There were a lot of great aspects of interning for Planned Parenthood which makes the duty of describing the internship an easy one. My duties and responsibilities as an intern were to assist the public affairs department. My main responsibilities were establishing and maintaining a communication log for the group, Parents for Responsible Sex Education. This included setting up meeting space, keeping and reporting meeting minutes, responding to media and member emails. I also worked lightly with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a 501c(4) group whose sole purpose is to run candidates and maintain the financial health of Planned Parenthood. I attended a couple of Action Fund meetings, where my purpose was to not to participate but to keep and report minutes. I also worked on a social marketing research project with the Family Planning Coalition. This research was to find out the basic public opinions of family planning services.
My work environment was comparable to a typical office, and therefore, it was typical to deal with office culture. By office culture, I mean the same problems every office has with politics, gossip, friends, and people who are just indifferent to one another. The PPCNA administration offices were the same make-up as any other office with individual offices for the employees and cubicles for the interns and volunteers, a large conference room and a nice break room that you could easily cook a meal in. We had the same resources available as any other office as well which included a research library, access to Guttmacher; which is the Planned Parenthood research portal, great computers, phones, and very qualified, experienced staff.
The skills I acquired from this internship will be applicable throughout my career and my political science education. I learned better knowledge of campaigns and elections in Arizona this was because when you are an advocate for the pro-choice position, it is essential that you find political candidates that will support that position. I spent many hours researching candidates, working on strategies for running pro-choice politicians, and organizing phone banks to work against certain bills in California. I feel because of the fast-paced and quick changing environment at PPCNA, I now have a better ability to write press releases and letters on demand, which was a skill I was severely lacking once I started. I feel that I have better networking abilities that will help me advance my career as a political scientist. There were nice curves in my growth and development as an intern that constantly changed throughout the semester.
I went through a lot of changes in my internship. I was expecting at first to be coached through a lot of things and more or less just serve as an assistant to Erin and Michelle. However, I quickly learned that I was going to have to jump into everything and learn the ropes myself. At first, I was acting more as an office organizer. I would spend about half of the day filing, cleaning offices and folding letters. I decided that since I was an unpaid intern, that I would let them know that I would really like to learn something from this experience aside from the best way to index files. From there, Michelle and Erin started giving me all kinds of responsibilities and more or less just let me work out the details. I liked being able to deal with ambiguity on my own and I feel that my ideas and contributions were much appreciated. I was now known in the office as that girl who gets things done. I was very scared of being accountable. Meaning that if I messed up on something, that it wasn’t just me who had to deal with the consequences, but my actions were that of PPCNA. To cover myself, I made connections with proof readers, asked a lot of questions and I never tried to pass myself off as anyone but an intern. By asking for more responsibilities, I was more able to critically evaluate PPCNA as a whole.
On the primary level, the most important thing I learned is that I do not wish to pursue a career with Planned Parenthood. I felt throughout the entire time that the work I was doing to socially galvanize people was ineffective. I admire and respect that actual work component of PPCNA in the sense that they are the only organization providing affordable health care to women and are the main voices for healthy sexuality, however, I felt that their tactics in the administration were ineffective. I started there not knowing just how much that the pro-choice perspective relies on politicians and lobbyist to carry out their goals. I felt the entire time that I was working without a sense of urgency, yet we had a campaign to create a sense of urgency. In my opinion, Roe v. Wade will not be overturned; therefore, an effective strategy is not through legislation in my opinion, but one of extremely effective social marketing. Although it was Michelle and Erin’s responsibility to come up with effective marketing strategies, I think that social organizations need someone who specializes in marketing, mass communication and is passionate about carrying out the mission of PPCNA.
To get a better look at my frustration with the strategy of PPCNA, I think it is fair to look at the organization and the responsibilities of my mentors to understand that it is just my opinions of effective organizing and not necessarily to show the PPCNA is ineffective. Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona promotes strong families, planned, and wanted children and sexual health for all. Therefore the services provided at PPCNA are Abortion Services – which include Medical and Surgical abortions, Birth Control: Pills, Condoms, Depo-Provera, etc.; Birth Control without Pelvic Exam , Cancer Screening (Pap Test) Emergency Contraception (which is also known as EC and the morning after pill), Annual Exam, HIV/AIDS Testing and Counseling, Male Health Services, Menopause/Midlife Services, Pregnancy Testing and Counseling, Sexually Transmitted Infection Testing & Treatment. Since almost every aspect of peoples lives is legislated, and since women’s clinics have come under terrorist attack, it is important to note that working for the organization, might not be overtly political, but it is very much so political. Therefore PPCNA and the Planned Parenthood Federation have political and social wings aside from the health services provided to help them work out their political goals. I worded in the administration office under Michelle Steinburg and Erin Manning in the public affairs department. We worked on everything that has to do with the public face of PPCNA. This means that we had our hands in about every aspect of the office, which was a real strength for the office setting and one of organizing. The weakness of the position was that there is some financial health of Planned Parenthood, but not enough for Erin, Michelle and me to carry out our goals for the company. Therefore, we were forced to deal with things as they come, which I believe keeps the department from carrying out its long term goals. I think the office setting itself, aside from having basic office supplies, was very limiting in aiding the public affairs department in carrying out its goals. For instance, the idea of encouraging sexual health for all, involves galvanizing people and not having a top-down structure. If the goal of sexual health is to equal empowerment, then it is important that it is from a grassroots level. In the context of a 501c(3) office that doubles as a 501c(4), there is no room for bottom up organizing. I do not have an adequate solution for this problem; however, being an idealistic outsider, this I think is the real problem behind not adequately being able to incite social change. I think that this kind of work requires a nice and organized bureaucratic structure; however, it is part of my personal limitations to see this as just a small part of activating social change. I think my strengths that I had to lend at PPCNA were my abilities to be efficient, creative, idealistic, passionate, and the fact that I am an outsider. I think one of the best ways to see an organizations pure strengths and weaknesses is to be an outsider for a short amount of time. My limitations were that I want to see real social change, not just trying to get bills passed and politicians in office, I think that work is limiting because it is not creating dual power and it is working for concessions, instead of building a movement that challenges the notions of gender and sexuality. Therefore, my passion also worked as a weakness because I found myself becoming frustrated throughout the semester and I now have a completely different integrated perspective of Planned Parenthood, politics, and social change.
My time spent working at PPCNA has changed what I thought about politics because in retrospect, I think that I was very naïve to think that the basic goal of promoting health sexuality for all would be an easy task. I had thought that there are aspects of people’s lives that should be respected and that people’s right to privacy in their sexual affairs was common sense. However, there is so much political resistance to this idea. In my opinion, it is as if we are in a cultural war between a secular idea of sexuality and one of conservative biblical literalism. I have known that there are conservative groups out there that are very excited to tell people how to live their lives and basically do not see any social implications from having a fundamentalist perspective in legislation. For instance, at one point in time, I was sent by PPCNA to do research on the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). In CAP mission statements their goal is to:
“1. Provide quality research and factual information to policy makers on vital issues affecting the family.
2. Equip concerned citizens and churches to be persuasive advocates for the family.
3. Be a voice for the family by communicating truth through the media.
We battle organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and gay rights groups that seek to destroy traditional families and traditional moral values. We have developed strong bonds with friends like Arizona Right to Life, Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Arizona Families for Home Education, Alliance Defense Fund, and many others including local churches.
CAP has been selected and endorsed by Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family to be the Family Policy Council for Arizona. CAP is deeply grateful for Focus on the Family’s support through the provision of research, promotion, materials, prayers and guidance.” http://www.azpolicy.org/html/ourmission.html
My visit to the CAP conference, “Focus on the Family”, made me see that terms like family have been co-opted by the right and that it will be an uphill battle, in what can be defined as a cultural war, to associate healthy sexuality and family planning with family values. I have a good understanding of politics in general, however, this internship made me realize the importance of propaganda and strategy as a imperative part of politics and political organizing. What I experienced and learned through PPCNA relates to my understanding of politics now because I have never, until now, thought of the crisis in the United States as a “cultural war”. And now, as brash as the terms might be, I am positive that this term most effectively describes that current situation in the United States.
There were plenty of significant, surprising, and disturbing things that I learned through out my internship. The most significant thing that I think I learned was that, in the realm of sexual education, for adults and teenagers, we have a long way to go. When I worked on the research project with the Family Planning Coalition, we had found a lot of discrepancies in what people knew and what they think they knew. For instance, there was a good amount of reluctance to accept Emergency Contraception (EC) as being safe for over the counter use. What is interesting to me is that most people do not know that EC is just 4 birth control pills in one dose. So, if they knew that, I think that most people have a general acceptance to birth control, and would not oppose EC for over-the-counter use. Therefore, with this just being the basic of the research, I know that education as being crucial is a very important aspect. My evaluation of our current political system has been unchanged. I have had the same ideas of bottom-up movement building and that legislation is not nearly as important as changing cultural attitudes. Now these opinions are more solidified and my passion has been ignited again. I had been saddened to think that in this society, most people do not have an interest in politics, therefore, it the legislation component is not important since with good propaganda, you can get almost anything passed. I still have a very cynical view of the American political system and I think that as I continue to pursue my education, I think will remain unchanged in that aspect. My evaluation of my political science education has been changed because now I think of political science in a very broad sense. By this I mean that politics encompasses not only legislation and law but that of movement building, social attitudes, lifestyles and mass communication. Politics is everything and are everywhere and now that idea in my mind has been solidified as well. It seems to me that political groups and politicians will have their hand in every aspect of everything in the world. Therefore, whatever people do in their lives is affected my politics, whether they like it or not.
I learned a lot through my internship about politics, my education, organizing and a lot about myself. I think that I will be able to effectively apply these experiences in my education and in my political science career. I can now write letters and press releases on demand, I know a lot more about research methods, the Arizona political structure and a lot about school board political workings. I think that the people at PPCNA were able to provide me with a rich learning experience to the best of their ability. In the small sense, I have no room to critique PPCNA as a whole. However, I think that if I could change something about the experience I would have liked to have more constructive time. For instance, I would have liked to spend more time working on building legislation and talking with our paid lobbyists. I also would have liked to have had better coaching. I felt a lot of my time there I created most of my work and more or less flew by the seat of my pants. I would have like to have had better structure as to what I was going to learn and better feedback on how I was learning. On a positive note, I think that this gave me a better sense of dealing with ambiguity, which will be applicable in all aspects of my future career as a political scientist. The last thing I would have hoped for was to see actual positive social results from the work I was doing and the work that PPCNA does as a whole. I think that if people saw the effects of their work we would see a lot less cases of burn-out and cynicism. However, with the powers that be, I think that all people working towards healthy sexuality would be lying to themselves if they did not know how long they have to go.