Keeping people at the center of public policy

I am still very much a newbie at the Michigan League for Public Policy. I finally know where I can find extra staples, but I still struggle with all of the acronyms and institutional knowledge that this job requires. Luckily, I recently attended a New Staff Training at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). I want to share some of what I learned at my training because I believe the CBPP’s outlook on equity-driven public policy is useful to all of us.

This training was held in Washington, DC, and while I usually love visiting our nation’s capital, I could not put to rest a feeling of anger and frustration. I imagined folks debating the future of healthcare, immigration policy and the federal budget just miles away, and I was not happy about being so close to the people making those decisions without being able to voice my opinion on them.

People 450x667Thankfully, the training environment I stepped into could not have been more different from the bitter scenes I was imagining on Capitol Hill. New advocates, researchers, communications staff and executive leaders traveled from around the country to learn how to make a difference in their states and contribute to national movements for policy change and justice. There was even an entire contingent of folks from Puerto Rico who arrived just as Hurricane Maria made landfall back home.

The room was refreshingly diverse and we spent a good part of our time together discussing racial and ethnic equity, exploring how public policy decisions often have disproportionate impacts on people of color. Everyone in the room was dedicated to studying history, understanding the racism that has driven public policy decisions in our nation’s past, and using that knowledge to develop meaningful research and advocacy.

I love that our work is not simple here at the Michigan League for Public Policy. Our researchers take the time to examine public policies deeply and decipher the impacts they have on vulnerable people. Our staff dedicates a lot of time to talking about racial and ethnic equity, and we are encouraged to point out places where we can grow and become a more inclusive organization, even if that means we have to change the way we have been doing things. I am heartened to see organizations across the U.S. doing the same.

As an advocate, I am particularly moved by the CBPP’s prioritization of community engagement. At our new staff training I understood even better the importance of bringing more people into our policy discussions. We cannot simply put out reports and hope they will make a difference. If we are truly invested in creating sustainable, equity-driven change, we need to develop relationships with our communities. Our communities need to inform how and why we do our work.

Now I am home and ready to get to work! I hope to challenge myself to make racial equity central to my outreach here in Michigan. I feel recharged and I can imagine how desperately other activists are in need of some renewed optimism as they take on more and more public policy fights. I will do my best to share the hope I witnessed as I talk with folks about the importance of forging ahead.

If you’re looking for a way to be part of the process, you can learn more about the League’s opportunities for involvement here.

— Jenny Kinne, Community Engagement Specialist