Goodbye, Miami. Hello, Social Justice!

My main goal for this summer was to gain some insight and basic understanding of the non-profit field. Fortunately I was assigned various tasks that allowed me to do so – even though the internship was originally for community organizing, I ended up doing lots of administrative tasks as well. My main accomplishment was working on a brand new website, which came a very long way from the original version. (!) Though this would be the perfect example of the kind of administrative work that all interns fear – since, to some, it’s not the most exciting stuff – the process included a lot of behind-the-scenes information which allowed me to explore how non-profits operate. For example, I was the liaison between my organization and the website company, communicating between the two different-minded groups of people. I updated the content for the website which included both formatting and researching the issues we stand for. I was also responsible for contacting and following-up with clergy to request quotes from them which then got included in the website. In addition, as we were trying to figure out how to manage donations through the website, I learned some new things about online-fundraising. If IWJ were a big, well-funded and established organization, the work I was doing might have  been delegated to the logistics, communications and development departments, respectively. However, since my organization had a one paid staff member, I, as the intern, had insight into all these different parts of running a non-profit.

Upon returning to Brandeis, I’m hoping to do a couple things to continue my professional development that started this summer. First of all, I’d like to organize and partake in a social justice or political campaign at Brandeis. Now that I have a clearer understanding of strategizing and organizing people, I think I could be a valuable member of a campaign-team. University campuses are actually the most fitting place to start social justice campaigns because students are still enthusiastic about social change (unfortunately real adults are often jaded…) so people are happy to get involved, and the size of most college campuses is small enough to raise awareness among the whole school. And if the school administration decides to change something due to a student-led campaign, other campuses as well as the media and local groups of people could notice. A small community brings change and then other communities follow- this is how change happens on a societal and ultimately global, level. In addition, I’d also like to find a semester-long internship for the spring to work in a more established non-profit.  I’ll have to do my research yet to find the perfect fit.

If someone would approach me and ask about my specific internship, the most important advice I would give them is to be very flexible (or, only take the internship if you’re flexible or want to learn how to adapt.) I would also tell them to push their supervisor even if she’s busy, because she has a lot to offer and to teach. In addition, I’d tell them to have as many one-on-ones as they can. Talking to clergy, workers, and people in the field is the best experience one could have.

In terms of the non-profit field, the advice I would give to someone is similar to the advice I got during my training: 1, You’re going to see things that make you want to cry and you will ask yourself if there’s even a purpose to all this social justice talk when the majority of the country clearly doesn’t care. Don’t give up. Carry one. Don’t let these moments ruin your experience, or your ideologies!
And 2, Remember, that every small, administrative thing you do, every cold-call you make, and every door you knock on, is ultimately furthering the greater cause you’re fighting for. Just because you’re not protesting in front of McDonalds or negotiating a worker’s contract with a CEO does not mean your work is not valuable.

With all the positive and hopeful advice that I described in the former paragraph, I will say that this summer gave me a reality-check, even though most of my ideologies and values have been there since long as I can remember. My values have been reinforced and even furthered throughout the summer. If I had any doubt before that injustice is structural, the remnants of those doubts are definitely gone now. But while most of the injustice that I saw growing up was on TV and in the newspaper, seeing it first-hand transformed my attitude towards social justice. It became much more of a lifestyle and outlook on life rather than a potential carrier. I recognized that I constantly have to be aware of what I buy, where I travel, what I eat, who I work for, because everything I do affects other people. In fact, meeting people who don’t work in non-profit and still do social justice related work proved to me that there’s many ways of being a social justice advocate. Some of the most efficient ways to change the world are to work as lawyer for a big firm and donate your free time to people who really need it, or to become a clergy member and convince your congregants to donate to causes that are important. I’m not what my path or place in this is yet. However I do know that this past summer I’ve developed a much deeper connection to social justice, and I’m eternally grateful to WOW for that.

– Viki Bedo ’15

Mid-way into Justice

I know that many WOW interns have mentioned how fast time is flying by – and without trying to be redundant or stating the obvious, I have to say that I’m genuinely surprised at how short this time I’m spending as an intern really is. Part of me feels like I’ve just arrived and thus, done nothing yet! But then when I take a look at the learning goals I’ve set for myself and see how much closer I am to realizing them, compared to when I started – then I see the progress.

At the beginning of my internship, I set two main goals for myself: learn how to effectively organize people, and understand how a non-profit organization works. Regarding the former goal, I received a reality check during my internship-training when a former intern, now community organizer said that becoming a good organizer (and knowing truly what effectiveness is) comes after about two years of doing this job. So I lowered my bar… However, even if I won’t become an effective organizer in such short amount of time, I can already say that I’ve gained a deeper understanding of what motivates people to stand up for a cause. I’ve also understood when it’s beneficial to move on from a specific project or to move organizing efforts from one place to another. Last week, a day before my phone-banking event was about to happen, the partner organization supplying the phones decided to pull out. A couple weeks ago I would’ve been angry and frustrated for days, but my supervisor helped me move on and find a different project supporting the same cause. This incident was also a good insight into how non-profit collaborations work. Due to limited resources and organization-specific strategies, we can’t expect everything to go smoothly. The non-profit world can get competitive and territorial, similarly to for-profit companies. Since we’re fighting for the same donor-base, the competition is extremely high – but meanwhile, we have to know how to cooperate.

I’m more proud of what I’ve learned and my flexibility in the workplace than I am of any specific project.  However, I’m working on putting content on my organization’s new website which we’re launching hopefully by the end of this week! So by Friday, I’ll be proud of a specific accomplishment. There’s even going to be an intern blog on our new website, which you can check out here in a couple days when the website becomes active. As I said above, I’m most proud of my flexibility, simply because it was never one of my strengths. I was hoping to have an office space and set working times and conditions. When I first realized that I won’t have the latter, I was desperate. On second thought and ever-since, I found it to be an opportunity to build adaptability for myself.

Immigration Reform Press Conference
The day after the Senate passed the CIR, several organizations came together for a press conference to urge the House to take the bill seriously. This is an Episcopal priest arguing that Jesus, too, was an undocumented immigrant. (Sorry for the bad quality!)

 

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Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach – My supervisor took another intern and myself to see it. The rabbi who was on the advisory board for the memorial is also sitting on our board.

 

I’ve already started thinking about how I will transfer the skills I’m gaining here to my life back at Brandeis, and then further on. I’d like to be involved/start a campaign around Brandeis employees’ rights. While my skill is organizing, I’ve also contacted a friend of mine who would be great for planning strategy. Since the power behind fighting for social causes is mostly people, not money, it’s important that every campaign has people with specific skill-sets. I’m also hoping to take my limited non-profit knowledge and intern for a different organization in the spring, where I can also use my NEJS major.

– Viki Bedo ’15

The People United: A Summer of Community Organizing

I started my internship in Miami at an organization called Interfaith Worker Justice, just a couple of days ago. IWJ is a non-profit dedicated to faith-based organizing around labor rights issues. These issues include fighting against wage theft, securing living wage or paid sick days for low-wage workers, ormaking sure that overtime wages are given to workers. In addition, my organization has also been voicing the urgency for an immigration reform for years, which is currently gaining momentum on a national scale with the upcoming Comprehensive Immigration Reform to be voted on in Congress.

The South Florida branch of Interfaith Worker Justice is very active in most of the areas that the national organization addresses across the state. During the first meeting I attended with representatives from unions and other community organizers, I had to pay very close attention to which cause they were talking about (since there were so many!). So far, I started organizing a phone-banking session for synagogue members who will be making phone calls urging voters to ask their Senator to support the immigration reform. This type of “organizing work” will be very common throughout my internship, as part of my responsibilities will be to engage religious communities and leaders in political activism. I will also be attending “actions” myself – protests and demonstrations fall under this category. On Friday I already attended my first protest as part of my internship, you can read about the reasons why people gathered to protest here.

Miami Herald journalist interviews activists at protest
Miami Herald journalist interviews activists at protest
IWJ Shirt, Quote from Isaiah
IWJ Shirt, Quote from Isaiah

However, my work also entails parts that don’t include shouting slogans and marching on the streets. The administrative part of my internship will be gathering email addresses of potential constituencies and organizing the mailing list of existing supporters. I will also be in contact with the board members, and potentially recruit new members to join the board.

I admit that I’ve had some mixed impressions about my internship initially. I’m really excited about the work that I’ll be doing, but I was expecting more structure. However, soon I realized I’d like to develop in this area, structuring my own time and managing my own projects without supervision is a skill I will need in life. Thus, one of my expectations for this summer is to learn to articulate clear goals for myself, and become a better time-manager. In addition, as I was sitting in on a few meetings and conference calls, looking perplexed, I concluded that I will need to do a lot of research on my own. Reading about state legislation and federal labor rights, stances of particular politicians, and problems of border security will be part of my daily job. Thus, I definitely expect to end the summer with some tangible knowledge on these issues!

Viktoria Bedo ’15