Why We Sat During The National Anthem

Graduation class of 2018

The graduating class of 2018, made up of Master of Arts in Urban Affairs students and Master of Public Affairs students, recently reflected on a decision they made during their graduation ceremony. Four of the students share their experiences here.

Jessica LindquistJessica Lindquist, Master of Public Affairs

A few days before graduation, my friend Amy mentioned to my cohort that last year the Urban Affairs students sat down for the National Anthem during the graduation ceremony to protest the racial injustice and oppression that plagues America. It took only moments for us to collectively decide we, both the Urban Affairs students and the Public Affairs students, would continue the tradition. I sat down to honor American heroes: the courageous nonviolent protesters who have at times risked everything to bring attention to the thousands of people who have lost their lives to police brutality and state violence. I sat down because as a white woman, society has endowed me with a tremendous amount of privilege that I did not earn. Toni Morrison said, “if you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” I sat down to be in solidarity with all those who are fighting for civil rights amid the most blatantly racist administration we have had in modern history. I sat down because through my own research I have seen how the financial services industry has been a major culprit of institutionalized racism in our county. What we did was a small symbolic action but I know it’s just the beginning. I’m eager to see what contributions my cohort makes to advance racial equity in our communities.

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Bernice Rosas Belmonte, Master of Public Affairs

At one point after the National Anthem and midway through the graduation ceremony, a woman behind me leaned forward and asked why we sat down. “As a sign of protest,” I replied. “Yes, but why?” For a quick second, I hesitated not expecting her to ask another question. “Because we are protesting institutionalized racism and police violence. We are sitting because we are acknowledging that.” The woman said nothing and slid back in her seat. Yes, we were graduating today, but our degrees represent much more than a piece of paper. Our degrees represent two years of learning about economic, class, race and power struggles in our society and exploring solutions to these problems. We spent two years highlighting injustices and working towards solutions that can create a real, positive impact in our communities. We sat because we are non-conformist. We sat because each of us has seen society’s problems and have decided to dedicate our lives to work for the common good. We sat because this one action is just one of many actions we are going to take make a positive impact. We sat because we are in this together.

Amy Dundon 2Amy Dundon, Master of Urban Affairs

I sat during the national anthem because I am unwilling to accept or tolerate (let alone celebrate) the distraction of patriotism. I also sat because we, as a group, sat; I sat because my freedom is entirely contingent on the freedom of others (Lorde 1981). I sat to honor the lives risked and lost in crossing to get to this country; I sat out of love for those wrongfully relegated to silence, to detention, to death; I sat because Black lives matter. I sat in reverence for the 2,358 lives lost to police violence since the year I began graduate school (Tate, Jenkins and Rich 2018). I sat because I had to check that number this morning. I sat out of respect of others who have sat, knelt, raised fists before I even thought to remain seated. I sat to honor those that are disciplined, ridiculed, or met with violence for their own acts of protest; I sat in solidarity. I sat because it would have been dishonest to stand.

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Bri Gonzalez, Master of Public Affairs

Our cohort had just spent the past two years learning about the racial, economic, and social injustices that plague people of color in America, so it was only fitting that we would sit during the anthem while we graduated from the institution that opened our eyes to these oppressions. We protested and will continue to protest, a country that marginalizes groups based on the color of their skin and the shallowness of their pockets. We protested because of the never-ending cycle of gun violence that kills hundreds of children and people of color each year, yet is ignored by our leaders so as to not upset the NRA and the Republican base. We protested because the groups who are being gunned down by the police are not even allowed to protest the atrocities they endure without facing repercussions. In Ferguson and Baltimore, they were called rioters and were met with more violence by the same police force that had just murdered members of their community. In the NFL, players will now be fined if they kneel for the anthem, a blatant display of oppressing black and brown men. We protested because the Second Amendment is deemed more valuable than American lives. There are many reasons why we protested, and each of us may have our own versions, but we all agree that our country cannot continue down this path. Our gesture might have been small, but it was done to stand in solidarity with those who are fighting against these injustices and it is when we are all in solidarity that change can reverberate across the nation.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. 1981. Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

Tate, Julie, Jennifer Jenkins and Steven Rich. 2018. “2018 police shootings database: Fatal Force.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/police-shootings-2018/?utm_term=.41ecdc06633e

Love to the Class of 2018

Female student in cap and gown

Crystal Vega, Urban Studies and Critical Diversity Studies ’18, was awarded this year’s Leo T. McCarthy Award. Below is her commencement speech. 

Dear Class of 2018, I love you. You, the first generation students who paved the road for so many to come. You, the nonbinary and trans students who are constantly pushing the university to be a more gender inclusive space. You, the Black and Brown students who will not rest until this university makes everyone feel at home. You, the Pacific Islander and indigenous students who reflect the beauty, bravery, and courage of your communities. I am honored and humbled to be speaking in front of so many student leaders and activists. And lastly, I love me, the queer Chicanx with two jobs, two majors, one minor, and three years of college under their belt. I love you: I don’t use these three words lightly. And I’ve definitely never said it to a few hundred people but I believe it serves as a crucial last lesson.

Some of you in the room may be uncomfortable right now. Having a physical reaction to the word love. It’s okay, I was the same way. There was a point in my life where I stopped saying I love you to my friends and family. I started to feel weighed down by stories of trauma and my own experiences with misgendering, microaggressions, and discrimination. So I stopped. It wasn’t until I started a romantic relationship with my current partner of three years that I finally started using the words again. He helped me to see love as personal and interpersonal healing. Although I didn’t learn about love at USF, I did start to practice revolutionary love while in a classroom. I saw Valarie Kaur’s Ted Talk on revolutionary love and watched as she reclaimed love as “…sweet labor. Fierce. Bloody. Imperfect. Life-giving. A choice we make over and over again” and our greatest tool for social justice.

Throughout our years at USF, we have heard the phrase change the world from here. But what this phrase does not suggest is the burnout that happens after we resolve to do this. This is why we need to center ourselves in gratitude and love: a love of ourselves, for others, and for our opponents. Love not only allows me to envision a world of equity and inclusivity but can also empower me to run for local office and make that world a reality. Love can drive your passions whether they be in the public sector, reinvesting in low-income communities and improving our public transit systems, or in the private sector, reimagining how people connect to one another or innovating medicine as we know it. When someone says you can’t, when you tell yourself you won’t, center yourself in love. Wonder what you are capable of, value the humanity of others, and acknowledge those who see you as different because love wins. Congratulations Class of 2018!

Join our April Day of Action

Tamara

Tamara Walker is the Outreach Manager for the Buchanan Mall Initiative at Citizen Film, a non-profit documentary media organization and an Engage San Francisco community partner, based in the Western Addition.

On Saturday, April 14th, Citizen Film, Community Grows, the Rosa Parks Senior Center and a team of neighborhood volunteers will be rolling up our sleeves to plant, mulch, and clean up the gardens of the Buchanan Mall.

You may be wondering: what is a documentary media company doing organizing a volunteer garden day?

Since 2014, we’ve been working with residents of the Western Addition neighborhood, city agencies, and local non-profits to re-imagine the Buchanan Mall, a five-block park cutting through public housing near our office. Once unsafe and underused, the Buchanan Mall is becoming a connective point for the neighborhood, an example of unity and community storytelling.

As documentary filmmakers, we’ve often tackled social justice issues and used storytelling to advocate for equitable solutions to community problems. Creative placemaking — working to make a place better for all people who inhabit and use it — has been an exciting evolution of that practice. Through a process of collaborative documentary storytelling, the community arrived at a vision of what the park could be — a vision rooted in the collective memory of what the neighborhood once had been.

Residents have begun reclaiming ownership of their space by stewarding the community gardens along the Mall. We’ve partnered with Community Grows, the Rosa Parks Senior Center and Collective Impact to gather stories about the neighborhood’s history of growing food and feeding the community as a form of activism These gardens can do more than nourish the community; they are steps towards self-sufficiency and greater social justice.

The Western Addition was once a home and thriving cultural center for African-Americans, but the community remains scarred from urban renewal that has been repeatedly forced upon it since the 1950’s, displacing thousands of residents, shattering the local economy and engendering distrust. The films that we co-create with the community, the media and garden installations on the Mall, future murals, and media – these are all essential in keeping the community’s people, voices, and hopes front and center as another round of redevelopment looms. By co-creating films with local residents, and by actively soliciting and heeding their feedback, the community can take control of its own narrative.

Join us!

Buchanan Mall Day of Action: Saturday, April 14th 10am to 2pm RSVP here & please fill out the waiver form.

 

 

In D.C.’s Public Defender Service

Vivienne Pismarov2

Vivienne Pismarov, Psychology ’19

This fall semester, through the USF in DC program, I’ve had the opportunity to intern with the Public Defender Service. Everyone working there is tasked with one job and one job only: do everything in your power to support your client. As an investigative intern, I request records, locate potential witnesses, serve subpoenas, canvass the scene of the crime, and more. Even though sometimes this role requires me to work late into the night and over the weekends, I’m honored to do this job because I believe every client deserves someone who is genuinely in their corner ready to fight against the giant criminal justice system. 

Working in the Special Litigation Division, we defend clients who were sentenced to life in prison as juveniles and are now eligible under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act to have their sentences reduced or eliminated altogether. To be eligible for re- sentencing, individuals must have already spent 20 years or more in the prison system. These institutions often do not prioritize the rehabilitation of their inmates; instead, inmates are exposed to terrible living conditions, daily violence, racism and abuse. Such conditions make a transition back into society difficult and also make successful re-sentencing challenging.

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My first client, who I have spent most of my time in D.C. working with, was sentenced to life in prison when he was just sixteen years old after being misidentified as the perpetrator of a drive-by shooting that injured four teenagers in his own neighborhood. While there were witnesses and multiple examples of false testimonies to prove that our client was not at the scene of the crime and that the police involved in the case bribed witnesses to lie, my client has been imprisoned for the entirety of his adult life. This injustice astounds me. I have grown up with the privilege of having a supportive family and an education that has opened up infinite doors for me. Meanwhile an innocent young black man from the Southeast quadrant of D.C. has spent this same amount of time wrongly imprisoned and deprived of experiencing the world that he so desperately wants to be a part of again. Every day I come to work with a goal that one day this man will be able to enjoy a life of freedom.

We have witnesses who’ve confessed that they lied to the police. We have a solid alibi for our client. And we have proof that one of our client’s friends actually committed the crime. But while serving time in prison, our client was provoked by other inmates and was involved in a fight. Before he knew it, our client killed another man in prison.

From the bottom of my heart, I know that our client was not involved in the drive-by shooting that relegated him to a life in prison. However, I also cannot deny that a man in prison was killed at the hands of my client but I certainly believe that he would not have killed anyone if my client was never wrongfully convicted in the first place.

My client’s situation is not an anomaly. He had a great defense going for him and an amazing likelihood that he would be released from prison given the evidence that we had gathered in his favor. However, the prison system cultivated an environment where my client felt that he had to resort to murder just to live another day. Now, my client will likely continue living within the four walls that he has been living in for more than 20 years, while I have the world at my fingertips.

Given my client’s situation, I still will not give up fighting for his rehabilitation and release. Avis Buchanan, the Director of the Public Defender Service in D.C., emphasizes making a connection with a client and recognizing their humanity is required to successfully assist them in their defense. This is the challenge of the criminal justice system.

Avis Buchanan says that when you cannot see the humanity in your client, “that’s when you know it’s time to leave.” My time participating in the USF in D.C. program has taught me to never forget that everyone is human and deserving of someone being in their corner. While my internship is quickly coming to end, I’m not ready to leave and I’m not ready to stop fighting for the people who have been overlooked by society. When I leave this internship program at the Public Defender Service in D.C., I know that I will continue to advocate for people like my client who have been victimized by the prison system.

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On My First Year Of Grad School

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Jessica Lindquist, M.A., Public Affairs ’18

Last July I left my cushy job as an executive assistant at a financial technology company in Mid-Market to try something scary and exciting: graduate school.  I had been accepted into the Master of Public Affairs program at the University of San Francisco.  At my core, I knew it was time to take some risks and pursue the public policy career I had always dreamed about.

The first week of orientation was a whirlwind and admittedly I had a few moments of doubt, which I later realized is a classic stage of starting grad school. I found myself in a classroom of strangers feeling anxious about what the fall semester would bring. Yet, after a few weeks into the program, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I had adjusted to back to student life.

My favorite class of the semester was Applied American Politics taught by Professor Brian Weiner. Our small seminar provided us the space to have intense discussions, applying classic political literature to current events. The 2016 presidential campaign was a subject that we covered substantially in class and Professor Weiner wanted to afford us the opportunity to campaign in Nevada, the closest swing state to California. With a lot of time and coordination on his part, Professor Weiner was able to secure enough funding for anyone in the class who wanted to make the trip to Reno.

On an October afternoon I boarded a Greyhound bus with five of my classmates to persuade Nevadans to vote for the Hillary Clinton. Over the course of the weekend we door knocked in wet weather and unabashedly phone banked strangers. Many of the voters we spoke to were still undecided and it was insightful to talk through some of their concerns about the two candidates. Aside from the incredible campaign experience, the trip also turned my five classmates into five close friends. We spent time talking politics late into the night, swapped stories from the past, and discussed our dreams for the future. The bonds I made during the trip became even stronger when we were back in class.

A few weeks later on election night I watched in horror as Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania turned red. I woke up November 9th puffy eyed and feeling absolutely distraught. My only solace was knowing that later in the day I would go to class and be able to commiserate with my fellow classmates, who I knew were equally devastated about the election results. Together we tried to process the fact that Donald Trump would become the forty-fifth president of our country. In the days and weeks that followed, my closest support group became my academic community .  

Winter break provided an opportunity to reset and reflect. I had time to think about the direction I wanted to take my graduate career. Over the last semester I noticed I kept being drawn to policy topics that were related to how our financial system negatively impacted the lives of low-income consumers. I had a revelation that I wanted to focus on consumer financial protection policy.  I finally had clarity about my policy interests, which gave me direction and purpose.

A few days before spring semester, I traveled to D.C. to attend the Women’s March. The day after the inauguration, I joined hundreds of thousands of people to protest the hateful and discriminatory values of the Trump Administration. The energy in the city was electric and as I marched alongside a few of my friends I began to feel resilient.  I saw so many different walks of life join together in solidarity for a common cause.  At the risk of sounding trite, it was one of most beautiful experiences I have had in my life and it made me feel recommitted to use my voice to stand up for justice and equality.

Spring semester felt different in several ways. I had more confidence as a student and I knew what level of effort was required to get the most out of my classes. The coursework was incredibly demanding and I spent even more time studying. However, each of my professors was incredibly supportive and made themselves available whenever I reached out to them with questions or guidance.

Urban Public Finance was a class that I looked forward to every single week. Ed Harrington was the San Francisco Controller for twenty years and he has an impressive level of knowledge about the inner workings of City Hall. He brought in many guest speakers from the City that spoke to our class on a range of topics including local budgets, economic development and municipal debt. Not only were the speakers experts in their field, they had an obvious deep commitment to public service.  After discussing career prospects with Ed, I became very interested in working at City Hall in the future.

By the middle of the semester my cohort began looking for internships.  Having a full coursework load, working part time, and trying to secure an internship placement all at the same time was daunting. However, my program made sure I felt supported throughout the entire process. Kevin Hickey, one of our faculty members, used his expansive network to connect me to my top choices. Our program manager, Kresten Froistad-Martin, provided coaching on how to navigate the interviews and assess what placements would be best suited for me. References from faculty like Ed Harrington and Professor Weiner helped me secure my top two choices for my summer internship: the Office of Financial Empowerment at City Hall and the California Reinvestment Coalition. The internship search highlighted to me the connections this program offers its students.

The last week of finals, I found myself in the same room as orientation with the group of strangers that over the course of year had become dear friends.  As each of my classmates presented on a research question that they had spent weeks preparing for our Research Methods final, I was struck by how much we each had evolved as students of public policy. My cohort has a diverse set of policy interests, and I’m grateful that I’m able to learn from them about issues that are outside of my focus. Their passion for social change and commitment to challenge the status quo has motivated me to work harder so that I can become a compassionate policymaker.  

People say graduate school is not what you expect, but it is everything you need. This insight has been true thus far in my own experience. In the pursuit of my graduate degree, I’ve deepened my knowledge of public policy, become more open to perspectives that differ from my own and feel a renewed sense of purpose.  I’m incredibly grateful for the strong support of the McCarthy Center, my graduate program, the dedicated faculty and my inspiring cohort. I’m looking forward to what the next year brings.

 

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USF in D.C. is Unlike Anything Else!

 

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Gabbi McDaniel

I left Washington, D.C. more than four months ago. Whenever anybody asks me about my experience, my first response continues to be, “it was the best experience I’ve had at USF.” Then I gush for five more minutes about the opportunities I had, the individuals I met, and the impact this program had on my academic and professional career. Over these past four years, I’ve been able to join multiple organizations on campus, volunteer throughout the city at non-profits doing incredible work, and even spend a semester studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. I’m beyond grateful for all of those experiences, but the USF in D.C. program is unlike anything else.

When I was accepted into the USF in D.C. program, I was ecstatic. I knew that I’d have the opportunity to live in D.C. during the first presidential election I could vote in, gain hands-on experience with a full-time internship, and synthesize my academic background with real-world applications. However, I never anticipated just how well USF in D.C. would prepare me for my future professional endeavors and instill in me a passion for the intersections between sexual and reproductive rights, policy advocacy, and international development.

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During the fall semester, I interned at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA is the lead UN agency addressing sexual and reproductive health, maternal health, gender-based violence, and child marriage in the context of international development and humanitarian settings. As the sole intern in the office, I had direct access to UNFPA DC’s Director and our Advocacy & Communications Specialist on a daily basis. Together, our team of three, consistently worked to advance UNFPA’s mission within the context of the US government. I had the opportunity to advocate with my colleagues before the Department of State and Congressional members; attend countless conferences with other NGOs and government institutions focused on these issues; and represent UNFPA at advocacy and strategy meetings. Every single day I was exposed to the complexities of advocacy and the fight for improving access to sexual and reproductive health care around the world. Throughout the semester, I was awe-inspired by the intelligent and determined women I worked alongside who used their privilege to fight for social justice.

Now, I’m finishing up my final semester at USF and yearning to get back to Washington, D.C. to continue this vital work. I’ve been able to use the knowledge I gained in D.C. in my Human Rights Advocacy course and my Gender, Development, and Globalization class. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are inextricably linked with economic justice, racial justice, human rights, and national security. As graduation draws nearer, I’m seeking opportunities within human rights advocacy, communications, and policy analysis, with a particular focus on sexual and reproductive health. The USF in DC program provided me with a foundation to pursue these career opportunities and I cannot thank the McCarthy Center, Betty L. Blakley Scholarship, the Newmark Fellowship,  USF in D.C. professors, and my UNFPA colleagues enough for my experience.

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