2018 Week 3: Government and Policy
In the midst of this week’s absurd news cycle – from the ongoing separation of migrant families, to the upholding of the Trump’s muslim ban, to the retirement of Justice Kennedy – I felt drawn to the local politician’s perspective. The policies of the federal government, when it comes to issues surrounding the culture wars, seem especially impervious to local intervention. There’s nothing that Councilperson Cohen could do to reverse an executive order, never mind a supreme court ruling. So while it seems it would be morally obligatory for someone of anyone of political interest on the right side of history to speak out against the racist, xenophobic, and mysognistic tendencies of this American regime, when Councilperson came out to a rally in support of Muslims and immigrants I was nevertheless perplexed by the logic behind the thing. With no political footing to standing on – without any directly achievable policy goals to implement in order to stop Trump’s vision for this country – why should Zeke, as the councilperson not a voter, speak on these issues at all?
He was the only city council member there at that rally, out of fourteen, even though the rally took place on the steps of city hall. Clearly at least some of the councilperson’s counterparts thought it more pressing to stay on message, putting the immediate concerns of Baltimore city over any exterior, deeply-cultural issues. So why just Zeke?
I don’t think this was merely for political reasons – one thing that came to my mind was that it was a more national play because the councilman has national ambitions – but I think it’s more than that. I believe Zeke understands and can capture the rhetorical power of grassroots leadership. It is a fairly widespread idea that political leadership can sway public opinion, but I don’t believe that we, as fans of the political arena, appreciate the power of local leadership. We may not trust the talking head on CNN that tells us that Mr. Trump is wrong, but get the guy who fixes your potholes to believe in keeping families together and out of detention centers and we accept the terms of the argument. Local government, in the experiences that I have had in my office, is a place where politics can impact your everyday life for the better in a matter of a few phone calls – its a place where government can and does prove the system’s and its leaders efficacy and ability. That’s where rhetoric should and must start from. What we need in our time is not one but a chorus of leaders to speak to their own neighborhoods and start the change there.
I have liked my placement more and more every week. This week was exciting because for the first time I have seen work that I’ve done be used and released by FreeState. Two grant requests and one grant report that I wrote were submitted to their respective foundations, with only minor grammatical edits by my site supervisor. My most substantive request was from the Elton John Aids Foundation for $100,000; the knowledge that FreeState could get this much money partially because of something that I did was gratifying, and made me feel more like I was making a tangible difference for the community than I did when I was doing more administrative tasks during the first couple of weeks. I was excited to see that the work I’m capable of doing currently is of use to a legitimate and stable non-profit. Also, this showed me that I am effectively learning skills that I didn’t know anything about before, and that I can apply in my future career. Working 9-5 is starting to wear me down, but I am learning habits that help me get used to this, which is important because I know that after college I won’t have the same options of work schedules that I do now. I also feel that my supervisor is beginning to take me more seriously and see me as more valuable to the organization based on how our interactions have changed since the beginning of my internship. He also is clearly trusting me with more difficult and important tasks than he did before. I’m glad to know that the work I have done thus far has been good enough to keep developing this trust, and I hope to develop it further for the remainder of the internship.
There’s definitely a certain stereotype people have when they think about the nonprofit sector (or at least, I definitely do): it usually involves the image of a very small and hectic staff running around trying to do everything there possibly is to do in order to casually save the world. While that actually is a pretty accurate description of some nonprofits, I definitely didn’t imagine working at Baltimore City Public Schools would be anything like that; as a very office-esque space with dozens of departments and hundreds of employees in the central office alone, I imagined the work would be spread out more evenly with each office having very clear-cut goals; however, this week was a completely different story.
I started out this week by organizing huge stacks of discarded pamphlets and brochures lying around the office and ended the week by mass-ordering stickers and stamps for the upcoming Mayor’s Block Parties – and no doubt everything in between was just as different. This week has been extremely challenging because I’m not necessarily the kind of person who can just take things as they come and be ready to completely switch gears at any given moment. If I’m doing one thing, I think all I can really focus on is what I’m doing with that one thing, why it matters, what more I can do to improve it, etc. etc. And while that’s great for long-term projects and problem-solving, this week has made me realize that sometimes there are just a lot of short-term issues to address and not everything you do has to have some huge, implicative WHY to it. Sometimes you just need to help a family find somewhere they can get a discounted school uniform, or email some volunteers to help out at an event, or make a back to school flyer. The little things like that, I’ve learned, are actually the most humbling – it goes to show how every small task has its purpose and how much there is still left to do at any given moment.
This week, I attended an event at the Impact Hub put on by the Baltimore Integration Partnership called “Collectively We Rise: the Business Case for Economic Inclusion in Baltimore City”. It talked about ways large businesses and institutions should be actively inclusive in their business practices in the city, both in who they hire and who they serve. It focused a lot on Hopkins and the University of Maryland (featuring speakers from both), but one man in particular stood out to me.
Rasheed Aziz talked about how he moved to Baltimore looking for ways to address crime and property. To do this, he helped to create Made in B-More, a clothing company that focuses on getting young adults involved in and excited about clothing manufacturing. He said he wanted to inspire people in Baltimore to be able to feel like they could do whatever they wanted. I didn’t really expect to feel super pumped up about anything listening to the third or fourth speaker at an event on a weekday morning, but I totally did! Hearing Rasheed talk about how Made in B-More has gone from them pushing a rack of shirts down the street to a clothing company with multiple locations, dozens and dozens of employees, and a great reputation in the city, it was hard not to feel like anything is possible. On top of that, they’ve created a sorbet company that has recently signed a contract with Camden Yards and will be selling their sorbet at Orioles games in the near future! Starting a company from scratch is such a huge task, but if you really have the right people on any project and are willing to grind it out and stay committed, making something successful is very attainable. It is awesome to hear from people doing things like this in Baltimore.
In my time at this job I have had to step out of my comfort zone so many times that what was but a quaint zone of comfort, perhaps the size of a townhouse, has now expanded into a zone the size of Baltimore County. I use this poor example of figurative language to describe a feeling that has taken over my thoughts in the last few weeks. I have been blessed with an opportunity to be pushed into responsibilities and duties that I could have never imagined having. And while I am incredibly grateful for this steep learning curve, I cannot hide the fact that this has been difficult. Finding the time to adjust when things are constantly moving seems impossible and overwhelming, and some nights after a long day at work I found myself wondering if I was capable or worthy of all the trust that has been placed on me.
All I can say is that reflecting has made me so much more able to move forward in all of my ever changing tasks. Believing in myself, but even more so, believing in the work that community leaders in this community do, will constantly drive you no matter how overwhelmed you may feel. We are lucky, to have a sneak peek into what productive and real change can look like when dedicated people put their heads together and listen to the community they live in. I hope that I can use the passion I have and been around to do the same for the city that has already given me so much.Tags: 2018, Baltimore City Public Schools, CIIP, CIIP 2018, City Councilperson Ryan Dorsey, City Councilperson Zeke Cohen, Freestate Justice, Week 3, Youthworks