The broad and in-depth scope of the ACLU’s work is what I admire most about the organization and why I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to join the team assisting the Policy Director, SK Rossi.
I had worked on legislative races during the 2016 election cycle but was brand new to policy, making 2017 my first legislative session. Jumping in midway came with a steep learning curve, but I was lucky enough to have the support of the solid foundation that had been laid down over the past month and a half by Rossi. As I sat in Committee hearings, scribbling down notes on bills aimed at reforming our state’s Board of Pardons and Parole or limiting the rights of the state’s transgender community, I received a crash course on the legislative process along with a 101 on the inner workings of key departments within our state government and the advocacy efforts of other organizations, all through the specific lens of the ACLU’s mission of individual rights and liberties. The purpose of these notes embodied the most important lesson I learned during my short time at the state legislature: it is all about relationships.
Notes from committee hearings and floor sessions were passed along to Rossi, who had most likely been attending a hearing on another floor, so that they could identify which legislators they needed to approach in order to gain their support in passing or killing one of our priority bills. This didn’t mean jumping right into the practical pros and cons of each piece of legislation, it meant temporarily putting aside our larger goal, our biases and differences and more often than not the voting history of the legislator at hand, to connect on a human level. When the session begins and people step foot in the Capitol, the roles of elected officials, lobbyists, and the citizens who come to deliver testimony are clearly defined, but once the session adjourns the laws put into place impact the individual rights and liberties of all Montanans. Those outside the building may never read or hear about the votes happing inside the Capitol, but the legislation will affect their lives in a very real way. I am unbelievably lucky to have spent the past two months learning and growing with an organization that fundamentally values that ideology.