Back in high school, no one was happier to have a government class first thing in the morning than Carter Linke.
“My high school government teacher would tell you that I was too excited to talk about government and policy at 8 a.m.,” said Carter, a 2020 graduate of Woonsocket High School.
Fast forward a few years and the sentiment still holds true.
Carter, a senior majoring in political science and strategic communication at the University of South Dakota and advocacy intern for the ACLU of South Dakota, still can’t stop talking about politics and policy. “Today, my friends would tell you I never fail to bring up something happening in the news with my two cents added on to it on a night out,” he said.
So it should be no surprise that Carter wants to pursue a career in political advocacy. Prior to his internship with the ACLU, Carter spent a semester in Washington, D.C., interning with the Department of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
“There, I worked alongside congressional affairs and was blessed to meet many public servants with experience that I can only hope to second,” he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue learning about legislative advocacy.”
But it’s not all work and no play for Carter. In his spare time, he’s an avid traveler and cook. “I like to fill my kitchen cabinets with cookbooks and spices from my travels,” he said.
Of course, there’s no place like home – or his mom’s recipe for banana bread. Carter grew up on a sheep farm outside of Woonsocket with his mom, Amy, and three brothers. “I always love to tell people my fun fact is my mom was blessed with two sets of twin boys, which always makes family events a bit more lively!”
When did you first hear about the ACLU and why is the work appealing to you?
In high school, I was a page for the South Dakota Legislature. My first day began with an assignment to the Health and Human Services Committee. There, the room was filled with advocates, lobbyists, and journalists as legislators prepared to debate the an anti-trans health care bill that would restrict access to gender-affirming care. I was introduced to the ACLU when they showed up to testify on behalf of South Dakota’s trans youth. I was inspired to pursue a future career in public service by the advocates in the room who showed up to defeat this hurtful bill in 2020 and continue to speak out against similar legislation.
Which of the ACLU’s issue areas are you particularly passionate about and why?
I am especially interested about the ACLU’s work in queer advocacy. Queer South Dakotans experience the highest rates of suicide, anxiety, and depression in the nation. The ACLU has showed up consistently to speak up for South Dakota’s LGBTQ+ and Two spirit community and defeat many policies that would have negative consequences on queer mental health in the state.
What is your favorite way to get involved in your community?
Personally, my favorite way to get involved since coming to Vermillion has been through my fraternity at USD. I was blessed to meet many great friends who were also passionate about public service and giving back to the community around them. I enjoy volunteering most with Charlie’s Cupboard – USD’s on-campus food pantry for students experiencing food insecurity. Charlie’s Cupboard has allowed me to explore different ways to give back to my community, even if it is through fundraising with a cooking competition or stocking shelves.
What excites you about advocacy work?
Advocacy work has always been a passion of mine. I’m so passionate about it because I see the value in communities speaking up about what impacts them. I was always told real people make real change, and advocacy work amplifies those voices.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in getting more politically involved in their community?
At first, speaking up about the things you are most passionate can be a scary feat. But make a plan, start strong, and see it through!
I first got involved with politics in my community after a car accident tragically killed three people just miles away from my school. A group of friends and I began advocating in our community and to the state for better roadway safety. When we first started, I quickly learned that the biggest obstacle is often figuring out who to contact. As I first began contacting legislators and different state officials, I was usually greeted with welcoming advice and an answer for what I was searching for. Most South Dakota legislators love to hear from their constituents, especially when they can help. Our efforts led us to Pierre to meet with the Department of Transportation and ended successfully with new signage at the intersection.
Which of the Constitution’s amendments are most important to you and why?
Obviously, the First Amendment! I study strategic communication at USD, and I am currently completing my honors thesis studying media censorship policy in Europe. As a student one of the state’s public universities, I am constantly reminded of the protections granted by the First Amendment. South Dakota legislators have attempted to ban books taught in my classrooms, drag performances hosted with my general activity fees, and restricted instructors from using language surrounding diversity policy in my syllabi.
What issues do you think are most important for South Dakotans to pay attention to?
I always encourage friends and family to look toward our schools to understand what’s happening in our state. In the past few years, South Dakota politicians have directed legislation to eliminate diversity centers, target freedom of speech and expression on campus, and designed new social studies standards aimed at changing the narrative in our classrooms. The combination of these policies is a concerning precedent for all community events. The continued interest on education policy in the state is a concerning turn and I am cautious that this is yet another avenue for our politicians to decide the most important parts of our lives.
What are you most looking forward to during your time as an intern?
I’ve been blessed to work on legislative issues as a student throughout high school and college. The internship is yet another opportunity to explore a new perspective working with legislative affairs. I’m especially looking forward to learning how the ACLU works with communities to build advocacy campaigns and achieve strategic goals to support those same communities.