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Samuel Gomez: Blogs

Week Five: Giving Back to Our Community--The Experience of Place

Samuel Gomez

On Friday, July 2nd, myself and other CHCI interns participated in Habitat for Humanity and helped to construct low-income housing which would provide individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford a mortgage permanent places to live. Having this asset in the families of less fortunate Northeast DC residents could provide a financial foundation for future economic growth which could eventually help to elevate the community as a whole. The experience of building a house is a useful metaphor and personifies the value of community engagement in a physically tangible way. Environmental scholars and municipal planners have often referred to the concept of place in driving community solidarity. This concept applies to both the natural and built environments. In essence, place means a personal connection with the physical location a person or community inhabits. A sense of place starts to give a community, town, city, or district, distinct characteristics which define it as compared to other places and serves as a starting point for mobilizing community action. While this concept may seem difficult grasp, it is already apparent in many instances. South Central and East Los Angeles have distinct experiences of place which are founded in the racial backgrounds of their respective communities. A strong sense of place and community identity led Concerned Citizens of South Central--a grassroots minority-led organization--to effectively halt the construction of the LANCER Incinerator--a refuse disposal facility which would have had major health and environmental impacts on South Central LA. The land acquired for the project eventually became a community farm. As young Latino leaders, we can learn from Concerned Citizens in several ways--though we do not have to wait for plans for an environmentally hazardous incinerator to be drawn to do so. First, civic involvement is necessary for individuals to develop a sense of place which binds them to their communities. Building a house, for example, is a great way to link individuals to their built environments and, in turn, their communities. Community service projects, however small, can help to develop solidarity among members of a community--which in turn will lead to greater civic engagement and a sense of a common interest in the future growth and prosperity of the whole. Second, mobilizing community action for political, social, or economic progress is strongly aided by a shared sense of place. People will be more likely to stand up for a community or place which they feel connected to in a personal way. Overall, try not to get caught in the trap of cynicism and the lure of personal gain. As young Latino leaders, the future well being of our communities depends on us and we cannot allow ourselves to be uprooted from the places of our origin by the draws of riches or power. Essentially--stay true to your roots--give back--and you can help the place that you came from grow and flourish.

Week Four: The Voices of the American People

Samuel Gomez

In the opening decades of the 21st century, all Americans face extreme challenges--among them global security, social inequity, and environmental catastrophe. Americans of all backgrounds will need to come together and unify around common solutions in order to address these problems. When Elena Kagan mentioned that the nation's high court must respect the, "choices made by the American people," she was not referencing the choices of beltway insiders, industry heavyweights, pundits of all stripes, or Justices in flowing robes. She was not talking about solely white, black, or brown Americans--about liberal, conservative, or libertarian Americans--she was referencing ALL Americans. This means that all of the previously mentioned viewpoints, backgrounds, and political leanings must be incorporated into the national narrative. No one group has a monopoly on truth and no single viewpoint is without its flaws--we all view the world with a specific set of lenses tinted by our backgrounds and philosophies. This is where the Judiciary branch fits into the national discussion--to interpret and apply the common and statutory laws of the land while respecting and incorporating the views of ALL Americans. Despite comments to the contrary of some Senators in the ongoing Kagan confirmation hearings, if permitted to serve, Kagan will be sitting on one of the most activist courts in decades. Since the seating of Chief Justice Roberts, the majority conservative court has chosen to rule on landmark cases addressing, among other things, rights of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, the rights of business entities to spend unlimited amounts of cash in election advertising, and, most recently, the sacrosanct right of all Americans to brandish weapons for self defense regardless of their geographic location. Having another female perspective to weigh in on the many issues facing the American people--while it will not change the overall balance of the court--will take us one step closer to towards an inclusive and accessible judiciary which respects the rights and voices of ALL Americans and will interpret and apply precedent and the constitution in order to correct the social, political, and environmental inequities of our time. This is the essence of an activist court. In this turbulent time in history, judicial activism, not judicial restraint, is what is needed to help our nation steer a successful course into the future. After Kagan says what she needs to say to get through this difficult vetting process, I wish her a long and distinguished career through which she may help to address the many challenges of our time.

Week Three: Highlights of the Hill - A Fly On the Wall

Samuel Gomez

A hush falls over the chamber as Chairman Frank knocks his gavel against the table. “The conference will now reconvene,” he says. Sitting a few feet away, I nervously glance towards the TV cameras which, by the request of the conferees, are covering the Conference Committee on Financial Reform. The House and Senate chairs of the Banking and Financial services committees are in conference to debate final points on Wall Street reform. On the docket tonight, the contentious Volker Rule—which would limit banks and other financial companies from betting with either Fed or taxpayer dollars on risky derivatives trading. The House’s version of the bill banned derivatives trading for financial institutions with their own assets—a move which the Senate disagrees with because they believe that it would drive derivatives trading overseas, away from the watchful eyes of US regulators. A few minutes later, Chairman Frank calls yet another recess, stating that the House needs time to review the Senate’s counter-offer on language for the legislation. Staffers hustle about, quiet side conversations fill the air, and I can’t help but eavesdrop. It is a privilege to even be in this room—especially as conference committees are only convened about once every ten years. Flavio pounds away on his Blackberry, flurries of emails flying between him, staffers in the room, and unseen collaborators who are scrambling to reach a consensus on language before the official counting of votes. Around 6:45pm, I pack up and meet Flavio in the hallway and tell him that I am going home. I am exhausted from running back and forth from the House to Senate sides all day for the committee. Although I should have stayed longer—the conference ran well into the wee hours of the morning—I can still say that I was there. I was a fly on the wall in the committee which determined how Wall Street will do business and hopefully stave off another collapse of global financial markets in the future.

Week One: First Week in Washington, DC

Samuel Gomez

Walking backwards with both hands grasping Eduardo's shoulders, I guide him and nine others down the winding forest path. Ten pairs of eyes remain closed, their arms forming a chain which cautiously proceeds following the directions of my voice. It is the fourth day of our internship orientation week--a day which some in the program had awaited with nervous anticipation--the team building day at Upward Enterprises ropes course in Maryland, close to the Pennsylvania border. We arrive at our obstacle--a horizontal log about seven feet off the ground, held stationary by two tree trunks. The chain stops moving; their eyes remain closed. After a moment of confusion they line up under the obstacle and we formulate a plan. Just as we are about to begin, Billy, our facilitator for the course, cries, "stop!" "From this point on," he says, "everyone has to close their eyes!" My peers and I simply look at each other in amazement. How could he actually expect us to do this? Is it even possible to get ten people over a log seven feet in the air if none of us can see? Our plan is shot. We have no way to proceed other than blindly charging ahead. One by one, we somehow manage to get our peers over the obstacle. We open our eyes. Our group has no discernable organization yet we somehow managed to fulfill our goal. We glance around at each other in astonishment. At that moment, we realize how resourceful and determined we really are. At that moment, we realize that if we work together, we can overcome any obstacle. This is only the beginning.