Me/We & Public Policy: A Journey from Foundations on the Hill to NYC to…
By: Ariane Cruz, Philanthropy Fellow, Philanthropy New York
Philanthropy New York’s recent trip to Foundations on the Hill was the first time I’ve spent significant time in Washington, DC, or even in government buildings more broadly. It was the first time I walked through the halls of buildings on the Capitol Campus – including the Capitol, where the House of Representatives and Senate meet and craft our country’s laws; the House Office Buildings, where our country’s state representatives’ offices are; and the Senate Office Buildings, where members of our Senate have offices. It was also my first time walking into the offices of New York State representatives, meeting both staffers and a few Congresspeople, and engaging in conversation. As I left DC, I realized this experience was not a series of firsts for just me; it was a series of firsts for my family and my entire lineage.
Government and public policy have always felt like an inaccessible spaces to me. Political topics typically went unspoken or were deemed disrespectful to bring up in family conversations, and politicians in the media rarely looked like me. This conflicted with my interest in public policy, which was rooted in the knowledge that politics had a profound impact on my community. I grew up with an understanding that the extent of my liberation (or lack thereof) was decided for me, and I lived navigating and surviving these conditions. But as I have gotten older, the saliency of racism and racial inequity and its impact on me, my family, and my community has increased as has the visibility of my Filipina/Asian American identity. And I realize I cannot (re)create this barrier between me and public policy.
This barrier and hesitancy between me/we and public policy are how systemic oppression perpetuates and how racial hierarchies are upheld.
My Fellowship here at Philanthropy New York has allowed me to – slowly, but surely – dismantle this barrier. I entered each government building with wide eyes, imagining the power and decision-making that culminates in the policies that impact communities every day. Along with my colleagues and our members, I entered each office absorbing every aspect of the room – looking at the pictures on the walls, the items on the desks, and the symbols carefully placed to show a representative's values and the districts they serve. Once we sat down, both the staffers' and my expectations about how these meetings would go, were pleasantly shattered.
Typically, meetings with the offices of state representatives are somewhat transactional: in meeting requests, offices typically ask guests to state their legislative asks (e.g., signing onto bills or letters). We didn’t have any legislative asks for this session. Our goal was to affirm New York State representatives’ support of any future legislation that affects nonprofit contracting work and ensures a stronger nonprofit ecosystem. As we engaged in conversation with staffers and pursued this goal, I saw myself represented in them and I saw philanthropy leveraging our power and platform to center communities who have been historically and persistently marginalized while advocating on behalf of nonprofits whose work creates better conditions for those communities.
Since Foundations on the Hill, I have continued my public policy journey. I have joined members at City Hall to speak with the City Council on the impact of nonprofit contracting delays on the sector and our communities, and I have attended the Reception for Older American Month at Gracie Mansion. In each space, I have felt a sense of belonging, seeing people of color – especially, women of color – in these spaces with power and influence, confident that some of our lived experiences are shared, and knowing this can be a space where I belong.
And as I continue to reflect, with current events interwoven – Jordan Neely's death by a vigilante, the fatal mass shooting by a far-right gunman in Allen, Texas – my persistence in dismantling this barrier for me, my family, and my community and leaning into public policy work is becoming as important as ever. Public policy and community does not have to be separate and too far in between; rather, proximity between the two has the power to cultivate social trust and policies that are informed by the people most impacted by them.
“Proximate leaders should be leading, not following, the field’s cadre of academic, nonprofit, governmental, and business experts in creating solutions to their community’s challenges.” – Angela Jackson, John Kania & Tulaine Montgomery, Effective Change Requires Proximate Leaders, Stanford Social Innovation Review