions that were originally NARAL victories, like the Buffer Zone Law and the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that private employers coverage of birth control.) Though the fight for reproductive justice was and is my foremost passion, I often find myself wondering if the political non-profit venue is the most effective means of pursuing electoral and legislative success.

Doubts aside, my internship is precisely what I had hoped for. Though the headaches that comes as a result of managing nine interns are quite real, the successes of doing so – the gratification of knowing that we are helping four pro-choice champions get re-elected throughout the state – make it all worth it. I make an effort to check-in with my interns consistently to ensure that the internship is meeting their expectations. Although they tell me that spending hours canvassing isn’t always the most enjoyable task, they understand its significance and understand that without their boots on the ground, NARAL wouldn’t have the clout it does among elected officials and special interests alike. I hope to make this experience as challenging as rewarding for them as it is for me.