(3) Takeaways from the NCL Experience

My time at NCL will be my framework for shaping my expectations for future jobs and how I approach social justice. Through this experience, I learned the value of communication and collective action. Without them, nothing I worked on would have been possible.

In order to create positive change on the national level, collective action is critical. The likelihood of achieving desired goals increases immensely when organizations and individuals work together and form a unified front before lobbying Congress, governmental institutions, and more. Together, distinct groups can place pressure in different ways and offer diverse perspectives, incentivizing targeted parties to support or even vote in the best interest of the collective. However, this collaboration cannot succeed without effective communication.

This is imperative at all levels, from planned strategic meetings between organizations to my boss laying out clear instructions on what she needs from me as her intern. Some of the ways I have applied this at NCL are: replying to emails in a timely manner; asking questions when I do not understand an assignment or issue; and being direct with what I need and how I can help my bosses. I will take these lessons about the world of work with me throughout my career and incorporate them into future social justice advocacy.

At NCL, I wrote policy statements covering a range of health issues including copay accumulator programs, the monopolistic practices of PBMs, the unfair treatment of pregnant workers, the FDA’s ban on Juul, and the ongoing gun epidemic. In addition, I assisted in breaking down specific issues during lobbying meetings and took notes for my supervisors in meetings they were not able to attend. I also had the privilege of assisting the Director of Health Policy in her testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights. This included helping craft her formal statement, opposition research, and strategy recommendations for the Q&A portion of the hearing. Currently, I am working on expanding NCL’s “Where We Stand” health policy platform by drafting a section on health equity.

One of my most significant takeaways from my experience at NCL was how to approach lobbying. Before starting at NCL, the lobbying tactics I employed were almost exclusively rooted in applying pressure in order to achieve a desired result. However, watching and learning from NCL staff highlighted the importance of maintaining a more balanced approach. While pushing hard and using pressure-based incentives are direct and effective, it is also critical that this does not come at the cost of losing contacts and connections. Before going into a meeting, both parties have researched each other and have likely made their mind up about the issue. In this respect, lobbying can be a formality with a predetermined outcome, and therefore is not something worth burning bridges over. This is something I wish I had known before starting my internship and I will inevitably keep this lesson in mind throughout my career.  

John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, holds up an NCL poster.

For future interns that have the privilege of working at NCL, my advice would be to be proactive about asking for work and to prove early on your ability to produce high-quality material. Oftentimes with internships, bosses do not know what you are capable of and correspondingly will delegate tasks that are not up to personal standards. Illustrating prowess with smaller assignments and then asking to be a part of larger ones not only leads to a more targeted and robust learning experience, but will ensure all parties feel fulfilled throughout this unique and amazing opportunity that WOW and NCL facilitate. 

(2) The Real World Application of Social Movement Theory

One of the most significant takeaways from my Brandeis experience has been learning the optimal structure for creating and sustaining social movements. Heavily influenced by political theorists such as Charlotte Ryan, William Gamson, and Alicia Garza, I learned that effective social movements require a multifaceted framework for framing, coalition building, and resource mobilization. Framing is valuable for focusing dialogue with target constituencies. Coalition building is critical because social movements are grounded within existing power relations. As a result, garnering supporters and allies is critical in placing a movement in the most advantageous position. Lastly, resource mobilization is fundamental, as effective social movements must be prolonged and sustained efforts. This is only possible through the creation of a reliable and robust supply chain for resource acquisition. 

I keep this framework in mind in all the work I do. For me, it is imperative to fully understand my role within any collective movement to advance a specific cause or issue. In the past, I have worked as the field director for candidates running for local office; as member of the senior staff of Congressman Jamie Raskin’s Democracy Summer, a nationwide program dedicated to teaching youth the nuts and bolts of political organizing; and now as a public policy intern for the Health Policy Team at the National Consumers League. All three of these positions placed me in different parts of a broader movement, each with distinct objectives and opposition.

Recognizing my role in the framework I outlined above enables me to increase my effectiveness in furthering specific agendas. For example, during my time at Democracy Summer, we employed roughly 400 fellows across the United States. In the context of the resource supply chain, we had the unique ability to influence key elections by phone banking, canvassing, and more due to the massive amount of people we had at our disposal. In contrast, as a field director, it was my responsibility to build a coalition and incorporate organizations like Democracy Summer into the campaign. These two roles are distinct and understanding my place within the context of organizational structure was critical for success.

The Health Policy Team at NCL works in all three of these areas, but there is a large emphasis on the framing aspect required for an effective social movement. As a consumer advocacy organization, our job is to understand consumers’ needs and then fight to ensure these needs are met. This is accomplished by honing in on specific policy objectives such as eliminating copay accumulator adjustment programs or making PBMs more transparent. In order to ensure these are enacted by Congress, we not only need to target specific representatives based on their constituencies and values, but also to enlist support from the people most adversely affected to make our argument more compelling. 

As a public policy intern, the majority of my work revolves around writing policy statements and blogs about a diverse set of public health issues. Within the context of movement structure, NCL must make itself available to other groups as a potential ally in areas ranging from expanding healthcare to protecting reproductive rights. This is why publishing policy statements is critical. By making the organization’s position known, other groups are able enlist our support and vice versa.

Jeanette Contreres testifying at the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Rights, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights’ hearing on the baby formula crisis.

An excellent example of this is when Senator Amy Klobuchar asked my former boss Jet Contreres to testify on the baby formula crisis after seeing NCL’s blogs and policy statements about the issue.

Using what I learned from Brandeis, when crafting statements, I try to make NCL’s position as clear and specific as possible. This places the organization in a more advantageous position to not only build coalitions of support, but to also unite like-minded groups. From there, we are able engage in weekly/biweekly meetings to strategize on how to best achieve key objectives aligned with NCL’s mission.

(1) An Introduction to the World of Public Health

The logo of the National Consumers League

Being a part of the Public Health Policy Team at the National Consumers League (NCL) has categorically been the most rewarding and meaningful experience I have had so far in my professional career. Although I have worked here for only a month, I have helped prepare testimony for a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the ongoing infant formula crisis, staffed events, and written public policy statements. More importantly, I have found invaluable mentors who trust me and my work and are eager to help me learn and succeed.

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League has long advocated for a fair and transparent market for consumers. NCL focuses on research, advocacy, and education on some of the most pressing issues affecting consumers including fraud prevention, healthcare, food and nutrition, child labor, and workers’ rights. In the past, my experience in the public health arena has been limited, but it has always been a field I have wanted to explore. The issues NCL addresses such as health equity, consumer choice, food and drug safety, and people’s ability to access safe, affordable, and quality healthcare impact the lives of millions of Americans. I have always believed that public policy is a potent mechanism for making positive and impactful changes in people’s lives. NCL’s work reflects my own values, making it an incredible organization for me to contribute to this summer.

The National Consumers League Team present at the HAC Summit.

As a nonpartisan organization, NCL works with nonprofits, grassroots coalitions, congressional staff, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders to fight for consumers and ensure that people are able to receive necessary and sometimes lifesaving health services. NCL’s strategy for meeting these objectives begins with listening and amplifying the voices of underserved communities. From there, the team blocks out targeted and coalition-based approaches to help these people struggling in the U.S. health system. Final steps in this process include communicating the importance of these issues with congressional offices, putting pressure on regulatory agencies such as the FDA and FTC, and outlining health policy needs in collaboration with other groups. 

In my current capacity, the majority of my work centers on drafting policy statements, but I also attend meetings and brief NCL staff on specific issues and the meetings they can not attend. So far this summer, the policy statements I have written cover a range of different health issues such as copay accumulator programs, the monopolistic practices of PBMs, the unfair treatment of pregnant workers, the FDA’s ban on Juul, and the ongoing gun epidemic. I am also working on creating a health equity policy stance/agenda for the NCL website and had the immense privilege of assisting the Director of Health Policy in her testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights. This included helping craft her formal statement, opposition research, and strategy recommendations for the Q&A portion of the hearing. 

Looking forward, I want to explore the full scope of public policy advocacy. From learning effective lobbying tactics to the process behind building a coalition of support, these skills will be invaluable to me throughout my future career. As someone new to public health, I also want to develop a more holistic understanding of the industry and how seemingly distinct issues, such as stringent immigration policy and health inequities, can intersect.

From my time at NCL, I have learned that progress can appear in many forms. While usually associated with policy and regulatory changes, increasing awareness, disseminating knowledge, and building coalitions around key issues are also mechanisms that create a base for the implementation of positive change. I am absolutely ecstatic to continue working at NCL and I can only imagine all the new things I will learn in the coming months.