Challenging Anti-Worker Preemption in PA: Shifting Political Paradigms and Embracing the Progressive Legacy of FDR

Macy Stacher, COL ’24, New York, NY

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a fellowship with the Roosevelt Institute, a public policy think tank working to rewrite the rules to build a more democratic economy in the legacy of its namesakes, Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Over the course of the summer, I received rigorous skills training and mentorship from economists, political scientists, and policy professionals in preparation to publish a peer-reviewed policy brief within the areas of worker power and economic security. Throughout the training and initial research process, I had the privilege to be surrounded by a group of like-minded young progressives passionate about building a movement to challenge a prevailing political paradigm that embraces austerity, deregulation, and corporate welfare. In this internship/research experience, unlike any other I’ve held in the past, I felt the organization’s genuine effort to invest in developing the next generation of progressives in public policy. I have always found networking quite unnatural, but this experience did a lot to break me out of my shell. The Roosevelt Institute made it easy to connect with professionals and peers that shared policy interests with me without making the dialogues feel transactional. Additionally, the fellowship enabled our cohort to critically engage with the failures of nearly half a century of neoliberal economic policies that hollowed out the middle class and entrenched income inequality through various venues and multimedia formats.

During my policy brief topic search the program gave me the freedom to explore issues that are important to me and the communities I’m a part of and provide resources and contacts to support my research. After the training period was complete, the first few months of research were dedicated to compiling literature reviews summarizing the local landscape of the policy issue, their dominant arguments and counterarguments, and their ideological underpinnings. The issue I selected came out of numerous conversations I’ve had with Penn students, Philadelphians, and activists alike throughout my time living in the city. As the go-to friend for questions about politics, a lot of my friends have asked me why the minimum wage is so low for such a large and high-cost American city. The answer is state preemption: a policy tool that higher-level (state governments) use to restrict the regulatory authority of their political subdivisions (cities/municipalities). I was matched with a mentor who had experience advocating against preemption in Pennsylvania, and began meeting with community organizations, state think tanks, and local activists to build a power map to identify important interest groups and stakeholders on both sides of minimum wage preemption. A majority of my research and writing in public policy and political science was engagement with academic literature, so research interviews were new for me and a skill I developed during my inquiry into the issue of preemption. Moreover, I was excited to take up the challenge of writing for popular consumption and accessibility to a larger audience. It’s something that the ivory tower of elite academic institutions often doesn’t do very effectively, so I made an effort to center the perspective and economic realities of working families from Philadelphia to Erie.

As non-native Philadelphia resident, this experience brought me extensive insight into the landscape of Pennsylvania politics. By October, I will have my first work published titled State Preemption: Anti-Democratic and Anti-Worker Tools of Austerity with the Roosevelt Institute. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity that the Turner Schulman Endowed Human Rights Internship Award and Career Services gave me to freely explore an experience that is deeply important to my values and close to my heart. The fellowship connected me with so many professionals, mentors, peers, and experiences that I hope will empower me to pursue future professional opportunities that similarly allow me to fight to improve the material conditions of working class Americans.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services