Libby Otto ’20: Secular Coalition for America

Name: Libby Otto
Class Year: 2020
Major: Sociology
Hometown: Seattle, Wash.

Internship Organization: Secular Coalition for America
Job Title: Policy Intern
Location: Washington, D.C.

Debbie Allen and Libby Otto

When I first applied to the Secular Coalition, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting into. Secular Coalition for America is a nonprofit which represents 19 secular organizations around the nation, using both grassroots activism and direct lobbying to protect the rights of secular Americans and the separation of church and state. The opportunity was perfect — I had been looking for public policy and advocacy positions which would allow me to apply what I had been learning in my sociology courses to the real world. That being said, most of the other positions I was looking at had specific focus issues such as Immigration or Native American rights. While I knew Secular Coalition worked to ensure a separation of church and state, what exactly did that look like? Here’s what I found out:

Separation of church and state covers almost any issue you can think of.

Since starting the internship, I’ve gotten to work on issues ranging from reproductive rights to immigration, vaccinations to discrimination, to education and beyond. As my boss advised me, “if debate includes religious rhetoric, it’s an issue we handle.” As for what I do, it’s almost as varied. My main project combines all of these issues through the educational branch of the organization: throughout the summer I will be following the 2020 presidential election, creating profiles for the candidates and updating our constituency on their positions to help voters make informed decisions. Beyond just tracking the candidates, however, I also get the chance to engage with policy making more directly — experiences, I’ve realized, rooted in the location of Washington, D.C.

When I first thought about living in D.C., I was apprehensive. Going to school across the country from home, it always felt important to me to go back to Seattle over the summer. Although I have a wide range of friends and family living in Washington, D.C., and spend large amounts of time here, it still felt like a foreign experience. As I realized that the best opportunities for me were here, I became excited by the idea. Being in D.C., I have access to not only work-specific lobbying and coalition meetings with groups such as Planned Parenthood, but also incredible intern events. Over my summer, I will be attending weekly lunches (with free food I might add) dedicated to work on reproductive rights, multiple lobby days, and all of the protests and rallies the capital of the United States has to offer. In these spaces, I am able to learn skills that are both crucial for a future in public policy, such as coalition building, legislation tracking and memo writing, but also tools for my own political activism.

Although I’m just a few weeks into the summer, I can’t wait to see what comes next. Even when the work gets tiring or I’m saddened by something I see in the world, I can pinch myself and remember, I’m doing something to help and I couldn’t ask for more than that.

For more information on the work of the Secular Coalition for America, and Libby’s candidate tracker, visit