Part II: Getting in the Swing of Things
Since, I last wrote, things have changed - mainly, I no longer feel like a foreigner in the capital! Suddenly, I got into the swing of things…as if I always wake up at 6:30 a.m. for work, or that I always come home and chef up dinner as well as lunch for the next day, or that my office has always been just around the corner from top notch lawyers, or better yet, that I always go to the gym. As much as I love Cal and miss family and friends, I have to say, I have come to love the independence and the vast amount of opportunities in D.C.!
I intern at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and each day that I spend here, I find my curiosity grows. There’s a chance here to come along for the ride and witness action. To be a part of an organization that has dedicated itself to advancing civil rights. The Lawyers’ Committee was created at the request of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 in response to the need to protect civil rights not just in the streets, but in the courts. It is composed of a wide range of professionals including attorneys, analysts, lobbyists, publicity specialists, grassroots organizers, and even cartographers, who all work on the principal projects of Fair Housing, Employment Discrimination, Education, and Voting Rights, in order to ensure equal justice through law.
I think back to how the events of Ferguson impacted many across the nation and how it affected and continues to affect the black community at Cal. There was a lot of anger, rage, but so much love and support that we knew we had to give to each other. A list of demands were created for the University and after several meetings as well as protests and demonstrations, specifically under Cal's Black Student Union, meetings were set in place; it is this constant work of my fellow peers that I must acknowledge for the recent initiatives that the Chancellor released. Just as this is the case, it is the constant dedication of the staff at the Lawyers’ Committee that I must acknowledge, as the work that they do greatly impacts communities, specifically those of color. In particular, I think of voting rights and how essential the right to vote is, and how recent changes to voting rights will be detrimental to many communities of color. For instance, in the 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the County to remove Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which essentially stated that specific states with a history of discriminatory voting practices must be subjected to preclearance before making any changes to things concerning voting. As Chief Justice Roberts put it, these states should not continue to be punished for the past. However, after this ruling, several of these states underwent problematic changes. For example, in Alabama, the state began to demand a photo ID in order to vote, but then recently, citing budget cuts, closed down eight out of ten DMV offices in predominantly black rural counties, where a majority tend to vote towards the left and solidly for President Barack Obama. If one really examines this, as the Lawyers’ Committee does in its voting rights reports, one will find that these changes make it extremely difficult for registered voters in these areas to rightfully engage in democratic elections.
My internship has exposed me to things that I just didn’t think of or talk about back at home. In fact, I will be the first to admit that the reason for my failure to vote last year despite being registered is the apathy I have felt towards politics. However, my short time here has shown me how powerful, essential, and what an undeniable civil right voting is in a democratic society. How democratic can we truly be if the voices of so many are not being heard?
On a lighter note, I have met some pretty amazing people here as well! I met Tanya Clay House, the previous Public Policy Director of the department I am interning for at the Lawyers’ Committee, who has done phenomenal work in this sphere and will continue that work in the Department of Education (you all should take time to Google her). I also had the pleasure of meeting Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama, the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama. Did I also mention Reverend Jesse Jackson at the Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus? I will also be attending the Women’s Leadership Forum where President Barack Obama, (oddly, why not the First Lady?), will be the keynote speaker. In addition, I've had really cool opportunities to attend Senate hearings. My next one is on the Juvenile Justice System and At-Risk Youth!
Mondays through Thursdays consist of work, but my weekends are dedicated only to exploring everything that I possibly can. My roommates and I recently took a trip to Baltimore. It was raining and I wouldn’t say that it is one of my favorite cities, but I’m happy I can check that city off my list! Last weekend, my roommate, who also happens to be one of my closest friends, and I went to the Landmark Music Festival and saw some of our favorite performers, like Wale, Miguel, and Drake, and got to sing our hearts away. I finally got to try Shake Shack, and while I will say it is good, it is a little bit pricey for its small portions. I will gladly take In-N-Out any day. I spent some time at Crumbs & Whiskers, my first time at a cat cafe, and I also officially found my favorite cafe, Busboys and Poets! It has the most amazing atmosphere - hip, good vibes, chill R&B music, great food, strong coffee, and it’s a bookstore as well. For their 10th anniversary, they had a dance party with Angela Davis and Alice Walker- I didn’t buy my ticket in time, but honestly, tell me where else I can find a dance party with two of my idols??
I have concluded before my stay is even over that I love it on the East Coast, especially now that I am officially 21! I brought in my birthday (October 6th-shoutout to all the Libras) in a new place without all my friends, family, even worse, my twin, but the calls, the texts, the posts, and the likes have definitely made me feel the love even if I’m across the country. I’m going to New York on Friday, then participating in the Million Man March on Saturday, and finally closing it out with a nice spa day on Sunday. One of my best friends from home also came out to visit so at least I have a part of home with me on this special day.
Ozi Emeziem is a senior at UC Berkeley, studying comparative literature and ethnic studies. She is currently interning with the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.