In January, 2014, I began work as a legal clerk with Civic Nebraska (Civic Nebraska). Prior to Civic Nebraska I had many experiences working in the public interest forum from ACLU Nebraska to Teach for America. However, my position at Civic Nebraska was my first experience being directly involved with the legislative process. Here are my three takeaways from the eight months I spent in the Civic Nebraska office.
First, change is a community endeavor. While this may seem like a broad takeaway, it was an important realization early on at Civic Nebraska – there are a lot of people and organizations involved in providing a voice to those in Nebraska who often go unheard. It was not just me the legal clerk. It was my three other co-clerks. It was the executive director. It was other nonprofits like ACLU Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, and the Center for People in Need. It was all of these organizations that were instrumental in coexisting together to educate not only the public but also each and every person within the Capitol on issues that impacted voting rights for Nebraska citizens. Because social issues are so intertwined, it takes a community endeavor to keep moving forward.
Second, change happens on all levels. I was able to take part in a vast array of activities that made each and every day a new experience. One week it was gathering data that would later be used to educate elected officials on the dangers of a Voter ID law. Another week it was providing voter protection in a contentious ballot issue in Fremont, NE. Yet another week it was researching and answering live questions through email as senators were debating an issue on the floor of the Capitol. Whether it was these examples or others like summarizing proposed legislation, I felt every step of the way as if I was a part of the process – I, through Civic Nebraska, was influencing change.
Finally, defense wins championships or at least prevents underrepresented populations to be further marginalized and cast aside. Cliche? Absolutely. However, this is the primary takeaway I’ve gleaned from most of my experiences in public interest. There are times when a nonprofit can push forward and take an active role in change. This happened this year with the legislature passing a bill that will provide online voter registration. Yet it feels as though far more often organizations like Civic Nebraska are playing defense and this is just as important. Further, the defense never stops. Combating a bill one session does not mean that the same bill will not come back with a vengeance in later years. Victories are sweet but short lived when that next issue can arise at any point.
Being a legal clerk at Civic Nebraska was a unique and fulfilling experience. I felt as though each and every day I was aiding in the organization live up to its name – civic reform. The legislative session was a whirlwind that was as exhausting as it was invigorating. My eight months were fruitful ones that I look forward to taking with me to my next stop wherever it may be. It was experiences like the ones I gained at Civic Nebraska that I hoped to be a part of when I decided to attend law school three years ago.