An Interview with Former State Department Official, and Congressional Candidate, Sara Jacobs
“I can never deserve what I’ve been given but I can try and be as deserving as possible.”
I had the pleasure to interview Sara Jacobs. Sara is running for Congress in the 49th District of California.
Thank you so much for your time and thank you for joining us. Can you tell us “the story of Sara Jacobs”?
I grew up in the north part of San Diego in a little city called Del Mar and I went to public school all the way through here. I went off to college to Columbia, got my Master’s in International Affairs. I then worked at the United Nations in the Department of peacekeeping Operations, where I’ve worked to improve the way peacekeeping operations worked in the time of an election.
I worked at UNICEF in their innovation unit where I helped the organization better utilize technology and big data to respond to humanitarian emergencies.
I worked at the State Department under President Obama where I created a new way of countering and preventing violent extremism and ensuring that good governance and Human Rights was incorporated into our security sector assistance packages to our counterterrorism partners.
Recently, I was the CEO of an international education nonprofit that partnered with UNICEF and tech companies to map every school room with the goal of advocating for equitable access to internet and information to every school in the world.
I was also honored to serve as a foreign policy advisor to Secretary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign where I covered a range of issues.Global health and Native American affairs, all of the U.S. territories including Puerto Rico and a variety of other really interesting issues.
I’ll be honest with you, I never thought that I was going to run for office. I’m a behind the scenes policy person, but it felt like right now our country is in a moment where, not only because Donald Trump is president and everything we stand for is being questioned, but also because we have this inequality that exists right now and that’s growing. I believe that if we don’t fix that it’s going to be so baked into the future of our economic systems — with the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning and all these other things — that we won’t be able to solve it later.
I was running my nonprofit. It was the perfect thing that I wanted to do right after the 2016 election. It was something that I felt good about that was very tangible. I could see the progress I was making and Donald Trump couldn’t do anything about it, but then with Muslim Ban, and all these decisions coming down, it felt like it was a little bit too removed.
And while what I was doing was really important,the most impact I could have was trying to fix the domestic system here. So I was actually looking for someone else’s campaign to work on and wanted to help by supporting one of the candidates running, but I didn’t find a candidate that really spoke to me. And so in discussions with Emily’s List and people on the ground, it became pretty apparent that there were other people who felt the same way as well and there was appetite for another option, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring myself.
So it’s very clear, very obvious that you’re extremely experienced and that you have a really fascinating back-story. Can you tell us the most interesting or the most humorous story that you’ve encountered either over your experience in public policy or in the course of this campaign.
Well I would say a fair bit of funny stories from the campaign. One thing that was pretty funny that my team still makes fun of me for is that during the tax bill, where we are trying to get everyone to call their members of Congress and especially to call Darrell Issa and make sure he voted no on the tax bill, I tweeted that you should send me a selfie calling your representative. Well, it turns out when you’re calling your representative you’re on your phone and you can’t take a selfie. So we got all of these hilarious responses.
So Sarah can you tell us how have you use your past success to bring goodness to the world and can you share a particular story of the individual that you’ve helped?
I have been blessed to come from an amazing family that has given me a lot of support over the years, and supported my career, and I believe that it’s my responsibility as someone who has benefited from that system to do everything in my power to make it fair. So I spent my career working for a more fair and equitable world — at UNICEF, at the State Department, at the United Nations, and with my nonprofit.
I was in Mauritania this summer for the non profit. Mauritania is in northwest Africa, and it was the first place that we mapped every school in the country, so I was out there, visiting with our team that had done the data collection meeting with the government. I decided to convince my driver that instead of staying in the capital city, he should drive me six hours down to the desert to the community that he came from so I could meet people he knew. We visited some of the schools and I had the chance to talk to the kids and just hearing their stories… I asked them about their schools, when they finally got internet connectivity, and now that school was able to access all these resources that hadn’t been available to them before.
Can you share with us some specific things that you plan to do to help the vulnerable in our society?
So I think the biggest issue facing us right now as a country is the unequal access to the opportunities and that’s true across the country, but it’s even true in a district like the one I’m running in, in California 49.It has pockets of incredible wealth but also incredible disparity and so the issues that I want to focus on are the basket of issues that I think are most likely to close those opportunity gaps.
In the first set of things would be access to economic opportunities. Making sure we have affordable and accessible healthcare. Making sure we have accessible housing, which is a big issue for us here in Southern California. Making sure that as we’re working to roll back the harmful effects of climate change, we’re specifically focusing on the communities that are being most affected by the effects of climate change now, and building resilience in those communities.
It’s also making sure that we have very good public education, that is accessible and affordable, and that also teaching our students the skills and the information they are going to need for the new economy. And no one needs to graduate from higher-ed with debt.
I think that economic opportunity is only one piece of the puzzle and we also need to be focusing on the opportunity to have a voice in the government that represents you, and that is making government itself more representative by electing more women, helping to elect people of color,more LGBTQ+ folks. But it also means working to make the institute of government itself better. I’ve worked on the implementing side of policy, so I’ll make it more efficient and effective, and bring them into the 21st century.
We also need to figure out ways to make them more transparent, more accountable, and more participatory. So when I worked in UNICEF, one of the things the innovation unit was doing was using human centered design processes as a way to actually improve the way UNICEF did their programming, and I think there’s a lot of lessons we can learn from that and from participatory budgeting that’s happening in other places.
The third basket of focus is my background, foreign policy. So I want to be talking a lot about how we can ensure that the U.S. continues to be a force for good in the world while recognizing the constraints to our power and the changing international landscape. In my mind, a big component of that is making sure that we’re investing our resources in foreign policy very smartly, and making sure we are adequately funding the Department of State and USAID and other aid agencies. We also need a Defense department that is able to fight the wars of the future. In my mind, that is force readiness and making sure that our military service members and their families have the support they need. There are a lot of easy fixes that we can do to make life easier and better for military families. These are the types of issues that women focus on, and it’s why we need more women in office.
I’ll give you one example — right now, the way that deployments are rotated is done on a calendar year. Now that means that your kids have to leave school in the middle of the year. For military families, it makes a lot more sense to move that to the school year, so that kids could stay in school. I think it would make an incredible amount of difference to the military families. It’s little fixes like that, that I think are very feasible and would really make things much better for people.
Super. So it’s clear that politics is not an easy job. You’re in the limelight. You’re constantly facing a barrage of critique and backseat drivers. So it’s not easy. What drives you?
It’s an interesting question. I feel like I have been incredibly fortunate in my life and that it’s my responsibility to give back. I can never deserve what I’ve been given but I can try and be as deserving as possible. So what drives me is the impact that we can have for communities that need government. I know that a lot of times the decisions that a body like Congress makes seems really far off. But because I’ve worked in public policy for so long, I actually understand how those sort of abstract concepts directly translate into real people’s lives and I think that we need people in government to stand up to the incredibly harmful and destructive policies of the Donald Trump administration and their allies in Congress. But in addition to that, I think we need to give people something that they can vote for, with a very positive and inclusive vision for the future that is possible and that we can work towards. That’s what keeps me going.
Thank you so much. So can you tell us, are there five things that you wish somebody told you before you ran for office?
I don’t know if there are five but there are a few things that I wish someone had told me.
1. First, the amount people who come out of the woodwork, who you haven’t seen since elementary school or you spoke to once at a conference somewhere, the amount of those people who come out and are so supportive is really amazing and moving, and something I hadn’t anticipated. And actually had I known, it probably would have made the decision to run for office a little bit easier.
2. Second, everyone has their opinion about everything. I’ve been told I should talk differently, dress differently, say something different, and then have it contradicted, and told to say something else. I’ve been told in 15 different ways how I should wear my hair. For example, I’ve been told that like I should wear my hair more voluptuously. I honestly don’t even know what that means.
3. Third, also speaking of hair, I wish someone had told me that you don’t get a break when you are running for Congress. You have to be on all the time.
4. Lastly, I’ve been a woman in the world and in the workplace and so I always had to confront people interrupting me or questioning me, but there’s something very unique about being a female candidate, where it becomes so highlighted and it’s so stark the way that people react to my qualifications or to my policy ideas so differently than my male counterparts.
In the past the past two months almost every day we’ve had headlines of people in power, in politics and in the media — People that have been abusing their authority who have been accused or involved in sexual misconduct harassments or even assaults. Now this clearly didn’t started happening today. It has been going on for a long time. But now finally the rock’s been turned over to reveal to the light of sunlight to all the crawling insects underneath. What do you think can be done on a policy level, on a cultural level, on an individual level, to make society healthier?
I’m really glad that these allegations are coming out and that women are finally being believed and that people are starting to talk about this problem. But frankly, I believe one of the things we need to do to address this is make sure there are more women in positions of power. We need more women in Congress, at the state level, at the local level, and in businesses because most women have always known this is happening and have been dealing with it for a long time. I believe that if we have more representative government, if we have equal power from many different types of communities, then all of these issues like sexual assault that have been in the shadows or out of the view, could finally be addressed.
In terms of what policies could be put in place, first, I think we need more rigorous policies at our universities and in the military to make sure that as women are trying to get an education or serve our country, that they are not putting their bodies on the line to do that. We need to make it harder for people who commit domestic violence or domestic abuse to get firearms because one of the things we’ve seen is that many of the people that commit mass shootings actually have a history of domestic abuse.
I think we need to have a much stricter policy in place for our elected officials and much more stringent policy in Congress. For instance, we need to make sure there are no taxpayer slush funds that you can use to settle your allegations with. And in a broader sense, we need to instill a culture where women’s voices are heard, where women’s stories are believed, and where women’s voices are valued equally to men. I do think a big part of that is electing more women to office all over the country and electing more women into Congress.
One last question. How could it be that if someone like Harvey Weinstein, is simply accused of terrible things and Louis CK is accused — these accusations basically get them fired. But we have a President who admitted on camera doing those same things — admitted it. How come he doesn’t get fired? How does that work?
Well honestly, if it were up to me Donald Trump would not be president. I spent a year of my life trying to prevent him from becoming President. Ultimately, these decisions are political ones and until we take back the House of Representatives, and until we have people in power who understand that this should be a disqualifying act, that anyone who commits an act of sexual harassment or assault, anyone who puts their hand on a woman, should not hold or seek public office.
Sarah, thank you so much for your time. It’s been it’s been a really educational and enlightening and I’m grateful. I wish you the best of luck.
Thank you so much and thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I really enjoyed the conversation.