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and you are a woman. They will always try to discount you, they will always try to treat you lesser. In the end, whether we like it or not, right now, that‟s the way it is. So I‟m like, you need to dress better, you need to walk in ready to go. And I said this too, you know, I‟m like, „You guys are young. You need to make sure that you sound like you know it. Make them have to take you with them. Because their initial thing is going to be not to do it.‟” [musical interlude] Nia: Welcome to “We Want the Airwaves.” My name is Nia King. This week I was at the “Voices of our Nation” writing program for writers of color at University of California, Berkeley. I had the amazing opportunity to study with Mat Johnson, who is a novelist and graphic novelist, author of a book called Incognegro, which I‟ve been wanting to read for a long time, about a light-skinned black man investigating lynchings in the South. He‟s an amazing professor, I got to meet some super -cool people in my class. This is the first year they‟ve done the graphic novel workshop, but I think it went really well. One of the amazing people I met in my class is named Day Al-Mohamed, and since she was the one other queer person in my class, I thought I would try and interview her for the podcast. Not only because she‟s queer and a person of color, but she also just has a really interesting story. She identifies as a bisexual Arab-American woman with a disability, and she‟s also a senior advisor in the US Department of Labor. You may have noticed that a lot of the people I talk to on the podcast are struggling to make a living as artists – she is someone who sort of does art on the side, and has managed to, you know, get pretty highup professionally. So far I‟ve talked to scientists, I‟ve talked to sex workers, but I‟ve never talked to a policy wonk. And so I thought that might be interesting to get sort of another side of the picture. So, she has some really amazing stories about working on the US Affordable Care Act, working on fighting for a trans-inclusive ENDA, which is the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, and if you listen to the end, she talks a little bit about her work on the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd hate crimes bill. So, I hope that you will stay tuned till that part, and enjoy the show. Without further ado, here‟s Day. [musical interlude] Day: I‟ve always been interested in the policy and polit ics of the world. I think part of it started as an undergrad. My undergrad degree is in social work. And early on you get to see up-close in the field, you know, what‟s wrong with the world and what‟s the impact on real people. And I think one of the things that was frustrating is that in that position, all you‟re doing is, like, mitigating damages. You can‟t really stop them. And so “when I grow up, I‟m going to MAKE the rules!” and decided I was going to go to law school, so that I could make the rules. And my interest there was particularly the idea of legislation and writing legislative policy, so I kind of just moved on from there. I worked with the state legislature in Missouri, and then interned with the US Senate, and then ended up working in different governmental affairs offices through different nonprofits, to where I am now, which is a senior policy advisor with the US Department of Labor. Nia: Yeah, so let‟s, can you take us through that journey? Because that‟s a lot right there [laughter]. So you started out as a social worker, or, studying social work – Day: Studying social work. Nia: And that‟s what showed you that actually, this is just putting a Band -Aid on the problem, policy is the way to go. Well, not necessarily the way to go, like, there are lots of ways to make change in the world, but that‟s how you figured out that that was what you wanted to do. Day: Right. And I think I lucked out, and people will still think of me, and my current super I think sees me as a weird, wide-eyed idealist. But the thing was, my first internship job was the Missouri state legislature, working for – Nia: Was this before you got the law degree or after? Day: During.
Nia: During. Day: – was with a state legislator, a state representative, his name was Bill Boucher. And he was a retired electrical engineer and his wife was a school nurse, and he was running for office because he honestly and truly wanted to make things better. And you hear all those horrible things about politicians and all the bad stuff, and I will say, I met somebody who‟s really doing that. You know, we fought on the issue of requiring fingerprinting for welfare recipients, you know, saying that‟s wrong. Nia: So you were fighting for welfare recipients not to have to get fingerprinted. Day: Fingerprints, the idea of the concealed carry legislation came up, adding technology to the classroom for students with disabilities. I mean, there were all the kinds of things that I really care about. And he was putting up a fight. We didn‟t always win, but this is somebody who that‟s what he wanted to do. And yes, in politics, you know, there‟s always wheeling and dealing, but he was really strong like, “This is the line, this is what we‟re doing. And this is the difference it makes.” And I‟m like, wow [sigh]. And I think that never quite rubbed off. And so even after that, the idea was that there was an opportunity to intern with the US Senate, there was a program that actually helped offer a stipend. Nia: How did you become politicized in the first place, like, what was it that made you want to change the world? Day: I don‟t know. I think I‟ve always thought, the idea is that there is a right and there‟s wrong, and what‟s what you should do. There‟s a joke in my current office about superheroes, and I s tarted it with idea that “we come to work with our cape on.” And what‟s entertaining is that it started out with just a few of the colleagues here in the office, to the point that the current acting Secretary of Labor has used the phrase, about coming to work at the Department of Labor with our capes on, cause it‟s our job to save the world. And what‟s kind of neat is how that‟s kind of coalesced into the idea that everyone has something unique that they can bring, and everyone has something unique that the y can do to make it better. We‟re all on this journey, why should we be putting obstacles in front of each other, kind of a thing. And it‟s contagious, you know, and this is where I‟m like, yes, I have this idea of right and wrong, and it was young and naïve when I started, and I think it didn‟t, if you‟re going to talk about the politicization of it, it didn‟t really solidify until I did that internship in the Missouri state legislature for Representative Bill Boucher, and I saw that this is somebody who‟s in the field, in the arena, where everyone is supposedly crooked and wheeling and dealing, who honestly believes in making his state better. And I‟m like, wow, that‟s powerful. Nia: Yeah. Do you remember when you sort of first became aware of injustice? Day: When did I first become aware of injustice? To be honest I think it comes and goes in cycles. I think it‟s that way with everybody. Some days, you‟re like, “ Yes, this is wrong, we have to stop this, we have to fight,” and then other days, you‟re like “I just want to get my job done and go home.” And I think we‟re all that way. We all have our pet projects, we all have our pet injustices and our pet issues. My wife yells at me because I‟m nowhere near as active on LGBT issues and rights, as compared to d isability rights or race issues. Nia: Well, you can‟t do everything all the time. Day: Right. And she only recently, she says, “I am a late -blooming feminist! I didn‟t realize how much misogyny there is, and how terrible it is, and how much silencing goes on towards women, until now,” and she‟s like “and now, now I‟m angry, and now I want to do something.” And, like I said, I think it comes in cycles for different people in different ways, and different things resonate more, so, I don‟t know when it first started. I think it keeps coming and going in different areas, depending on what‟s going on, and I think that‟s the way it is. I‟m making a point of being more accepting of where people are, and on that, some people are on that upswing, and some people are “I don‟t care! I just had a baby, it just pooped all over my house! I need to take care of that now,” instead of worrying about adoption rights, which might actually impact – you know, or – did impact their lives, but the idea is “no, this is what I need t o take care of now.” So, I think that‟s kind of where it is. Nia: Yeah. Okay, so, did you go straight from school for social work into school for law?
Day: Yep. Nia: By the time you graduated with the social worker degree, you were like “oh no no no”? Day: That last year in social work, where you have to do your externship I was like, no, I‟m done. I don‟t want to play by somebody else‟s rules, especially if I think those rules are wrong. Nia: Was there any pushback, like, from family or anything, that you just spent all this time working for this degree? Day: The exact words from my mother, and it‟s not quite to the law degree, but it was more, “Why do you want to go to Washington and work with all those crooked people?” Those were here exact words. Nia: I mean, a lot of people feel that way. Day: Right, and in some respects, there are a lot of crooked people. I think there are a lot of people who are out for their constituency or their party or whatever they care the most about. But like I said, that first formative opportunity I had was with somebody who said, “It is our job, you know, we‟ve been given a responsibility to help our constituents. That‟s what you should be doing. That‟s the only thing you should be doing.” I think that only as I‟ve gotten older have I realized exactly how big an influence that had. Nia: And how did you end up in Bill Boucher‟s office? Did he find you, or you found him? Day: Oh, this is fun. And this is why I‟m that firm believer that every person has that one unique thing that they have to give that no one else does. He was putting forward a piece of legislation about the employment of people with disabilities. He has no connection to disability or anything, he just thought, “You know, there are some issues about employment, and discrimination. We should do something about that,” so he put forward a piece of legislation. And then his thought was, “You know, I should put my money where my mouth is. I‟m going to get a disabled intern.” And so they were just looking, and I think he put out the word, and it came through different channels, and someone said, you should apply for this. And I did at the time, and I remember showing up at the first day, and he said, “Can you answer the phone?” I‟m like “I‟m blind, but my mouth and ears work just fine.” So he put out a call for an intern with a disability, because he felt it was the right thing to do, and his own personal thoughts were, he wasn‟t sure that this person could do the job, but he was willing to give it a shot. By the end of that first year, I was writing legislative draft language for him. I was doing research, I was addressing constituent letters, and it was enough that he asked me back. Nia: I‟m sorry, I‟m smiling because I just think it‟s kind of, I‟m constantly amused by ho w much the world is actually run by interns. You know, like I think that the man behind the curtain is actually just a lot of interns. [laughter] You think of these kids as having no power, but actually, but because they‟re doing a lot of the stuff that no one else has time to do, they‟re doing a lot of the stuff. [laughter] Day: Exactly. When I was lobbying on Capitol Hill, one of the things that I would do is we would bring a constituent up, I worked for the American Psychological Association at the time, and so we would have psychologists who come and talk about their research or their practice and how it impacted whatever this legislation was. And, I actually worked a lot on kids‟ issues at the time, and access to Medicaid and healthcare for some of these kids. And, I would remember after some of these meetings, they would go “I‟m so disappointed, I didn‟t get to meet the senator, I just got like their staffer and an intern.” And the idea was to explain to them, I said, “No, you got exactly who you needed to. You have a staffer, who‟s the expert on that issue, and their intern, and they‟re the ones who are going to write the language, and they‟re the ones who‟s going to tell the senator, „this is what you need to vote.‟” So I think that‟s one of those big messages, “No, go ahead and talk to them. It does make a difference.” Nia: Yeah. Those people have a lot of power. You know, the secretaries and the interns, they run shit. That is my personal two cents on the matter. Day: [laughter] You got to be nice to everybody.
Nia: [laughter] So, were you an activist sort of outside of your academic and political career? Day: No. Nia: Okay. Day: I am not an activist outside that. I think that is one of the things… my own very strong opinion on it is that I have not been an outside activist, I have not been a protester, I have not been a marcher, it has never appealed to me. I‟m not that sort of person. Nia: When I think about the podcast you did, that feels activist-y to me in some way. Day: Exactly. I think the idea is when people use the term “activist,” most people, and myself included in that, tend to think of it as the protesters, the marchers, the very loud people. And I think it‟s been very hard for a lot of the general public, or even just your general audience to know that there are a lot of ways that you can advocate. And you mentioned my podcast. For years, I did a podcast. And all that was, was part of my regular job was working with legislators, and putting research, like, this is what the research says, this is why this is a good idea or a bad idea. But one of the things on the side that was important to me was how often people didn‟t understand what was written in legalese, and so what I did was I‟m going to take whatever the hot bill is, or legislation, and say, this is what this means, and break it down. This is why this is important. This is why it is not. This is how it could be harmful, depending on how it‟s applied, or this is why this is REALLY important and why we want it to pass – and putting it in terms that people could understand. And in some ways it is a form of advocacy because it was making sure people knew what was going on, and knew about it in a way they could articulate their own arguments, should they feel the need to do so. And I think that was that was kind of my big thing, was to try and keep it, I don‟t want to say neutral, because it‟s kind of hard not to be, but at least to say, this is what, the way I interpret it, here‟s a legislator‟s office if you want to talk to them about it, and here‟s the bill if y ou want to read it for yourself, which I urge you to do. And I usually tend to end them that way. And I think that most people aren‟t aware that there‟s other avenues, as far as activism. Nia: I‟m trying to figure out if you just used the words “activism” and “advocacy” interchangeably. Do you feel that they‟re the same thing? Day: I think I drew a line between them insofar as I still put activism on the protest side. That is Occupy movement. Those are the folks writing very angry, ranting blog posts, and I guess I see the advocate as the people who are used to the ugly system and tend to try to operate with it, within it, and more within some of the rules that are made by others. Nia: Do you feel like you made a conscious choice to work inside the system, or do you feel like that‟s just kind of where you ended up? Day: I think I picked what was more suited to my personality. I don‟t put myself out there enough for the others to be effective. And I think most recently, I got a letter of recommendation that someone sent on my behalf, and they CC‟ed me, and I think their term was that I operate as a “pragmatic progressive.” And I thought about and you know, I really like the term, and I think it‟s applicable to how I operate and how I believe. Nia: Okay, so, you finished law school, and then what? Day: After law school, there are always opportunities for everybody, and the idea is just keeping your eyes open, and seeing what interests you, so, towards the end of my law school career, most schools have an opportunity to go overseas, and I would tell anybody, if you can find the money, funding, loan, whatever, spend that time abroad, it makes a difference. I spent that time, I went to China to study Chinese law, which was fantastic, amazing, wonderful, I learned a whole lot! Not just about the country and about law, but also about myself, and the way I feel about things and the way I operate, which led a lot more to what I want to do legislatively. But, one of the things is, there‟s always opportunities, and I met some folks there who talked about –
Nia: It‟s funny, you say that you, like, I don‟t know if you‟d describe your personality as passive, but you said, like, “oh, I‟m not the kind of person that would be like out there in the streets,” but I feel like you have a pretty, you have a very about-your-business attitude. [laughter] Like, “I get shit done.” Like someone who‟s not shy or afraid to put their opinion out there. And I feel like not everybody who goes out in the streets and protests is necessarily an extrovert. You know, I think personality definitely helps determine what kind of activism or advocacy people are drawn to, but I don‟t think it‟s the only factor. Day: I think you might be right on that. Like I said, that‟s why it‟s very clearly a personal bias, but I think I just looked at those folks, and I go “that‟s so not me,” [laughter] I like my suit – which is kind of weird cause you‟re seeing me in, like, ultra-casual. It‟s not my suit or my heels. [Day is wearing a shirt with “Zombie” written across the chest.] Nia: Yeah. But I mean, there‟s a lot of ways to make change in the world. I think that‟s something that I‟ve been sort of dealing with in the past few years is, like, you have the people that are in the streets, you have the community organizers, you have the intermediary non-profits, you have the foundations, you have the politicians, you have the policy wonks. Day: I hear about that end, but I never hear as much about the other end. Nia: Which end? Day: The politicians and the policy wonks. Nia: Well, I don‟t think they‟re considered part of “the movement”. I think most people hear way more about what happens in Washington, than they do about what happens outside. Day: Yeah. And I think, as you said, the policymakers are not part of the movement. Nia: They‟re not considered, I don‟t think people think of that. Once you go on the inside, you‟ re seen as a traitor, basically [laughter] Day: Right! And the thing is, I think that there is a lot of powerful things that can be done at that point, I think there‟s a lot of things that can be done on the inside, and I lament that I‟m not seeing more people doing that. I spent many years as a lobbyist , and I say that, and everyone‟s like “ohhhh, evil lobbyist,” and the thing is, yes, there are energy companies, oil companies, and there are a lot of big heavy-hitters who are lobbyists. But there are non-profit lobbyists, there are lobbyists, that, like I said, I worked on providing Medicaid and healthcare to kids. I lobbied on Native language protection within the school systems, a variety of things like that. Nia: Is this still in Missouri, or is this on a national level now? Day: Sorry, as I leap around – Nia: No, It‟s okay. Day: This was in Washington, D.C. Nia: Okay, so, how did you get there? [laughter] like, how did you become a lobbyist? Day: We stopped in the mid-China story, too. Nia: Oh, I‟m sorry. Day: Oh no, it‟s okay, I‟m just going to rewind super quick, because it was China, a couple of people were applying to an international program, it was another internship. This one was unpaid, it about killed me to do it. It was only a month, but it was up at the United Nations, and I ended up working – oh, I can‟t remember what it was. It was the Convention – I remember the sub-part that I worked on, which was the
Victims‟ Trust Fund. The idea was for victims of genocide, the idea was funding to help support and, I don‟t want to say, reimburse, that‟s a terrible word – Nia: I know what you mean, though. They have something like that for victims of domestic violence, or other crimes. Which is not necessarily, like – the fact that it exists is good. I don‟t know how it actually plays out, but it‟s nice to know that things like that are out there, as opposed – Day: Right – it was a small sub-part of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, so this was when they were still creating it, and trying to decide how it would be built and what would be an important part of it, and so the part that I worked on was related to the Victims‟ Trust Fund. Nia: That sounds super interesting, as long as they didn‟t just have you doing like, data entry, or something. [laughter] Day: Ohhh, now, we did have some of that. [laughter] But it was great, because you got to be there, you got to experience it, and, you know, it was a month, and it was an expensive month, but it was a great opportunity, and I learned a lot. And the thing is, when you find those little opportunities, usually they lead to something else, or they‟re a line on your resumé that helps you move forward. Nia: Yeah. Did you ever have to work any crappy jobs? [laughter] Besides the unpaid internship. Which, it sounds like, was not crappy at all, besides the fact that it wasn‟t paid. Day: Not too much, no. Nia: Okay. It was just straight – high school, college, law school, internship – Day: I think part of one summer, I did dishes in the cafeteria. Nia: That‟s a pretty crappy job. Day: So part of one summer I did that, but, I think, part of it was no. I heard somebody recently, they gave advice to young professionals starting out, it was David Johns, who actually works in the Senate, no, actually, I think he works in the White House now. And his thing for young people was, all those people in power, right, they‟ve got meetings and things they‟ve got to run to. They don‟t have time to learn the details of a specific piece of legislation or a specific project. Nia: Right. Day: Now, your job is to make sure you know the details. Because you want to make sure that they go, “I have to have that young person in the meeting with me” because you‟re the one who knows the details. Nia: Right, and I don‟t. Day: Right. And the trick is to go ahead and do that. And I think one of the things I always try to do is make sure I‟m the one who has the details. Because, that way, they have to include me in the meetings, and the more you‟re seen as someone who knows what they‟re talking about, which the podca st and the blog helped to do, then the more things that are available to you, in some ways, the more opportunities you have to influence things in a positive way. I make it sound so easy, don‟t I? Nia: I guess, the way you tell the story, it seems like you always knew what you wanted to do, and were able to get the opportunities you needed to get where you wanted to be in your career – Day: No, nope, still don‟t. Nia: Okay. Day: No, I even left one of my jobs, and I don‟t want to talk too much, because it‟s not too hard to pick out who it was, but I know I ended up leaving one job at one point in my career because what they were doing
was more about their own organizational self-preservation than it was about their own membership, and the people they served. Nia: Yeah. Day: And it‟s not one of those, “I‟m going to stamp out in a huff,” it‟s one of those – Nia: “This is not for me.” Day: I made the private decision. I‟m done. And I think it took me anothe r four or five months to be able to find another job and through that time I still continued with the idea that my job is to lobby for the constituents as much as possible, my job is to make sure people are informed as much as possible. And I will continue to do that. But I knew the organizational structure as it currently stands, I have a huge problem with this, because you have changed what you do with your funding, so that now the vast majority is serving you. That‟s not what I‟m here for. Nia: Yeah. So we were talking about how you became a lobbyist? Day: That actually was an accidental fall into it. Because I had these internships, I had these awesome opportunities, I‟m like, what am I go ing to do with that? And so you end up applying, I guess this would be the slump you‟re talking about, applying for different jobs. And this one was an accident. It was a non profit that was looking for a director of governmental affairs. And I was like – Nia: Big non-profit, small non-profit? Day: Small. Nia: Okay. Day: It was small, it‟s not that huge thing, like maybe 20-40,000 members. Nia: So it‟s a membership-based non-profit. You‟re not talking about staff. Day: No. Nia: Okay. [laughter] Day: So, I scribbled off and just sent it, and didn‟t think about it, because I‟ve been doing internships and done these other things, but this was a director of a governmental affairs office, and I heard back, like, “oh, we‟d like to interview you.” At which point I completely lost my mind, because I‟m like “I never directed anything in my life!” And, did the interview, got offered the job, and ended up moving out to Washington, D.C. to run their lobby shop. Nia: From Missouri? Day: Yep. From Missouri to Washington, D.C. So, I was there, and I had two staff who worked with me, who were the legislative analysts who worked for me. Nia: So, everything you learned about lobbying, you learned on the job. Day: Yeah. It was a little painful at first. But honestly, lobbyists are just activists or advocates who get paid. That‟s it. Nia: Sounds good to me [laughter] Day: I mean, seriously. If you think about it, what is an – I‟ll use the term activist because I think that‟s what you use, and I use advocate, because I see it as more, an advocate is someone who works inside the system maybe more, but it really is to me the same, because, what do the activists do? They get the research, they get the practical experience, they get the knowledge, they put it together, and then they put
it out there, saying, “This is wrong, this is proof it‟s wrong, this is what you need to do to fix it.” And that‟s all a lobbyist is doing. If you think about it, they‟re just, instead of talking to the general public, although I think activists also talk to legislators, you‟re basically going up, and you get paid to go up every day, to sit there and go “hi,” you know, “legislator Tim, who works for Congressman So -and-so, I just want to take a few minutes and talk to you about juvenile justice, and the idea that the number of kids with disabilities in your system, because a lot of times they‟re marked as having behavioral issues, but we‟re seeing high numbers of ADHD and emotional and mental illness, and those kids aren‟t getting services that they need for mental health, in order to be able to even identify them, so basically you‟re locking them up, they‟re acting out, they‟re going to be locked up for longer, they‟re not getting good health services, or getting access to education. This needs to be solved. This is the number of kids in your area who are impacted by this. And we did a little study, and we‟ve ascertained that as many as 60% of these kids have a disability. Here‟s a bill, we‟d love for you to sign onto it. Here‟s a bill, we‟d love for you to add this language.” That‟s it. That, in some ways, is a lot of what lobbying is. Everyone‟s got this idea of fancy receptions and par ties, I‟m like, no. Nia: Of course, it depends what lobby you belong to as well. Day: Probably. I will say I did get into one very, very fancy reception, with the pharmaceutical companies once, I think they ended up getting me by accident. So it was kind of cool, just the once. [laughter] Nia: And were you lobbying around disability justice issues particularly? The organization that you worked for, what were their issues? Day: Initially, it was disability. But if you think about it, when I work with interns, they come and go, “I want to do disability policy,” And my number one thing is, there‟s no such thing as disability policy. There‟s education policy, there‟s employment policy, there‟s technology, there‟s health. Don‟t do disability. There really isn‟t anything. Because we want an employment expert or a technology expert. So, the goal was, to be that expert, the one who has to be in the room. So, if I know all about technology, and I can apply it to disability, and other things like that, then you‟re go ing to want me in the room. If the only thing I know is disability technology, the only time you‟re go ing to include me is if you think it‟s relevant. And so that was kind of the way I tended to operate. So, yes, I covered disability issues, but I took them wherever I could find a place to apply pressure. Nia: So, the organization that you worked for – Day: I worked for the American Council of the Blind, that was my first job. And I lobbied on blindness and accessibility issues. I‟m kind of a big person on the idea that what impacts one group impacts multiple groups, and so I tended to do a lot of stuff acro ss disability and hit up other groups saying, let‟s do this together, because nobody‟s going to care if it‟s just my one little group arguing, and the same goes for yours, so let‟s join forces. And so we‟d do some different things like that together, and t ag team. Nia: Yeah. I keep going back to this thing about the difference between activists and advocates, right, like I‟m thinking a lot about that. Day: Yeah, and this is where I go, in my head, it‟s probably an artificial separation. Nia: No, no, I don‟t think it is. Because it‟s like, there‟s a certain kind of people that use one word, and there‟s a certain kind of people that use the other, and I think it is based on who‟s inside and who‟s outside. And I guess what I think is interesting is that the inside people tend to, I think, be a little more polished. It seems like you have to be more polished to operate in that world. You can‟t be like, you know, some white guy with dreadlocks who just rolled out of bed. Day: No. No, no, I still have – yes – no. One of the things I did at one of my jobs, I did this at ACB and I also did it at APA is, you teach their membership how to lobby. How to ah, how to advocate, I guess, for their issues – Nia: But also how to act. That‟s what I thought you were going to say, is how to act.
Day: Well, that was a small part of that discussion, yes. And I tell the story about how I‟d taken one group up, and I had, one person came in, who was wearing a t-shirt that said “Republicans eat babies.” [laughter] And I‟m like, this is a Republican office that we‟re going to go in there, and we‟re going to tell them that this issue is important, and that it matters to their members, and that they need to support it, and you are wearing a t-shirt that says “Republicans eat babies”! S o that is like, my shining example of what not to do. But, for both the jobs, part of it was teaching people how you need to go up, how you need to advocate – you make your talking points, and then you have a very clear ask of what you would like them to do. Nia: Do you find that people, like – I guess what I keep thinking about is sort of the amount of social capital that it might require to even get to the table. You know what I mean? Day: It can, I think that‟s part of the reason why I‟m such a big fan of the collaboration. Like, it was disability, who cared about that? The idea was to put enough groups together. A great example was in the ACA, the healthcare bill that came out, I worked w ith Daniel Dawes, who‟s a fantastic guy, on the health disparities issue. Now, this huge health bill – health disparities, as it affects minorities, LGBT folks, was not something that many people thought was that important. And so one of the things that we did was we we started calling around to all the different legislative groups that had a hand in the pot. I called every disability group, I think I had the Consortium of Students with Disabilities, I think I had over two hundred – these are not just single non-profits, but they‟re also associations of non-profits. We hit up the hospital groups, the insurance groups. We called every LGBT and disability group, and reached out to every minority group, and said, this is important. It needs to be in that bill. They‟re not putting the best parts in it, let‟s get together. We had, I think, over 400 separate groups and associations that were representing several hundreds of thousands of people. Including, like, American Hospital Association, the Seventh-Day Adventist hospital groups, and all of them came to the table and said, “alright. We‟re going to try to do this. We may not be able to agree on the specifics, but we can at least put a letter out from all of us that says, this MUST be in the bill.” You know? We ca n put out letters saying, we must be tracking this information. And we were able to get that. We had several documents with talking points about why it‟s important, why there are horrible health disparities within all these various minority communities, and be able to say, this is what needs to happen. And, it worked. I can point to the section in that legislation and say, “We did that.” And I think that‟s where the question of social capital, where I‟m like, pick up the phone, talk to people. We do have shared interests. We just have to be awake enough to recognize the opportunities. Nia: So, how do you get these disparate groups to work together without killing each other? Day: [laughter] It is hard. And it‟s hard to be able to do it on very , very specific issues, but at the same time, I think part of it is, you need to find a champion in each organization, and you need to be able to commit to regular – in some ways we start by doing regular meetings. So every other Tuesday, we would have all the groups come together – Nia: That seems like it would be really hard in and of itself. Day: It was a little nuts, but the nice thing is we had the space. And we would say, come here, we will do it. Not everybody showed every time, which was great, because space-wise, it was rough. And then we would talk about what was the latest. What had people done on the hill. And the idea of what were the hot issues, and then we‟d be able to agree on at least a few things that were going to be the focus. It‟s easier on something like healthcare reform because we had this one bill we all cared about. And we all had our other little things that we were working on, but this was just about the health disparities portion. Because I worked on prevention stuff that came from APA as well. So I had this whole other arena that I was working on, related to that. But, the idea is to find that, and just to call, and find a champion. So, we found one guy in the American Hospital Association, he‟s like, “you know what, you‟re right. Th is is going to impact the way our hospitals do business. There‟s a Medicare funding clause in there that‟s going to impact us.” He‟s like, “I don‟t know if I fully agree with everything you guys are doing,” I‟m like, that‟s okay, come to the table. And he may not have agreed, but if I can then walk in and say, I have all these groups who are coming to meetings with us, this is important. And that‟s where some of the compromise stuff comes in. And the idea of figuring out where the lines are, and we‟ve had a couple of groups that said,
“we didn‟t like it, we can‟t sign off,” and I‟m like, that‟s fine, but we had a whole lot of others who did. So, it‟s figuring out where to draw the line, if that makes any sense. Nia: Yeah. Day: And actually, I have a very good example of that, which was ENDA. Nia: The trans-inclusive ENDA. Day: Yep. And I‟m very proud of the fact that APA withdrew all of its support when they pulled it out. Either you do equality for everyone or you do equality for no one. And that‟s the idea of figuring out where that line is, and encouraging people to do as much as we can, together. Nia: Yeah. That‟s a big deal, for an organization as big as the APA. I mean, like, I was also – Day: I was so proud of them. [laughter] But, it was also something, we had a lot of psychologists, I love it, we‟re the ones who did the research, and we went to them and said, look, look at the research! And when all the stuff that came out, “oh, well, trans people are blah – no no no, no they don‟t. Or LGBT stuff, and the “untraining the gay” kind thing – it‟s like, nope. We have proof it doesn‟t work. And we have proof it‟s damaging. And we‟re pushing a lot of those kinds of things, and it was great. Because we were then able to use research, to say, this is from research we‟re saying, this is a problem. This is wrong. And I think that adds weight. Nia: Do they… I would assume they must question your methodology if they don‟t like the research that you‟re coming to them with. Day: I would love to say it was that organized. [laughter] Nia: They didn‟t question your methodology? Day: They just – ignored us. [laughter] You know, if somebody doesn‟t want to listen, they are going to ignore you. But methodology is as good an excuse as anything else. “Well, that‟s psychology, it‟s not hard science,” I‟m like… really? Really? But, at the same time, it depends on how hardcore somebody is. I still have an entire scientific organization and several studies that say XYZ, it‟s a lot harder for you to say no to me. And that does kind of sway some folks as well. Nia: Yeah. So, something – Day: It‟s activism, only you get paid for it. That really is the only real difference, as far as I‟m concerned. Nia: Well, there‟s also a difference between proximity to power, I think. Day: How close? Nia: I mean, being on the inside versus being on the outside. Day: I think there‟s some of that, but I would still argue that if you have a good strategy and are well organized, you can take advantage of it. Because, if you‟re on the outside, and this is one of the nice things about APA and ACB is that you have affiliate groups. So, one of my great meetings was with, I can‟t remember the legislator‟s name, she‟s a congresswoman actually out of California, and it was a children‟s bill, it actually had to do with children in detention that were undocumented. And the idea of provision of at least mental health services, you know, no matter how – if you‟re going to hold them, fine, I can‟t argue with the law on that point. But if you are doing that, you need to be at least providing some kind of counseling services for these kids because that is not a natural environment for them. It all sounds logical, doesn‟t it? And we‟d been trying to get that added onto stuff, and we finally got it into a bill, and we needed more legislators to sign on and support it. The more names you have backing it, the more likely it is to move. And I had been trying that office for months and months and months. And that week, one of our psychologists is a lovely old man, Manuel Casas, was in the office and said, will you come with me to
her office, and help me talk to the staffer about it? And he‟s like, yeah yeah yeah, no, I know her, she goes to the same church, no big deal. And we went down, we‟re talking to the staffer, she‟s like, ok, that‟s nice, blah blah blah, and I hear, “Manny Casas! Is that you? What are you doing in Washington, D.C.?” And, you know, she came up, gave him a great big old hug, said, “What are you here for? ,” He‟s like “your legislation, it deals with children and providing services,” he says to the staffer, and she‟s like, “oh. It sounds like it‟s good.” And she‟s like, “Why aren‟t we on it?” [laughter] And the staffer‟s like, “…” “Well, I‟ve got to get to work,” and she wanders off again, and the staffer‟s like, “well, I guess we‟re done, actually.” And I‟m staring like, “Yes, we are,” and Manny‟s like, “alright!” and he‟s off. But, the idea was, it was one guy who lived in her neighborhood, who was able to say, “Yes, this is important, I work with these kids, I come across them in my job, and bad things are happening to them, ” and that‟s all it took to change her mind. And in that story the proximity was not in standing, it was in geography, you know? I had another guy, when I worked at the American Council of the Blind who was an older gentleman who was blind, I think he had some developmental disabilities as well, and we were pushing a piece of legislation that was accessible television, you know, the audio description on TV, like captioning? And I said, we have it, we have it attached to a bill that‟s covering captioning as well, because in exchange the blind groups supported captioning for deaf people, and the deaf folks – because we‟re both sensory disability – that‟s the idea, is collaboration, it works. And he was out of Louisiana. And I can‟t think of the senator‟s name, it was a woman, at the time. Anyway, so he called, and he‟s like, “has she signed onto the bill?” and I‟m like, “no, she hasn‟t signed onto the bill.” Every week, for three months, he called me to ask if she‟d signed onto the bill. And I knew, when he was done calling me, he would call her office. You know, and it was one guy, and I swear to God the only reason she signed that bill was to get him to stop calling her office. You know, but it was one man, and I guess there could have been any number of things, but I personally believe that he made a difference doing that. Every week, every week I got a call. And I‟m like “no, no, she hasn‟t signed onto the bill yet,” and granted, this was a small bill, it‟s no skin off her nose, no big deal, but those are the things that tend to get lost and forgotten. Rights-based stuff tends to get lost in the shuffle of what‟s big in D.C., and that‟s what it took, was that one guy, over and over, from her district. And that‟s the other thing, he called, he made very clear, “I live in your district, I live in your state, please do this.” So, yes, I think there‟s some social capital, but I think a lot of it really is maybe organizing, and planning to take advantage of the fact that they do listen, in some ways they have to. And also remind them, “this is my vote.” And I think in some ways we kind of lost some of that. And I think some people feel like that‟s not effective, and I‟m like, I‟ve seen it be effective. I‟ve seen it be really effective. Nia: Yeah. I think there‟s a lot of things going on. One of which is just a lack of faith in elected officials, particularly from marginalized communities in the US. Day: Yeah, I think so. And that for me also feels a lack of faith in some of the Washington-based nonprofits. They‟re not doing their job. At least as far as I‟m concerned, you want to be up there, talking to them every day, about what‟s wrong. And it‟s not just you. Because like I said, I‟ve been going to that office, you know, for like three months to get them to sign on, and all it took was me bringing Manuel Casas with me. You know, and we do the same thing for the ADA amendments act. We collected stories from every state, from that legislator‟s home territory, and were able to say, “Let me tell you this story about Emma. Emma lives in your district,” and tell the story about what went wrong, and being about to say, this is you, personally, who is being impacted by this. And I think that‟s effective. But that requires a certain level of organizing to take advantage of that, and I think that should be coming from those national non-profits. They need, not to say, “oh, get angry, get out and protest,” they need to not be going up to the hill and doing their own thing, they need to take the people out here and they need to bring them to D.C. If you can‟t do it physicall y, be able to do it metaphorically, do it with stories, bring it. And do it in a structured way and apply pressure where pressure can be applied. So, I get cranky because I‟m like, you‟re not doing your job. You should be doing that to represent people. Nia: Yeah. Is that something you feel comfortable having on record? Day: I didn‟t name any non-profits, so I think I‟m pretty safe. [laughter] Nia: Okay. [laughter]
Day: And some of them do, and it‟s expensive, but I also know, like, people are unhappy with their elected officials. And I‟m like, times are switching and I‟m not so sure, I don‟t know if it will be as effective as we‟re moving forward in time. And that‟s one thing I do worry about is, five years from now, will what I say be valid? When I say, you‟re a non-profit, you‟re a mega non-profit, bring your people, will they smile and pat you on the head, send you away and do what they want? Sorry, the whole Texas thing the other night was very disconcerting to me. Like, they openly ignored – “those Occupy tactics,” you know, “messed with our session.” I‟m like, they didn‟t – Nia: The filibuster? Day: Right. Nia: I don‟t think anyone in Occupy was filibustering anything. Day: Thank you. [laughter] But the people angry up there, it‟s like, “those Occupy tactics were used,” I‟m like, you‟re not recognizing. Those are people in your state, and they are speaking. You could argue it‟s just one small contingent, if you were going to argue it, but you cannot say, this is just the rabble, do you know what I mean? So, I mean, they are starting to dismiss people. Nia: Starting to? Day: I know. What can I say? Like I said, I think I‟ve had the fortune, in some ways, of working for folks who at least were willing to listen. But yeah, to me, that was very ugly. And I‟m like, come on, you‟ve got some people watching you visibly do this. And the phrasing of it means any time people object, they‟re going to be discounted as “radical.” And not all of those folks were rowdy, either. So, you‟ve got some strong advocates who are now being dismissed as rabble. And I‟m like, oh, that‟s a bad sign. Nia: But that‟s not always been the case? Day: I don‟t think I‟ve ever been dismissed as rabble. Nia: Okay. Day: So, I don‟t know, maybe that‟s how I came about it, maybe it‟s being in Washington, I don‟t know. It does mean don‟t show up in a t-shirt that says “Republicans eat babies.” Don‟t do that. At least dress up a little bit. Nia: Okay, so that is the take-away point for the people at home. [laughter] Day: I don‟t know, I will say, there are people saying “nobody listens, it doesn‟t work that way,” and I‟m like, for me it was. I will say that I do have one counter-example. And this actually is pertinent because it has to do with the Help America Vote Act, which was attached onto part of the Voting Rights Act at one point, which was the idea of accessible voting. I tag-teamed with another lobbyist, and he was the angry, yelling, screaming, “FULL ACCESSIBILITY FOR EVERYTHING, this is crap the way it‟s currently going, blah blah blah blah!” you know, and I would come in, half-way through, and I would be the calm one, saying – Nia: You guys did a good cop/bad cop thing! Day: We did. And that worked out quite nicely. Nia: [laughter] Okay, that‟s another great tip for folks at home. [laughter] Day: So, you can be like, oh, that actually worked. It also helped that he had the clout that they couldn‟t just dismiss him, either. But – I don‟t know. I‟ve been in Washington, D.C. for 10 years. It could be I‟m out of touch with the way things really are. So, there is that. But I would be a strong thing, telling people, if you‟re going to come to Washington, if you‟re doing it for whatever protest movement, make an
appointment to see your legislator. Stop by them, saying, “I‟m here, I live in your state, these are things that are important to me, can you tell me about them?” you know? Or, “Can you tell me what your vote is on them,” or “I would urge you to support XYZ,” and I‟m like, whenever you go there for whatever reason, make that appointment to see them. Nia: Anybody can do that? Day: Anyone can walk in and do that. You put them in office. You have the right to visit them. Now, they may make you make appointments, so you want to call before you go, you can‟t just walk in – actually, you CAN just walk in. You may not be able to see who you want to see, but mak e the appointment, they‟ll do that. I don‟t know if they still do that, but I used to have – several Midwest Congress members used to have what they called their constituent breakfast, and it was like every Thursday, I want to say, like, Senator Kit Bond out of Missouri, every Thursday morning, if you were from his state, you could stop by his office at 8 A.M. and have, like, donuts and a cup of coffee. They‟d have it ready every time, and anybody from the state visiting D.C. could stop by. And he‟d usually come by for a few minutes and talk to you, you could get a little picture with him, some of that is the schmooziness of Washington, but you had a chance face-to-face to talk to him about it. Claire McCaskill, I had a friend visiting, and I said, “Do you want to go talk to her?” And he was like, “I could do that?” and I said, you voted for her, and he‟s like, “Well, actually I didn‟t” [laughter] But I said, “Well, she‟s your representative.” And he said, “Sure, I‟d love to,” and we went in, we had breakfast, and she‟s in one of the finance committees, and he had a lot of hard questions about how it was handled and what I really appreciated is that she had the answers [snaps] right there: “This is what I did and this is why I did it this way.” It doesn‟t mean you have to agree, but at least the accountability is there, in person – Nia: Yeah, you at least know that she knows her shit, she‟s competent. Day: It also means, don‟t be an asshole about it, either. Which he wasn‟t. But she has that, and continues to have that, so anybody from that state can walk in and talk to her. And this is where I‟m like, we put them in office, and even if we didn‟t put them in office, they represent us. Go up there and talk to them. That‟s your right. Nia: Yeah. Okay, so I have one more question. [laughter] So, at the beginning, you said that you identify as a bisexual, Arab-American woman with a disability. Day: Yes. Nia: Do you feel like any of those things, or discrimination against any of those particular identities have prevented you from getting where you wanted to go professionally, or created obstacles? Day: I think I would be stupid if I said no. [laughter] To be honest, I think one of the sad things is that disability tends to override everything else, whether I want it to or not. It doesn‟t matter that I work on race or ethnicity issues, or employment issues, disability tends to override everything, so I end up taking it with me wherever I want to go. Which is part of the reason for my discussion with those interns: do not do disability policy. How many jobs do you know that have the word “disability” in th e title? Become an expert in anything and then you can go anywhere based on that, employment or technology or whatever. So, I think that‟s kind of it, and I‟ve had the same kind of discussion with young women, it‟s like, w hether you like it or not, this is Washington, D.C. and you are a woman. They will always try to discount you, they will always try to treat you lesser. In the end, whether we like it or not, right now, that‟s the way it is. So I‟m like, you need to dress better, you need to walk in ready to go. And I said this too, you know, I‟m like– you guys are young. You need to make sure that you sound like you know it. Make them have to take you with them, because their initial thing is going to be not to do it. Nia: Yeah. Day: And it‟s neat because my team at the time, we‟ve had several discussions about it. I‟m 5‟2”, 5‟5” in heels. And I think all but one of us, and I think she‟s actually about the same height as me, we‟re all short. We‟re 5 foot, 4 foot 11, so we‟re all short. And I think that impacts the way people see you. And, we‟re all
different, we all dress in slightly different ways to make us look bigger, look more powerful, because it does make a difference. Nia: So do you just have to wear, like, really high heels? Day: I wear some heels. I tend, I talked about square corners. It doesn‟t matter what meeting it is, I am always in a suit. There‟s no pretty shirt and skirt ensembles, none of that. It is a suit. Period. You know, matching top, matching bottom, put on the little pinstripes for some power, because I need that to ensure the authority. Nia: Yeah, definitely. Day: And, granted, that‟s not so much now, depending on where you are and how you are, it has more to do with what my position is now. But I still, if I go into a meeting, I go into all my meetings with a suit. It‟s a rule. And my office, my office actually has a good laugh, they see me with my Wonder Woman sneakers, and on Fridays I‟m going to wander around in jeans. But if I have a meeting on that day, I will change back into a suit. So it does, and it will, whether we like it or not, we can push to change at some point, and who knows? Maybe I‟m preserving the oppression cause I‟m saying, these are things you need to do. But I think part of it is that I want to see them move up. Nia: Yeah. I think it‟s, I mean, that preserving the oppression is interesting, because – do you watch Mad Men? Day: I don‟t. I heard enough about it to probably think it would make me crazy. Nia: [laughter] So, there‟s one character, who‟s like, a young woman who wants to be able to move up through the ranks, just based on her merit, and her hard work, and her know-how. And there‟s another woman who‟s sort of her mentor, who is, you know, who knows that she‟s good -looking, and that these men are not going to respect her for what she knows, but that she can sort of like, use her good looks to get what she wants or what she needs. And she encourages the younger woman to do the same, and the younger woman‟s like, “No, I‟m going to fight for it, be respected on my own terms.” And I feel like that‟s kind of that question, which I‟ve encountered in jobs as well, of like, not necessarily about dre ssing sexy or whatever, but – do you fight to – like, I feel like as a woman, I‟m often, my performance at a job is not evaluated just on how well I do the job, but also my personality and my appearance, and it‟s like, so, what do you do? Do you, like, show up to work looking kind of frumpy and just work really hard and hope that you‟re going to get where you need to go, or do you sort of like, maybe compromise your values a little bit to show people that they need to take you seriously? Day: And I think that‟s where the idea is figuring out your own personal line is, where you go, I won‟t cross that, I just can‟t – you know. And for me, changing how I dress, things like that, hasn‟t really bothered me that much. I‟m also just a little bit uptight at work anyway, so adding that just adds to the intimidation factor. And if I‟m in charge, that makes it a lot easier to say, no, this is what needs to happen. And people jump. So, for me that‟s not been a bad thing. For some, at least for one of my staff, not her personality style, she will not be able to do that. At all. And so the idea of the suit to the meeting will never work for her. Nia: Because even if she wears it, she won‟t have the confidence that – Day: Well, it‟s not, she‟s actually amazingly c onfident. You know, like, if you meet one of those people that can talk to anyone. She can walk by the construction workers and start a conversation. She‟s one of those. And everybody knows her and she knows everybody, and everybody likes her, and she likes everybody. And every so often, it‟s kind of one of those, make sure nobody discounts your intelligence because you‟re amazingly smart. And I dubbed her the team diplomat, because she has that negotiating ability. She can sit in a room, look at how you‟re sitting, and tell you the power levels of who‟ s in the room, and who listens to who, which, you know, is not always based on title. But, you know, that whole uptight suit look isn‟t going to work for someone who‟s all like “hi so -and so!” because her engagement is her strength, whereas mine is based on that whole authority kind of a thing.
Nia: Interesting. Day: And so, the idea was figuring out, what is the best way for you to, if you‟re going to move up, to be able to have that recognition of strength. We‟re still working that, experimenting with different things, but it‟s figuring out what‟s going to work for you and then where you‟re going to say no, I‟m not going to do that. Because we had that discussion, and we talked about it, and I said yes, you can dress up and do that, I don‟t think it‟s going to work for you, I think it‟s going to cut off your biggest strength, which is being able to engage with everyone. Nia: Just like, being accessible and approachable. Day: Yes. Cause I‟m okay with being a little less approachable, in exchange for the authority, and that‟s because I started out as a lobbyist. I needed them to see me as an authority. Nia: That‟s really interesting. I think the way that women negotiate power in hierarchical workplace environments is fascinating. It‟s definitely something I don‟t think that I have figured out. Day: I definitely borrow heavily from the way men work. So, but at the same time, I talk about the collaboration of bringing all the groups together, to be able to do it, although she‟s like, “yes, you bring everyone together, you listen to everyone‟s ideas, and you get us all excited,” and she goes, “but at the end of the day, you go, this is what we‟re going to do,” she said, “you‟re ver y authoritarian at the end, going, this is the plan.” Nia: Well, I think that even – Day: Not that I object to that, actually. I‟m like, nope, that‟s very true. I‟m like, I will listen to everyone‟s ideas, but at the end of the day, yes, I decide. Nia: I think, I mean, one thing that I noticed with one of my former bosses is that it was important to her that she felt that people thought that they were being heard. Even though it was very clear to her from the beginning what the end result was going to be. Like, the illusion of – Day: Yeah, I have that habit a little bit, too. Because half the time, people aren‟t happy, because they don‟t feel like they were heard. Now, I might have my ideas on the end, we‟ve had that. I said, I‟m pretty sure that‟s how it‟s going to be, but I want you to talk to me, you may be able to change my mind. And they‟ve been able to do it on a couple of occasions. You know, I‟m like, go for it, but you‟re going to have to be really convincing. Nia: It‟s interesting because I feel like it also relates to inside versus outside strategy. Like, do you take the knowledge that‟s coming up from the grassroots, from the community, and incorporate it into everything you do, which in itself is an incredibly difficult and complicated thin g to do, because they don‟t all agree. No matter what, some of them are not going to like you [laughter], some of them are not going to like the decisions that you make, whether they‟re informed by their own words or not. And, it seems like representing a diverse constituency is a very thankless, and sort of – Day: An unhappy job. Nia: Yeah, like Herculean, like how do you [laughter] make everybody happy? Or is that not the point? Day: Yeah, you don‟t. You can‟t. Because everyone has their own – like I said, we were just going to look at the health disparities aspect – Nia: But even that is huge. Day: That‟s true. And then the idea is try to figure out as much as we can and narrow, not narrow, but that as much as that will get as many people on board as possible. And the trick is to not ever sink to, we‟re going to compromise X,Y, and Z to get it through. Because that‟s where you have things like ENDA. And it‟s hard to be able to make that decision, because I think they were trying to do the “we‟d rather get
something than nothing” and once that bill is passed, going back to it is almost impossible. And that‟s where mistakes can be made. And that was a big one. They also didn‟t back off on it fast enough, And I think that‟s one of the things – I don‟t know, I look for the small stuff where it works, and then there‟s some of the big ones. Like I am more proud of the fact that I did the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd hate crimes protection bill. I led the disability constituency that supported the legislation. Trust me – after LGBT status and race, disability‟s the next thing on there for hate crimes, and yes, I did make sure it was included in there. You know, but that‟s a bigger thing, and we needed to be a part of it. So, we got like 200, 300 organizations to sign on in support of that, and to push it, and to work with some of the other groups as well. And this is where I say, I got to see it signed, I got to be at the commemoration at the White House, and [whispers] I actually got to see Cyndi Lauper! – who was there that day, who is actually really awesome, you know. There was no big fuss, “ooh, I‟m Cyndi Lauper,” like she was just there. It was all about the families on that day. And I‟m like, that was awesome. It was also, one of those people was like “Did you meet Barack Obama?” and I‟m like yes, he was right there, I was right in front, and it was for this, but then I was like uh-huh, thank you, and shook his hand, and ran off to see Cyndi Lauper because I‟m like, yeah, you‟re the president, I‟ll catch you some other time, but that‟s Cyndi Lauper! [laughter] So, I actually have a fantastic picture on my Facebook of me and her. But, you know, I did that, and that‟s something where I can say that made change. Now, granted, a whole lot of people did that. Bu t that‟s still something that I feel really good about. You step in front of the mirror every day and you say, “Did I do my best to move something forward?” The answer is yes, great! But you never want to walk away and go, “I didn‟t do my best this morning.” [musical interlude]