First (Official) Week at NARAL Pro-Choice!

Directly behind me, Chelsea’s typing furiously while Celia makes her twentieth call of the day, informing a State Representative that we have decided to endorse her 2014 campaign. Our office, decked with colorful pro-choice pins, posters, and other memorabilia, provides a welcome contrast to the gray sky and browns and beiges of the modest Boston skyline outside my window.

I’m spending my summer working at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts as their Intern Coordinator. NARAL is the political arm of the pro-choice movement and works to secure women’s right to abortion, birth control, emergency contraception, health pregnancies, and healthy relationships. Massachusetts is one of NARAL’s 20 state affiliates, located at 15 Court Street in the heart of Downtown Crossing, on the ninth floor of a building that houses an assortment of advocacy, legal, and professional offices. I interned for NARAL Pro-Choice New York last summer, and though I’ve lived in three cities in the past three semesters – New York in the summer, Boston in the fall, and Washington DC in the spring – I’ve stayed involved with NARAL throughout the year. When I explained to my supervisor, Chelsea, in January that I would be living in Boston this summer, we worked together to craft an internship that would expand upon my leadership abilities and desire to create innovative campaigns that would propel the political landscape of Massachusetts in a pro-choice direction.

Five months later I’m bunkered down in NARAL’s office, with two weeks to prepare for the summer ahead. Our ten political interns arrive on June 3, and before that date I have an incredible amount to do. In addition to composing their intern manual, planning a two-hour political organizing training, and scheduling one-on-one meetings with each intern prior to their arrival, I’ve also recently been assigned my first advocacy campaign. The Women’s Health Protection Act is federal bill that would codify Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court case that secured a woman’s right to choose, in all state law, and pre-emptively void any anti-choice legislation that would impede a woman’s right to access safe, legal reproductive healthcare. All but two members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation have co-sponsored this bill, which means that the two remaining Representatives – Richard Neal and Stephen Lynch – will be hearing from my interns and me in the coming weeks.

I, alongside my supervisor and NARAL’s Political Director, will be planning a campaign from the grassroots up – everything from collecting petition signatures from Constituents, creating social media graphics and one-liners, and directly lobbying members of the Massachusetts Legislature and federal legislature to urge Lynch and Neal to support the bill. It is precisely the sort of substantive, adrenaline-inducing work I’ve been hoping for.

It’s clear one week in that I still have a great deal to learn about the political organizing process. A great deal of organizing and lobbying at the organizational level entails building strong, reciprocal relationships with other organizations and professionals that can assist you in achieving your policy goals. As a rising college senior, my Boston rolodex is embarrassingly small, and I plan to spend my summer scheduling informational interviews with likeminded professionals in the reproductive justice sphere. I also plan to learn quite a bit about time management and leadership in light of my responsibility to hire, schedule, and directly supervise ten political interns, many of whom are my age or older. I hope to make this experience as gratifying, substantive, and inspiring as possible for my interns so that they feel like they are genuinely contributing to our movement.

Since I have two weeks until the interns arrive, I’ve had the excellent opportunity to get to better know the NARAL Staff. There are only four full-time staff members here – Megan, the Executive Director; Erica, the Finance Director; Chelsea, the Health Equity Organizer; and Celia, the Policy Director – and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the intimacy and acceptance of the office atmosphere. I am treated with respect and assigned substantive, important projects; I am privy to conversations regarding NARAL’s organizational structure, finances, and future campaigns; and, most importantly, I’m treated like a member of the team, an equal fighting for this cause we all so staunchly support.

My friends have warned me that this may be my “honeymoon” phase, and a few weeks into my internship I’ll be dreading the 9-5 grind – but somehow, I don’t think so. There is never, ever a dull moment in this office, and given my passion and visceral support for this cause, I bet I’ll be just as excited about my internship on the day I leave.

Midpoint at NARAL Pro Choice

Photo source

It’s been a little over a month since the beginning of my work here at NARAL and I’m enjoying it more and more as we get further into the summer. Many of my goals were focused around gaining experience in the non-profit world, making valuable connections, and really taste-testing to see if this is something I’d want to pursue in the future With this in mind, I think I’m progressing well.

For me, politics, as in running for office, doesn’t seem like the medium of change I want to pursue. I want to be part of the most effective way of making change. My supervisor’s job includes both the legislative and political side by lobbying for legislation, working in the statehouse, making valuable connection with senators and representatives, and really being on the front lines of passing effective and necessary legislation. In addition, he spends a lot of time working to get pro-choice candidates elected. These two aspects of change are not only essential for progressive initiatives (working from both the policy and elected official sides) but also are part of a job that I really feel interested in.

My academic goals of learning more about pro-choice legislation, the act of lobbying, what it takes to run a non-profit, and actual reproductive rights have also been coming along. Everyday I feel like I’m learning more and more about the topics themselves, but also how they fit into my life.

In addition, I’m building a lot of skills related to this type of work. I’m becoming familiar with grassroots organizing techniques, constituent relations, working with state legislators and aides, and campaigning. Campaigning has been a really large portion of my skill set because campaigns are complicated and almost take on lives of their own. There is just so much involved. First, one must get a large volunteer base and intern base if they want to run a successful campaign since campaigns rely on manpower. Secondly, they require a lot of organization and planning to run a successful campaign, which includes door knocking, phone banking, and data entry as the main components. All of these activities are not simple. They require a lot more than face value. The hours are long, the jobs can be tedious and intense, and the response isn’t always ideal. But running an effective and credible campaign is extremely important, and I feel very lucky to be able to be part of so many incredible campaigns.

All of these skills will absolutely transfer into both future academic and career pursuits as I’m building a large skill base, getting experience working for a non-profit, and learning empirical knowledge about women’s health and reproductive rights.

One thing I’d like to quickly address is the misconception that NARAL is a pro-abortion organization. In fact, NARAL and it’s employees are routinely called “baby killers” and other things that are just as vulgar and untrue. NARAL works for women to have choice, access to medically accurate information, and a full range of control over their bodies. It does not promote one option over the other, it does not deny that abstinence is the most effective way to avoid pregnancy; it does not promote abortion as a form of birth control. It works for women to be able to have full control over their own bodies. You don’t want an abortion? Don’t get one. It’s as simple as that. But every woman, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, or age, should have full control over her body. Being pro-choice, is not anti-child, anti-family, anti-religion, or anti-anything. It’s being responsible and respectful. There are so many undeniable correlations between access to reproductive rights and increasing education, health, financial independence, and aspiration outcome.

As a young woman, I understand what is at stake in this election – at this time. The fact that reproductive rights are even still in question is an absurdity that boggles my brain daily. I understand that fighting for the right to have control over my body is essential and something that cannot be taken lightly. Even with waning faith in the political system, I understand that voting in this election (both state and federal) are essential in the promotion of my rights as a 21 year old Brandeis student who wants to be able to decide if, when and how I have a family. If you are reading this post, male or female (because this is important for men and fathers as well), remember that this election is really important and regardless of your own personal views, choice is choice – and a constitutional right that is being threatened and must be protected.  Please vote pro-choice in 2012. In my next blog I will be attaching a Massachusetts Voter Guide, which shows which candidates are standing behind this fundamental right.

Sorry for the bleeding heart speech, but I feel if I’m going to be writing about my goals, it’s important to state what it really all comes down to: getting the community together to help protect choice.

For a snapshot on some of the legislation I’m working on, visit these sites:

Photo source

– Rebecca Miller ’13