Week 5 - Learning From Experience

By: Aadi Kulkarni

It is hard to believe that 5 weeks have flown by as we will begin to wrap up our internships and have finished our last Speakership Series. I am an intern for Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak in District 18. The past week I had the privilege of attending the committee and voting session in Trenton. It was quite inspiring to see most of the decision makers of New Jersey politics in one room, demonstrating how our government works.

At the assemblyman’s office in Edison, I have spent time doing a variety of things from stuffing envelopes,  getting the assemblyman’s Facebook page verified, and helping him on potential legislation.

I have learned that the most powerful part of policy is not the bill itself but the work that goes into making sure it has the intended scale and impact once it is implemented. The legislation that I am assisting with aims to address the glut of electricity in our power grid at off peak hours by subsiding it for the use of charging electric vehicles. The process involves many groups that have a variety of stakes in the process from utilities, to car manufacturers to environmentalist.

These groups all have strong and valid opinions but they never do seem to match. This problem seemed to fit right in with the topic of the past week’s Speakership Series of Nonprofits and Activism. 

We heard from Ms. Andrea Long, the Director of Donor Relations for the American Civil LibertiesUnion (ACLU) of New Jersey. Ms. Long’s discussion covered three areas that I think encompass the struggles of any group fighting for a cause. First was the formidable task of fundraising. How ACLU fundraises compared to other groups and why they do what they do. Second we spoke of organization and how the structure of the ACLU allows it to best reach its goals. Third was targeting the impact of any organization. Ms. Long put it as “focusing on where our efforts can make the most positive impact for the most people”. I think that these fundamentals are something that the ACLU and other successful groups have mastered and what makes them unique from other activists.

Next we heard from a panel of speakers comprised of Anjalee Khemlani of NJBIZ, Jay Rehman a Civil Rights Attorney for the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR), Amman Sheera the Northeast Regional Director for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and Satish Poondi, a Legal Advisor of Indian Business Association (IBA). Each had their own unique perspective given their diverse backgrounds.

One of the unique dialogues was regarding the changes seen in the involvement of the South Asian communities in the last few decades. With changing times we now have more South Asians in office and some of the activists feel that now they have to give elected officials more autonomy to do what they think represents the South Asian community. Mr. Poondi brought up the example of when a few calls could rally hundreds of people to Town Halls to make their voices heard. Now he has to put trust in elected officials to hear these voices and act accordingly. This discussion segmented into the diversity of views that exist within the South Asian community. These many diverse political affiliations, economic and social views make it ill founded to attempt to woo the whole demographic.

A motif throughout the discussion was the presence of the Hispanic population in politics. As a growing demographic in America with passionate yet diverse views, the Hispanic population has become a major force in national elections. The South Asian community, in my mind, will reach the next major milestone in political involvement when we become more than just a single voting block and turn into demographic that candidates must reach out to and connect with.

Mr. Seehra concluded with something that I think often gets forgotten by activists. While there is always a place to appeal to and strengthen your own base of supporters, the most powerful way to make change is reaching out to those who have not heard your message and grown the size of that base.

Following the panel, the fellows met to finalize our capstone project which encompasses our experiences and diverse perspectives that we value. Without giving away too much, stay tuned to find out more.

This fall as I start my senior year at The Hotchkiss School as Captain for the Varsity Cross Country, Track and Field and Debate Teams, I hope to bring back what I have learned these past six weeks regarding leadership to help guide me. I am sure that I will be grappling with some of these issues and topics we discussed for much longer.

As the Editor-in-Chief of the Hotchkiss Review, I plan to share the message that working in public service and politics many not seem as glamorous or receive the accolades that other industries might but, the impact lies in empowering the ordinary citizen. This is the power to create an environment that all Americans have the opportunity to benefit from.

On behalf of all the 2017 Fellows of the New Jersey Leadership Program, I want to thank all those who took the time to meet with us, advise us, and guide us. Getting your foot in the door is one of the hardest parts of politics and government and I appreciate those who have held it open for us. It has been a privilege being a part of the program and we hope to make you proud.