After completing my internship at the Indianapolis Worker Justice Center (IWJC) I learned a lot about the labor movement and some more about what it means to organize both in unions and in other labor organizations. I wish I were able to take a more active role in the organizing efforts, but it was difficult to find a place in an organization without staff, especially because they are still figuring out the exact tactics they want to pursue themselves.
However, I was interested in the work that I was able to do. I know that I want to work for an organization with the goals of activism and organizing, trying to assist people in their quest for justice rather then helping them and seeing themselves as the savior of others. However, I am not sure if labor is the right direction for me, it is very important work but I am not sure if it’s my passion.
The Interfaith Worker Justice internship program can be very good, and I heard from interns that went to other affiliate organizations and had a great time. It was challenging working at an organization that was not staffed. If any students end up interning for an organization that does not have any staff, make sure that your expectations and the site’s expectations are both clear from the onset. I did not do that and I think it was a mistake. I would tell students interested in working in the labor movement to pay attention to the inter-organizational and union politics. I found it very interesting to see how groups that are trying to achieve the same things (or at least claiming to) are not necessarily able to because they are focused on other things.
I am most proud of being able to contribute to the organization even though I had very little structure. I am also proud of the religious ally training that I created and led. It was challenging to create something independently, but I was able to facilitate a conversation about different religions and the importance of understanding and respecting other peoples’ practices when working together. We had a conversation that would probably not have occurred in a different setting, and those of us who attended all enjoyed it and learned something that evening.
At my midpoint working at the Indianapolis Worker Justice Center, I feel confident that the organization is getting more focused and stable to do the work they do more effectively. After a board training from Interfaith Worker Justice (the national organization through which I was placed at my internship site) we know what IWJC is, what it could/should be in the near future, and how to get there. Because of that, the board is able to actively take those steps and we now officially have our first members. I am enjoying being in a new city and a different part of the United States and being able to experience the differences in the culture of the Midwest. Beyond the work at the Worker Justice Center, many board members are involved in other social justice and labor groups, and therefore, I have had the opportunity to attend meetings from groups such as Indiana Moral Mondays, Indiana Central Labor Council, and Jobs with Justice.
The World of Work is very different than my academic life, mostly because I am working more independently than I do at school, since IWCJ is currently not a staffed organization. However, the interactions that I have are with people with more varying life experiences. At Brandeis most of my interactions are with people of a similar age in a similar stage of their lives. Here I am working with people from many different ways of life and I am able to learn from them. I am learning about social issues similar to the way I am learning about them at Brandeis. Here I get to meet groups of people affected by the same issues and see how they work together to fight it. In addition to learning about what is going wrong, I also see people take action to improve their situation and I can take part in the actions as well.
As a result of this internship I am learning how to work independently and keep myself motivated, even when I am by myself. I am also learning how to be more open and talk to people I don’t know and how to listen to people with very different stories. Being able to work more independently and motivated without constant supervision is very important for me both in an academic setting and in the future. So is the ability to be more open and talk to people. I am usually shy and having to go out and talk to people helps me get over that. This will hopefully help me to be more comfortable talking to people I don’t know in the future, which is helpful in any situation.
My First Week in Indianapolis has already come to an end. Last Friday, after a three day organizing training with Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) in Chicago I arrived at my work site in Indianapolis. Here I am working with one of IWJ’s affiliate organizations, the Indianapolis Worker Justice Center (IWJC). This week was an exciting one, not just for me, but also for IWJC as an organization. IWJC was established about a year ago, and this week they were officially approved for a 501c3, as an affiliate for IWJ. They also learned that they received their first grant this week as well. As a new member of the team, I could really feel the excitement that brought.
The IWJC is a non-profit organization working to help low-wage workers come together to organize as well as provide them with resources and trainings such as “Know Your Rights at Work.” They are working on campaigns with taxi drivers and 1099 misclassification, including work against wage theft and much more. So far IWJC has been running solely on volunteer work, they are therefore not able to hold regular walk-in hours for them to advise people but that is hopefully going to change soon.
My tasks include reaching out to the community to let more people know about the center. I will also be helping with the campaign to organize taxi drivers who are meeting at the IWJC. Further I am helping to advertise for our Fourth of July Justice Jam event. My work will impact the organization because it will hopefully help it grow. By letting more people and organizations know about the work that IWJC is doing and the services they are offering they will be able to assist more people. By reaching out to other community centers, we also want to create a local referral list for people who come to us with issues that do not fall into the areas of work that IWJC focuses on.
My goals for this summer are to develop organizing skills. I have already been able to learn more theory during the IWJ intern training and am now starting to put it into action. One of the most important things is to build relationships, which I will hopefully start doing soon. I also hope to gain a better understanding of specific workers rights’ issues and how to fight them. I have also already been able to learn more, for example about the problems taxi drivers face in Indianapolis.
As a sociology major, this internship directly relates to my studies of inequality, social movements in the United States. Being a part of an actual movement will help me understand the work that goes into these changes and it will let me understand how the theory is put into practice. My career and academic goals are very closely related to my personal goals because I wish to work towards a more just and equal society. I believe that this internship will help me see inequality fist hand and help me act against it.