Policy with a Conscience: Angela Glover Blackwell

A movement is not a flash of light, it's a flame, a torch passed from one generation to the next, so wrote the poet Maya del Valle. They're words treasured and lived by our next guest, Angela Glover Blackwell. Throughout a career in philanthropy, research and advocacy, Blackwell's been dedicated to using public policy to change communities and lives. Under President Obama, she served on the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. She started Policy Link in 1999, something she calls a research and action institute. It works with policy makers especially in the areas of health, housing, transportation, education and infrastructure. In 2013, with Policy Link, she collaborated with the Center for American Progress to write and release All In Nation, an America That Works For All.

Angela Blackwell:Thank you, happy to be here.

Laura Flanders:Just reading that introduction, the Obama Administration already feels like a very long time ago.

Angela Blackwell:Yeah, a planet in a distant place.

Laura Flanders:Can you compare what you were working on then with what you feel you're working on now?

Angela Blackwell:It is hard to compare. Under the Obama Administration, we were struggling and fighting to try to make progress but we had a partnership with the White House, lots of people who were in it. There were initiatives that we had been fighting to get for years that were finally beginning to take hold. Now, everything is closed off. If it's not closed off, I find that I and my colleagues are afraid to even touch it because we don't think anything good is going to come out of it. The contrast is just completely stark. We move from an administration that was trying to overcome decades of neglect in local communities and struggling with inadequate resources to partner with people in local communities who felt they had wisdom about what needed to happen to now, an administration that is at odds with everything that we believe in. Shutting down, taking away the safety net, it is awful.

Laura Flanders:Is all lost?

Angela Blackwell:All is never lost. All is never lost. You started off talking about our moment. This is our moment. It is going to be our moment. The good news is that we actually had found each other across the spectrum of those who were working for social change and inclusion before this administration came in. We are having to step back from the things that kept us from being completely united because we were nuancing this or we had a priority that was slightly more important. We now see that we have to get behind those who are being attacked at the moment. We have to get behind a few common ideas and so, it is our moment but we're going to have to struggle to make this moment about progress and not just resistance. We've got to be in a resistance mode but if all we do is resist for a number of years, we will have slipped far back.

 

Laura Flanders:How do we make progress and maybe more importantly, where do we make progress? Somebody said to me the other day, "Washington is like a gorgon. We need to look away and focus elsewhere." In the cities? In the states? In your neighborhoods? Where do you see the greatest opportunity to claim this moment for making some kind of progress?

Angela Blackwell:The organization that I lead, Policy Link has always been grounded in the struggles and the campaigns and the ideas and innovations in local communities. We found, especially under the Obama administration that we could look to Washington to be able to build on that wisdom. I want to look away from Washington right now but can't afford to do that because we have to protect what we have achieved. We have to resist awful things happening and this is a time when we can return to our roots, return to our roots of innovation in cities.

Return to our roots of understanding the struggles across geographies, from rural communities to declining suburban communities to inner city communities and as we do that, we will come up with strategies that will be able to get into federal policy at some time in the future but right now, I think that the hope really comes from seeing local communities stand up. The sanctuary movement is really thrilling. Looking at local communities decide that they are going to protect all the people who live in their jurisdiction's, whether they are residents, they're all the residents, whether they are citizens or not.

I think that the people who were leading local jurisdictions are finding that they have real common ground with advocates that they have been spending too much time pushing against. I think that some of the innovation that is going to come is we create ways to fight the federal government. I think fighting the federal government is not a bad thing at all times. I think the federal government is there to be able to serve the people but it is a system that only serves the people when the people make demands.

Laura Flanders:Clarify that a little bit because for progressive people, particularly people who came up through the Civil Rights movement, an