By Javier Sosa
When people hear “internship,” menial tasks come to mind: making copies, getting coffee and answering mail. But the Maffucci Fellowship is anything but the typical internship—it is an opportunity to gain unique experience and start your career learning to do things “The IJ Way.” As a supporter of IJ’s mission, I was eager to get involved in its daily fight for individual liberty, but never did I think an intern would be given the opportunity to have such a direct and dramatic impact on the lives of people fighting for their piece of the American Dream—all while being treated like a peer by IJ staff.
Maffucci Fellows support IJ’s activism program, Liberty in Action. I have learned firsthand the power and effectiveness of IJ’s activism, which has an incredible way of leaving a lasting impression on communities and turning the people we help into lifelong friends. I have also learned how empowering people—like the homeowners I worked with in New Rochelle, N.Y., and the immigrant street vendors I met in Miami and Chicago—to stand up for their constitutional rights can make the biggest impact on their daily lives. Each group we help is composed of ordinary people emboldened by a common purpose: wanting to work without getting the government’s permission or live in their home free from the fear of the government taking it to give to a private developer.
The challenges we help people overcome are never small. Most involve a serious threat to their livelihood or their property. In Chicago, I had the chance to hit the streets and work with local street vendors, many of them immigrants, to rally support for a coalition we were forming to combat Chicago’s burdensome vending laws. Many come from countries where citizens have little say in the way they are ruled. As the son of Cuban exiles myself, the opportunity to explain to the vendors that here they can fight for the right to earn an honest living was an experience I will always remember. In Miami, I worked with members of our production team to create a short video documenting the daily struggle of being a street vendor as part of our outreach efforts. In addition to serving as our Spanish translator, I gained a unique experience by being on set and helping direct our “actors” as we made the documentary.
Although the fellowship is officially within the activism department, being at IJ means you are a part of the whole team. I’ve worked alongside people from every department, from development to litigation.
Most notably, I worked with the litigation team to help combat Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture machine. As someone who wants to become an attorney, being able to work directly with the attorneys on a project of such size has been invaluable. Through it all, the most striking aspect is the passion and dedication which all of IJ exudes when its efforts are turned to a project.
The Maffucci Fellowship is not the usual internship. It is a chance to be on the front lines in the never-ending fight for liberty and to work alongside an incredible and passionate group of people who continue to make a lasting impact in protecting our most important constitutional rights. I am extremely grateful to IJ for the experience and to the Maffucci family for making this fellowship possible.
Javier Sosa is a Maffucci Fellow.