Nureen in Atlanta

Nureen, a sophomore in Dedman College who plans to major in advertising, has an internship in Atlanta with the American Civil Liberties Union. Nureen is one of nine SMU students awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Public Service Internship for Summer 2009 from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility. She says she is looking forward to seeing the ACLU’s commitment, devotion, passion and service for human rights in action.

Tearing down the wall

CIMG7595.JPG This summer, I’ve had the privilege of participating in many activating events during my internship at the ACLU of Georgia. This weekend, I attended the Stonewall 40 movie screening and march/rally, something I had also had the honor of helping plan.

The Stonewall 40 campaign was a Human Rights Atlanta (an affiliate organization of the ACLU) initiative that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the day the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans) community stood up for the rights they knew they deserved. The ACLU of Georgia helped plan the event and also played a large part in both the movie screening, as well as the actual march and rally.

The Friday, June 26, event was a movie screening of Unveiled, a foreign film documenting the struggles of both immigrants seeking asylum as well as people of transgender identity. I brought along an excited friend from high school, and we both walked into Manuel’s Tavern (the venue for the event) with an idea of about 20 people watching a film and then participating in a panel discussion afterward.

We both were shocked to see a room filled with over 100 people – both with the LGBT community, as well as with allies such as myself. It was a wonderful sight to see so many people interested in educating themselves! The room was literally packed to the point where several people were left seat-less. Instead of getting up and leaving, however, they hung around and stood for the duration of the entire one-and-a-half-hour-long film.

My heart warmed to the thought that we were truly making such a great difference in the community. The room remained absolutely silent during the film – there was a feeling of mutual respect and understanding that was unlike any other. The panelists were all absolutely wonderful and unique in each of their perspectives.

The next day (June 27) was the big day that we had all worked so hard for – the Stonewall 40 March and Rally. I brought the same friend as the night before, and he was even more anxious than the previous night. We both hoped the event would show all of the hard work that was put into it. It didn’t. It proved to be even more wonderful than anything we had expected!

CIMG7583.JPG The Human Rights Atlanta and Stonewall 40 Committee members beautifully set up the many tables of information and a table for drinks and food. Encompassing the church were pictures and books about Stonewall and its significance in history.

CIMG7614.JPG After setting up, my friend and I set off to Freedom Park, where the pre-rally was being held and where we would begin our march for Transgender rights. There were some 100 or so people waiting to make a difference in the world – little did they know, they already had.

The marchers and rally attendees consisted of the LGBT community, allies, and supporting politicians alike. The speakers for the pre-rally were just what we all needed to get our blood pumping, and the band began the march with their jiving music. We marched through the streets of Little Five Points, Georgia, with one purpose, one cause. We held varying signs of splendid colors that held one message: We will not wait for equal rights any longer.

CIMG7670.JPGWe walked in unity and found that, instead of encountering hatred and opposition on the streets, the community embraced our message and took it in as their own mission. The support that we found that day warmed my heart like never before – for once, there was no hate. There was only the simple cause of human rights – something that no human should never be denied.

By the end of the march, we had over 200 marchers – many of whom had joined us on the streets. It was awe-inspiring to see what one group of people managed to do and the impact it had on the community.

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Informed about immigration

I was lucky to be a part of the SAALT/ACLU forum a few days ago. After attending the Townhall Immigration Forum, my perspective has been enlightened and truly widened.

Immigration is a hot topic in today’s world – tell me something I don’t know. But how it affects the actual immigrants is truly the issue at hand. I’ve heard accounts of the trials and tribulations that so many people have had to go through in order to get a better start in this world, and my heart goes out to them.

The forum itself not only provided more information to the uninformed, but allowed for a healthy and knowledgeable discussion for both the informed and uninformed. It’s so important to stand up for what is right, and immigration rights is, in essence, human rights.

The event, which was co-sponsored by the ACLU of Georgia, gave lots of information about the immigration processes, as well as the hardships involved with them. Deepa Iyer (the executive director of SAALT), Aparna Bhattacharyya (executive director of Raksha), and our own Azadeh Shahshahani (director of Immigration and National Security at the ACLU of Georgia) were all speakers at the event and encouraged a discussion-based atmosphere for the forum. Every single person who made the effort of coming out to the forum left having gained insight, perspective, and lots of useful information.

The important question is: What more can we do about it? Well, really, everyone who was able to make it to the forum has already taken the first step – stay informed. It’s as simple as that. You can make a difference by staying informed, whether that’s catching up on the current issues on Google News, or joining a human rights advocacy group (GA Detention Watch, Human Rights Atlanta, Raksha, SAALT, etc.). The more allies we have, the bigger the impact we can have – not to mention strategic pull.

So, take 10 minutes a day to read what’s going on in the human rights/immigration front, and from there, I swear, it will be plenty easy to get involved!

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Working for a greater purpose

I’ve been keeping busy and staying involved with as much as possible – I want to get as much as I can out of this experience!

Recently, I’ve been going to steering committee meetings for many of our sister organizations, such as Amnesty International, Georgia Detention Watch, Human Rights Atlanta, etc. These meetings have really enlightened me on the dynamic that exists within these organizations – they each consist of such diverse members that come together to work for one greater purpose.

Over the last two weeks, I have done many things – some of which consist of attending a high-profile national securities weeklong case, planning a transgender rights march called “Stonewall 40 Campaign,” and planning a “Know Your Rights” immigrants rights presentation.

I attended a rally several days ago and even ran into an old friend who’s interning with Amnesty International – one of our sister organizations. It was great being able to band together and stand up for what we believed in and make a difference by informing the public – that is, until we were rained on!

Every day, I am reminded of how many injustices go unnoticed and am grateful to be working for an organization that is helping to defend our rights.

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Working at the American Civil Liberties Union

I have already learned so much at the ACLU – both about my possible career and the inner-workings of society! Thankfully, I haven’t done much “secretarial” work at all – most of the work I do is to aid law clerks and my sponsor (the director of “Immigration and National Securities”).

Being in that specific department, most of the issues we work with have to do with current-day progress with the closing of Gitmo (Guantanamo Bay) and immigrant rights issues in Georgia and the Southeastern region.

I often do research for opinion editorials and legislative bills my sponsor plans on writing or drafting and end up learning so much in the process. I work mainly with law interns (clerks) because of the specific department I am working in, but they are all so helpful and enjoyable to be around – the atmosphere at the ACLU really is much like a family!

There is never a boring day – I’m always busy and am often out of the office. So far, I’ve attended trials, press conferences, rallies, legislative meetings, commission hearings, board of education meetings, and marches.

I can’t wait to update on how much more I’ve been getting to do at the ACLU, soon!

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