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Ticket to D.C.

In April, when I received the confirmation for the Next Leaders’ program at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive think tank striving to promote critical public scholarship, I knew I was going to have an intellectually rewarding summer.



My first day at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), posing with a framed picture of Eqbal Ahmad, one of the earliest leaders of IPS.




I was in Islamabad working for a telecom giant when I realized that questions closer to my heart, were actually socio-political in nature. It was hard to ignore the violent circumstances my Hazara community faced in Balochistan, the most troubled province to the south-west of Pakistan. It was then, that I made up my mind to switch. I realized that I needed engagement with an intellectually stimulating environment. This quest is the reason I am part of the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center.

During this time, in the progressive study circles and intellectual discussions that I attended, I came across one name, revered by well-read activists – Eqbal Ahmad.



Eqbal Ahmad is one of the few Pakistani public scholars with international stature. Having lost his own father to the violent circumstances during the bloody partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Eqbal dedicated his life to the struggle for justice and peace. He came to the United States in the 1960s and in the decades to come, emerged as an inspiring progressive intellectual. His critical thinking and public speaking inspired many. Academic giants like Edward Said cherish his comradery.



While reading for one of my courses in late March, I discovered Eqbal Ahmad was involved with founding a progressive institute in Washington D.C., the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). I began to wonder – is this the same institute where a group of Rotary Peace Fellows and MIDP students visited during our professional development trip in January? I remembered how impressed my friend Shannon was after visiting the institute on the D.C. trip.

I immediately googled IPS for any summer internship opportunities, only to find out that I had just missed the deadline. Regardless of the deadline, I wrote to them anyway – I did not want to miss this opportunity.



In my efforts to obtain an internship with IPS, I realized the importance of networks. I am grateful for the help and resourcefulness of Susan Carroll, Caroline Poole and Tiffany Goetzinger, who made the necessary connections for me at IPS.



As the internship deadline had already passed, all of the young passionate student-activists had been selected for the New Leaders program. Convinced by my passion and perseverance, IPS decided to offer me an unpaid internship with a senior writer, activist and Associate Fellow, John Feffer. John is the director of the progressive foreign policy analysis outlet, Foreign Policy In Focus.



John Feffer is the author of several books, with Splinterlands being his most recent. He is a former Associate Editor of the World Policy Journal, a Writing Fellow at Provisions Library in Washington, D.C. and a PanTech Fellow of Korean Studies at Stanford University.

With the mentorship of a senior writer, we mutually devised a workplan to improve my writing skills and use my time in Washington, D.C. to establish a network. My workplan includes a piece that connects a local issue to a global audience, a piece that tackles a global issue and relates it to local readers, a book review and my perspective on conflicts and policies affecting South Asia. My first piece, “It’s Not Just the U.S. with a Gerrymandering Problem — Look at Pakistan” was published July 12, 2018. My second is set to publish soon and others are in progress.



The working environment at IPS truly reflects the principles and values they support. Diversity is appreciated, and intellectual debates are encouraged. As strongly opinionated as each member of the institute is, everyone is approachable and respectful. In addition to Ultimate Frisbee games and lunch invitations by John Feffer, all of the interns are regularly invited to an evening of ‘Books and Wine’ with Phyllis Bennis, director of Middle East affairs.

Phyllis Bennis, author of 11 books, “Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror: A Primer” being her latest, invited us for an evening of ‘Books and Wines’ at her place


Sam Pizzagti, author of “Is inequality in America irreversible?” and Associate Fellow at IPS, during a workshop.

During the ten-week internship, Next Leaders will attend and deliver at least ten workshops. An expert on themes around inequality and racial justice, public speaking, climate justice, peace and foreign policy, community engagement, and the Middle East crisis delivers each workshop. The most emphasized principle, however, remains the intersectionality of all these. In the words of Basav Sen, Project Director of Climate Policy, “The central thread in all forms of injustices, however technical they may seem, is the equity and control of power. Lifestyle shifts cannot tackle global climate issues until and unless power relationships are radically transformed.”



The best thing about this internship is that it is not all about theoretical workshops, intellectual debates, book launches, and op-eds. It offers an actual opportunity to interact with, support and learn from the ongoing social movements.

Among its many projects, IPS is also supporting the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), a national campaign led by our very own North Carolina’s Reverend William Barber who has called for a ‘moral revival’.

Rev. William Barber, leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, speaking to senators.
(Photo credits: Fizz Perkal at IPS)


On June 12, we all attended the congressional hearing where members of the Poor People’s Campaign testified in front of half a dozen senators. The testimonies were powerful and so were the responses from senators, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts speaking.



Washington, DC offers so much. Other than the many workshops at IPS, there are always relevant events in the city. Media outlets, non-profit organizations, policy think tanks, governmental and nongovernmental, and national and international institutes are constantly hosting talks and discussions on various issues.
This summer, several Rotary Peace Fellows held internships in Washington DC, so I never felt alone.


An evening with current Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Fellows, Chris Lara, Branka Panic, Shannon Longhurst and her boyfriend, Jake.


Other than current fellows, we also had opportunities to network with many Rotary Peace Fellow alum from our center as well as from the University of Queensland, Bradford University and Uppsala University.


With Rotary Peace Fellow alum, Daniela Tort (Duke), Nabi Sahak (Queensland), Matt Ford (Bradford) and Ahmad Mohebbi (Uppsala).


On July 18, United States Institute of Peace (USIP) hosted a discussion on Pakistan’s upcoming general elections. Professor Adil Najam of Boston University can be seen talking.




I will head back to dear North Carolina around mid-August, but I will bring back fond memories of a wonderful summer in Washington, DC.
The stress free environment at the IPS meant I could meet friends and community members not only in D.C. but also in New York City and Pennsylvania during the weekends.


Celebrating Eid-ul-Fit’r with senior Hazara public intellectual Ishaq Mohammadi and the larger Hazara community in New York City.


Part of my memories include the FIFA World Cup 2018, joyfully celebrated by members of the Next Leaders, cheering for Mexico, France and other countries.


With Juliette, a Next Leaders Fellow from France. We celebrated France’s victories together.


I am thankful to the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center’s Susan Carroll and Amy Cole, Tiffany Goetzinger and Caroline Poole at Duke University, staff and fellows at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), particularly Emily Norton and Karen Dolan for making this happen.

I have learned so much from my mentor John Feffer, Phyllis Bennis and other senior scholars at IPS. It has been a privilege to spend time together with young public scholars, the cohort of Next Leaders. It has indeed been a summer well spent. I hope the skills learned together by this cohort this summer will serve humanity across the globe.

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