A Sneak Peek into the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Brought to you by Max Justice Parish: Part 3, The Intersection of Big Data & Politics

love-big-data

I am sitting in my cubicle. It’s hot. The air conditioner is on very low because certain un-named colleagues like to keep it that way. I bring a small fan to the office, positioning it right next to my face, setting it on high to take full advantage of its gift of cool air. Today it is the only thing that keeps me awake. It’s 1pm and I already have that “2:30pm” feeling. But I am lucky – I have a good task to match my afternoon drowsiness. My supervisor needs me to compile a list of zip codes that comprise each Massachusetts legislator’s district, in addition to researching how many participants of the state’s Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC) program there were in each district in 2013. It’s a good task to have at the moment, because it only requires repetition by calling many numbers asking for the same information. The task is not as simple as conducting a quick google search; only the legislative offices have access to the precise zip codes of each district, and I need to dig deep into the computer system’s files before I discover a record of EAEDC participants. I spend the day calling approximately 50 offices. Most aides that I talk to can recite the zip codes off the top of their heads, but some put me in hold for 20 minutes (I enjoy the State House’s on-hold music so it wasn’t a bad experience by any means), a few scold me for wasting their time, and two offices could not identify which Boston zip codes their districts occupy. Such is life working in politics. I enjoy it.

I spend most of my day collecting this data. A lot of people would find this project to be menial and only that. But you’ve likely heard the following statement over-and-over again somewhere recently: we live in an era of big data. What makes this era so exciting, you ask? Put simply, we use data to make better, more impactful decisions. For this particular project, gathering these zip codes and piecing them together with the number of postcards we send to each district (postcards being a classic advocacy tool used to empower the public to communicate with their legislators). This information allows us to best choose which zip codes we need to dedicate more energy and resources to in order to enhance the likelihood that our policy campaigns are successful. This prospect may not seem all too exciting, especially when making call after call to gather data. But it is meaningful, and I do appreciate it.

I truly care about addressing homelessness. Facebook friends of mine may even have the perception that it is “my issue,” or “THE” issue that I am passionate about. I can’t blame them. But do not be fooled; I care very much for addressing sexual violence, ridding our culture of the patriarchy, eliminating white supremacy, pursuing environmental justice, etc., in addition to addressing homelessness. I want more. I want to address as many topics of injustice as I can. This is precisely why I have made it a career goal of mine to help progressive lawmakers get elected to office so that they can address the breadth of these issues. Not everyone gets to be the next President of the United States, or the next Governor of Massachusetts; not everyone gets to be the Executive Director of a nonprofit agency or the Chief Lobbyist; hard work is required of a support system to ensure that these positions are attained and are successful at what they seek to accomplish. I want to be a part of that process, and I want to take advantage of voter data to do it.

My internship at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless was great because I was given the opportunity to fulfill meaningful responsibilities while learning a ton about careers in advocacy, what it takes to organize a successful advocacy campaign, and how to manage relationships with lawmakers. As someone who has completed unrewarding and menial internships in the past, I recommend interning at the Coalition. It is the sort of organization where you can step right in and make as much of an impact as you choose to; where you can dedicate as much time as you wish and receive a commensurate amount of growth and learning in return. If I were to re-do my first few months at the Coalition, I would work more proactively on new projects and find ways to make an impact on my own instead of solely relying on the instructions from my supervisors. The truth is that they are too busy, as most internship supervisors likely are, to always be supervising. If you have the time, it may be beneficial for you to show initiative and work on a project of your own, in addition to working on what you are assigned, in order to gain the most out of your experience and maximize the support that you provide to the organization that you intern for. The Coalition offers the sort of welcoming environment that lends an ear to these projects and new ideas coming from interns. That is why I tout it so highly.

If you are interested in learning more about the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, careers in advocacy, topics of homelessness, or my own experience interning, please feel free to reach out to me via e-mail, shpilman@brandeis.edu.

Max Parish, ’16

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