My internship has ended. What now?

My internship has ended at Responsible Wealth, a project of United for a Fair Economy, and I am excited to share what I have gained from this experience? Let’s start with what I hoped I would have to show for it. As I stated in my very first blog post in June: “Through this internship I hope to gain a greater understanding of various aspects of inequality, including racial, gender, and economic inequality, and how to address them.” In my second blog post in July, I described how I was coming along in these learning goals such as messaging to an audience via Twitter (@resp_wealth) and conducting informational interviews with current and past members of the organization gauge ways we can get them more involved (I even got a few to renew their memberships). This latter project enabled me to become exposed to additional aspects of inequality through the knowledge and expertise of members as well as to understand how to mobilize people to correct it.

Of course, while there are many ways to be involved in promoting change, I was mostly involved in trying to get information out. Another way I contributed to this educational aspect was by creating a (well researched) fact sheet about Social Security entitled, “Understanding Social Security: Who Benefits, Who Pays, and Possibilities for Change”, which is now on United for a Fair Economy’s website. It shows how people in the top 5% pay a lower percentage of their income toward Social Security than the bottom 95%, and how through correcting the regressiveness of payroll taxes, we can avoid cuts to Social Security benefits that will occur in 2033 if nothing is done to raise more revenue.

This graphic from the Social Security fact sheet I created shows the regressive nature of the taxes that are used to fund the program.
This graphic from the Social Security fact sheet I created shows the regressive nature of the taxes that are used to fund the program.

 

While I learned a lot about inequality in the United States, and how to educate people about this inequality, this experience also reinforced that there is so much left to learn. During my last year at Brandeis I will be paying special attention to how economic, social, and political policies and trends that my classes are addressing contribute to aspects of equality and inequality amongst those in the US and around the world. Ultimately, I hope to understand what types of inequality are acceptable or necessary (this going along the lines of the ‘people need incentive to succeed’ argument) as well as which types create injustice and which should be corrected. After graduation, I hope to continue learning about these topics while also becoming more involved in righting the wrongs that I have come to see in them. I (hopefully) will be going to law school, and am specifically interested in learning how to address unjust inequality as a lawyer.

To relate this directly to social justice (as I am a recipient of the Social Justice WOW), this internship has definitely strengthened my will to work toward achieving social justice for everyone, as it gave me a greater understanding for the scale of injustice in the U.S. (not to mention the rest of the world) as well as awareness of how many inspirational people there are working to create change. While this internship focused on economic justice, economics never stands alone outside other forces, and this experience helped me better understand how economic, social, racial, political and cultural justice, and injustice, intersect.

Hearing about injustice used to just make me angry, and I now better understand how to channel that emotion into productive change.  I also know how to step back and learn all the facts before I let emotion get the better of me.

Me with all the schwag I was given at the end of my internship
Me with all the schwag I was given at the end of my internship

But enough about me.  What about you?  If any of you out there are interested in United for a Fair Economy/Responsible Wealth, or the field of economic inequality in general, let me give you some advice. First, I would highly recommend this internship to anyone interested in any of the topics mentioned above. Everyone who works there is really great, and they want to make sure students get the most they can out of internships. Don’t be afraid to make sure your supervisor understands what you are interested in and want to work on. Of course we all have to do the occasional boring office task, but the more passionate you are about the topic you are working on, the better work you are likely to do. As for advice about the field, a lot of people want economics to be a hard, as opposed to social, science: more like chemistry than sociology. But there are countless economic theories out there, and economics cannot be separated from other social forces. Don’t take any preconceived notions about the way the economy works as fact. Take the time to examine the topic from a range of lenses and points of view – current and historic. And of course, don’t just look at all this from an academic standpoint. Get involved.

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, CNN is putting together a list of “must reads” on income inequality. Check out the suggestions, and add your own!

Update on my Summer at Responsible Wealth: Communication Edition

The Great Gatsby Curve: Part or an info-graphic produced by the White House showing how greater economic inequality leads to less generational mobility, or in different rhetorical terms, less ability to achieve the American Dream
A great graphic I came across in my search for something to tweet: The Great Gatsby Curve. It is part of an info-graphic produced by the White House showing how greater economic inequality correlates with less generational mobility, or in different rhetorical terms, less ability to achieve the American Dream.

So, how does Twitter work? That is one of the biggest logistical questions I have been trying to answer up until the midpoint of my summer internship at the Responsible Wealth project of United for a Fair Economy. You would think that being from this generation of twenty somethings, I would already have a firm grasp of the Social Media platform and how to best utilize it to communicate a specific message.  To be honest, I had not used it until this summer. Now look at me. I am actually in charge of manning the Responsible Wealth Twitter and Facebook pages. Aside from just learning how to  utilize this mode of communication, I am gaining an important skill: the ability to communicate a message (in this case the message of Responsible Wealth) in a relevant, concise, and intriguing manner that keeps my audience (that’s you!) in mind. I have started asking myself: What does my audience already know? What topics that our organization addresses would they be interested to learn more about? How can I present it in a way that will grab their attention, and, most importantly, get them to ACT?, etc. One of the best examples I can give of a source of information that I shared via social media that I knew would be

What I am most proud of: increasing the reach of our social media pages. Facebook created this handy graph for me to show you  this increase visually. I took over the Facebook page when the "reach" line starts increasing, around July 1st.
What I am most proud of: increasing the reach of our social media pages. Facebook created this handy graph for me to show you this increase visually. I took over the Facebook page when the “reach” line starts increasing, around July 1st.

interesting, attention grabbing, and informative is the inequality.is site. If you have any interest in learning (interactively) about economic inequality in this country and how we can fix it, I highly recommend this site. This ability to communicate your message and to get more people strongly engaged in your work is a highly transferable skill, as any company or organization has a message or information that they want to share with their base – and usually in a way that will get them to respond. The increase in our organization’s social media outreach is probably what I am most proud of at my internship right now. This is partially because it is an accomplishment I can see numerically (e.g. number of followers) and also because it means that people are interested in the information I am sharing I am sharing on behalf of the organization.

Additionally, in my constant search for articles and information to share I am gaining a wealth of information about various aspects of inequality, including racial, gender, and economic inequality, and how to address them, which are core learning goals I set for this internship. I can measure how I am progressing in this goal through how much I find myself able to discuss these topics with others at my internship who have more experience in them, as well as with my friends who come from various different academic and experiential backgrounds. I have found that I am better able to take the concepts from what I have learned academically at Brandeis to apply them to these real world issues. Most importantly, I now have a better understanding of how to combine academics with experience to work to fix problems that I see in the real world.  This involves my other learning goal of understanding “how to use the knowledge I have gained from my majors in International and Global studies (IGS) and Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) as well as my minor in Economics to work for social justice, locally and globally.”

Social Media isn’t the only type of communication that I have gained experience in this summer. I have also been calling members of Responsible Wealth to update their contact information and find out more about their interests and how they could best participate in Responsible Wealth. This can sometimes be more intimidating than anonymously posting things online, but this more personal form of communication is also an important transferable skill to any job.  Engaging people directly is an essential part of building support for your organization.

The Budget for All rally outside the MA State House
The Budget for All rally outside the MA State House

One final thing I would like to add to this post is that I had the opportunity to attend the Budget for All rally and hearing at the Massachusetts State House on July 10th, where many supporters of the budget resolution – which passed in all 91 MA towns where it was on the ballot – spoke in favor of the resolution’s proposal to redistribute the federal budget by putting less emphasis on the military and more on social issues like education. These supporters included several elected officials and a member of United for a Fair Economy, Steve Schnapp. It was a 4-hour long hearing, during which I took in a lot of information and learned more about how to get issues you care passionately about to be discussed and changed at the state and federal level. And that is the key: to have measurable success in directing more funding toward social issues we need to be heard clearly and repeatedly by policy makers in both Boston and Washington D.C.

Graphic Credit: Vandivier, David. Jan 11, 2013. What is the Great Gatsby Curve? The White House Blog. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/06/11/what-great-gatsby-curve

 

Beginning my (small) role in working for greater economic equality

UFE Responsible Wealth Logo

As I get off the bus that takes me to my internship, and walk into the heart of Boston’s Financial District, I think about the mission of Responsible Wealth, the project of United for a Fair Economy that I am interning for this summer, which seeks to create a more progressive tax system and greater corporate accountability. The large scale changes this organization seeks would greatly impact many of the large corporations represented in the District, such as Fidelity Investments. What I find most interesting about Responsible Wealth is that instead of fighting for change from the outside of these corporations or circles of wealthy people, the organization has created a network of hundreds of the richest people in the country who seek to further their mission. As the organization puts it, Responsible Wealth is “a network of business leaders, investors, and inheritors in the richest five percent who advocate for fair taxes and corporate accountability.” This network works toward the larger goal of United for a Fair Economy, to reverse the growing wealth inequality in this nation.

I discovered and applied for this internship through Hiatt’s B.hired job search site, and after a Skype interview with my two current supervisors which I did while studying abroad in Chile, I was offered the job. On my first day I was given a large binder full of training guides as well as information about the non profit, which included a large poster containing a quote from Louis Brandeis: “We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy, but we can’t have both”. This led me to more deeply consider why I had been given the Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice WOW for this internship, and how my experience at this organization could be tied back to my studies at Brandeis. As of now I am not sure exactly what I want to do after graduation (less than a year away!), but I do know I want it to be social justice oriented. I believe that this internship can help me understand how to use the knowledge I have gained from my majors in International and Global studies (IGS) and Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) as well as my minor in Economics to work for social justice, locally and globally. Through this internship I hope to gain a greater understanding of various aspects of inequality, including racial, gender, and economic inequality, and how to address them.

View from the front door of the United for a Fair Economy office.
View from the front door of the United for a Fair Economy office.

My first week at Responsible Wealth consisted largely of becoming oriented to the organization and its many projects, the layout of the office, and my duties as an intern. One fascinating aspect of the office is its small library of books covering many topics related to the organization’s mission. Within this library, I am especially interested in reading a book that one of my supervisors co-authored, titled The Self Made Myth: and the truth about how government helps individuals and businesses succeed. This, along with many other sources of information I have come across since beginning my internship, touch upon many current debates in the US political sphere, such as: Who built it? and more broadly, What is the role of government? It is a nice change to be surrounded by current events, as opposed to theory, which is what is usually more focused on within the classroom.

As an intern I will be involved in research and reaching out to members of Responsible Wealth, among other things. Within this realm, I have already begun to research which organizations in the US are addressing immigration reform, promoting the living wage, and preserving social security, as well as how they are addressing these issues so that Responsible Wealth can determine which organizations to reach out to and partner with when confronting these issues. I have also helped mail out the monthly Responsible Wealth Newsletter (hard to be an intern without being assigned a task like this). While I’m sure there will be a few tedious tasks such as mailings throughout my experience as an intern at Responsible Wealth, I am very excited to be a part of the organization and believe I am going to gain a lot of information and experience applicable to my future career, and be able to think more critically about topics such as social justice and economic inequality.

Here are some of the interesting articles and videos I have come across on immigration reform, the living wage, and social security.

Image Citation: United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth Logos were retrieved on 6/22/13 from http://faireconomy.org/responsible_wealth

*United for a Fair Economy. Projets. Retrieved on 6/22/13 from http://faireconomy.org/programs_projects

Suzannah Scanlon ’14