The eight interns who comprised “Team Brenda” during the 2017 legislative session turned plenty of heads not only because they were culturally diverse but they also were very hard working and seemed to be everywhere.

“I’ve never worked with such great young folks,” said Rep. Brenda Lopez, who represents one of Georgia’s most diverse and rapidly changing districts. Her team attended committee meetings, tracked and followed legislation, worked with progressive groups and learned to be effective lobbyists for progressive causes.

Two of the young women agreed to share their experience with the Georgia’s WIN List community. Here are their stories.

 

By Marisol Estrada

When I was presented with the opportunity to work as an intern/legislative aide for Rep. Brenda Lopez, I decided I was not going to let anything stop me from the experience, not even the drive from my home in Savannah to our Capitol in Atlanta.

As the Representative for House District 99, not only does Brenda represent more than 55,000 citizens — she is also a trailblazer, the first Latina representing our community in the General Assembly. The aforementioned is where my passion comes from, the fact that we as Latinas had never before been represented in creating policy which directly affects us.

During preliminary planning for the 2017 legislative session I told the team I would be at the Capitol on Mondays and Tuesdays only, taking the rest of the week to work odd jobs and plan for law school. Within just a few weeks my two days of commitment turned into three because I became increasingly intrigued with the legislative process. As I started understanding how it all worked, my dedication turned into an everyday of the week experience including late nights and early mornings.

The legislative process in GA is fast paced — bills can be introduced every day within the forty-day session. Further, substitutes and amendments to bills and resolutions can be drafted within minutes and considered at any point in the process. Everyone is required to stay on their toes.

One widely followed example this session came during a late Senate Judiciary Committee meeting when Senators amended an adoption bill, HB 159 which had unanimously passed in the house with bi-partisan support. Over the objections of the bill’s house sponsor and the advocates who had spent more than a year to craft a comprehensive update of state adoption laws, the amendments added RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) language.  Thankfully, this amended bill did not pass the State Senate.

There were numerous anti-immigrant bills including HB 37, HB 452, HB 136, SB 231 and the list continues. In my capacity, I was able to work alongside ally organizations to keep bills harmful our communities from passing. These ally groups attended committee meetings, kept track of legislation, lobbied, and created calls to action. Now that the session has ended, the work for the 2018 legislative session has commenced and the fight for representation, justice, and equality continues.

Working at the Capitol made me realize how important it is for women of color like myself to be represented in the political process. I will return and perhaps someday run for office myself.

 

By Asma Elhuni

It’s not every day that a Muslim woman in hijab is given the opportunity to intern at the Capitol where our laws are drafted and passed.  Many of these laws directly affect or impact the Muslim community.

Rep. Lopez had issued a call for interns who were self-starters, hard working and as diverse as Gwinnett.  I was lucky to be a part of an amazing team which did not mind receiving hate mail about me. My experience as a part of “Team Brenda” reminds me inclusion is possible.

One of the first things I noticed in the Capital is how big it felt with its high ceilings and portraits of historic figures everywhere. Overwhelming, these portraits were white males —  with the portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hidden in a corner.

I was surprised about some things, one of which was that we are told that there is separation of church and state in the United States. So, surely we would expect to see this separation in our government institutions. I consider myself a religious person who invokes God into my life often, but I hope Georgia’s government can become more inclusive of all faiths.

Having been involved as a community organizer outside of the Capitol, I think one of the most important things I learned during my internship is how possible it is to have an impact in places I thought were shut out to me. Though there were some legislators who may not share my values, I met many who did.

I was able to see the power constituents, especially voters, have over their legislators. I knew corporations had a pull with elected leaders, as do protests and media. But to see firsthand there are also other real avenues of influence such as phone calls and letters renewed my belief that real power resides with the people when we act to make our voices heard.

 

 

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