Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cleaning Out My Closet

I cleaned out my closet today. For people who know me well, this is a big deal. I am a pack rat. Or, actually that isn’t terribly accurate because I pack extremely lightly when I travel. My overnight bag to New York last week was my handbag with a change of clothes and my toothbrush in it, outside of the usual.

It is more accurate for me to say that I am a bit of a hoarder. I like to keep things with the reasoning I might need this later. How often does that ACTUALLY happen? Almost never.

It’s not so much the objects that I am hoarding. I don’t like the clutter, but I get used to it. I think it’s the memories that we attach to things. You remember the person you wore that horrible pink sweater with that you wore when you thought it was a good idea at age 12. The half empty tube of pink lipstick from my first skating competition (finally threw it away after deciding it smelled too much like wax and was a color I would never wear in public again). The shoes that you love and wore all the time but part of the sole has worn through and the other shoe is slightly too small and gives your blisters every time you wear them. The book you read over and over again while your mother told you to turn on the light because you were reading in the dark and going to hurt your eyes one day (she was right…).

It was nice to be so close to some of these memories again, but it was also refreshing to look back and see how far I’ve come. You realize that life really is constantly changing, and when things aren’t as expected, you haven’t actually disappointed anyone.

I saw some of my oldest friends last night. We’ve all been apart for many years now, but we decided to meet up in Boston and have drinks outside. Boston is in the perfect stage of summer right now – the evening was warm but breezy. And yes, we’ve all gone in different directions and couldn’t believe that we made it to this point (We met when we were 11 years old and were learning to tie-dye. Now we were sitting in an outdoor bar in Boston…) but some things were exactly the same.

This revisiting of old memories has helped me figure out more of my research work for Colombia. I’ve been working through sources like crazy, and each day the details of its history get more and more confusing. Some parts are so clear and familiar, and then there are others that never make sense to me. Some of my frustrations with Mexico jump out at me from the pages of David Bushnell’s The Makings of Modern Colombia. People, individuals from my past trips there stand out in my mind. Their kindness, their hope, their spirit that moves me to tears. And in the background is this extreme violence and the threatening undertones of a storm brewing beneath every word, interaction, and trip to the zocalo. How do we reconcile ourselves with the past? On paper it is easy to reject and throw things away, because pragmatically we know that forgiving, forgetting, and essentially tossing out the bad feelings will improve society. But as a person, how do you let go of this past? This fiber that ties us all together and creates a history that goes beyond what I find inside of my closet or the conversation that I had with a friend I made while I was figuring out who I was?

I’m giving it time, but I think this thesis work is going to be more than just a paper. There is a lot that I want to understand about my obsessions and illicit markets, but for many reasons Colombia made sense for me to study at this point in my life.

My heart is in Mexico. But I know that I cant be back there right now and do the things that I want to do. Colombia is the close cousin, with one arm open to take me in while I wait. She offers a rich history of a people captured in a single frame in the media and the secrets that all of the Latin Americans I know live with every day of our lives. There is a love of life that I cannot describe, the same kindness and the hauntingly beautiful and diverse landscape of a country that suffers the same multiple personality disorder of my own. This could be me letting go a little bit.

I cannot wait. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Building our Nation's... Builders?

I am trying to decide if I should reject the title "leader." Do I want to be a "leader?"

Think about it. It has an almost dirty connotation to it. When people say, our nations leaders... and most people think about congress today they either grumble to themselves or complain about something recent in the news. The inefficiencies, the politics, the MACHINE, the dirty tricks, the never ending healthcare/taxes debates... really most of what the media decides we should hear about. If Real Clear Politics is telling me that 14.6% of the country thinks Congress is doing a good job... while 78.4% disagrees... I dont think this is the image I would like to be associated with. (The stats are from the most recent poll on

So where else do we see leaders? Is a leader inherently political?
Because.. well I'll be frank. From my time at Yale, I have seen many people in the traditional "leadership" role. And... there really arent that many who do things that are really interesting. Or new. Or much beyond what is expected of them. Which, dont get me wrong, is a lot. But I want a leader who is smarter than me, a faster thinker, more creative... all of this because they should, in theory, be better at solving problems than I am or some other supporter of theirs is. Do we see this in congress? Do we see this in the head of the Yale Daily News? (No disrespect to you, MdelaB. I'm sure you're a great guy who is working really hard to keep it running and thriving). In some cases, yes. But if all who assume a position in charge of these spaces count as "leaders" I want to be something different.

So many people are afraid of what it means to be creative, or even labeled "creative." As though that it is a dirty term. I think its a compliment of the highest order.

Yes, it is hard to keep something running and keep track of all of the details to carry on as we were. But that is comfortable. Predictable. Easier to manage than wandering through the woods in the dark mapping out your own path. There is nothing wrong with wanting that.

Except, the people who are interesting are the people are building things. They see what we have and where we've been and come up with the places we CAN GO! They create. Not always because it must be done to save the rest of the group, but because they can. Because they see beyond what exists now and hold onto enough of their idealism to see what is possible beyond this.

This is what I want to be. I want to be a builder. Not a leader, a builder. I want to create things that did not exist before and offer my skillset to do so. I do not pretend that I have all of the answers (and neither should you) but I take guesses and run with it when I think there is something that I can do about it.

Maybe this all has something to do with the way that we "teach leadership." I'll leave that for another entry and get cracking on more of my Colombia research now.  

The Sound of Your Own Voice

It's kind of dreadful isnt it. At least, I am always shocked to see myself in a video and hear a recording of my voice. I usually just dont recognize it. Today I found many more of our student videos up on the TEDx youtube page... including my own talk from the TEDx Organizers session right before TEDActive.

I could feel my heart pounding just before my video finished loading on the deadly slow internet connection of my study space. I should be doing more Colombia work, and here I am watching TED videos. It's clearly summer time. I remember how nervous I was, how many times I practiced the talk with my head against the headrest of the chair in front on me on the flight from New York to Houston and then Houston to Palm Springs. The people next to me probably thought I was crazy, since my memorization technique is to repeat something quietly to myself with my eyes closed until I have it down. It feels best when the words come out like your breathe. With the substance nailed down, all you have to do is perform.

But the video loaded, and it was better than I expected. I'm still critical of many things -- words I would take out, I would speak more loudly (but that has often been something I would change about myself), and I would not have worn black in the hot desert sun right before the TEDActive hike... but we learn things in every episode of life, dont we?

In case you want to see it, here I am!

And please do watch some more serious talks from the TEDxYale 2012: A Twist of Fate conference. I am so proud of the work that they did!

Bob Casey - Recycling and Entrepreneurship
Vikram Mansharamani - Foxy Thinking
LaTisha Campbell - Activism and Social Justice
Matthew Claudel - Creativity and Design
Enrique Norten - Architecture and Open Communication
Sarah Parcak - Space Archaeology (2012 TED Fellow)
Priyamvada Natarajan - Dark Matter in our Universe
Wazhma Sadat - Voices fromAfghanistan
Sam Fox - Run While You Can
General Assembly's Matt Brimer and Brad Hargreaves - Failure
Rebecca Ringle - Live Performance
Keith Chen - Linguistics and Economics
Brad Rosen - Internet Privacy
Yael Zinkow - Our closer, on the perfect TED talk

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

100 Day Project

Just to link a few more things together (and help make sense of all of it), here is the tumblr I have been adding a picture to every day and will keep adding to for what is left of my 100 days. My friend Josh and I created it as a challenge to ourselves. We each have a theme, and we need to communicate it through pictures.

In the subject of friendships, today's entry is dedicated to my oldest friend. Here's to you.

100 Day Project: Sinestesia

Colombian Diaries: 1

Most of the weekend was spent with my head inside of books on campaign finance theories, Colombian history, and transnational criminal organization write ups. All while sitting in the sunshine in the middle of the woods on the cape. A well spent memorial day weekend.

I am closer to writing up my interviews for August, but also realizing how much more I need to read before then. Mumbai is going to be a confusing mix of Indian history and all of the work I need to do for Colombia... before August. My contacts list is growing, but so are my questions. This whole experience is a historian's dream: unraveling the past to understand the present.

The tabs on my computer are my growing excel sheet, with notes cramped into each square on already overcrowded pages... spread sheets just dont look good when you put things besides labels and numbers in them, a few flight options, a calendar with notes scrawled into it, and my email to check facts. It's exciting. I love planning my own adventures and then seeing them through.

Last week I went down to New York to see two friends and my cousin for 2 days and one night. I was curled up on her couch thinking about how much fun it was to plan a last minute trip as I had. To leave without a serious agenda, but with a list of things I would LIKE to do. To enjoy the rain that didnt seem to stop once it started. To wander through a pub where I was one of three women and the only options were the bar's own brews (light or dark, we were told when we asked what our options for the evening were).

We spent an afternoon in the Met avoiding the rain. I finished with an exhibition before the rest of the group did and wandered through the African-Oceanic-Americas wing... because obviously we should cram all of these peoples and their art into the same space, given all that they have in common and such (???)... to look at a tapestry made by a ghanaian artist out of flattened metal from liquor bottles (check it out here). El Anatsui had several pieces at the Met and all of them had the COOLEST sense of motion to them. Like the wheels of life would keep on turning... even if you werent there to keep up with them. It felt like waves of these HUGE wall hangings could swallow you if you let them...

And I just felt it. I dont like to read descriptions in museums beyond time period, brief history etc. There is something so pure and interesting about that initial reaction that we have to things. For someone who overthinks a lot of things, its a refreshing way to consider life and information.

So my adventures have started just as I needed them to: some well planned, well documented and fun, and others sporadic, changing, impressionable.

I think I'll look back on these evenings and wish for them again. There is nothing like this calm feeling in my life, knowing that I still have another year of university and this time where all I need to do is think and figure a few things out for myself. I am grateful. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Narcotics Control and Connecticut

In June 2011 Connecticut became the 14th state to pass a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of Marijuana. It is no longer a criminal offense that will land individuals in jail and leave a stain on criminal records. Legal reform like this marks the changing attitudes towards drug consumption in the United States, and encourages more pragmatic approach for the future of drug control in this country, but I encourage you, as consumers, to look beyond our borders and consider the effects of our decisions.
The passage of laws like SB 1014, fewer individuals from our communities will end up with criminal records that prevent them from seeking employment. I encourage cities like New Haven to implement proposals like Good Samaritan Drug Policy (recently passed in New York), but we cannot turn a blind eye to the reality of the American drug market.
According to Professor Mark Kleiman at UCLA, 80% of drugs consumed within the United States are consumed by 20% of the population of drug users. He estimates that about 1 in 10 users actually becomes addicted to Marijuana, whereas 1 in 3 become addicted to Tobacco. This is important information for law makers to take into account when they develop drug laws, and while I support these efforts to keep more people out of jail for minimal offenses, I do believe that discussions like these are all together too isolationist to give consumers the full picture of what is going on in the narcotics market.
I can tell you, as someone who has lost family members and close friends to the violence of the Drug Wars, there isn’t a clear way out of this for Mexico and Central America. With homicide rates reaching 40 per 100,000 people in Mexico, and in some of the most violent parts of El Salvador 80 per 100,000 people, this violence becomes part of the reality that each new generation lives and breathes everyday. Imagine a world where teenagers talk about how many bodies they passed on the streets on the way to their one room, abandoned school house. That is what a day in Cuidad Juarez looks like. Or where people depend on others tweeting about which streets in Veracruz have been shut down by the cartels to plan their daily routes to work.
While the cartels are have expanded their economic holdings, 60% of their profits come from selling just Marijuana in the United States. Mexico is now the second largest exporter of opiates in the world, and the largest exporter of synthetic drugs. Yes, we can pretend that all of the marijuana on campus comes from small farmers in California who sell to the medical marijuana stores in Venice Beach, but I can promise you that this is not true. As it is, California is a border state and a major transaction point for narcotics. Look at the cartels in Tijuana that fought so hard for control of that point of entry.
The conversation surrounding drug enforcement in the United States does need to change. All together too much money is spent on ineffective prevention and enforcement projects that put individuals back into a repeating cycle of damage. But I am also here, asking that you consider where your money is going, and do not just see these reforms as an opportunity to take up the habit.

Measuring Intelligence

My mother has guided me through many of life's crises. Or, those moments that feel like crises anyway. Episodes of self doubt, when you lose something you needed, that first time your heart breaks... etc. But one of the most valuable, that memory that keeps coming again and again and just keeps you going... that came from our conversations about intelligence.

And we've had them a few times:

First during the high school application process. 

Then, more importantly, during the college application process when suddenly grades, the SATs and everything else related to scoring and comparing students felt like it was the forefront of every conversation I had with any adult who spoke to me. It was as though it was suddenly kosher for people I had never met before -- a new family friend, the customer service rep at the AT&T store, and the librarian at my local library suddenly had permission to ask me for those numbers. The supposed, measurement of my success. Brain power. the culmination of all of my years in school. 

I hope that scenario made as little sense to you as it did to me then, and still does to me now. Even today people will still ask me what I scored, and my response is often a lie about how I dont remember. General policy: if you ask me a rude question, I will give you a rude answer. 

And how much does this measure anyway? I can take standardized tests well. I practiced them numerous times, first on state level exams, then to get into my middle/high school, then the SSATs etc. It was everywhere. It was so easy to lose perspective and assume that a perfect score was really the only way to go, and we needed to do everything we could to get there.

To be honest, I've met so many people who scored well on these tests and would not survive for even a day outside of their carefully programmed lives. Because thinking on your feet is not taught in schools. Be creative is rarely encouraged anymore. And because living within sterile and predictable environments at some point became the accepted and sought end.

Then in the race for the "right job." What I realized is that I KNOW I cannot compete with you for the cookie cutter job. I wont score as high because I dont learn the same ways. I cant produce your numbers, hypothetical perfect A Yale student you. But I dont want to. I'm going to beat you by being creative and fixing problems in ways that we were never taught to. That I come up with from what I picked up through experience, rather than lectures.

Life isnt about those numbers. I've learned the most from late night conversations sitting in the hallway of a hotel after a conference. From afternoons chasing a friend down winding sidewalks in Boston. From office hours. From admitting things that I am afraid of and having a friend stare at you and tell you, it's all in your head.

We lose perspective.

Perhaps the best thing we can do is have those conversations with ourselves, where we realize what it is that we are actually afraid of when we refuse to try new things. Is it the feeling of loneliness when you arent sure if you will be accepted... or not? Is it fear of failure? Rejection? The Unknown?

Maybe its time to recalibrate. Try measuring yourself in a new way: are you proud of who you are? Can you look at yourself in the mirror everyday and say that you have lived as you know you should live?

This, and more, in memory of MK. You were someone I respected beyond words.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mumbai. Visa Secured.

Despite the previous episode of my attempts to get a Visa to India, my threats to the visa arranging company (... only in the US would you need to seek a private contractor to deal with the embassy for you... this is called, the middle man at its finest) because they seem to have a HUGE disconnect between their customer service representatives and their processing system, and me almost forgetting to send a money order with my rush delivery passport



(After I finish reading the Mumbai fables... it's very interesting. So much of the city's history reminds me of certain parts of Mexico. I cant wait to see the real thing.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Every day would be a holiday from real.

Points for anyone who knows which song I am referring to.

I spent a good deal of today doing my favorite thing: reading all about illicit market structures in Colombia (unfortunately, this was much later than my research. I was looking at data from late 90s, early 2000s, but it was still helpful theme-wise) and the characters that ran its infamous cartels in the 1980s.

Each day it gets a little clearer what I am looking to answer. it's hard though -- I get really really excited about different topics and themes related to illicit markets, Latin America... the usual... so it's been difficult to track down a focus. I'm sure I'll have one by the end of the week.

It's also been helpful in terms of letting my mind wander to other topics... like TEDxYale. And curating the next conference. I pitched a few ideas today for speakers, I guess we'll see where that goes.

So maybe a good place for this to end, is one something funny and on something serious.

The funny thing:
A few of my friends and I started a 100 day work-out challenge. So far, I am completely dominating everyone in terms of total completed and consistency. Mostly because I am so consistent. It has been really nice to go for a run through the neighborhood every day. I need to work on timing because I keep going around noon, but I'm sure that it will work itself out.

the Serious thing:
Yes, it gets a capital S. I was thinking a lot about my friendships today. It's always that question of, who will stick around when I move onto the next phase of life? Who will I keep in touch with after college? Am I doing this right? Is it bad that I have grown apart from some people and not others?

I gave myself a gift last year. I learned to RELAX. We cannot control everything and we cannot decide to change/reshape the past. And that is ok. Just as you werent the same person freshman year of college as you are today, your friendships will change and adapt based on what you need. The ending of different chapters doesnt make some friendships more valid than others. It doesnt make some valuable and others not. It just depends on what fits into your life at any given time. And that is perfectly fine with me.

Funny/Serious ending:
I've been on a ROLL with my fortune cookies lately. They've been kind to me. Most recently one told me that I am the only one who has the power to shape and define my life (truth.), but it reminded me, super randomly, of one that I received sometime last August. It told me that I was about to make a life long friend or two. And as I sit back responding to emails and shaping out my summer plans, I realize that it was absolutely right.

Good night, all. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Working Through A Few Things Right Now

Hello all,

Long story short, I had a longer blog from Mexico and High School about travels etc. but I decided that one was good as it was and this was a better space for me to write about where I find myself now. Plus, this is linked to my other blog for MEChA, and I write for both of them so it made more sense for me.

Right now I am working on my trip to Colombia in August, where I will be researching Campaign Finances, the 1978 and 82 elections, and the role of Cartels operating near Medellin and Bogota during these periods. I spent a few days at the Harvard David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies conference last week and talked to a series of people about working in Colombia/sourcing which was PHENOMENALLY helpful. I can say this because I spent the afternoon entering data into my excel sheet of contacts, reading loads of articles and requesting specific books for the library.

It's been a thought experiment kind of day... in truth, I pretty much dropped everything in my head into an email as fast as I could and sent it off to a partner in crime, of sorts. He's kinda become my go to for discussions about ideas of this variety. It's REALLY helpful. My first piece of life advice: Go find that person. Seriously. We all need someone who just cuts through the crap and tells you when you are being an idiot or when you are on to something.

So I was thinking about illicit markets today. And really, I was also kinda shaping my ideas for the year after college. At some point this year, I stopped being afraid of what comes next. Is that good or bad? I'm not sure I'll ever have any way of measuring that. But I going to keep my eyes and ears open, and see where this project proposal leads me.

In the meantime, I'm posted a few more things I've written so you can have a better sense of what I have been up to recently... or really, where I was this year.

Till next time.

Split Families, Split Personalities

Some of my older research... for fun!

ENRIQUEZ: Split families, split personalities

‘Listen. My boyfriend is in a hospital just outside Guatemala City. He doesn’t have enough money on him to pay for his medical services in cash, like they asked him to. I have never done this before and the money needs to get to him today. I have time to run to the bank to take out money and then run over to your store to wire him the funds, but I do not have time to go back and forth a few times so I need to know exactly how much I will need to take out to pay for any transfer fees and the difference in exchange rates so that he will receive $200 from me. Can you help me?”
I don’t have a boyfriend in a Guatemalan hospital. Nor do I usually make phone calls and demand information from people I don’t know personally. I am not really as emotionally distressed as I sound, except for the fact that I have had to call the same woman three other times, change my accent and my story, and request the same information in different ways. I like to call this one my “entitled” voice. It is the one that I fall back on when personalities one through three fail to get me the data I need.
I spent the summer working on a research project comparing remittance costs from different cities across the United States to various Latin American countries. This means posing as someone who wants to send money to family abroad and comparing transfer costs.
Remittances account for $60 billion that go to Latin America every year, but most migrants are sending home somewhere around $200 or maybe $500 at a time. The differences in exchange rates from the daily rate give some of these companies a chance to significantly boost their profits without disclosing these hidden costs.
Remittance tellers are usually happy to tell you about initial fees, even when they vary from different sending locations, but they will not tell you the exchange rates without careful prodding. The exchange rate from one company in particular means that 10 percent of the money sent to a family in Guatemala really goes to the transfer company. But they would rather not have that information out there.
When I asked for that exchange rate in my first, “very pleasant, Spanish-speaking local with family back in Guatemala” personality, the remittance teller told me she could not give me that information and hung up the phone. The same woman told me that I would have to come into the store for information when I spoke in my “very spacey, city-girl Chilanga” accent. She told me that she could not help me over the phone, because it was against their policy, when I called her in “desperate Spanish,” pleading for her help because my mother was sick and needed me to send her money so that she could buy her medication. So the “entitled American English” voice came out and I finally got the information that I needed.
Sometimes people answer the phone and ask me what company I am calling from before they hang up on me. Most migrants do not call remittance locations beforehand to compare prices and select the best one. I am lucky in that usually one of my personalities gets something out of them.
The Frank-Dodd Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act includes provisions that require that remittance transfer companies disclose all information regarding transfer fees, exchange rates and taxes in a simplified and easily comprehensible format. Companies like Western Union and Moneygram disclose all of their information online, making them the most transparent but not necessarily the cheapest services. The challenge, in future years, will come from trying to regulate money transfers between two countries, like Guatemala and the United States, that have different levels of technology and financial structures used to reach their clients. For now, families will have to find their own way to navigate through the fancy wording, hidden fees and transnational exchanges.
Diana Enriquez is a junior in Saybrook College.
Original found here:

Packing a Political Punch

Yes, the Students for a New American Politics Political Action Committee is one of those PACs you keep hearing about. Yes, they’ve raised over $200,000 and sponsored 30 candidates since being founded at Yale in 2004. But the way they use their money is less like the vilified Super PACs spawned from Citizen United and more like opportunity creation for young political activists.
“No one else is doing this — we’re operating in a unique way, getting people with incredible organizing talents to work on progressive campaigns, and creating a pool for further campaigns that’s a lot larger,” said Matt Breuer ’14, the executive director of SNAPPAC.
What the organization does is simple, explained finance director and former Ward 1 Democratic Town Committee Co-Chair Amalia Skilton ’13: it endorses progressive candidates across the nation, and then invites applications from college students hoping to be placed with one of their campaigns. The students accepted as SNAP Fellows receive a stipend up to $5,000, free housing and transportation, and 12 weeks to help a progressive candidate make it through the polls successfully.
“Our mission is two-fold,” said Skilton, who worked on an Iowa senate race as a SNAP fellow in 2010. “We want to elect better people to Congress right now, and we want a good long-term progressive movement.”
The amount of money SNAP fellows receive is based on their demonstrated financial need, Breuer said. SNAPPAC provides actual campaigns with actual people, he added, donating the maximum PAC contribution of $5,000 per election race by hiring a student field organizer who can work for a progressive candidate without worrying about the pressures of needing to earn money for college. Having such help is worth far more than $5,000 to the campaigns in the sorts of close races SNAPPAC focuses on, Skilton added.
Skilton said that SNAP has received 600 applications for this election cycle. That’s up from 60 in 2010.
“We’ve hired 11 so far,” she added. “We currently have enough funding to hire 14 more, and our goal is to hire 40 people in total.”

Are Yalies interested? Where do they sign up?

According to the numbers, maybe not so much.
A News survey conducted earlier this week revealed that only 9 percent of Yale undergraduates currently plan to work on political campaigns, presidential or local, later this year. Even Elizabeth Henry ’14 — an outspoken member of the Yale College Republicans and the Tory Party — said she finds the prospect of sitting at a campaign field office and making phone calls to voters “boring.” It seems that, amidst the mess of internship applications, Summer Session emails and travel plans, we’ve left political work on the back-burner.
Mac Herring ’12, the campaign manager behind the ‘Sarah Eidelson ’12 for Ward 1’ effort last semester, said that she believes Yalies are politically engaged at an intellectual level, but are less interested in getting down to tangible political action.
After working on the Obama campaign in 2008, Evan Walker-Wells ’13 arrived at Yale for pre-frosh visits in early 2009. What he found, he said, was a campus where “everyone made it seem like Yale really cared about politics; it was in the lifeblood of the campus.”
That impression didn’t last long, he said.
“Yale students are very busy and this stuff seems like an extracurricular,” Walker-Wells said, adding that misconceptions about what political involvement actually is and how “big and important” a role students can have results in a very small group of Yalies that are actively politically involved.
“Field organizing is something that gives everyone a tremendous amount of responsibility — I spent three to five hours a day writing emails, three to five hours making phone calls and another three to five hours talking to people,” he added. “But there’s a sense at Yale that this isn’t tremendously important.”
While prioritizing other student activities may be one reason political campaigns are neglected, some suggest a lack of passion on campus is also to blame. One senior interviewed, who preferred to remain unnamed, said that she feels many Yalies consider themselves politically involved even if “all they do is reading the fucking New York Times.”
“A lot of people at Yale are ostensibly liberal, but they don’t know what they believe — it’s the same with people who consider themselves conservatives and don’t know what they believe,” Henry said.
Yale College Democrats president Zak Newman ’13, after carefully stating that he believes the last fall’s press frenzy about Obama having lost the youth vote “has been proven false,” said that campaigns are very excited to have students work with them. What Yalies’ political engagement depends on now, he added, is what they feel passionate about and choose to pursue.
He cites examples, ticking them off on his fingers: this kid’s really into youth issues, that one’s starting a HuffPo blog about foreign policy. Students are pursuing what Newman calls their “pet issues.”
But they’re not going to be able to do so using a fellowship from SNAPPAC.
Breuer said Yalies have access to enough resources from their school, in terms of financial aid and fellowship support that they do not generally need outside help if they truly feel that they want to work on a campaign.
“It is ludicrous for SNAP to hire someone like me,” Skilton said. “Nothing is preventing Yalies from doing this — they have no loans and few work hours; they can go door to door. It is silly to argue that it’s hard for Yalies to be involved in politics.”
But, to mangle a phrase from the Occupy Morgan Stanley protests last fall, what do our peers do with that privilege?

The big, the structured and the official

For most students, the most visible and organized platforms to effect any kind of political change are probably the partisan political groups: the Yale College Democrats and the Yale College Republicans. How much these two organizations take it upon themselves to push their party’s candidates both at the Connecticut and national levels could well be a key determinant of Yale’s experience of the 2012 races.
‘“The Dems absolutely is a platform for people to start getting involved at the national level,” Newman said, though he added that he thinks his organization can have more of an impact at the state level. Lincoln Mitchell ’15, the Dems’ membership coordinator, said that he is planning a large recruitment push during Bulldog Days and the first few weeks of the next academic year, to get the Class of 2016 excited about the polls in November.
“It’s hard for the Dems to mobilize people at the local level because their by-laws don’t allow them to endorse in a primary [...] and this is a one-party town,” Herring said. “It’s easier on the national level, where there’s only one Democrat for them to support.”
Once the organization is aware of who the clear Democratic candidate for the Senate may be, however, Newman said he anticipates that they will “pick up the pace” in terms of publicity and outreach to Yale students. From that local point of view, one benefit of last year’s aldermanic race, during which Newman managed the campaign of Vinay Nayak ’14, is that large numbers of Yalies switched their voter registration to Connecticut.
In addition, Newman foresees the Dems taking a strong interest in the race for Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat in Massachusetts, with Yale volunteers apparently eager to boost support for Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren.
The other side’s plan of action is less clear.
“What do you do as a conservative at Yale?” Henry asks, hair blonde in the sunlight shining through the Starbucks window and Southern twang out in full force.
She points out that the kind of voter registration drives the Democrats run are not helpful for the Republicans, as they are likely to, whether on campus or out in the city, simply be signing up more individuals who will vote Democratic. Those who can be convinced to join the conservative side, Henry said, make their way into the fold on their own volition: “A vote for anyone but Romney is a vote for Obama, and I’d say at this point virtually all the conservatives at Yale are for Romney.”
“The people who come to our meetings are the ones who think very seriously about Republican campaigns and perhaps the conservative movement, and they tend to support more establishment, safe campaigns,” said Michael Knowles ‘12, the chairman of the Yale College Republicans.
Knowles said that he has been approached by Republican candidates running different races across the state, and that he wants to get his group, “the loudest oppressed minority on campus,” involved in helping candidates in contests such as the ongoing US Senate race in Connecticut, in which Linda McMahon and Chris Shays are currently competing for the Republican endorsement.
“A big initiative of the Yale Republicans has been to publish, to come out of the closet,” he added. “That’s the only way we’re going to dispel these unfair mischaracterizations [and] get from 92 percent [for Obama] to even 91 percent.”
Newman said he thinks there is no opportunity for the Republicans to work effectively on the state level in Connecticut. Calling McMahon “unelectable,” he added that he sees value in an organized GOP presence on campus to further a conversation in the run-up to November.
Ben Stango ’11, a former president of the Dems, said that he considered the 2008 elections “unique” and would not expect to see comparable levels of excitement and large-scale organizing this year.
“Campaigning comes down to the fact that Yale students are often really engaged in a variety of things that relate directly to them [...] and if the political groups are able to connect abstract national issues with the lives of students,” Stango added.
More and more, it seems, the focus of these large platforms winnows down to individual interests and passions.
“When I try to think about what the Dems can be doing, I’m mostly thinking about what’s good for people in the organization and what’s good for them in the future,” Newman said. “If someone’s really interested in an issue, we should help — if it’s some issue or thing [they] really know about and care about, it’s more interesting and they have more of an impact.”

Politics, the specialist way

Yale students may not be queuing around the block to sign up for positions on campaigns, but they are, it seems, going into 2012 with clear priorities about what they care about. If Yalies aren’t working to elect public officials, they certainly wish to inject their values into national policy debate.
One clear example of this were the 30+ comments in the News survey that mentioned women’s reproductive rights as the respondent's top political priority, and the recent flurry of Republican comments and legislation concerning similar legislation. Other individuals interviewed are determined to make their issues matter on the national stage this election year, even if they are not currently hot-button issues.
“My time on campus has introduced me to others who pursue their causes with a similar level of passion to my own — these elections mean a lot of different things to people, and I am constantly impressed with the level of commitment to issues that I see in other students here,” said Diana Enriquez ’13, who is involved with the campus Chicano advocacy group MEChA de Yale. “The stakes are high for many of us.”
Enriquez believes that the recently proposed DREAM Act, and state legislation such as Arizona’s SB 1070 helped reignite interest in the immigration debate. She added that she hopes to get her fellow students more interested in issues such as racial profiling, and the image of immigration even beyond the Latino community.
“I collect stories. I share stories about my family, the communities we've worked with in New Haven and people I worked with at home. We talk about students like us who face uncertain futures because their immigration status puts them or their families at risk of deportation,” Enriquez said. “The human interest story is always a powerful one, and my role as a student activist is to remind other students how real these issues are for the people around them.”
Getting discussions going, she added, is a vital first step. Recent issues surrounding the implementation of the Secure Communities program, which has been attacked for the precarious position in which it places illegal immigrants, will help stimulate continued interest, Enriquez said.
For another breed of advocate, hitching their key issue to a larger concern across the nation could be effective. Harrison Monsky ’13, co-president of the Yale chapter of Global Zero, an organization that seeks to cut nuclear weapons spending and proliferation, said that he wants to include the nuclear question in candidates’ arguments about maintaining strong defense systems while reducing government spending.
“We are going to ask why are we holding on to a bloated nuclear arsenal two decades after the end of the Cold War?” Monsky said. “Strategists at the Air War College have said we only need 311 nuclear weapons to fulfill our current security needs. Why are we planning to increase our nuclear weapons budget by more than $185 billion over the next decade as funding everywhere else — from financial aid to healthcare to police forces — continues to get cut?”
This election year is especially critical for Global Zero, he added, because leadership and major decisions on arms control have historically stemmed from the highest level.
“We're going to make a strong case that this is an issue the next President should stake his legacy on,” Monsky said.
Bringing attention to these issues can be challenging. Newman said he prioritizes education policy, particularly the reauthorization and “complete reworking” of the No Child Left Behind act. Since he believes, as do much of the media, that the economy is going to be the dominant topic of conversation during this election cycle, he said he feels a responsibility to make education part of the conversation as well, whether through political advocacy work over the summer or helping with attempts at policy reform.
Making education more of a focus for the Dems has been an effective way to mobilize more students behind his cause, Newman said.
It takes strategizing to garner that kind of support for more niche issues. Monsky said that, being aware that “nuclear weapons issues haven't always been a top priority for college students,” Yale’s Global Zero chapter has focused on training activists capable of bringing the facts about unnecessary nuclear weapons expenditure to people’s attention.
“At Yale, and at our 100 college chapters around the country, we're going to be applying all kinds of grassroots strategies to bring the issue to the forefront,” he added.
The dedication each of these Elis shows to their cause represents not just their own interests but the way they function in the community they’re part of. Walker-Wells, said that he believes it can be problematic for Yalies to become excessively focussed on one aspect of their lives or one issue, a trait he sees as rooted in high-school experiences that prioritized for future Yalies the importance of “seeming unique and different from everyone else.”

The beaten path

Even as individuals fragment and select their own issues to focus on, the traditional grassroots methods are, for some Yalies, still the favored path.
Knowles, who worked with Congresswoman Nan Hayworth (R-NY), co-led the student effort to recruit Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels as a Republican presidential candidate, and volunteered for the Jon Huntsman campaign for the Republican nomination, said that he feels young people have an opportunity to have their voices heard when working on campaigns, particularly with for Republicans, who attract fewer youth volunteers.
Still, proponents of heavy-duty political involvement face backlash. “When I talk to people about moving to, say, Iowa, for the campaigns, they go ‘why the fuck would you ever go there?’” Walker-Wells said. “That’s very far from the track people have been working on and talking about.”
He added that, based on his experience on the Obama campaign and conversations he has had with other students, even the group that ardently supported the Democratic candidate in 2008 “ended up being a small community.”
To Walker-Wells, who took two months off from his senior year of high school to work on the Obama field operation in Pennsylvania, being willing to take time off to completely dedicate oneself to a candidate is just as “legitimate” as the idea of being ‘on-track’ that he said his classmates enshrine. Even the fieldwork the Dems do, he added, is “pretty small” compared to the extent some students are willing to go for campaigns.
Perhaps no one knows that better than the SNAPPAC organizers, who have spent much of the last school year receiving applications and extensively interviewing the candidates for the fellowships they award. Skilton said that the PAC is now making a specific effort to only recruit students from state universities, and to include students who can help change the demographics of campaign staff, the leadership of which she described as “still pretty white.”
“The big thing for me is seeing what people are doing on their own campuses and what they can do with the opportunities we give them,” she said of the selection process.
Skilton added that she was particularly excited about being able to offer a fellowship to a minority student from the University of California at Los Angeles, who is pursuing a major in political science and is currently on the honor roll. The student activist also works two jobs so that he can send his family $3,000 a year and travels regularly to Sacramento to work on student and immigration reform within the state. That is the sort of candidate SNAP seeks to provide with the opportunity to work on progressive political campaigns, she said.
“This person shouldn’t be getting $2,000 from me — he should be getting a Rhodes scholarship,” she said.

Who is the political Yalie?

The political Yale student is not the fiery student organizer staying up all night to place door-hangers on every door on Old Campus. What delving into the realm of the politicized instead reveals is a campus on which the majority of students who want to have an impact are doing that with specific issue advocacy more often than actively supporting a political candidate..
On that kind of landscape, those seeking to garner support for national political structures must be aware of who they’re working with. Stango said that, when he sought to register Yalies and win their support for Democratic candidates, he and his team specifically identified ways to show the Democratic ticket supportive of the issues different individuals and groups considered pertinent to their mission statements.
“There are a lot of people at Yale who would be more interested in political campaigns if someone would just talk to them about it,” said Herring, referring to her experience spreading the Eidelson message last semester.
But why these students aren’t already thinking about the importance of activism and building grassroots support remains unclear. One reason Walker-Wells specified is an assumption that the majority of students at Yale interact with peers who share their political beliefs.
“A good example is the ongoing conversation about the Republican presidential nomination,” he added. “I think one reason I haven’t had that conversation with my friends yet is because I think they agree with me.”
The idea of Yale as a liberal bastion, in the midst of the bluest of blue states, may, then, be behind a sense of complacency that leaves Yalies feeling little sense of urgency to work with campaigns or to push for change at the party level.
But Stango thinks there’s still untapped potential on campus.
“It’s absolutely possible for students to have an impact - New Haven’s a small city and Connecticut’s a small state,” said Stango, a grizzled veteran of the Democratic scene in the state. “If you care and are willing to work extremely hard, you can have a major impact. It just can’t be about casually signing up to volunteer a couple times and putting New Haven campaign work on your resume.”
Maybe there’s something to be said for being a cog in the political action machine.

Originally printed in the Weekend of the Yale Daily News. You can find the full article here:

For More Inclusive Activism (Originally printed in the YDN)

I found myself by the end...

ENRIQUEZ: For more inclusive activism

I like to think I'm making a difference. Many of us activists do. We get up every morning, scan the headlines for topics that interest us, read articles that people send us and talk to people who have the same interests. Friends outside our interest groups also notice things for us, and for me, this means several copies of the same articles on immigration, Mexican cartels and Latin America when I get up each morning.
I am an activist because I am frustrated. There are things I love about my communities and things that I would change about them. But unfortunately, the language that each of our social justice groups use often prevent us from engaging with our communities at large.
Simply put, we are self-selecting, and we prefer to spend time with like-minded people. We find and surround ourselves with people who agree with us, who appreciate and understand our passions and interests. We don't need to worry about being defensive or explaining our entire background that way. It's more comfortable. For me, immigration is a really sensitive topic. I came here as an immigrant and I study here with the perspective of someone who doesn't fit well into either of my worlds.
It is easier for me to spend time with people from La Casa Cultural when I discuss immigration issues because they just get it. I don't have to dredge out painful details from my past and lay them out for the world to scrutinize. But it also means that it took me a lot longer to present my mission in a way that was broadly understandable and brought more people into the conversations I was having every day.
In the smaller circles of the Social Justice Network, a branch of Dwight Hall, activists at Yale learn how to talk to each other about these issues. I may read something in the morning, send it to the rest of my group and fume about it for the rest of the day while others from the same group agree with me. In this context, I don't have to defend myself. I can express myself through art and imagery of the violence in my home country, and I can use rhetoric that pulls Spanish and English phrases together, but I lose sight of my target audience in these ways. We lose sight of the people who do not hear these stories in their daily routines.
Activists, we need to go beyond talking to our groups if we want to get anywhere. We need to learn to communicate in a language that goes beyond our experiences and makes a point. The presentation of our missions isn't effective if we only see the same faces at every event, discussion and march. We need to bring in the rest of the community if we want to see change.
And we are lucky, because the resources are all around us. As many of us were told before we came to Yale, we are our own teachers. The best part of our time at Yale would be the community of students and the people that we would meet along the way.
So go! Leave your groups and have conversations that make you uncomfortable, defend your views and consider them from someone else's point of view. If you won't reach out and do it yourself, who will?
I have lost friends by compromising, but I've also made many others who teach me and challenge me in ways that I had never been before. In those moments, when I have realized that I'm having a conversation about immigration with someone who doesn't feel connected to the topic in any way, I learn to see myself and others like me through the eyes of someone else. And they leave the conversation knowing a little more about why I get up every morning.
I have learned the most from holding my convictions up for other people to scrutinize. I've learned to defend them and explain them in different ways. I've learned to compromise in ways that meant bringing others into the conversation without sacrificing the heart of what I want to do.
We can't hide behind our art and symbols and prose. For the change we seek to occur, understanding needs to be widespread, and we can't do that from within our own carefully guarded communities.
Diana Enriquez is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at .

Questioning the Plan (Originally posted on the Levo League)

This is where I started at the beginning of the year:

Questioning the Plan: Re-evaluating the world our generation is coming of age within, and how to grow around the uncertainty.
Diana Enriquez tells us the story of how she grew to reject the banking and consulting track, and learned to embrace the uncertainty that allows us to open up and see opportunities everywhere.
As a child, I loved making plans. I enjoyed making lists and keeping journals, both of which I kept on my bookshelf. My prep school, where rule-abiding high-achievers were rewarded, encouraged my habits and promoted careful planning. Life was laid out for us in a 10-year plan, and I was not sure that I could follow it.
My desire to have a plan wasn’t unique: the study of overachievers in our generation, as well as our early obsession with college and the next step, has been multifarious. Alexandra Robbins, author of the highly-lauded non-fiction work, The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids as well as  Andrew Ferguson, writer of Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College, explore the challenges of the college admissions process. They look at the point of view of a student and a parent, respectively, with special focus on the desire to enroll in as many projects, classes, and activities as possible in order to impress admissions officers. The real-life characters in Robbins’s book (all students Maryland’s highly competitive Walt Whitman High School) have been on the college prep track since day one of freshman year. Pursuing a plan other than the Whitman-approved ones raises eyebrows in that academic environment. Unfortunately, the same can be said of high schools all over the country: that the reaction to uncertainty has been to bear down on a known path that may or may not be optimal for everyone.
Realizing my major and intended career path didn’t suit me
Like most of my peers, I worked hard in high school. And I loved the experience. But the real excitement of making it through the first step came when I assimilated to campus life. When I first set foot on the Yale University campus, I had many expectations about my major and expected to love my classes. I figured I’d go on to graduate or law school and land a job in the government, as I was always interested in politics and law. I had my plan, but I was quickly met with surprise. I entered my first economics seminar and realized that my classmates and the professor were communicating over AM frequencies, while my brain was in permanent FM mode. It’s hard to get on the same wavelength in that situation.
Besides having a different thought-process than those around me, I struggled to make sense of a subject I assumed I’d love. For the first time in my academic career, I found myself doubting the plan.
My uncharacteristic reaction— to throw out the 10-year plan— worried me. What was I going to do now? High school prepared me for higher education and college was (apparently) supposed to lead to graduate school… but maybe this wasn’t the best thing for me. I was facing questions that I had never really encountered before and desperately trying to whip up a new plan, one that would make me happy and give me the space that I needed to grow. Maybe it meant reshaping my own definitions of success.
What ultimately made me drop the plan
One day, while I was typing an essay, an old friend emailed me about a summer job in Mexico doing sustainable development work in rural communities. My “worry about The Plan” virus was eating away at me, but nevertheless I looked through the description, called a few of the coordinators and realized that this program that had fallen into my lap was exactly what my freshman self had been looking for. I was excited about the fieldwork, the adventure, and the uncertainty about what was ahead. As I booked my flights to Mexico a few weeks later, I knew that this was the beginning of a big change.
My outlook shifted. I began to see opportunities everywhere and took them, especially when it was in a department or field with which I was unfamiliar. I worked with political groups of different leanings. I researched India and signed myself up for a research trip there while my classmates attended informational sessions for Morgan Stanley. This summer, I will be doing research in Colombia on the Drug Wars and Political Campaigns for my senior thesis. None of this would have happened had I not asked myself what would make me happy. Today I walk straighter than I did than when I was all about the Plan.   
Embracing the unknown
As I chat with interviewers, their eyes often light up, and I have a feeling they react this way because they recognize I am not afraid of taking risks. I chase opportunities when they present themselves, ask people I don’t even know if I can talk to them about their work, and live the life I want for myself as best I can. I see my friends and classmates struggle with the question, what should I be doing? What does my 10 year plan look like? Is this the next step? And I smile to myself. I find strength in being uncertain and willing to go out there with my eyes open, and it’s my hope that they come to the same realization as well if plan making just isn’t working out for them.
And part of this adventure brought me to one of the ultimate sources of happiness in my year: founding and organizing TEDxYale. I made one of the best friends I will ever have through long hours of working through details, arguing about the merits of different speakers, and learning from him as an equal with a completely different view of the world. In this space, creativity was rewarded. We created a space for people who wanted to talk about their journeys through the uncharted paths in life. I went from nightly phone calls to daily planning meetings with the team to launch a full day conference with 10 alumni speakers, 7 students we trained in the art of public speaking, and a few brilliant professors. I was reminded that life is a twist of fate, and I’ll never know exactly what the next obstacle or opportunity would be. I could only move forward with my eyes open.    
I found my center in embracing a future that will be what I make of it. And I learned to love myself, in all of my crazy, quirky interests, because I could shape the person that I wanted to be. I do think I will go on to either law or graduate school, but for now I am going to explore the options I have until I am sold on my decision. I have met my expectations, and now it is time for me to carve out my own space, in this ever-changing job market.
Diana Enriquez is a junior at Yale University majoring in Political Science and Ethnicity Race and Migration. She is an activist, artist and researcher with a particular interest in migration, the drug wars, and the Latino vote in the 2012 elections. At Yale she is the president of a social-justice oriented student group called MEChA and the founder and co-curator of TEDxYale. 
 Originally from: