As I complete my internship at Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice, I find myself more aware of how I want to pursue social change. I always thought I would want to be a community organizer, and IWJ gave me a chance to experience labor organizing from a non-profit perspective. Throughout the summer, I participated in meetings and actions on issues of economic justice. I helped plan and outreach actions for Not One More Deportation—a week of actions calling for an end to the deportation of undocumented immigrants; a highlight included a rally at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Burlington, VT where I heard passionate pleas from family members of immigrants currently under detention. I also participated in meetings and actions for Raise Up Massachusetts—a campaign to raise the minimum wage and establish an earned sick time standard for all workers in MA. I planned and participated in two rallies at Walmarts in Salem and Lynn. I also frequented pickets and rallies for various other issues, including Le Meridien workers fighting for a fair process to decide upon unionization.
At all of these actions, I was also a primary photographer; my photographs were used for social media and news articles. I also redesigned the website for Mass. IWJ and helped set up a Facebook presence. In addition, I worked on setting up Labor in the Pulpit—a program Mass. IWJ does every fall where low-wage workers share their personal struggles with congregation. I had to outreach and set up dates for numerous congregations; we are planning to tie in Labor in the Pulpit with the Raise Up Massachusetts campaign as the program coincides with the petition collection period for the campaign.
Honestly, I found myself often frustrated at the internship for a variety of reasons. However, I am extremely grateful because it has focused my ideas of how I want to pursue social justice. I worked every day through frameworks of class and race—important frameworks that validate and resonate with marginalized communities and which are oftentimes lacking in some social movements such as environmentalism. I am also grateful because I have realized I do not want to be a community organizer in a non-profit environment because it is often filled with bureaucratic work and their style of organizing oftentimes (but not always) is closed-doors in terms of decision-making. I missed the more grassroots, horizontal-style of organizing that I have previously done; I missed the love and community I felt working with friends. In the end, organizing requires love–love for the work and love in the community to sustain engagement because it is grueling and endless; I know now that I thrive in a team environment. In addition, I grew tired of the traditional form of organizing that primarily involved gathering numbers to participate in rallies, pickets, and marches. I want to explore other types of organizing that deal with participatory forms of art and reinventing public spaces as ways of engaging and empowering communities because traditional forms of protests have become somewhat “part of the social script”—that is, not deviating enough from the usual to inspire and move the jaded.
I was able to network and create relationships between my peers in the climate movement and organizers and activists I met in the labor movement. Many of them are interested in intersectional work and I hope to create more concrete collaboration between the two movements. This fall, I am studying abroad in Nepal. When I return to campus in the spring, I plan to get involved with the Brandeis Labor Coalition and see in what ways I can connect BLC with my current work under the Divestment Campaign. I will take my experiences and development of what I believe is a more nuanced understanding of creating social change to facilitate intersectional work; I am extremely excited in pursuing relationships and collaboration on-campus between activist groups, cultural groups, and art/performance groups and individuals to see in what ways we can come together to address social justice issues on-campus—I know there have been countless attempts in the past to unite activist groups but I hope I will be able to push the Brandeis community towards a more actively engaged role on-campus in putting social justice into action.
– Andrew Nguyen ’14