Once a Moxie…

One week after the completion of the Moxie program I’m sitting here, wondering if this past summer was a dream. It’s not so much that my experience in New York was fantastical, but it felt like an entirely different world from the one I’m exposed to on a regular basis.

As I’ve gotten back into my routine at home, I’ve had conversations with friends and family about all that I encountered and learned on my trip. And having these conversations made me realize, how little I, and the people in my life, reflect on social issues from the unique perspective of the Moxie program. I’ve been sending my Dad nonstop articles on universal basic income and finding research on increased wages for workers funded by money spent on stock buybacks. I find my opinion of the news I read colored in a different way than it was prior to my eight weeks working for Legal Momentum. I go immediately to read news about Supreme Court decisions now, and have been looking at current events from a perspective of the impact they have on women’s’ rights more particularly.

At the same time, I find myself being more passive day to day in a way we couldn’t be in New York. The 9-to-5 schedule is something I not only got accustomed to but began to enjoy thoroughly. On top of that, the talks we went to, the films we watched, the weekly discussions we had and personal talks with each other made me live life in a reflective manner that pushed me. Working at Legal Momentum allowed me to focus my desire to do something to improve my surrounding community. The Moxie program supported that work and made me think critically about every step I was taking. I’m somewhat nervous that I will start to lose that as I move on to the next stages in life from here. But as I study abroad this coming semester in Paris and engage in a new culture, I want to not only be fascinated by history but be critical of everything that I encounter. And I want to do this when I come back to Duke, as well.

I know that I will keep in touch with my fellow Moxies (and honorary Moxie, my dear friend/mentor Lena Barsky) for long after this summer. I was happily surprised just last Thursday with a video call from Lena, who, along with the other office interns, wanted to say hi and update me on everything happening at Legal Momentum. It’s grant season — so there’s a lot of stress and hard work happening there. The Moxies have been discussing when we’re going to have our first dinner back at Duke at the end of August. It’s because of these things that I know this past summer in New York was in fact real, and the lessons of how to approach life as I move forward will stay with me even as details fade away and I continue to learn new information and experience alternative perspectives.

Thank you so much to Ada and Shannan for facilitating and enriching my life in such an impactful, life-altering way. Once a Moxie, always a Moxie. 

E Pluribus Unum– Out of Many, One

I’ve always considered myself an aspiring world-builder. But the world I wanted to build centered around me racing to the top of the world, and then changing it. As the summer progresses, I’m learning more and more how convoluted this idea truly is. I’m starting to realize that competing within these manufactured structures to secure my own position in the system is simply playing into its hands. Now, I’m trying to reframe what changing the world should look like.

E Pluribus Unum


  • Out of many, one

This term, credited to the Roman writer, Cicero, is said to be about our friends and family. When we connect with and love our family and friends, we make one person out of the many we surround ourselves with. No one can survive alone… and there are many who are crucial to every step of each of our journeys.

This term has been important to the history of the US – where it has been an unofficial motto of our country since the Thirteen Colonies joined together under one nation. But I’m coming to realize that we have lost the sense of this term, and what it truly implores us to do. I think that we don’t understand that every action we take, the words we speak, the activities we engage in are part of a larger structure.

  • Every item of clothing I buy allows me to support the network of global capitalism that then destabilizes less developed countries and causes their women to come to the US to do life long, laborious domestic work simply to provide a just education for their children.
  • Every time I assume my heteronormativity as the norm in conversation, I uphold the idea that sexuality and gender on a spectrum is an inferior position to hold.
  • Every time I have done something risky and gotten away with it because I am a “non-threatening, model minority” I have taken advantage of my position designated to me that subdues other minorities as being less acceptable.
  • Every step I take to advancing my career at a high position will allow these systems to exist and continue their oppression.

I think E pluribus unum captures the sentiment of how our society was supposed to be built. If we truly think of ourselves as connected to each other to the extent that we all contribute to the networks that create the systems of oppression around us, we would be much more deeply troubled by it – and be more driven to reform these systems. We shouldn’t need to hear the stories of individual people and empathize directly with their problems to know that we are complicit and benefitting off of the labor and oppression of those around us and under us. When we start to accept that we are parts of a whole, and that the subjugation of any one part is detrimental to the whole – we will need no other motivation to seek change.

I look around at the people in my life and realize that I would be nothing without them. My parents, my dearest friends, and my fellow Moxies – they are each a crucial part of my own journey. But even more so, those who I may not directly connect with, see, or talk to. These people have all allowed me to live the amazing life I have had the privilege of living. How could I not want to make sure that their lives are just and fair?

Climbing my way to the top of these systems is not something I necessarily desire anymore. Not only does this perpetuate them, but it requires minorities to victimize themselves to gain any empathy and the support of those held above them. Instead, I’m working on not thinking so individualistically and taking steps to stop condoning and preserving the systems around us by keeping in mind that we are always: out of many, one. 


“Hire Him, He’s Got Great Legs”

What is necessary for social change? Why are we inherently drawn to solving symptoms while we resist embracing the ideas and action to truly catalyze structural transformation?

This is the question that has been trailing me throughout this week. We dissected and observed the LGBTQ+ movement from a new historical vantage point (that at first I was very uncomfortable with… but was just the kind of radical, unique perspective that is necessary to change the way we perceive a movement). We contemplated the Venezuelan crisis after watching WOMEN OF THE VENEZUELAN CHAOS (which touched my heart and made me strikingly more aware of a problem I had skimmed through in the news maybe once). And as we partook in these activities, I reflected on the ways we approach our grandiose goal of bettering society and what is necessary to actually make that change reality. 

We can procure rights for women so that when we are discriminated against we have the choice of legal recourse… but how do we change the minds of those who suppress us? How do we empower women to be more confident about defending themselves from those who attempt to hold us down?

It seems that some combination of the two is necessary between the transformation of ideas and furnishing necessary public services, but where do we strike this balance?

With this question occupying me since the weekend, I sat down with the helpline coordinator at Legal Momentum, Mireille Martineau, on Monday. Mireille provides legal advice for women who call in having experienced everything from employment discrimination to domestic violence to campus sexual assault. She talked to me about her past experience working on urban community-based issues–affordable housing development, disaster recovery after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and now her work at LM. Her easy, open personality and vast depth of experience on all facets of social work urged me to ask her the question still lingering in the back of my mind.

I asked her what she thought was the proper balance between non-profits working on the ground with those adversely affected by our current governing systems and the organizations that are attempting to change the laws or systems that bind communities in appalling and unjust ways. She told me, “it’s very important to provide the necessary aid to those suffering… but bureaucracy prevents us from having any real effect, which gets very frustrating.” That’s why, she says, she enjoys working at organizations who ultimate goal is to change the laws that would repair bureaucratic flaws and ensure more steady change.

Her insights are very meaningful, but the picture still feels incomplete to me… how do I truly view non-profits as actors in social change?

Right now, I conceptualize the work that NPOs do on women’s rights over a continuous spectrum. On the left, some work one-on-one and handle provision of important social goods and services; on the right are organizations that are about conceptualizing new ideas of what our society should look like that would ensure women’s rights as a social norm. Legal Momentum falls towards the right end, although it performs elements of both kinds of work. I feel like it is necessary to have cohesive action in both types of organizations because interacting with the public is what changes hearts and minds and the way society actually chooses to act… while focusing on bigger, structural issues is important to creating the space for that society to emerge. People in Venezuela need urgent assistance with food, medical supplies, and protection from crime… but this has to go hand in hand with governmental change, otherwise the resources provided for aid will be too few, too late. The LGBTQ+ movement is right for wanting to access the rights of marriage and all civil and political rights granted to heterosexual citizens of the United States… but this has to go hand in hand with transforming how we view family structures and with embracing the true idea of sexual liberation. 

Right above my desk at work I can see an old picture that rests against the wall, produced in the 1970s. It reminds that these questions and thoughts are crucial to achieving equality for all genders, all sexualities, all identities. It is a jarring and very funny, but deeply thought-provoking image. Here it is:

Ms. Magazine, NOW public service announcement, July 1972.

In my mind, this picture represents what social change would look like; if the world we knew was flipped on its head. Not a world where we judge and hire men based on how attractive they are, but rather a world where it’s absolutely ridiculous to think of assessing a woman based on her appearance. I’m looking forward to that day, but even more so looking forward to working towards that ultimate transformation.

Living the Lessons


First day of work– I wake up 95 mins before I need to get to work. Prepared my lunch the night before, so get out of the apartment at 9:05am– 55 minutes to get to the office. I open Google Maps as I exit the building, but I’m confused. The route I memorized before going to bed just 10 hours prior is now not showing up, instead I have to take the F train. I end up taking the wrong train– I’m now further downtown, but was supposed to go two stops uptown. 

I rush to the right platform and eventually make my way to the building where Flo, the doorwoman greets me. I hurry up the elevator right as the clock on my phone shows it’s 10 ‘o clock and rush to the back room where I’m told the interns are already meeting with Jennifer (yikes, this means I’m late). 

My first week here in New York has been just like this; I plan something down to the minute, and everything switches up on me. And from each shake-up, I’ve learned something important. There are constantly new experiences to navigate, and nothing is what I expect it to be… it’s better. In eight days, I feel like I have a year’s worth of important experiences. I tend to talk abstractly, so let me give a few examples of moments that stuck with me.

“I mean, it was just a joke.”

One night, my suite mates and I decided to spontaneously venture to Times Square just before midnight. One the subway, a white woman sitting in the corner of the train was watching us. Once our conversation died down, she began conversing with us. Light, easy conversation with a little back and forth. Then, a few minutes later, she asks “So I want to get your guys’ opinion on the Roseanne thing that’s going on right now. What do you think about it?” We all hesitated, and she took the pause to prep her own convictions. “Well I think that it’s just too much to be fired for saying something a little inconsiderate. I mean– she’s a comedian right? Nobody ever criticized much less fired Eddie Murphy for making fun of Italian people. I mean it was just a joke.” She went on and we sat quietly, a racially minority group of women, taking it all in.

One suite mate spoke up about her opinion on how there is a line between funny and dangerously racist. As we approached our stop, I mentioned that the power dynamics between Roseanne and any black woman that she “jokingly” criticizes and Eddie Murphy and Italian people is completely different. I left the subway shocked to hear her thoughts, but invigorated by the conversation and felt my beliefs molding around a story in the news I had barely paid attention to. I found myself wondering: To what extent should we try and change what we see as unjust processes… and to what extent can a joke really be just a joke? This was just one moment of many that I felt my perspective of my own beliefs and how others perceive the world broadening as I had to face such starkly different opinions from my own.

“Nowhere in the constitution does it say the word woman.”

My experiences at Legal Momentum pushes me in a different way. I was tasked right away with work that will help launch a training program for sexual assault victim advocates that instructs them on how to navigate the criminal justice system. As I leafed through the entire program, I learned a great deal about the court system and the unique way that the process of trying a sexual assault case affects the protection of victims’ rights.

It amazes me how much work Legal Momentum is able to undertake with its small staff that fits into two small, square rooms. Like any non-profit, they are underfunded and each person is responsible for the work of twelve people, but learning about their efforts to pass a Woman’s Bill of Rights, create a guide on the criminal justice system for victim advocates, and to pass the Equal Rights Amendment is giving me an opportunity to observe and contemplate the broader effort to change the world that women have to currently try to survive in. I’m especially excited to get involved with the decades-long movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal legal rights to all American citizens regardless of sex. At first glance, I thought this was a given, but as Jenn, Senior Attorney at LM, mentioned in one of our meetings… “Nowhere in the constitution does it say the word woman.” As I’m realizing working in a legal defense fund, the law is the language of the land… and when the language leaves out a very important group of American citizens, inequality is inevitable. I look forward to working on these projects and slowly shifting the way we articulate our rights and the way we educate those who police our rights.

From my long discussions with Lena, my NJEP supervisor, I’ve to come to appreciate how you can work towards something, while recognizing that your work is not the end-all, be-all. There are many hurdles to changing the world for the better that we ourselves as individuals, non-profit organizations, and communities can create.

The Lessons I’m Learning…

I’m learning to think quickly, logically, and adapt by struggling with the subway that first day of work.

I’m learning to engage with those who think very differently from me, not just to understand their views, but also to understand my own.

I’m learning to be constantly critical of the systems we work within.

From jarring poetry that shocks me, makes me squirm, or makes me laugh, to the people in the Moxie program that I’ve found I can find comfort in, New York is teaching me to push my own self to question my convictions and broaden my knowledge. I’m looking forward to what the next seven weeks of the program and New York have to offer me. In the meantime — here’s a place I got to see that made me happy this week: MoMaCha coffee and their glitter board (ft. Bella Miller, a sweet Moxie friend).

The Fear

My name is Akanksha Ray. I am a feminist… but I’m not sure if the label is enough. I believe in gender equality… but I’m not entirely clear about what that looks like. This summer, as part of the Moxie program at Duke and as an intern at Legal Momentum, I’m excited to put my words to action and hope this action deepens my understanding of feminism at work today.

To imagine that I’ll be spending eight weeks in New York pouring over feminist literature and working on issues that embody the plight of feminism is scary, but strangely titillating. I don’t know if I’m qualified to do this work — in fact, I am pretty sure that I am not. But then, who ever starts out qualified?

The work that I’m doing excites me so much because it’s quite unique; as part of the National Judicial Education Program, I’ll be doing policy work within the legal system at Legal Momentum: the oldest advocacy group for women in the United States. Wow! It’s definitely nerve-wracking to think I’ll be working somewhere so important, but so exciting to think I’ll be surrounded by so much experience and knowledge.

Countless questions have been running through my mind about what my summer at Legal Momentum will be like: what exactly am I going to be doing? I know I’m working on a virtual curriculum that educates court professionals and advocates of domestic abuse victims on how to fight these cases fairly in court. But what does that mean? And how effective will I really be in this advocacy and curriculum development? It’s a less direct way to affect an issue, I think — which makes me nervous. Am I going to encounter situations where I feel uncomfortable? Or maybe I’ll feel too comfortable and won’t really be faced with enough opportunities for growth.

I am not sure what the answers to my questions are. But I do know that this summer will be a uniquely new experience. As I look forward to the next 8 weeks, I remember something my mom once said to me: “It scares me a lot, but the fear is what makes it so exciting.”

I am excited to come out with a more clearly molded concept of women’s empowerment– and how it applies to me.

I am eager to learn what it’s like to have a very regular office job– a very rewarding one.

I am ready to go forth on this stimulating, new journey– fear and all.