Advocating For Change: Discovering How Democracy Works

Posted on 08/01/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: education, intern, civic engagement

By: Samantha De Forest Davis

During my short time interning at the LULAC National Office over the summer, there have been many memorable moments. In particular, one of my favorite opportunities was when I visited Capitol Hill and informed various senators on LULAC’s policy position concerning the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), the U.S. Senate’s newest rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

As interns, we researched the bill and spoke with staffers in several senate offices about our concerns with language in the current version. This bill affects children from a variety of different vulnerable communities including not only Latino students, but also African-American students, Asian students, students with disabilities, students with low income, and English Language learners. I loved having the opportunity to represent LULAC and talk to staffers on the Hill about issues that are important to me. Advocating and helping others advocate for themselves is a passion fostered in me since I was a young child.

Furthermore, the visit resonated with me on a deeper, more personal level. Identifying as a half African-American and half Caucasian woman, many people questioned why I wanted to intern at LULAC for the summer. Some of my friends and family could not understand why a biracial college student with no Latino roots would spend her summer working at a civil rights organization for Latino citizens. They thought I should be spending my time within my own demographic, serving my own people, and representing my own culture.

Unfortunately, discrimination, inequality and hate affect people across a variety of demographics. Many people try to color-code policy, seeing some issues as “black” issues, others as “Latino” and others as “Asian”. By classifying issues as race or group specific, we imply that those groups should handle their issues on their own.

However, there are a lot of gray areas, and often all minorities are affected in some way by the same inequalities. For example, while informing staffers about the education bill, I testified to how often injustices affect many different groups. If ECAA passes with its current language, there will be no subgroup accountability. This means that when Latino students, African-American students, students with disabilities, etc., fall behind, there is no required intervention to help support them. Policies like these affect many minority groups simultaneously, yet I often see several camps of different minorities working separately on the same issues. Yes, some injustices affect some groups more than others or in different ways; however, I often wonder what these groups could accomplish if they worked together on issues that impact all of our communities.

While interning at LULAC, I have been afforded the opportunity to join forces with other civil rights organizations representing a variety of communities. For example, LULAC is a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an organization that brings various groups together to take action on civil rights issues and legislation such as the ECAA. In addition, LULAC worked with the National Urban League, SEARAC and MALDEF on a social media campaign to raise awareness about our concerns with the current ECAA. While the bill ultimately passed without the subgroup accountability amendment, 43 Senators who we contacted voted in favor of adding a subgroup accountability amendment.

Samantha De Forest-Davis is currently a Democracy Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, DC. Samantha is a rising junior at Augustana College in Illinois where she is majoring in Political Science, Sociology, and Africana Studies. She hopes to continue working in community organizing and policy advocacy.

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