This summer, 16 students will promote democracy and broaden their engagement with the public sphere through Wesleyan’s Engage 2020 Initiative (E2020) Fund.
The initiative is a comprehensive university effort to support student learning via civic engagement and liberal arts education. Wesleyan’s Civic Action Plan sets goals for building civic preparedness among students, faculty, and staff, and for enhancing the University’s role in public life.
Summer E2020 Fund recipients receive grants to support costs associated with lodging, meals, computer software, project supplies, and phone and internet services. In addition, participants enroll in the quarter-credit course CSPL 494, Internship: Elections, which requires students to participate with an electoral process for at least 40 hours, offer structured reflection, and complete a final paper.
To date, 33 students have received one of Wesleyan’s 40 E2020 grants during the fall, spring, and summer. The summer grantees will begin their work in July.
The Summer E2020 Initiative Fund recipients and their projects are described below.
Gender and sexuality studies major Leslie Caratachea ’22 will use her bilingual skills to lead a “voting squad” to help members of the Latinx community register to vote through her project When We All Vote.
“Through When We All Vote, I hope I can improve my rural Latinx community’s voting turnout, and help my community voice their opinion. I hope that through this volunteer work I am able to learn how to provide others with resources on how to vote . . . and grow more as a community leader and as a person.”
Anna Ribeiro ’23 will work with Dianne Morales on her New York City mayoral election, helping with fundraising, research, and outreach. “As a first-generation, low-income student who is also the daughter of immigrants, I find Dianne’s efforts [in] becoming the first female mayor of NYC to not only be admirable but also [an inspiration to] me to help elevate her cause,” Ribeiro said. “I think that, as a direct result of [involving] myself in campaign work, whether it be fortifying my fundraising skills or brushing up on my outreach, this internship will teach me a lot about the inner workings of a campaign, in particular of a local election. I hope that through my work in my campaign, I can network with individuals who are also passionate about radical reformation in New York City politics, as well as learn new skills and knowledge about the workings of local government . . . and bring that knowledge back to Wesleyan, not only to educate my fellow peers but also to see if I can implement my newfound knowledge and skills to local politics in Middletown to help support our community.”
Prospective American studies and French double major Perri Easley ’23 will work with Jack and Jill of America, Inc., Morris County Chapter and Stand Up America to present her Census 2020/voter suppression/gerrymandering slideshow to members of the MCJJ teen groups, as well as hold a voter registration drive. She’ll also join their Organizing Committee through Slack, reaching out to key voters in battleground states, registering youth to vote, and advocating for mail-in voting. “In recent times, I have seen that our democracy is under threat as voter suppression, a possible defunding of the United States Postal Service, and the irresponsible leadership of select legislators runs rampant in this country. For these reasons, I have decided that I will spend part of my summer working with organizations such as Jack and Jill and Stand Up America to ensure a safer and just election for November 2020.”
The African American community has remained a crucial voting bloc, Easley said. “As voter suppression efforts have largely targeted communities of color, I would like my work to directly combat this reality. A lot is at stake leading up to the November election, and I would like to do as much as I can to make sure that [all] votes are counted, and that U.S. elections are fair for everyone.”
Alec Black ’23 will work as an equity facilitator and tutor with the organization EduMate NYC. He will organize and lead a weekly group with students and provide lower-income students with personalized creative writing help. “With EduMate, I would like to learn more about the impacts of underfunding in the New York City education system, and how the personal connection with students can mitigate this,” he said. “Additionally, I would like to advocate for underrepresented groups in this area, especially those that are low-income. I’m hoping we can provide a space for these students where they can expand their writing abilities, provide readings with a feminist/anti-racist focus, and learn about American history.”
In addition, Black will work for the Sunrise Movement as a phone banker. “I will be able to speak to voters about Green New Deal and research the legislators I call on behalf of. I want to expand my experience speaking to voters about current issues,” Black said.
Kate Harvey ’23, who is planning to pursue a career in politics and reproductive justice, will work as the Eastern Washington Electoral Fellow with NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. “This election cycle, our incumbent state senator is stepping down,” Harvey said. “This means that this year’s race is a particularly strong opportunity to elect a pro-choice legislator. For this reason, strong grassroots political action in this district is incredibly important.”
Through this internship, Harvey hopes to grow her political and community-organizing skills and learn the basics of hands-on campaigning strategies. “I am looking forward to learning about possibilities for remote engagement, such as phone-banking and hosting virtual take-action meetings through NARAL. I’m also very excited to work with NARAL, whose advocacy for abortion rights I have long admired. This fellowship will allow me the opportunity to work not only in my district, but also to play a role in and learn about the state-wide operations of NARAL.”
College of Social Studies major Theodore Zarobell ’23 will serve as an intern with Evolve CA, a campaign dedicated to reforming the California tax law to bring more money into schools and city governments. Zarobell graduated from a “horribly underfunded” high school in Oakland, Calif., and feels this effort is close to his heart. “Evolve CA has put a measure on the ballot to increase property taxes for large businesses since California froze all property taxes in the 1970s, and our schools and cities have been paying for it ever since. Improving my network and my ability to create data visualizations is an added bonus. I took a class at Wesleyan in the fall called data journalism, where I learned how to make data visualizations on Tableau, and refining those skills is definitely a bonus! I would like to pursue a career in public policy, so developing my network and building my resumé is also a welcome side effect of doing this internship,” he said.
Government and economics double major Dani Dittmann ’22 will intern with the Deb Ciamacca’s Campaign for Pennsylvania State Representative in Pennsylvania’s 168th District. If elected, Ciamacca would be the first Democratic representative for this particular district. “Through my time with Deb’s campaign, I hope to expand upon my basic knowledge of political campaigns by working closely with individuals who can mentor me in various ways,” she said. “I look forward to strengthening my public speaking and writing skills, my familiarity with and comfort in speaking about our current political environment, as well as many new skills I have yet to be exposed to.”
Olivia Ramseur ’23 will assist with various phone-banking, data entry, and other campaign activities as a campaign intern with the Shaniyat Chowdhury for Congress 2020 campaign. “In the primary, we are running against the incumbent congressman, who is a very centrist and establishment Democrat who has been in politics a long time, and I believe that we need more progressive and new people in politics,” she said. “I want to work on this campaign to increase my experience in grassroots organizing, especially in my own community because this district is right next to mine. Also, many of the campaign staffers are very experienced in working on and running campaigns, especially ‘underdog’ campaigns that were not expected to win, so it would be nice to work with them and learn from their experience.”
College of Social Studies major Elisa Chi ’21 is working at Emerge Connecticut this summer as a political intern, focusing on fundraising and finance work. Her main responsibilities include researching potential donors and grant opportunities and preparing related materials, assisting with event management and coordination of fundraising events, and assisting with budget planning for the fiscal program year. She also drafts press releases and maintains the social media accounts and website for Emerge Connecticut. “Through this internship, I see the inner workings of a Democratic nonprofit organization. I hope to learn research and fundraising skills, communication skills, media skills, and database management skills, and further my writing skills, social media marketing skills, and event planning skills. I will also be exposed to a variety of campaign and election experts, and meet an array of dynamic women who hold elected and appointed office,” Chi said.
This internship, focusing on political organizing, is a valuable experiential opportunity for Chi to learn how state-level fundraisers are run, how to research and reach out to donors, how to manage financial plans, and how reflective democracy and progressive ideals are translated into campaign strategies. Passionate about promoting gender equality and upholding justice for those who are disadvantaged, Chi is excited to contribute to the advancement of women in the male-dominated political world through her work. “While increasing the number of Democratic women leaders from diverse backgrounds in public office, I would also gain valuable insight into the nonprofit industry and learn practical skills by engaging in hands-on advocacy work,” she said.
American studies major Simon Gaughan ’22 will work as an intern for the David Buchwald for Congress through the David Buchwald Summer Fellowship program.
“In the era of Trump-ian radicalism and COVID-19, I believe political involvement has become more imperative than ever. It is understandable that, in the midst of a pandemic, staying involved in campaigns and voting processes would take the back burner for many. Therefore, this summer I hope to do as much as I can to mobilize people back into political activism through voting—especially for a progressive candidate such as David Buchwald,” Gaughan said. “I wholeheartedly stand by Assemblyman Buchwald’s political goals, such as staying tough against the NRA, radically combatting the climate crisis, eliminating political corruption, and advocating support for the LGBTQ community. Many Americans are eager to mobilize around a progressive candidate—they just need to be told whom.”
After canvassing for Planned Parenthood last year, Gaughan found a passion for working on an individual, case-by-case basis to educate and inspire others about healthcare and a woman’s right to choose. “All in all, I believe this opportunity will . . . provide a platform for me to enact critical change around issues I am passionate about, while simultaneously fostering the skills that will allow me to further engage in the work I am interested in. Like most 20-year-old liberals, I have a plethora of issues I remain staunchly passionate about, yet I am still exploring which means of change allow me to catalyze the greatest effects. Working for a political campaign, especially for a candidate I sincerely believe in, feels like a very concrete way to reach my goals of tangible change,” he said.
Prospective economics and government double major Isha Jha ’23 will work as a campaign fellow for David Buchwald’s Campaign for Congress. “I plan on accomplishing a few goals: stronger communication skills, a greater understanding of campaigning and the inner workings of politics, and relationships with those I am working with. However, the most important goal that I wish to accomplish throughout this process is electing David Buchwald to the United States House of Representatives,” Jha said.
“Given that I support David Buchwald’s agenda, I hope that this opportunity will allow me to further my communication skills particularly as it relates to persuasion. By furthering my skills in these aspects, I hope to be able to have stronger communication skills overall,” he said.
Government major Jonesy Moore ’21 and government and psychology double major Bryan Chong ’21 will work as communication coordinator interns for the Brandon Chafee for State Representative campaign in Middletown, Conn. Moore is interested in helping to improve the Middletown community and working with Wesleyan students to give back to the town. “I believe that climate change is one of the most pressing issues that we as a society are facing right now, and Brandon Chafee is making that one of his top priorities. If I can help bring environmental change to a community that has brought so much happiness into my life, [it] would be really meaningful,” he said. Moore said opportunities for political engagement with progressive candidates in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., have has been very limited. “This offers me an opportunity to work on a campaign I really care about and to form connections that I will be able to rely on for the rest of my life,” he said.
Chong, who will be designing graphics, managing social media accounts, and compiling emails, hopes to develop an understanding for constituent outreach. “As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, digital organizing will only be more important, and I hope this internship will prepare me well for the general election in November, for whatever progressive cause I would be working for,” he said. “As a novice student organizer fresh off the Sanders campaign, I am excited about opportunities that not only allow me to immediately reapply my practical experience but also empower me to serve the Middletown community. My experience with mutual aid for Wesleyan and . . . Connecticut during the COVID-19 crisis taught me the necessity of town-gown solidarity, and I [am] delighted to help continue the progressive change that Middletown needs through supporting Brandon Chafee for State Representative.”
Government and feminist gender and sexuality studies major Felicia Soderberg ’21 will serve as a communications intern for the Matt Stoel for Michigan State Representative campaign. This position entails phone-banking, text canvassing, researching policies, and applying for endorsements on behalf of the candidate.
“I am very passionate about state government,” Soderberg said. “Our state legislatures impact our day-to-day life through education, infrastructure, and healthcare policy. I believe we need progressive leaders at all levels of government, and that the state level is too often ignored.”
As campaigning has moved exclusively online and on the phone due to COVID-19, this community engagement in the election is going to look very different, she said. “There won’t be any door-to-door canvassing, which is the most effective method of voter engagement. This internship will challenge me to engage voters in this community online and over the phone.”
Government and environmental studies major Ron Meehan ’21 will work on communications and public outreach for the Paul Dale for State House District 29 campaign, representing Nikiski, Sterling, Moose Pass, Hope, and Seward, Alaska. “It is a difficult district to run in due to its odd geographical shape and the distance between these communities,” Meehan said. “This would be my first time assisting a local race in the community I was raised in. My state needs competent and level-headed leadership in our legislature now more than ever.”
Sociology major Miguel Pérez-Glassner ’21 will work as an intern for the Andru Volinsky for Governor campaign in New Hampshire. “New Hampshire Democrats in high-ranking positions both in Concord and on Capitol Hill have proudly represented business interests at the expense of the majority of people,” Pérez-Glassner said. “Volinsky is well-known for his successful advocacy against the death penalty and has a proven commitment to restructuring school funding because the heavy property tax-based system in New Hampshire is exacerbating inequality in our state even further.”