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The Commons
Life and Work

SIT graduate course to focus on Bernie Sanders and his 'political revolution'

Originally published in The Commons issue #419 (Wednesday, August 2, 2017).

A policy advocacy course at SIT Graduate Institute will have an added focus this fall: the “political revolution” ignited by the 2016 presidential primary campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the massive grassroots organizing that has erupted following the election of Donald Trump.

“Many consider these developments to be the largest political mobilization in U.S. history since the anti-Vietnam war movement,” said SIT Sustainable Development Professor Emeritus Jeff Unsicker, who will teach the course.

SIT already has one of the most comprehensive policy advocacy curricula of any graduate school in the United States. Unsicker led the curriculum development and his teaching, consulting, and activism were the basis for his book, Confronting Power: The Practice of Policy Advocacy, which is considered one of the primary resources in the field.

“Today, most social justice-oriented organizations — including NGOs, unions, professional associations, community-based organizations and policy think tanks — need highly competent staff who can lead efforts to influence the policies of governments and corporations,” Unsicker noted.

Through coursework, professional practicums in the field, and capstone papers, students in Vermont and SIT’s Washington, D.C. Center become uniquely qualified for those types of jobs. “The added course focus will give students the option of honing their policy advocacy competencies for key roles in people-centered political campaigns and organizations that support new social movements,” said Unsicker.

Unsicker said he plans to draw from his extensive progressive networks to bring in experts, including those from Sanders’ and other organizations who have changed the way communities and campaigns are organized.

In addition to his academic work in California, Vermont, Tanzania and Botswana, Unsicker’s background includes extensive community advocacy and organizing.

He worked with a coalition of more than 50 community-based organizations in Southern California and, since the November 2016 election, he has been heavily involved with Indivisible, a national citizens network of more than 6,000 groups across all 435 congressional district. The groups have spearheaded town hall protests and other strategies that have influenced the positions of both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.

Unsicker has also done training and consulting for the advocacy divisions of BRAC in Bangladesh, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Oxfam America, and CARE. In Vermont, he took on leadership and strategy planning roles in a statewide coalition of citizen, public interest, and environmental organizations committed to safe and green alternatives to nuclear energy.

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