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A Day in the Life of IJ Activism

Meet IJ’s intrepid activism team! Every day, we make a real-world difference in the lives of our activists, whether we’re organizing coalition meetings in stately rooms or protests and rallies on the streets.

I want to share the activities of one real Wednesday last fall to demonstrate the breadth of our work; the wide range of our strategies; and our determination to create jobs, save homes and businesses, and increase access to a quality education.

That Wednesday morning, Melanie Benit met with coalition partners in Richmond, Virginia, where we are helping build the new Virginia Parents Network from the ground up. We know firsthand the life-changing consequences the state’s tax-credit scholarship program has for families—and we’re working with them to protect it from a newly hostile legislature. Melanie left Richmond to fly directly to Charlestown, Indiana, where she discussed IJ’s upcoming trial with homeowners who, before they were clients, were community activists.

In D.C., Rebekah Bydlak rallied parents to attend a Department of Education event in support of the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. As they did on this Wednesday, the 140 families IJ supports through our trainings and events have flooded congressional offices with calls telling their stories and how much the program means to them every day.

One thousand miles west, Andrew Meleta was on the ground in Des Moines, Iowa, investigating the city’s new requirement that homes be built to unreasonably high minimum square footages—a rule that puts homeownership out of reach of people with modest incomes. He met with frustrated home builders and canvassed apartment buildings.

Meanwhile, other members of the team worked on events, reports, and other projects to help entrepreneurs tackle the local regulations that create steep barriers to getting and staying in business. That Wednesday, Brooke Fallon and Ellen Hamlett hosted our third “How to Start a Home Baking Business” workshop in D.C. By bringing valuable practical skills to communities like would-be cottage food producers, we educate and embolden them to demand access to opportunity.

And while IJ’s event was underway, elsewhere in D.C., Chad Reese attended the release of a report about doing business in North American cities to supplement his research for a new first-of-its-kind study:  IJ’s cross-city comparison of business licensing. But we’re not waiting for that study to bring our efforts nationwide. That Wednesday, Alex Montgomery was researching Miami’s business licensing regulations for a new flowchart detailing what it takes to start a business there. After we shared a similar flowchart we produced for D.C. at a breakout on city policy at the massive South by Southwest conference, representatives from Miami approached us for advice about making their city more welcoming to entrepreneurs.

And that’s just one day. On top of these projects, the team is currently tackling over a dozen others that will take us from Oklahoma to Kentucky to Puerto Rico in the coming months.

We have a saying on the team: “Just another day in the life of activism!” This downplays the countless unexpected challenges we encounter: surprise snow storms on canvassing days, a flight diversion to Bermuda, cicadas the size of birds divebombing families at a barbecue, and accommodating a 400% boom in RSVPs on day of an event, to name just a few. But there is no downplaying the impact activism is making every single day—because, just like this particular Wednesday, we seize every day to make the world a better place for our activists.

Christina Walsh is IJ’s director of activism and coalitions.

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