Karrah Johnstone '11
Don’t let graduating Senior Karrah Johnston fool you. Underlying her gentle disposition are a number strong political convictions that she won’t hesitate to fight for—all in the name of community improvement and social progress.
Karrah grew up in Des Moines, Iowa—a place that echoes some of Vermont’s cozy little charms: a friendly atmosphere, progressive culture, and plenty of rural surroundings. Naturally, GMC didn’t feel to far from home. Karrah made her mark within the Environmental Studies program, which she complemented with a policy concentration and a minor in economics.
A member of the pre-law program as well, Karrah developed an interest in community organizing and how to make socio-environmental policies better at the local level. All of her lessons in policy seemed to come full circle when she decided to intern with the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) last summer and explore an alternative way of influencing policy that grounded itself in demonstrations and town hall disturbances rather than arduous courtroom battles.
“When I think of law, I think of it being civilized, having structure… but that’s not always the best way to go about making change,” Karrah says with a grin.
CCI is a political activist group that undertook a number of projects that ranged from combating factory farming, predatory lending, and immigration issues. “When I was looking for internships, they really appealed to me. They were this non-profit group who cared about the things I care about,” Karrah says.
Karrah spent most of her time working on a campaign that aimed to shut down a 5,000-head hog factory farm. CCI canvassed neighboring communities and informed them of what was going on just down the road. “It was great to see people who would have never been involved in something like this start to become motivated,” Karrah says. Thanks to the work of CCI, county officials discontinued the factory farm and the Department of Natural Resources halted the farm’s efforts to appeal the decision.
Other highlights included protesting the construction of a detention center for illegal immigrants in Des Moines, pressuring their local representatives to protect Social Security and Medicaid during the recent debt ceiling debate, and even finding a bit of national recognition.
CCI attended the Iowa Straw Poll, a well-noted mock poll for potential Presidential Republican nominees. During Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s speech, CCI spoke out and challenged him on the taxing corporations. Romney’s now-famous reply was simply: “Corporations are people, my friend.” Ever since, there has been extensive coverage in the national press, t-shirts, and—perhaps most importantly—more scrutiny of a particularly elusive candidate.
Reflecting on her summer, Karrah says that she’s leaned a great deal about how to speak up on behalf of her values. “CCI is all about being up front and in the faces of the people in power’s faces. That’s something that’s been really driven into me,” she says. Even though her adventurous summer is over, Karrah has no intention of letting her political projects fall by the wayside.
Karrah and her advisor, Paul Hancock (economics), will be undertaking a study of migrant labor to present at a panel at St. Francis College in Brooklyn in early October. In addition to the fun she hopes to have working with one of her professors “in his element,” Karrah is also grateful to have another platform by which she’ll be able to continue her ever-growing campaign to make her voice heard.
By Chad Skiles ‘12