Hope, Optimism, and Determination: My Journey with the Roosevelt Network
April 28, 2020
By Francesco Arrega
My experience with the Roosevelt Institute is linked to the person I admire most in politics: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). When I entered my first year of college at UCLA, I aspired to attend law school one day; public policy was not on my professional radar, and I was pessimistic about politics in general. At that time, I believed that government officials only prioritized special interest groups who already had power and connections.
My views on government changed after I watched a 2013 video of Sen. Warren at an event hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform. Warren emphasized that we need a system that recognizes that “we don’t grow this country from the financial sector; we grow this country from the middle class.” She described how even though the policymaking process is “besieged by lobbyists,” David had beaten Goliath through the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Positive changes can be made in our legal system if we are willing to be engaged and fight for our values. I was mesmerized and inspired by her firm conviction that government should prioritize working families and hold powerful interests accountable. As I began to do more research on Warren’s career and the Roosevelt Institute, I was exposed to a new way of thinking about government and the public’s role in shaping policy.
While studying at UCLA, I set out to accomplish two goals: Work for Sen. Warren in any capacity if I ever had the opportunity and help restart the Roosevelt Network’s chapter at UCLA. I worked to encourage others to share in my vision of a better future, driven by young people with bold new ideas, and was eventually able to rebuild the campus chapter at UCLA. To make the work more accessible, we hosted informal policy conversations, an education policy forum, and a Los Angeles regional conference for Roosevelters. It took me a couple of years to accomplish my first goal, but dreams can come true if you persist—last summer, I was able to intern for Warren’s presidential campaign in Reno, Nevada.
Through my experiences with the Roosevelt Network, I discovered that government can be a force for good if we fight for what we believe in and encourage others to become engaged in the policymaking process. The two most important ideals I have learned through the Roosevelt Network: First, we must reimagine the rules governing our society through bold progressive ideas that will create a more inclusive and just society. Second, it matters who writes the rules.
I have taken the principles I learned through the Roosevelt Network to law school and will stay true to them throughout my career. Currently, I am in my second year at UC Berkeley Law, and every semester, I learn about the inequities of our country’s legal system. We live in a society where people of color are disproportionately incarcerated, individuals who have completed their criminal sentences are disenfranchised, undocumented immigrants face rigged immigration courts, and about 40 percent of Americans cannot cover a surprise $400 expense.
Now more than ever, it is our responsibility to change who writes the rules of our society and demand economic justice, racial justice, environmental justice, and equality. I am determined to push for policy changes that will improve the lives of people in need of a helping hand. I hope that other Roosevelters will join me in this mission. We must also continue fighting to ensure that people of all backgrounds have a seat at the table when important decisions that affect our country and planet are being made: The makeup of our government must reflect the diverse backgrounds of its people. It is essential that members of Congress, congressional staff, judges, members of the executive branch, and attorneys understand the lived experiences of people living paycheck to paycheck, undocumented immigrants, people of color, and other historically disenfranchised groups.
One way in which we can diversify who is tasked with writing the rules of our society is by diversifying the legal profession. Attorneys in America are tasked with writing, interpreting, and enforcing the laws that govern our society. Every day, lawyers are helping legislators or government agencies draft laws, and judges are making important decisions that impact all of our society. Unfortunately, the legal profession is one of the least diverse professions in our country. According to the American Bar Association’s 2019 Profile of the Legal Profession, of all the attorneys in America, only 5 percent are African American, 5 percent are Hispanic, 2 percent are Asian, and 1 percent are Native American. These trends are very troubling and must be changed; our legal system needs to be composed of people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds so that it can effectively serve all of our communities.
I will always be grateful to the Roosevelt Institute and Network for teaching me the importance of being civically engaged and advocating for bold progressive ideas. I, and fellow Roosevelters, will continue to work for a world where all people are guaranteed President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four freedoms—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.