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zoe at a protest this summerI am entering my final week at my internship at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and I have been reflecting a lot recently on what this summer has meant. As I write this, I am looking out the window over Independence Mall and right at the Liberty Bell. It is so fitting to have an ACLU office overlooking a national symbol of liberty. My summer at Duvall/the ACLU has been the most rewarding summer of my life so far. Here, I must thank the Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP) for making it happen. I could not have come to Philly had it not been for the grant, and I loved hearing what my peers had to say each week about their own workplaces all over the country.

My experience at the ACLU has meant learning how to be more critical, more discerning about the information that I’m given. I’ve learned countless statistics about abortion and reproductive freedom. I could tell you the abortion policies for each of the 57 county jails in Pennsylvania that house women, and I helped write the new model policy. I’ve rallied with various women’s groups in favor of the Affordable Care Act and its provisions for birth control, breast pumps (which to me, at this point in my life, sound more like instruments of torture than anything else), and other things pertaining to women’s healthcare. I’ve also rallied with AARP against the new Pennsylvania Voter-ID Law (older people can get pretty loud when you tell them they can’t vote anymore after they’ve voted in every election since the Great Depression). I got to sit in on the annual National ACLU Legal Review conference call in a fancy law firm in Philly while the Legal Director for the ACLU talked about the biggest cases of the year (which was definitely a highlight of my summer. I am a huge nerd for the Supreme Court).

The largest project I worked on at the office was the relaunch of the film Motherless after 20 years. The 30-minute movie is the story of 4 children who lost their mothers to illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade in 1973, and the very small staff at the Duvall Project (my two bosses and one other intern) between us had almost no knowledge of website design and social media. I took the lead and created a Twitter @WatchMotherless and a website watchmotherless.org (check them out if you have some free time)! It was so rewarding to see the final product – to know that I had given something very permanent to the organization.

In any case, what I learned at the ACLU this summer was really cemented on Saturday mornings. I volunteered as a clinic escort, and the lessons I practiced there (how to interact with protestors, how to be uncomfortable, but mostly how to be compassionate when people need it the most) were really just an extension of what the ACLU taught me. (I wrote about my experiences as a clinic escort at http://wp.me/P2AwUs-x). Reggie, the Executive Director of the ACLU and I spoke last week and when I expressed that I was sometimes frustrated and overwhelmed by the continuous assault on women and women’s health that happens pretty much everywhere in America, he said he understood the feeling. I am still amazed at one of my bosses – she’s been doing this work for years, and despite all of the challenges and despite the new legislation that crops up each day trying to prohibit women from accessing basic healthcare, she comes to work each morning with a smile. She gets out of bed in the morning, for that matter. But Reggie also told me that I am so lucky to be able to do the work that I do and that I love.

He’s right. I am so fortunate to have worked at the ACLU. The women I worked with at the Duvall Project are strong, knowledgeable women who sat patiently with me as I struggled to understand the different faces of feminism. I had always had opinions on women’s issues, but this summer was the first time I had to confront them head-on. And what I said earlier about being more discerning? That’s a skill that anyone working in the area of feminism or reproductive health and freedom needs. Because sometimes, what everyone around you is saying isn’t what you believe or know to be true. I learned this summer not necessarily what to think (although there was a lot of that) but really how to think about these issues. And most of all, I learned how to transform my views into action.

As far as my advice to anyone who wants to learn more about women, women’s rights, or women’s reproductive health, I say go into it with a completely open mind. Or at least as open as you can make it. Because you will disagree with things. You’ll find that some things that you’ve heard since you were small are actually not true. You’ll find yourself frustrated by some of the opinions expressed and even who is expressing them. But if you don’t listen, really listen, to what women are saying, you’ll miss out on a lot. I was skeptical at first about a lot of what I heard at work. Now that I’m leaving, I know that simply by asking for more explanation, asking “why,” I absorbed more than I ever thought I would. As I look to my departure, I will definitely be sad to leave the friends and the work that I was doing behind me in Philly, but I know that the lessons of compassion, perseverance, and optimism that I learned at the ACLU will stick with me for the rest of my life.

About the NU Intern Blogger Program
This summer, over 50 Northwestern University students will be sharing stories about what they are experiencing at their internships from across the country and internationally. Each week new students will share an inside look at what it means to be an intern. Please contact Betsy Gill, Assistant Director, Internship Services if you have any questions.