Reclaiming Public Power in Local Communities: The Forge Fellowship Year 2
February 12, 2019
By Katie Kirchner
In America, we are told that government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” But this has never been true for all people.
Since our nation’s founding, communities across the country have been shut out of political institutions that are supposed to work for the public good. Without the voices of these people, our government will continue to uphold and enforce rules—written and unwritten—that perpetuate structural racism, persistent inequality, and economic insecurity. We cannot expect leaders who are not from marginalized communities to craft the policies needed by them.
At Roosevelt, we believe that government can and should be a force for the public good—if we change who has decision-making power in our communities. The Forge Fellowship is intended to build progressive civic infrastructure in the neighborhoods, cities, and regions that have historically been denied political power at the local, state, and federal levels. The Fellowship strives to enable local communities to reclaim public power by helping develop student leaders at public universities and community colleges. These leaders will work to build pathways for themselves and others to participate in our democracy. We’re looking to support students who not only have innovative and important contributions to make to the broader progressive movement but also want to start local and organize within their community.
The Forge Fellowship was created in memory of Reese Neader. Reese worked to build civic infrastructure that would confront the individual challenges faced by communities frequently neglected by political organizing. Reese recognized the untapped potential for progressive power in many of our diverse, hardworking, and often overlooked communities—largely in the Midwest. His life’s work was dedicated to building that power: he founded Forge Columbus to encourage civic innovation in Ohio, worked for the Obama campaign as the youth vote director in Pennsylvania, and served as Policy Director for the Roosevelt Network. This Fellowship seeks to empower a new generation of leaders like Reese who enthusiastically envision and push for progressive policy change in their communities.
In 2018, the Fellowship’s first year, Roosevelt selected a cohort of seven students from the Midwest and Southwest. They’ve organized on campuses at Mott Community College, Wayne State University, Lansing Community College, Wayne County Community College District, Bowling Green State University, the Ohio State University, Arizona State University, and University of Detroit Mercy. These students are working hard to rewrite the rules in their communities by advancing policy projects that defend the public good. Their efforts include confronting environmental racism affecting Milo-Grogan, Ohio; increasing access to financial literacy curriculum in Michigan; providing menstrual hygiene products to incarcerated populations in Arizona; and addressing unfair auto insurance rules in Detroit. And this is just the beginning.
A government that is truly “of the people, by the people, for the people” is possible. These fellows are working every day to reclaim public power in their communities and ensure that government is reflective of, and responsive to, the people it is meant to serve. Each Forge Fellow is poised to be an important voice in their community and in the broader progressive movement; all are backed by members of Reese’s community and the Roosevelt Network as they advance their ideas and develop their leadership skills.
These are the leaders we need in this political moment. For more information about applying for the 2019-2020 Forge Fellowship cohort, or supporting the fellowship, click here.