Advocacy Intern Shares YW Learning Experience
Becoming an Advocate
by Meghan Condry
In early 2017, YW Boston gathered its first Advocacy Committee to support the organization’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, and I had the good fortune of becoming the first advocacy intern. In addition to offering programs, YW Boston advocates for racial and gender equity through legislative advocacy, participation in coalitions, and public mobilization. Wanting to hone my own advocacy skills, I was thrilled to support the work of this committee while also completing UMass Boston’s Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy graduate certificate program.
As part of my internship, I sit on the YW Advocacy Committee along with twelve other staff and volunteer members. Volunteer members bring a range of professional and personal experience to the advocacy committee, and I am grateful to share in their work and learn from them as the committee grows. In between the committee’s monthly meetings, I attend coalition events, conferences, meetings with elected officials, and canvassing days with my fellow committee members. While each day brings new experiences and lessons, I have most enjoyed working with committee members at grassroots and organizing events.
In October, I attended the “Moving Beyond Chapter 222” conference hosted by Youth on Board, MassBudget, and UMASS Boston along with volunteer committee member, Diane Buhl. Diane and I connected over our backgrounds as educators, and we were both excited to be sitting with school administrators, youth activists, legal advocates, and educators who shared our interest in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and instituting restorative justice practices in Massachusetts schools. Chapter 222 addresses school discipline practices, the effects of exclusionary practices, and the collection of discipline data by schools. Because data has only very recently been collected on the race and gender of students who are disciplined in schools, little evidence was available on the disparate number of girls of color who are disciplined, suspended, or expelled from school.
The alarming gap between exclusionary practices used on girls of color versus their white peers is an issue that is prevalent in Boston, in Massachusetts, and across the entire nation.
To have had the opportunity to collaborate and discuss this important issue with stakeholders from across the state was incredibly motivating and productive. Often times, large social issues can seem daunting; however, after listening to the leaders and attendees at this conference, I know that positive change is on the way and that this change is being led by everyone from student leaders to public administrators.
In addition to meeting with fellow advocates at meetings and conferences, I have also enjoyed speaking and working with the public. The YW Advocacy Committee is part of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition and supports paid family and medical leave in the state. Raise Up and its partners conducted a petition drive in order to put paid family and medical leave on the 2018 ballot. YW organized two canvassing events in Boston to support the signature collection process. What was great about canvassing was the chance to connect with community members and discuss issues at the grassroots level. Speaking with voters one-on-one and explaining the importance of paid family and medical leave was a worthwhile conversation, whether or not it resulted in a signature.
While advocacy efforts are often concentrated on influencing those at the top, I am impressed with the effectiveness of working directly with the people. Having spoken with a number of individuals (in frigid Boston temps, no less) and asking for their support in the form of their signature, I am reassured that the people of Massachusetts are ready for paid family and medical leave and that they strongly support initiatives to fairly compensate and protect the dedicated workers of the Commonwealth. In the end, the canvassing event was extremely successful; Raise Up as a coalition collected over 130,000 signatures from across the state, which is more than double the required amount to start the ballot question initiative. If the legislature does not pass paid family and medical leave this spring, once again, the power of the people as voters will help determine if paid family and medical leave should be mandated in Massachusetts for all workers.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such talented and committed individuals, and feel proud of the work we have accomplished in just our first year.
If you are also passionate about racial and gender equity and are looking to be more actively involved in organized advocacy efforts, consider applying to become a member of the YW Boston Advocacy Committee.
The committee is looking to welcome new members at its March meeting. The vision of YW Boston as an organization and the commitment of the Advocacy Committee members ensure that the committee engages in meaningful and impact efforts. I am certainly glad that I had the opportunity to become an advocate, and I encourage those with a passion for social justice to join the advocacy committee member as well!