In today’s political climate, polarization is becoming the norm, and divisive debates have caused many people to forget the underlying issues. In this divided world, the nonprofit grassroots organization known as Policy Circle offers a way for women to discuss crucial topics without the influence of party politics.
The Policy Circle, co-founded by Angela Braly, Kathryn Hubbard, and Sylvie Légère, consists of 246 discussion groups (known as “circles”) in 38 states. The nonprofit provides a platform for women with “minds of their own” to discuss key policy issues, building communication and community. There is no pressure to be an expert on topics and no lobbying or discussing social issues. The Policy Circle operates under the mantra “policy not politics,” encouraging discussion rather than division. It encourages members to become educated about policy without imposing the burden of membership dues or stringent protocols.
Politically engaged women join one another to discuss the role of policy in their own lives. They read briefs detailing the influence of specific policies across the nation, then discuss how those policies influence their own local and state governments. In Michigan, the Policy Circle’s brief on energy and the environment might cause participants to research the renewable energy subsidies causing electricity costs to skyrocket. The fiscal responsibility brief could lead the circle to learn about the cost of auto insurance, or pension debt in their city. The brief on government regulation might lead to a discussion on licensing, opening the eyes of women in the circle to the reforms needed in Michigan’s criminal justice system and occupational licensing laws.
These policy circles give women an opportunity to discuss policy in a way usually lost after graduation. For some, this emphasis on policy is only available during high school or undergraduate studies, where political discussion is fostered in clubs, courses, special campus events and more. But often, only those who pursue a political or policy career are able to continue that emphasis after graduation. That focus may even be lost even earlier; many undergraduate students begin college with the full intention of becoming politically educated, only to be distracted by coursework and degree requirements. In short, keeping up with policy becomes too much work, and life gets in the way.
In my experience, political clubs provided civic-minded individuals support and offered them opportunities for low-pressure engagement with significant results. Volunteers presented ideas for discussion, eliminating anxiety over which issues were most important. The informal nature of the shared experience made it easy for participants to form friendships and learn from each other as they suggested articles, key arguments, and favorite speakers to each other. As a result, students remained involved in policy even as their peers lost sight of political engagement.
Policy circles offer their participants an opportunity to keep this public engagement alive beyond graduation. Each discussion fosters engagement and combats partisan politics by showing participants where they have common ground, encouraging understanding and developing a community capable of lasting impact. These policy circles provide a unique opportunity for fulfilling, educational engagement for women and draw attention to significant issues which may have otherwise gone unnoticed. The Policy Circle provides a framework, and in their individual circles, women build on that framework to develop the knowledge, skills, and social network required to change the world.
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