Why policy matters – even to those seemingly outside of its reach

Charlotte Jonkman

Charlotte Jonkman

My name is Charlotte Jonkman and I am one of the new interns here at the League. Introductions have never been easy for me – primarily because my path to this point in life has been relatively uneventful. I grew up in Jenison, Michigan with my parents and two older brothers, along with my entire extended family less than a half hour’s drive away. I attended private school from preschool through high school and chose to continue that path, enrolling in Baylor University where I am now one semester away from receiving my bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Though the term “boring” often comes to mind when I reflect on the past 20 years, I have come to appreciate that “privileged” might serve as a more apt descriptor.

Recognition of that privilege served as the catalyst for my interest in public policy. I still remember a 10th grade teacher asking the class how often our lives interacted with the government. Some students cited their trips to the DMV to receive their driver’s licenses or the tax forms they’d filed due to recently-acquired first jobs—encounters that occur annually, at most. The majority of us were surprised when our teacher went on to explain how government impacts our lives at every turn, from the electricity powering the classroom lights to the clean water flowing from nearby drinking fountains to the (unrelentingly pothole-filled) roads we’d driven to school.

students taking testLooking back now, I know that we were lucky to be surprised. Children attending underfunded schools or relying on government assistance to put food on their plates feel the presence of public policy in their lives far more than I ever did. That realization–that the world is a whole lot bigger and more complex than my little corner of West Michigan—drove me to become more engaged in the news and, from there, to desire a better understanding of the policies everyone seemed to have such strong opinion about.

Since then, my initial interest has grown into a passion for utilizing the daily interaction between citizens and government to improve the lives of those who cannot claim the privilege of a mundane childhood. Specifically, I am passionate about providing economic opportunity through the protection of labor rights and the expansion of access to healthcare. In these policy areas and others, I have learned a lot over the past few years. Through my university classes, I have gained knowledge in political history and the workings of government. I continue to expand my understanding of public policy through independent reading and, admittedly, countless hours spent listening to political and historical podcasts. Unfortunately, my ever-growing Netflix queue will have to wait until “Slow Burn” has taught me all there is to know about Watergate and the New York Times’ “The Daily” has updated me on the news of the day.

While, like most people, the mere mention of annual budget negotiations or subcommittee meetings does not necessarily get my blood pumping, the benefit that seemingly miniscule changes in public policies might bring to thousands of lives drives me to continue learning and growing and is what led me to the League. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be part of an organization that shares my focus on the human impact of public policy and works to make that impact a positive one. And I am excited to spend the summer learning from and working with the many committed and passionate individuals here at the League.

— Charlotte Jonkman

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

Why we fight

Sometimes it hurts to care so much. There’s a downside to being passionate and emotionally invested in your work. You take setbacks personally. They’re painful and taxing. You question your path and your purpose.

Following the election, I’m sure a lot of you can relate. There’s a lot of worry about the fate of our future, especially for the kids, families and workers who are struggling the most in our state and our nation.

And that’s who I think about when things get tough. I remember that there are thousands upon thousands of people who are depending on the work of the League and our partners. This is their life. They can’t give up. And that’s why I won’t give up. (more…)