Last semester I spent three hours every Wednesday in deep discussion about the future of the US and the policy that is going to get us there. My professor, nine graduate students, and I analyzed proposals from policymakers and economists, but we also put forth our own proposals. The course, “Political Economy of the Welfare State” at the Heller School, provided a new learning environment that I embraced.
I was taking the class with students who had life experiences to build from. Unlike most undergrads at Brandeis, I had a classmate with a baby at home who was experiencing the necessity of accessible childcare. I had a classmate who had bought a house and realized it was the worst decision she had ever made. Through sharing personal stories with each other, we were able to develop ideas for long-term policy that would benefit us.
Not long after I finished the class, I was seated at the Newtonville Diner with my advisor talking about the year and my ideas for the thesis that I am preparing to write in the fall. My advisor gave me a few words of advice: 1) find patterns in what you are told not to study and lean into them, 2) find what inspires you, but also what makes you angry, and 3) think outside the box, as fresh, new ideas are valuable. I left invigorated by her open perspective and her trust in me. My conversation with her helped me to understand why I liked the Heller class so much: it helped us tell our own stories, learn from them, and develop solutions that would work for us.
United for a Fair Economy fosters a similar environment through popular education. Popular education is an educational methodology that incorporates lived experiences and critical analysis with a race, class, and gender perspective in order to challenge systems of oppression and bring about social change. UFE supports movements for economic and racial justice by holding popular education trainings where organizers can develop facilitation skills, collective knowledge, relationships, and movement strategies that can be used to strengthen justice efforts nationwide.
Popular education incorporates personal experience into learning environments so that the content is relevant and the knowledge that participants already hold is shared and valued. This is done by sharing stories, looking for patterns, and challenging norms. This is ultimately what my classmates and I were doing as we talked about policy.
My internship at United for a Fair Economy has helped me find clarity. In many ways, it has helped me to build upon the knowledge that I have learned through my studies of labor and employment policy as well as my movement work for economic justice. It has helped me to value long term efforts such as education, healing justice, relationship building, and constant dialog. I am thinking about all of these components as I develop a plan for my thesis, and this understanding and knowledge will only continue to grow as I continue in this work.
-Madeline Bisgyer ’20