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For past 7 weeks at OA (OneAmerica), every day I have been more and more impressed by the breadth of meaningful work that this organization does and their unfailing commitment to the communities they serve. I have been particularly moved by their persistent optimism and refusal to let disappointments slow down their work, especially when they seem to be fighting an uphill battle that only grows steeper by the day.

When the US Supreme Court failed to rule in favor of the DAPA/DACA expansion a few weeks ago (a program to protect parents of US citizens and undocumented children who were brought to the US at a young age), personally impacting several OA employees, the Organizing Team made some posters and put together a last-minute press conference on the steps of the city courthouse. Rather than wallow in defeat, they took immediate action, called various allies together, and united to publicly show their community members that they refuse to be silenced.

As Donald Trump spent this summer continuing to exclaim anti-immigrant rhetoric, hateful and racist insults, and push for devastating policies, a group of OA employees calmly got together to develop a slogan and campaign plan for the November elections. The focus immediately centered on positivity, unity, love, and creating a “Washington for all.” There was no question that their campaign would embody these principles; it would have to convey the importance of voting (especially in local and state elections), but it would also emphasize that voting is a right that comes with citizenship, and a dream that many people have made incredible sacrifices to achieve.

OA has been generous enough to include me in these events and introduce me to a wide range of key players in the non-profit, government, and cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest. I marched alongside OA in the Seattle pride parade, attended a roundtable discussion on immigration policy with a Washington Congresswoman, and toured a new low-income housing and childcare facility. I traveled to Olympia to meet with different government agencies, attended several public hearings on a Seattle transit initiative and statewide climate change rule, and interviewed a former immigration enforcement officer. I traveled to Camp Murray to meet with employees of the State Military Department. I attended the press conference mentioned before, where the Mayor of Seattle spoke about his city’s commitment to welcoming immigrants and refugees. Finally, I met with many other nonprofit organizations and individuals who helped shape my policy recommendations, among other incredibly unique and valuable opportunities.

As a sort of culmination of these experiences, I have produced a white paper on how we can improve emergency preparedness and disaster relief policies at all levels of government to better serve immigrant and refugee communities. I am proud of how my report has turned out, but above all I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have been given and experiences that I have had this summer. My perspective on immigration policy, environmental justice, and inequities in America has been greatly altered, and I am now working to figure out how I can carry this new perspective back to Durham with me in a few weeks and continue to be an advocate for positive change. Perhaps most importantly, I am going to take the optimism of OA back with me. When I read news headlines that seem heartbreaking and hopeless, I will remember their unwavering strength and persistence in the fight to pursue their motto, creating “one America, with justice for all.”