2024 Democracy Camp in Berkeley Journal

April 15, 2024

Day 1: Monday 3/25/2024 

We kicked off Democracy Camp with breakfast, some warm-up activities, and a rundown of our schedule. Anticipation buzzed as we geared up to welcome our first guest speaker, Anya Ku. Anya is a proud double Cal alum, earning her J.D. with pro bono honors, and B.A. in Political Science from UC Berkeley. Anya currently serves as a Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney in the Affirmative Litigation, Enforcement and Innovation Unit for the Oakland City Attorney’s Office. She gave extensive context and insights about her career journey to this point, starting with her experience as an Oakland native fighting for social, economic, and environmental justice for Oakland residents. Reflecting on her experience, she described how amazing it felt to know she helped her neighbors. She then talked about her position as a United States Supreme Court Fellow assigned to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. Fellows had many questions about this program, as Anya worked on policy projects related to jury summons and drafted an original research paper investigating whether financial barriers to jury service impact jury diversity during her time there (which it absolutely does). Anya also shared and answered questions about her experience in a two-year clerkship with the Hon. Nathanael Cousins of Northern District of California, prior to serving as a Supreme Court Fellow. Anya's insights on work-life balance, including her passions for photography and cooking, rounded off the discussion, leaving us pumped for the day ahead.

Following our insightful session with Anya, the afternoon was dedicated to honing our professional skills. We dove straight into practicing elevator pitches, fine-tuning our ability to introduce ourselves and forge connections with professionals in public service. This exercise seamlessly led us into a dynamic group activity, where we split into groups to prepare for tomorrow's full lineup of speakers in Sacramento. In our breakout groups, we went over each speaker's biography and came up with questions to ask. The brainstorming process was particularly beneficial, fostering engaging discussions and providing valuable feedback as we bounced ideas off one another.

After a great lunch break, our focus shifted back to professional development, this time with a resume workshop led by Megan Collins. We delved into four key components: structure and layout, content, clarity and style, and editing. She helped us fine tune our resumes and provide constructive feedback to one another. Wrapping up our professional development session, we discussed email etiquette and best practices. Overall, this opening program segment was very important in strengthening our cohort's professional toolkit.

Day one of Democracy Camp concluded with a virtual alumni panel featuring four distinguished Democracy Camp and Berkeley alumni: Allyson Velez, Yessica Mox, Mateo Torrico, and Aurora Lopez. Each speaker shared their journey to their current positions.

Allyson, who holds a B.A. in Public Health with a Minor in Public Policy, currently serves as a Legislative Analyst at the California Health & Human Services. She began her tenure as a Matsui Center Fellow, previously participating in the Cal in Sacramento program as a fellow and Student dDirector, and the John Garner Public Service fellow in Sacramento, with an internship at the California Department of Public Health.

Yessica, with a B.A. in Political Science and a Minor in Ethnic Studies, is currently a Policy Analyst. She discussed her experience as a Leonard D. Schaeffer fellow, working on bills for financial aid for California undocumented students in Sacramento. Yessica also participated in Democracy Camp and the Cal in the Capitol programs during her time at Cal.

Matheo, who earned a B.A. in Political Science with Minors in Public Policy and Ethnic Studies, spoke about his current role as a local level lobbyist and labor Political Representative with SEIU Local 2015. His work involves negotiations, candidate meetings, and coalition building. Matheo was previously a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs and a Cal in Sacramento fellow.

Lastly, we heard from Aurora, a current graduate student at Georgetown University and Legislative Fellow for the U.S. House Foreign Affair Committee Democrats. Aurora, with a B.A. in Political Science and Government, previously worked in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor office as a John Gardner Fellow, focusing on the Middle East, national security, and foreign policy.

I soaked up a ton of insights about opportunities in the public service sector and got a clearer picture of where I see myself in the future. Building connections with both speakers and fellow campers was not just informative but also incredibly motivating. It was inspiring to be surrounded by such passionate and like-minded individuals.

Day 2: Tuesday 3/26/2024 

The second day of Democracy Camp kicked off bright and early with excitement as we headed to Sacramento, ready for a packed day at the state capitol. The day began at the Lucas Public Affairs (LPA) firm, where we spoke with Josh Lewis, the Account Executive and a Cal alum. LPA focuses on advocacy, communications, and public affairs working with clients developing strategies on specific issue areas. Josh discussed that the firm partners with the state’s leading foundations, nonprofits, business and government entities to navigate the crossroads of policy, politics and communications on California issues. The firm also specializes in media development and Josh highlighted that you can be a generalist or specialist in this field. 

Following our meeting with Josh, we welcomed Andrea Amavisca, the Senior Government Affairs Manager for the California Immigrant Policy Center. Andrea explained her role in advocating for immigrants and immigrant-related policies. She emphasized empowering immigrant communities with advocacy skills for legislative engagement in Sacramento and making policy recommendations aligned with CIPC's mission. Andrea underscored the significance of storytelling as a means to bridge the gap between community members and state legislators, all while remaining true to her identity as the daughter of immigrant parents. Her work left a profound impact on many fellows during our open dialogue, particularly resonating with the close community advocacy aspect.

After our engaging discussion, we proceeded to the Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse and Federal Building for a meeting with the dedicated staff of Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-7). Although the Congresswoman couldn't attend, I was eager to connect with her congressional team, recognizing their pivotal role in supporting her endeavors. Through the conversation, we learned that Congressional staffers demonstrate a profound commitment to public service, often engaging closely with constituents and managing various essential tasks. Our meeting took place in a courtroom, adding a professional ambiance to the discussion.

We had the privilege of conversing with several key members of the staff, including Senior Field Representative Nia Jones, Senior Advisor and Communications Director George Hatamiya, and Field Representatives VJ Chue and Aaron Latta. Each staff member elaborated on the significance and responsibilities of their respective roles, emphasizing their collective contributions to Congresswoman Matsui's behind-the-scenes work. I gained insights into the crucial support provided by congressional staffers, such as VJ's direct engagement with constituents on casework related to various federal agencies such as immigration services, veterans affairs, social security, student loans, and more. I found George's journey particularly interesting, as he shared his transition from a finance background to a communications director role, underscoring the value of diverse experiences in public service. Moreover, the emphasis on internships as a common entry point into congressional offices resonated with me. The staffers stressed the importance of interns seizing opportunities to ask questions and build connections, highlighting the immense value of such experiences for students like us forging our career paths. Their insights were invaluable and reinforced the significance of proactive engagement in pursuing our professional aspirations.

Following lunch with the cohort, we moved over to the state’s capitol building and met with our next guest speaker, Khydeeja Alam, Executive Director of California Commision on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs. With over fifteen years of experience in California politics, government, and external relations, Alam has played a significant role in passing major legislation and budgets, including the Local Control Funding Formula, Transitional Kindergarten, California Dream Act, among others. She is a UC Berkeley graduate and currently serves as the board President of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Sacramento Valley/Central California, as well as on the Advisory Council for Muslimahs in Policy (MIPS). Previously, she was Governor Gavin Newsom's appointee, serving as the Director of External and Legislative Affairs at California Volunteers. In this role, she led statewide initiatives, oversaw state grants, and built strong relationships with stakeholders, earning recognition for her achievements. In 2023, Alam was honored by the National Association of Asian Pacifics in Politics and Public Affairs as one of the top 40 Under 40 AAPI political operatives and public affairs professionals in the country. It was an incredibly moving experience to hear her speak about the profound significance of her identity and journey as an immigrant in shaping her dedication to public service. As she shared her story, it became evident that her role as a mother deeply informs her commitment to making her community a better place for her children and future generations. In our candid conversation, her passion for creating positive change resonated deeply, inspiring us all to reflect on the power of personal experiences in driving impactful advocacy.

Next we welcomed Policy Consultant for California state Senator Susan Rubio, Alex Hirsch. During our conversation, he emphasized the importance of collaboration in driving meaningful change, underscoring his role as a community leader. Hirsch also shared his remarkable journey from earning a full-ride scholarship to UC Berkeley to graduating from the UC Davis School of Law. With a background as an attorney for the Office of Legislative Counsel and as a Policy Consultant for the California State Senate, his expertise spans housing, health, criminal justice, and transportation legislation. Beyond his professional endeavors, Hirsch is deeply engaged in his community of West Sacramento, volunteering on city commissions and serving on the Board of Directors for the West Sacramento Friends of the Library. It was heartening to learn that he has dedicated his time to coaching several UC Davis School of Law student teams for the American Bar Association's National Appellate Advocacy Competition. Alex then shared about his important role in consulting State Senator Rubio representing State District 22 since 2018. In his role, he interacts with multiple stakeholders at a time and utilizes interpersonal negotiation and organizational skills to exercise professionalism and discretion every day. He also helps brief the Senator on how to vote on legislation and provides legislative drafting, legislative research, public speaking, legal research and writing, political and governmental communication development, event planning, fundraising, etc. It was really interesting to hear more about specific policy and legislative work fields as this is a strong interest of mine.

We wrapped up our eventful day in Sacramento with a session at the California Department of Education alongside Mary Nicely, Chief Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Deputy Superintendent for the Information and Technology Branch. Nicely brought with her four decades of invaluable experience in education. Our discussion delved into the role of the Information & Technology Branch, which spearheads efforts within CDE to manage data, gather demographic information from districts and schools, and support the integration of technology to enhance learning outcomes. Nicely's appointment to her current position by State Superintendent Tony Thurmond stemmed from her extensive background in education. Previously, she led the Superintendent’s Initiatives Office, focusing on vital areas such as teacher diversity, community schools, educator housing, and fostering partnerships with philanthropic organizations and industry leaders. Of particular interest was our conversation surrounding education both during and post-pandemic. Nicely played a pivotal role in ensuring students and schools received necessary technological resources during the COVID-19 crisis. Her collaboration with various stakeholders, including technology companies and internet service providers, underscored her commitment to bridging technology gaps for students and educators statewide. Nicely's expertise in technology, cultivated during her tenure as President and CEO of custom database development company, Nicely Done Solutions, Inc.,  has undoubtedly informed her approach to her current role. Her insights left us with a deeper appreciation for the intersection of education and technology in shaping the future of learning.

Sacramento was both eventful and eye-opening, as we had the privilege of learning from esteemed professionals about the diverse paths available in public service. Their insights left us feeling inspired and motivated to make a positive difference in our communities.

Day 3: Wednesday, 3/27/2024 

Day three of Democracy Camp kicked off with a BART ride to Oakland, where we convened at the Alameda County Transportation Commission building. We had the privilege of welcoming City of Emeryville Councilmember, State Director of Alliance for Safety and Justice, and former Emeryville Mayor, John Bauters. His compelling presence and authenticity deeply resonated with many of us in the cohort, leaving a lasting impression that made us eager for further discussion. With over a decade of experience as a disaster relief coordinator, public policy advocate, and legal services attorney, Bauters has dedicated his life to serving marginalized communities, including low-income families, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and the homeless. He shared how his commitment to community service led him to pursue law, focusing on human rights and poverty law during his seven years as a legal aid attorney. As an openly LGBTQ housing insecure youth, Bauters has overcome numerous barriers in his journey of public service. His dedication to advocacy is evident in how he embodies his values as an elected official to support policies around issues like affordable housing. Bauters's personal anecdotes underscored his unwavering commitment to standing up for what is right, even in challenging government settings. Despite facing opposition, his deep-rooted care for his community continues to drive him forward. One of the most inspiring aspects of Bauters's leadership is his accessibility to his constituents, demonstrating a genuine commitment to serving and representing their interests. Bauters emphasized the importance of genuine engagement in public service, highlighting that it's not merely a career pursuit but a continuous commitment to being an advocate for one's community.

After lunch, we eagerly welcomed our next panelists from The Oaklandside, a local nonprofit news source committed to serving Oakland's community. Our discussion with journalists Natalie Orenstien, Ashley McBride, Callie Rhoades, and Roselyn Romero provided invaluable insights into their respective beats and the role of journalism in public service. Natalie reports on housing and homelessness issues, while Ashley focuses on education equity within Oakland's public district and charter schools. Callie covers environmental topics, and Roselyn shines a light on small businesses.

During our open dialogue, the panelists emphasized the crucial role of storytelling in the public sector, highlighting how the press and freedom of expression are fundamental pillars enshrined in the Constitution. They discussed how journalism fosters civic engagement, provides essential information to the public, ensures transparency, serves as a check and balance on power, and facilitates community engagement between elected officials and constituents. Moreover, we gained insights into the importance of journalists making stories and topics accessible and understandable to all segments of Oakland's diverse population, whether through language options or clear and concise wording. This dedication to inclusivity further highlighted their commitment to serving the public interest and fostering informed civic participation.

We then spent our afternoon on an exciting field trip to the Oakland Museum of California! The museum showcased captivating galleries encompassing California History, exploring narratives of Black Power, Native Lands and Chicano culture alongside exhibits on California Art and Natural Science, and a lush garden. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the diverse exhibits and found myself utterly immersed in the rich tapestry of California's art and history.

Day 4: Thursday, 3/24/2022 

On the final day of Democracy Camp, we began with breakfast and had the privilege of meeting with Justice Goodwin Liu over Zoom, where he graciously shared insights into his own journey. Currently serving as an associate justice of the California Supreme Court after being nominated by Governor Jerry Brown thirteen years ago, Justice Liu reflected on his path to the bench. He emphasized that at the time, his journey felt anything but linear as he navigated through various roles and transitions. He initially aspired to a career in medicine, but as he discovered passions in education and diversity, those aspirations evolved and ultimately led him to pursue law school. Justice Liu attributed much of his journey to the guidance of excellent mentors who encouraged him to seek new opportunities aligned with his passions. Before joining the state's highest court, Justice Liu held positions as Professor of Law and Associate Dean at UC Berkeley School of Law. His previous experiences include clerking for Justice Ginsburg and practicing law for five years. Despite enjoying his role as a professor for eight years, Justice Liu found himself nudged towards the judiciary. Through a series of transitions, Justice Liu embraced new challenges and emphasized the importance of pursuing one's interests holistically. He highlighted the value of maintaining a multifaceted approach to his work, as he engages in research, teaching, and advocacy simultaneously.

Our conversation reaffirmed the significance of following one's passion, even if the path diverges from the original plan. Justice Liu's journey served as a testament to the notion that success does not always follow a linear trajectory, especially for undergraduate students exploring various career possibilities. We closed out the conversation with an open discussion on the differences between Washington D.C. and Sacramento.

As we approached the conclusion of our program, we transitioned to our next meeting where we discovered the multitude of Public Service Programs at UC Berkeley available for us to join and engage with. This experience illuminated the significance of actively participating in these programs, as they have the potential to shape and solidify our career paths. Representatives from the Public Service Center, UCDC, UC Labor Center, Labor Occupational Health Program, and the Institute of Governmental Studies shared invaluable insights into the diverse opportunities these programs offer. From internships and research to hands-on experiences in governmental affairs and labor advocacy, each program provided information about the unique and invaluable experiences they offer to enrich our undergraduate journeys and pave the way for impactful careers in public service.

We then engaged in a fun outdoor group activity and took professional photos before lunch. Shortly after, we met with Saru Jayaraman, the President of One Fair Wage and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley. She also serves as an assistant assistant adjunct

professor of Public Policy from the Goldman School at Cal. Jayaraman is a strong labor organizer and activist, an accomplished author of four books including Behind the Kitchen Door (Cornell University, Press, 2013) and was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House in 2014. 

Jayaraman's organization, One Fair Wage, stands as a national coalition of nearly 300,000 service and restaurant workers, dedicated to eradicating all subminimum wages in the United States while striving to enhance wages and working conditions across the service sector. She articulated that the key to organizing as both a philosophy and career path is embodying a strategic approach rooted in empowering those most affected to address structural power imbalances collectively. Rather than centering the mission on herself, Jayaraman emphasized the importance of tackling the daily challenges faced by individuals, emphasizing unity and the power of collective action. She further elaborated on One Fair Wage's policy, which advocates for fair, non-discriminatory tips atop a full minimum wage, a measure that could potentially lift millions of tipped and subminimum wage workers out of poverty nationwide.

As Democracy Camp drew to a close, we gathered for a heartfelt debrief about our week-long journey. Reflecting on the experiences shared and the knowledge gained, I am immensely grateful for the eye-opening insights into the myriad paths within local and state public service. Meeting remarkable individuals who are making a tangible difference in our communities was truly inspiring, but it was the passion of my fellow cohort members that made this experience truly transformative. Building connections with each person united by a common dedication to public service has left an indelible mark on me, and I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to be part of such a meaningful and enriching experience.