During her search for summer internship opportunities last spring,Swarthmore Collegesophomore Candice Nguyen 11 came across a position available with the Feminist Majority Foundation in her hometown of Los Angeles, a national non-profit organization founded in 1987 that is dedicated to womens equality, reproductive health, and nonviolence, according its Web site.
Awarded the internship out of a very large pool of applicants, Nguyen started work immediately after her return home from Swarthmore. Her job included being part of FMFs Get Out Her Vote campaign to increase female turnout at the polls. In fact, Nguyen was featured in a Public Service Announcement for Get Out Her Vote, which included a mix of celebrities and non-celebrities. The Los Angeles office has the benefit of access to celebrities and high-profile people in the media. So one thing FMF has tried to do is to appeal to young women and voters by relaying their message through people they can identify with, Nguyen said.
Her appearance in the PSA came as a surprise. Originally, I was just going to be the coffee girl [as an intern] But someone just grabbed me and put me into makeup. I was surprised to see that they took that footage and put it into five or six different PSA videos. Theyve been circulating and a lot of people have watched them, Nguyen said.
Despite the excitement of being on an actual set, Nguyen appreciated the grassroots aspect of her involvement with FMF most.
What I wanted was an opportunity to do something productive. I chose nonprofit because I thought and correctly that it would give me more access to responsibility and projects Probably the most empowering thing I did this summer was to actually go to college campuses for days at a time and register people to vote, let them know what was going to be on the ballots, where and when they could vote, and how they can get info about the different propositions.
FMF leads campaigns in both legal and community fronts about pressing issues for women everywhere, from expanding the role of women in law enforcement, to public education on emergency contraception, to ensuring that clinics are available, accessible, and safe for all women.
Two really exciting things I did this summer were to spearhead the data collection for exposing fake clinics as well as campaign to work towards subsidizing birth control, or at least showing the repercussions of the Deficit Reduction Act, Nguyen said. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 limited reimbursements for pharmacies that sold products at discounted prices. Thus, college health centers have been forced to sell birth control at two and three times their previous prices, severely decreasing the number of students who are able to afford it.
For Nguyen, the link between feminism and the upcoming election is a crucial one. Feminism has been a capsule for progressive thought, whether that is the rights of women, reproductive justice, environmental consciousness, views on poverty I absolutely believe it is important for women to vote in this particular election given all of the rights that are at stake, especially in regards to reproductive justice and reproductive rights.
Urooj Kahn 10, a member of Feminist Majority on campus, also emphasized the significance of the impending election. We are talking about the difference between putting a person into office who believes that equal pay for equal work is a right and someone who does not, someone who believes that personal autonomy and the space for a woman to make her own decisions about her body is a right and someone who does not, Kahn said. She also contrasted the vice presidential candidates track records on sexual violence.
It is the difference between eleting a vice president who was essential in passing the Violence Against Women Act, a groundbreaking work of legislation for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and one who believes that women should pay for their own rape kits. Anyone who says that there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican tickets is either lying or not paying attention.
In reference to proposed laws affecting women under 18, such as parental notification of an abortion, Nguyen said, Its pertinent to vote on behalf of young voices who cant represent themselves because they simply cant vote. We identify with whats at stake.
Khan recalled a time when womens rights issues were not even on the national agenda. I think about women who literally put their lives on the line so that I could walk up to the ballot box, I think about the Civil Rights movement and the people who made sure that the right to vote was not something that just existed on paper, all of these Americans who believed in their hearts that participating in elections is something worth dying for how could I ever think about skipping an election? she said. Voting is the first and most basic act of political agency; people died to make it happen, and there is no justification for not taking it seriously.
Nguyen emphasized that voting is imperative for everyone, not just women. In an election that is sure to make the history books, everyones voice should be heard. I was just reading this article that said if youre not sure who you want to vote for, then you shouldnt vote at all. I completely disagree with that statement, Nguyen said, adding that voters have no excuse to be uninformed about the candidates and their platforms. It is our obligation as citizens to educate ourselves and be aware of the issues that are going to affect us. If I had to give a message to anyone, it would be to inform yourselves and vote accordingly. Its the only way change can manifest itself, she said.
Sable Mensah 11 was similarly emphatic about the need to maximize voter turnout. Too much has been sacrificed and too much is at stake for you to not vote, she said.
Nguyen grew up in a family that prioritized political engagement. My parents immigrated from Vietnam in 1975 as political refugees, she said. I have never met [people] more patriotic, dedicated and so truly embracing of the ability to vote and exercise rights as citizens than my parents. I remember going to voting polls with them as a child, and I dont believe my parents have ever missed an election presidential, local, what have you, she said.
Nguyen said that she welcomes questions from fellow students interested in getting involved with FMF. I highly recommend women of color to get involved. The majority of leadership in FMF is over 40years old and Caucasian. Thats not to say that there arent young women of color involved, but they are at lower positions. This is how you represent yourself and help form government and policy and reach out to other communities.
Recognizing that positions in the non-profit sector are sometimes passed up because of financial issues, she said, I really wish FMF gave stipends. Its really unfortunate that a number of non-profits dont. I was kind of biting the bullet because I needed money this summer, but I decided that working at this organization was inherently more valuable. The only reason I was able to do that was because I was able to find housing in L.A. Stipends would give more access to students of different socio-economic backgrounds.
Still, Nguyen, who is also involved in Feminist Majority on campus, cites her experience as an intern with FMF as self-actualizing and life-changing.