(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
My first three weeks in Seattle have been filled with many exciting first-time experiences. First Ellenos Greek yogurt at the University District that everyone fell in love with. First Asian American museum that allowed me to see beyond the streets and shops of Chinatown. First July 4th fireworks by the riverside with music and friends. First live Mariners and Sounders game. First authentic Turkish cuisine with my alumni partner… The list goes on and hopefully will continue to expand for the rest of the summer.
But most of all, interning for the Washington Bus is a completely eye-opening experience on its own. The Bus (and we do have an actual bus!!) is a non-profit organization that promotes voter rights, encourages political conversations and social engagement among Washingtonians, especially among young people like you and me. The soul of the Bus is a close-knit, diverse and fun group of young people in their 20s from a wide range of social and academic backgrounds. Everyday in an open office environment, it feels just right to sit in one of the couches – they are the work space Delia and I usually occupy –and jump into small discussions with the Bus staff while getting work done, surrounded by energy and laughter.
For most of my time in the office, I conduct research for the Youth Agenda program that aims to increase awareness of certain issues among young Washingtonians. According to the Bus’s recent survey, the four social issues that are most cared about are LGBTQ justice, economic justice, immigration reform and criminal justice. I am currently focusing on the first two topics of these four. More specifically, I am going to look at what challenges Washington State currently face, what will be done, and how the Bus can get involved in campaigns concerning LGBTQ rights, economic injustice, and the intersection of these two areas.
Just two weeks ago, I marched in the Seattle Pride Parade with the Bus (in front of our real bus), in coalition with the Washington Won’t Discriminate campaign. This campaign advocates against Initiative No.1515 which will ban transgender people from using the bathroom consistent with the gender they identify with – the Washington version of the notorious North Carolina bathroom bill basically. Marching in downtown Seattle, holding posters, shouting slogans and meeting passionate community members from different organizations marked a unique first-time Pride experience. It also added a powerful first-hand perspective to my research: how diversity enhances solidarity in front of a common cause, and how tolerance, pride and mutual understanding have built a city as open as Seattle. Fortunately, good news arrived at the Bus last Friday, that the bathroom initiative did not gather enough signatures to make it to the November ballot. Once again, solidarity and equity have won!
Every week, Delia and I also spend several hours out and about in Seattle public events to register voters. In my opinion, this is the hardest but also the most fun part of my responsibility. Walking up to strangers with a clipboard can be embarrassing and intimidating. Being ignored and rejected can be hurtful, but the comfort of kind responses, or the excitement of getting registration forms filled, is absolutely incomparable. Coming from a non-democratic country, this is the first time I have ever felt so close to being politically active, and even though I cannot vote, helping people do so feels rewarding. Lastly, by observing the political spectrum and asking people their opinions on American politics, canvassing also conveniently becomes an effective way to learn about the communities I am going to engage with in the coming months.