“Policymakers need your expertise.”
If you have poked around the League’s website, you may recognize this phrase; it’s front and center on our Advocacy page. For me, it serves as an important reminder of how to better understand any policy issue: it can’t be by simply researching or reading analyses but must include listening to those who are affected by the policy themselves in their work and everyday lives.
I recently moved to Michigan from Baltimore, Maryland and am so new here that lifting up my hand to show someone where I live isn’t quite second nature yet. Therefore this approach is especially necessary for me at a time when I am immersing myself in new policies and proposals with state and local contexts as I begin to understand the priorities of not only the League but also the communities we work with and serve. In my past role I worked at the federal level advocating for Safety Net Health Plans, Medicaid, and accessible and affordable health care. In addition, I have had the opportunity to work with local nonprofit organizations and grassroots programs while in Baltimore. I’m eager to turn my focus to state policy in Michigan, particularly at a time when state-level decisions about Medicaid work requirements or protecting immigrants, among myriad other policy areas, will have longstanding impacts on the health, well-being and safety of Michiganders.
My experiences with various “levels” of program and policy work have demonstrated to me that, however cliché, people have the power to make change and influence policy at whatever level at which they are able to engage. This can be broad, whether in a conversation or a classroom or a program; in a policy memo or a comment letter; or at a rally or the ballot box.
Our work at the League facilitates this process by creating accessible resources for policy and advocacy and through our community engagement. I was lucky enough to attend one of our community focus groups (one of 11 so far in 2019!), where I learned what issues mattered most to people across the state and also saw how we as an organization are turning these concerns into policy priorities. In addition, participants answered the question “How did the League do?” in establishing policy priorities for our Owner’s Manual for Michigan based on their previous feedback regarding important areas of interest. Such an iterative process is critical to ensuring the League is not only communicating the right priorities but also doing so effectively.
I believe this process is important for organizations and all of us as advocates, allies, researchers or analysts alike. Reflecting and listening to others’ feedback and expertise—particularly related to issues that directly concern them or in which they have experience—leads to trust, accuracy, and better communication. I am looking forward to working with my team at the League and our community partners as they give me a hand—if you will—in learning more about Michigan, policy options, and what state policymakers can do to make meaningful change.