My time as a fellow at the ACLU of Georgia has been one of the best experiences of my career. As an academic, my main goal is to make the work I produce in the academy accessible and impactful to the communities I write about. Humanity in Action provided me with an opportunity to connect my work on the history of the carceral state to the policy level through this fellowship.
This was a surreal experience for me. I had never been to rural Georgia and I got to witness first hand what voter suppression looked like on the ground.
During my first two weeks at the ACLU-GA, I hit the ground running on the Smart Justice Campaign. I went to Randolph County to fight the closing of 7 out of the 9 polling locations in a predominantly Black and rural county. I, with a group of people, went canvassing to inform residents of their ability to fight the poll closures. This was a surreal experience for me. I had never been to rural Georgia and I got to witness first hand what voter suppression looked like on the ground. If 7 of the 9 polls had closed, people, many of whom are Black, would have had to commute close to an hour to the closest polling location to cast their vote. It is one thing to learn about disenfranchisement but to see it in real time forced me to think about my role in advocacy work.
I was able to testify in support of the bill in the Georgia House of Representatives.
After my experience in Randolph, I asked to work in the field. Thus, Andrea Young, who is an amazing boss, allowed me to work closely with the Legislative Director during the 2019 legislative session. I spent most of my days at the capitol learning how to lobby, write policy analyses, and create partnerships with local organizations working to further criminal justice reform and reproductive justice. I became the point person for the ACLU-GA on the Dignity Bill for Incarcerated Women. Thus, I went to every meeting about the bill and I was able to make recommendations to the ACLU about our role in getting the bill passed. For the coalition, I did a lot of the background research and Representative David Dreyer trusted me to collect the stories of women, who had been shackled while pregnant. Given my work on the bill, I was able to testify in support of the bill in the Georgia House of Representatives. This is a testament to the amazing opportunities I received while working at the ACLU.
I was not given busy work at the ACLU but given invaluable opportunities to impact change.
More importantly, my opinions mattered to the ACLU. During an early hearing on the abortion ban in Georgia, I raised a question about the ethical dilemma of women proving they were victims of sexual assault by going to the police. My Legislative Director sent my question to several representatives and members on the committee moved to table the bill after the debate. Although the bill was not tabled, this highlights the way I was encouraged to participate in the process during the legislative session. My Legislative Director trusted me enough to not only ask my opinion but to share my thoughts and questions with representatives and senators.
Ultimately, I was not given busy work at the ACLU but given invaluable opportunities to impact change. During my time at the ACLU, I created a podcast series so that our work can reach an even larger audience. I was given the tools and the resources to make this not only possible but also successful. Thus, I can honestly say that the ACLU-GA is a professional organization that truly values its fellows. I gained a wealth of knowledge and expertise during the six months of the fellowship. I would highly recommend this fellowship. More importantly, Andrea Young truly believes in professional development. She gave me many opportunities to grow and constantly checked in with me to ensure that I was walking away with the experience I needed to find another position in the policy world. After I wrapped my fellowship with HIA, Andrea hired me as a Policy Fellow and has been instrumental in helping me think about how I can use my degree to continue this work.
I hope that Humanity in Action continues to work with the ACLU of Georgia. I know fellows will gain a wealth of knowledge and expertise. This experience has been invaluable to me as a person and a professional. I am truly thankful to Humanity in Action and the donor who made this fellowship possible, the Malka Fund of the Jewish Communal Fund, for giving me this opportunity.