This summer internship was extremely eye-opening and rewarding. From meeting with TriMet leadership to grassroots organizing to arranging and managing events to raise public awareness, I’ve learned where resistance in social justice issues can arise and I have learned the dependency of these issues have on big decision-makers. Many social justice issues involve educating the public, as many people may not be aware that these issues exist in the first place, and education is the first step in almost any issue. People must be aware or admit that it is a problem before anyone can start the first steps to move forward to make change.
I have seen the power that education can have on a community, as my internship revolved around discussing the problems of diesel in Portland to individuals, writing Letters to the Editor to educate news-readers, testifying in front of the committees of TriMet to discuss their role in leading Portland to reach ambitious climate goals, and in return, others educated me in many ways.
My internship was essentially a cycle of spreading awareness — educating individuals, gaining support, and then educating TriMet leadership of this support for electric buses and decreasing diesel emissions in Portland.
While no final decisions about committing to battery electric buses will be made until this coming year, I know that more people are aware of the diesel pollution issue in Portland. It is rewarding for me to know that there is a movement in the minds of Portlanders, and individuals are able to make a difference in their day-to-day lives as well.
The only advice that I would give to someone who is pursuing an internship in this field is to learn. Do your own research until you understand front-and-back whatever it is that you are campaigning about. When teaching business owners with businesses located along bus routes about diesel emissions, I received a multitude of varying responses and questions. I realized, sometimes the hard way, how essential it is to be prepared. Sometimes I didn’t know how to answer questions. Having straightforward and clear answers to each question or concern shows that you really care and in turn leads to more confidence, which is essential in grassroots campaigning and any discussion with people who are working with you. It is essential to speak up when leaders may attempt to work around answering the question instead of being straightforward, and that takes knowing what you’re talking about front-and-back to be able to speak up in front of others and have the confidence to know what you’re talking about.
People can see through you if you don’t care about your campaign, and no social justice issue can be ameliorated unless you really throw yourself into it and are passionate about it.
– Mahala Lahvis