As a member of the DukeEngage Washington D.C. team, I work at a nonprofit that advocates for children and families. Because the organization relies on grants and outside funding, they cannot align themselves with a political party, either explicitly or implicitly. As I’m sure you can imagine, at a social policy institute, that’s quite a challenge.
In fact, in today’s political climate, it’s basically impossible. Our organization pushes for a more expansive and inclusive child welfare system, actively supports LGBTQ+ youth, and argues for the extension of more, better resources to impoverished families. In essence, our agenda is what could only be dubbed progressive. Equity, especially racial equity, is at the root of everything we do. I don’t think these beliefs should be considered a political stance, but a reflection of morality. And yet supporting racial minorities and other marginalized groups tends to be linked with political agendas instead of moral values.
How can a “nonpartisan” organization get anything done when every policy action could be seen as an expression of approval of a certain political party’s agenda? The answer: If the organization is constantly worried about being “objective” in every single act of policy work, virtually nothing can move forward.
Except nothing in the policy world is objective. The organization isn’t nonpartisan because none of its staff are nonpartisan—at least in the sense that we each hold beliefs and biases that align us more with one party than another. Those beliefs influence the work we do every day.
As human beings, we will always be swayed more by impacts on our hearts than our heads. For the organization, it’s a debate of strategy in the face of regulations: Should we take a bolder stance, potentially make a greater impact, but risk alienating people on the other side? Or should we keep our softer, data-driven approach, and allow people to come to their own conclusions?
I’m too afraid of inaction to just let the data do its thing. We need to move quickly and meaningfully on these issues. Ethically-obtained, impartial data should be the foundation for all policy work, but simply obtaining data is never the end goal. The end goal is to improve the lives of the people who need it most. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Even if it means I have to be “partisan” to do it.