At 26, Amy Herzfeld has done more to spark and maintain progressive change than most people do in two lifetimes. She is a fitting legacy to her father, well-known labor attorney Alan Herzfeld, and her credentials range from grassroots campaign work to award-winning journalism to representing the United States at the 2004 World Social Forum in India. BW caught up with the executive director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center for a chat about changing times, social policy and Mother Jones.
BW: How did you get involved in politics?
AH: When I was 14, I started showing up at campaigns. The first was the campaign to defeat Proposition #1, an anti-gay initiative. We were successful. It was a massive, countywide effort, and my mom dropped me off every evening at the campaign office. I worked the phones, did mailings, went door to door. She was nervous that I was alienating myself socially from my peers because I was aligning with seemingly radical causes, and it was somewhat intentional. Junior high can be such a place of alienation, and I wanted to go somewhere where my contributions would be taken seriously.
Are you young to be doing what you're doing?
Yes and no. I can be underestimated for my age, but it's also regarded as an asset. I have energy and enthusiasm, and without a family to support, I can give more to my work.
Do you ever get burnt out?
It's not uncommon for young activists to work so hard they burn out, or in a small community like Boise they want to move on to bigger cities. I'm really invested here. This is my home and my community, and I'm optimistic. At the community level, there are victories every day: new leaders emerge; people turn on their consciousness and become empowered and active; people directly affected by injustice find their voices.
What is the most valuable thing you've done for yourself?
I graduated from WILD (Western Institute for Organizing and Leadership Development), a program of Western States Center, a Portland-based umbrella organization for social justice groups and leaders in an eight-state region of the West. I call it "activist camp." I joined 15 other leaders for a year and a half to sharpen our organizing skills and political analysis. It was the best opportunity I ever had in terms of my leadership development.
What are your main goals as executive director of IHREC?
To take our work statewide, leverage existing programs and develop new ones consistent with our mission of human rights education and advocacy, build visibility beyond the memorial, deepen our coalition work with allies, and establish ourselves as the statewide voice in human rights. Continue to inspire Idaho school children and adults with the importance of framing all justice issues as human rights issues.
What are some of your other dreams?
I love to write; I'm a glutton for a by-line. My fantasy job would be investigative reporting for a leftist magazine like Mother Jones or Bitch-the marriage of all my political rabble-rousing and the pen. But I can't imagine I would land anywhere in life and not join a nonprofit board or serve on a planning committee for some community event. People joke about how I sign up for everything, but I move with purpose. I do it because I enjoy it; it's the only thing I've found that makes me feel good about myself. That sounds self-interested, but it's on a deeper level of how I relate to the world.
Any future plans?
I want to make it to Ireland. I like the rain and rocky coastline, and the people appreciate dark beer. There's a Guinness online contest to win a pub in Ireland, and my mom and I enter every year.