PKG Social Impact Internships: Haley Nakamura (’23)
This Spring semester, I had the incredible opportunity to intern with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the American legal organization that has led the push for racial justice under the law since 1940. LDF has a large repertoire of work across a diverse range of topics; just in the past year, they have been on top of high-profile areas by securing lawsuits to ensure equal voting opportunity, putting volunteers on the ground at polling sites, educating communities on the COVID-19 vaccine and police funding, hosting lectures and interviews laying out a brighter future for our nation, and more.
One area that I have personally had the opportunity to delve into has been voting rights. Being a sophomore at MIT this year, studying computer science and political science, I have only recently earned the right to vote in the U.S., and so have just as recently become more acutely aware of voting in America. I think for many Americans, and especially for young adults, voting can seem very stagnant and far-removed – something that never changes, perhaps even cannot be changed, that routinely pops up every so often.
But the voting process is an ever-shifting animal that the effects of COVID-19 roused greatly. If the gaps in voting equality were not clear before, the pandemic has aimed a spotlight directly at them. Predominately Black neighborhoods saw consistent machine malfunctions1,2, disproportionate polling site closures3, and wait times of up to 8 hours.4 Georgia runoff election polling sites saw bomb threats5, and polling workers received death threats for their work on the ground during the primaries.6 And ever-tightening mail-in voting restrictions forced many voters to put themselves at risk for the right to vote this year, with many states, and particularly those with greater Black populations, requiring extensive paperwork to request a mail-in ballot, or a sufficient excuse beyond fear of COVID-19 for absenteeism.7
These were just a few of the key issues that 2020 saw in its democratic process, but along with the issues, the main takeaway I have received from my work with the NAACP LDF is that these issues do not, and will not, remain unattended. LDF, along with many peer organizations have, and will continue to make, significant strides to achieve voter equality. In 2020 alone, LDF worked with More Than a Vote to recruit over 700,000 poll workers across the nation, put volunteers on the ground in all key Southern states, filed 10 lawsuits to challenge discriminatory voting laws, and launched one cohesive platform for voters to submit misinformation, machine malfunctioning, voter purges, and other suppression tactics they experienced so that LDF can respond.
Even as we unearth more challenges on the front of social justice, there is no shortage of hope for the future when we can see so many individuals and organizations working tirelessly to create a better, fairer world both culturally and legally, officially. In learning about the current challenges that America is facing, I will come out of this internship more aware, but more than anything, more inspired, more hopeful, and more eager to do my part in taking these challenges on.