Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Summer Fellowship 2014: Greetings from San Jose

Hi there, I’m Jeff Barrera. I’m a rising senior and Urban Studies major, with a concentration in Urban Society and Social Change. I’m interested in public policy advocacy – finding ways to drive meaningful policy initiatives through our political system. I believe that typically the biggest obstacle to addressing major issues is not a lack of potential solutions, but the difficulties of implementing these proposals. Our politics are biased towards the affluent, the engaged, and the status quo, which makes significant policy change hard. This is especially true when the benefits take time to emerge or when a policy is aimed at the needs of disadvantaged communities who lack leverage.

I’m working to overcome these biases by organizing communities and building public support for action. I’m especially focused on advocacy communication – using storytelling and technology to help people understand policy issues and why they matter. I’ve built websites for political campaigns, shot videos for an education reform coalition, written op-eds and email newsletters for a DC think tank, and developed a get-out-the-vote program for a community organizing group.

This summer, I’m building on this background by interning with Working Partnerships USA. Working Partnerships is a nonprofit public policy research and advocacy organization based in San Jose, California. It focuses on issues that affect working people, such as livable wages, affordable housing, efficient public transit, and quality healthcare. WPUSA conducts research to identify where change is needed, then builds coalitions and leads organizing campaigns to address these problems. It works closely with the labor movement and with communities of color, helping to ensure that disadvantaged people aren’t left behind as Silicon Valley prospers.

Working Partnerships also serves as an innovation laboratory for the progressive movement, pioneering new initiatives that are then adopted by allies across the country. Over a decade ago, for example, it helped create a universal health insurance program for children in Santa Clara Country, a model which has since been replicated in thirty other counties. More recently, WPUSA helped lead the 2010 Measure D ballot campaign, which raised San Jose’s minimum wage to $10 an hour. This was one of the first times a city had raised its minimum wage, and helped spur the string of state and local wage hikes we’ve seen in the past year.

At Working Partnerships, I’m building the organization’s communications and new media capabilities. My main projects are creating microsites (small, focused websites) for a couple of upcoming campaigns. I’m also helping WPUSA’s staff incorporate research on best-practices for digital and advocacy communications into their work. And, to learn more about organizing and coalition-building, I’ll be assisting with several leadership development programs that WPUSA runs.

All told, it should be a great summer! See you next week for an update on how these projects are shaping up…


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