Spotlight

Meet the People of WCDP

Justin Hodge

Justin HodgeYou’re currently Vice Chair of Legislative Affairs, the committee responsible for keeping its eyes on lawmaking and lawmakers in both the Michigan house and senate. Tell us a bit about the process from keeping up with that, to getting volunteers activated?

The process begins each week with a conversation with our Washtenaw County state legislators and some of our community partners. We work together to get a feel for the issues that are likely to come up in Lansing over the next week and to develop an advocacy strategy. From there, we compile information on the bills, create an easy to understand summary, and write a script for volunteers to use when calling legislators. The team keeps in contact throughout the week about any changes in the situation, which allows me to send rapid response updates to volunteers when strategy changes are needed.

There seems to be surfeit of shockingly bad lawmaking being attempted by state republicans, what do you do when find yourself feeling unusually shocked or overwhelmed?

With the absurd number of ridiculous bills frequently being introduced, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. When I find myself feeling discouraged, I remind myself of the successes that we as a team have had and will continue to have if we work as one. We may not be able to stop every bad bill given the majorities that the Republicans have in the House and Senate, but nothing that they do cannot be undone if Democrats show up to vote and take back the legislature and governor’s office.

What kinds of volunteers are you looking for to help the Legislative Programs Committee?

We’re always looking for volunteers with an interest in policy and a passion for making a difference in their community. Much of our work involves policy advocacy through making calls to legislators; however, I am eager to expand into other avenues, such as rallies. Whether you are interested in engaging in our current activities or you have fresh ideas, please feel free to contact me!

How has your volunteerism with WCDP changed since the 2016 election, and what changes do you see for yourself in the next year as we now move quickly toward the 2018 elections?

Prior to the 2016 election, my involvement with the WCDP was limited to election canvassing and phone banking. I decided to run for my current position because I have a vision for the type of advocacy that I want our county party to engage in that fills a necessary void in our state. As we move toward the 2018 elections, I plan to expand our committee’s activities and to focus on supporting our candidates.

Your recent work with WCDP has been centered around activating citizens on all relevant state legislation, is there a particular policy area in which you would like to work, whether it is drafting new policy or in some other way?

I am a social worker by profession and teach social policy courses at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, so social policy is my area of expertise and passion. When the Democrats take back control of the legislature and we don’t always have to play defense, I would love to draft policies that support our most vulnerable Michiganders.

One of your new initiatives is to create this new event called “Active Dialogue.” Can you tell us about what this is, and why it was started?

Active Dialogue is a facilitated conversation on how policy affects racial, economic, and social justice issues. This program was developed by Krystle DuPree, a social work intern that I am supervising. We created this program to foster meaningful conversations in a safe space where community members can discuss important issues in a low-pressure environment.

Do you have any advice for people who feel overwhelmed by the situation that we have been in after the election?

My advice for people who feel overwhelmed by the current state of our politics is the same thing that I tell myself when I feel overwhelmed. While the current situation that we’re in is absolutely horrible, it is also temporary. The foundation of our country and government cannot be destroyed by a demagogue and his supporters. While it may seem like one terrible thing after another keeps happening at the national level, it is important to notice our successes and relish in our victories.

The most important thing is that you do not get discouraged and give up. Change is often slow, and it can be challenging to notice the impact of your advocacy, particularly if your focus is only on what occurs at the federal level. In all actuality, most of the laws that affect your day to day lives are made at the local and state level, where you can much more easily and quickly make an impact. All of us can make a difference if we stay engaged, hold our elected officials accountable, and show up to vote.

Last question: You have four hours of perfect weather, and can do anything you want in Washtenaw County. What would you choose to do?

We’re lucky to have such a tremendous selection of well-maintained parks here in Washtenaw County. With a good chunk of free time and nice weather, I’d spend the day playing tennis and geocaching with my wife.