Here’s a refreshing reminder: Public policy can include everything from health care and the economy to lobsters and bicycles. The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network doesn’t limit itself to certain spheres of debate. Its students look at the world around them and see potential for local policy change everywhere. At the Campus Network’s annual Policy Expo in Washington, D.C. on June 27 and 28, students presented the policy proposals that they have been developing over the past year. Friday’s keynote speaker, University of Maryland Professor of Political Economy Gar Alperovitz, asked the crowd, “If you don’t like corporate capitalism, and you don’t want state socialism, what do you want?” The Policy Expo proposals represented Millennial-driven answers to that question– some of which addressed questions I had never even considered before.
Following the 2004 election, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network was founded by students who were frustrated about being shut out from policy-making after working on campaigns. Since beginning in dorm rooms, the Campus Network has emphasized the importance of young people to creating policy change from the ground up. It provides spaces for motivated young progressives to develop campus connections and locate the resources they need to put their ideas into action. The Policy Expo is an important part of that work: the “reverse Q&A” built into each presentation gave students the opportunity to take their questions to an audience of peers, supporters, and stakeholders.
As one of the newest members of the Roosevelt Institute team, I hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss policy with any of the students, though I had spoken to members of the staff about what to expect, and had read some of the proposals in the 10 Ideas publication series. The concepts looked interesting, and some had a lot of potential. But when the first students took the podium, I realized that many of the projects are far past potential and are already making an impact.
Alex Schoemann and Nora Goebelbecker, students at Notre Dame, developed a concept for a non-profit micro-lending service to compete with predatory payday lending. Then they put it into action in South Bend, Indiana. The Jubilee Initiative for Financial Inclusion (JIFFI) has already made a round of loans, which were paid back in full. In the fall semester, they plan to make enough loans to hit the legal limit in the state of Indiana for a lender of their size. The state’s regulations are their next challenge, which they brought to the floor for the reverse Q&A. JIFFI is already talking to legislators who are willing to help change the law, but the audience had suggestions for other models to examine, and potential lobbying partners.
Other students presented equally innovative ideas. Rahul Rehki saw a lack of young people contributing to the health policy space and is working to get young people involved in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Federal Advisory Committees. John Tranfaglia worked on the challenges facing his home state of Maine’s most well known industry: lobster. Tranfaglia’s proposal suggested that Maine market lobster in the same way Idaho markets potatoes, but when the Reverse Q&A brought up other possible models, they weren’t limited to food: well-known state and local products from Maryland crab to Nashville’s country music scene were all suggested as possible comparisons.
The practice of making local change to advance a larger progressive goal is key to the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s model, and many of the projects had longer-term goals that could move even further. Friday afternoon’s workshops fit into that strategy, offering attendees an opportunity to develop their skills in partnering with government, connecting with people, and working within the system. In his workshop, Alex Torpey, the youngest mayor in New Jersey, dropped some wisdom about being a young person working policy: “It’s a great story,” he said, “let’s talk about young people being involved, but at a certain point that fades away… It’s not about being the young person in charge anymore, it’s just stepping up to the plate and just doing what you need to do.”
Click here for more information about all the projects presented at this year’s Policy Expo.
Next month, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network will bring together chapter leaders from across the country at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY for the Hyde Park Leadership Summit, the first step in the annual cycle towards the 2014 Policy Expo.