Antiracist think tank emerges in Northampton
Backs public policy by and for historically excluded people
THINK TANKS come in all shapes and sizes, with political philosophies that range left, right, and center.
The new Western Massachusetts Policy Center in Northampton is setting out to be different. Its geographic focus is the four western counties of Massachusetts and its purpose is turning the power structure upside down through research and by training future policy leaders.
“We’re a grassroots, antiracist think tank that educates, trains, and resources public policy designed by and for historically excluded people and communities in our region,” says the policy center’s website.
Lauren Rollins, a 43-year-old White woman, is the CEO, founder, and chief funder of the policy center. She grew up in northern Virginia, spent time at a think tank in Washington, DC, and works as an advisor to a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm in Cambridge.
According to the policy center website, the organization will recruit candidates from diverse backgrounds to learn policymaking in the classroom and on the job. The center’s fellows will be paid $50,000 a year and receive health insurance and eventually free housing within walking distance of the center.
“They’ll learn while they earn, build their own portfolios, and emerge as far more capable, responsive, and agile policy engineers than their traditional counterparts,” the website says. “We’re specifically seeking aspiring policy professionals from BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, or economically disadvantaged backgrounds, those with disabilities, and those who are neurodiverse or divergent.”
Rollins said the center will focus its policy efforts in seven broad areas – women, children, and families; infrastructure, transportation, and regional planning; housing accessibility and homelessness; unions and the future of work; conservation, environment, and land use; anti-corruption efforts and the future of policymaking; and supporting the region’s diverse youth.
“My hope is that we will amplify the needs of western Massachusetts and get more traction for the region on Beacon Hill,” Rollins said.
Her other goal is to build a pipeline of policy makers who will help transform the workplace.“We’ve been privileging the hiring of white men with overinflated or no qualifications forever and without asking for much proof of skill at all – in every job, every position of authority. In other words, the market is saturated with them,” Rollins said in a blog post. “So in this way, the first real step in structural DEI transformation is to saturate the market with everyone else.”