This summer, the ACLU of Alaska hosted two student interns to support our advocacy work. Here are their reflections from their time working with us. 

Gavin Taylor

One of the most practical things that I learned from my time at the ACLU is personability and the right way to get people interested in your work, because no matter how big of an organization the ACLU may be in the political consciousness, many people are still ignorant of the work that is being conducted by the wonderful people around the country. I first learned about a summer internship opportunity at the ACLU of Alaska through a wonderful presentation that Mara conducted back in March about how the ACLU of Alaska is tackling women's issues across the state. I had been aware of the ACLU as an organization for a while as a political science major in college, but I was ignorant as to there being a state affiliate that I could work with directly. This is an unfortunate truth of many ACLU affiliates, the confusion that often surrounds the organization and what we are doing in a place like Alaska if people are only aware of the national organization. As an advocacy intern, it was my job to sit behind the event table and make sure that people were being told about our organization’s work on a vast array of issues. From book bans and trans rights to the prison project and the work that our amazing team of litigators, the ACLU of Alaska has been tackling a lot of things at once, all the while, many people are in the dark about the organizations that are fighting for justice in our state. I even had a few people at a variety of events ask if the ACLU was a credit union or a university. 

As an intern for the ACLU of Alaska, I was given the wonderful opportunity of attending the ACLU National Advocacy Institute in New York. At this program, I was able to not only create a wonderful network of peers and mentors but also attend lectures that I would never have been able to otherwise. Members of the National Advocacy Institute included a vast array of college-aged students who were doing everything from going to law school to working in a library; but we all had one thing in common, we cared about the state of civil rights and civil liberties in the United States. The lectures and conversations that aspiring advocates were able to have with people who are more established with the ACLU helped us get acquainted with the industry but most importantly, these professionals were able to give us advice to not burn ourselves out in the blink of an eye. Their advice was incalculably beneficial to my future in this field which can often “chew you up and spit you out” with little more than a blink of an eye. Primarily the value of taking care of one’s mental health is never a detriment to the fight. As one person said at the institute, “You cannot give 100% to your work if you are not functioning at 100%.”

Being surrounded by so much good work this summer has taught me that as scary as things can get in the world of politics and civil justice, there is a large community out there that will stand by you and your work even if the odds seem to be stacked against you. It just takes time and effort to look for those allies.

Ella Johanknecht

Spending my summer as an ACLU of Alaska advocacy intern provided me with a priceless opportunity. It allowed me not only to engage deeply with the ideas and issues that fuel my passion but also to immerse myself in the rich tapestry of Alaskan viewpoints. Through this experience, I gained a newfound awareness of the diverse ways in which individuals perceive and address societal issues.

Tabling at events ranging from a relatively small drag story hour in the Mat-Su to Anchorage Pride and Juneteenth, I realized more than ever before the power of face-to-face communication. These interactions compelled me to shed my preconceived notions and genuinely listen to the concerns, hopes, and fears expressed by individuals from all walks of life. My personal history and relationships had unknowingly confined my understanding to a narrow stream of opinions, reinforcing my existing beliefs and isolating me from differing viewpoints. However, through personal conversations with passionate Alaskans, my preconceptions were challenged and sometimes upended. 

Each person's individual experiences in life contribute to a wholly unique perspective, and engaging with people who hold different beliefs on issues like healthcare, the prison system, education, and civil liberties reinforced in me that these problems are not and never were monolithic. 

The significance of context and lived experiences cannot be overstated in the formation of our beliefs and opinions. Our individual histories, cultural influences, and interactions with the world converge to shape our understanding and viewpoints. These personal encounters act as lenses through which we interpret information, making empathy and open-mindedness crucial for embracing the diverse array of perspectives that contribute to our shared human narrative.

One of the most profound lessons I learned is that, when confronted with an issue, people inherently seek community. This community aspect of political engagement and organization took a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and building back a culture of in-person discussion is critical when trying to foster societal and legal change. Empathy has been the catalyst for almost all positive change in history, so when people feel separate, alone, and unique in their struggle it almost eliminates the power of the collective. The work that the ACLU does is just a facet of Alaska’s huge interpersonal networks and a collective culture of ideas and change. The efforts of the ACLU merely represent a facet of Alaska's extensive interpersonal networks and the collective culture that fuels the exchange of ideas and drives change.

We'd like to thank Gavin and Ella for their work this summer to organize, educate and serve as a resource for our Alaska community when it comes to taking action and standing up for our rights. 

If you are interested in interning with the ACLU of Alaska, please check back in October for spring and summer internship opportunities and applications in 2024.