[Name]: Joyce Newstat
[Areas of Expertise]: Political Campaigns, Social Work, Law, Policy Development, LGBT, Fundraising, Consulting, Community-Building, Civil Rights
“In 1963, my family moved into a place called Rochdale Village in Jamaica-Queens. It was the first large-scale integrated housing project in New York City– a huge social experiment during the Civil Rights movement. There were twenty buildings, thirteen stories each. Six-thousand families moved in, mostly Jewish and African American. It was 1963, and I was six years old. There was nothing I wanted more than community.”
The Cat is Back. Joyce Newstat, CEO of Rocket Science Associates and former Policy Director for Gavin Newsom, has just returned from a family vacation, with her wife in daughter, in London with a feline friend in tow.
“I walked into the Hub in London with my family because I wanted to check out King’s Cross,” she explains. “They showed us around, fed us lunch, and then gave me a stuffed cat. This Hub Cat has now travelled from Mumbai, to Vienna, to London, so when they heard I was going to San Francisco they told me I had to take the Hub Cat! She was precious cargo to me, it pleased me to no end to bring her back to the San Francisco community.”
The cat is at the Host Desk on the second floor. It certainly needs a name, and a blog would be fun. Perhaps a Rainbow flag and a Giants cap might be appropriate gear for helping the cat get acclimated to The City. And Joyce?
Joyce has worn many hats. “From a very early age, I thought about being a teacher,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to help. Then I moved into wanting to be a social worker, so I went to social work school. I wanted to be a mother. And then came time I wanted to be a community organizer. And then I wanted to be a lawyer, so I went to law school, and quickly found out I did not want to be a lawyer at all.”
“Now, I’m a mother, and a community organizer, and a helper. Helping trying to change the world, in whatever way I possibly can do my small piece.”
Her current clients are Lesbian and Gay people who are running for elected office. She works on national and local political campaigns, and does policy work around asset-development, helping the working poor, and helping people gain various rights. She started Rocket Science Associates to allow herself the ability to work on a number of different policy issues, while maintaining selectivity about the people with whom she works.
“It’s not rocket science,” Joyce tells clients, whether they’re running for office or trying to enact ambitious policy change. “Ending poverty is possible. If we’re able to think together and collaborate, we can shoot for the moon.”
Joyce’s faith in community began when she was very young. In 1963, her family moved to Rochdale Village in Jamaica-Queens, a twenty-building Robert Moses design that represented the first large-scale integrated housing project in New York. “It was a huge social experiment,” she explains. “Six thousand new families were moved in, mostly Jewish and African American. It was built in the heart of an predominantly African American community in Queens, during an incredible time in the Civil Rights movement.”
Moses had teamed up with a man named Abraham Kazan– a prominent builder of low-cost cooperative housing in New York City– to design Rochdale Village, which at the time was the largest private cooperative housing complex in the world. Kazan was deeply rooted in the Jewish Labor movement, and wanted to build affordable housing for middle-income union members, many of whom were Jews. (including Joyce’s father, who was a devoted union member and Kosher butcher)
The result had quite an impact on Joyce’s life. “It was fantastic to be part of an integrated community, with so many friends” she remembers. “I was six years old when we moved there, and there was nothing I loved more than community.
As time went on, and the Civil Rights movement was intensified by teacher strikes and the death of Martin Luther King, serious racial divisions emerged and sparked a massive “white flight” out of Rochdale in the late 60s and early 70s. To her dismay, Joyce’s family was amongst those who left.
“I some very difficult years without my community,” she says. “It only came to my consciousness later on what it all meant to me. That community, and my group of friends there, really instilled shared values and a strong pull toward community for me at a young age.”
Joyce headed upstate to get her degree in Social Work at the State University of New York at Albany, and quickly became a part of the feminist community there. She stayed in Albany for a period of nine years after finishing school, during which she came out of the closet and became active around women’s and LGBT rights. The lesbian activist community welcomed Joyce, and once again, she felt like she belonged.
In 1984, Joyce moved out to California for law school. Though she quickly realized she didn’t want to become a lawyer, Joyce found a home in the LGBT political community in San Francisco and became active in the struggle for LGBT rights. Joyce’s interest in policy work was born from a real sense of value derived from her various identity groups, and her desire to protect those home communities.
“Through my feminist values, growing up in integrated housing, and my care for people of all different economic places in the world, I grew a real concern about policies that affected all of those people– all of our communities,” she affirms.
Despite her growing interest in the landscape of public policy, Joyce wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself professionally upon graduating from law school. She called a close friend, who mentioned that she was running for state assembly in California and could use some help. Joyce was thrilled. “I’ll be right over,” she told her.
After running the state assembly campaign as the friend’s campaign manager, Joyce never looked back. “I stayed in politics and policy because in some of the winning campaigns, I’ve been brought inside of the administration to help that person develop their policy agenda,” she explains. “You can do good work, working for an elected official, and I feel like I have moved forward some important policies.”
Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco and current Lieutenant Governor of California, is amongst the group of elected officials that Joyce has worked with to enact progressive policy change. But despite the big name, Joyce insists that it’s the small victories that excite her most.
“I was working on Gavin Newsom’s 2003 campaign, and I was in Paris with some friends when one of my friends asked me, ‘So if Gavin wins, are you going to go inside?’”
“Going inside” had its real downside for Joyce. The reactive nature of work as a politician did not appeal to her, as a self-declared proactive entrepreneur. But Joyce and Gavin had drafted 21 different policy papers detailing a multitude of interesting and innovative policy ideas, so Joyce decided to give working inside the administration a shot.
“He’s a total policy wonk,” she says about Newsom, “He really wants to get things done. I believed that if I could go in and get even one really good thing done for the working poor, that would be a great accomplishment.”
Joyce set her sights on the target accomplishment of developing a Working Families Tax Credit. As she explains it, low to moderate income American citizens can qualify for a Federal Earned Income Tax Credit, but most who are eligible don’t know about it.
“In San Francisco alone, there are millions of federal dollars that can come into the local community and help people who need it,” she says. “Most often, people use it to fix their car– it makes or breaks whether or not they can continue working. Or they use it for their kids’ education, or day care.”
The fact that this money was going unclaimed bothered Joyce’s community conscience. “They can get 3-5 thousand dollars in one hunk, and it’s the biggest hunk they’ve ever had When you’re making 30-40 thousand dollars a year, that’s a huge thing,” she says. “But most people are not taking advantage of it because they didn’t know it existed.”
Joyce worked with the Mayor, the Treasurer’s Office, and community leaders to develop a program in which the city of San Francisco would give $100 to folks if they would have their taxes prepared by a volunteer tax preparer, who would educate and help people apply for their earned income tax credit. The City formed a relationship with H&R Block, who agreed to do free tax prep for residents, and to Joyce’s delight, the program was hugely successful.
“We had set a goal of getting ten thousand people their earned income tax credit in the first year,” she says. “The program is a huge success and has been replicated in other cities.”
“That’s the kind of policy thing that really excites me and gets me going,” Joyce declares. “Some people’s eyes were rolling back in their heads when we talked about the tax credit because it seemed so boring, but to me it was like ‘Hey, we’re really doing this one great thing and it means a lot to working people!’ It speaks to so many issues I care about, and it’s about community organizing.”
The Newsom/Newstat duo went on to work together on the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in a landmark decision that significantly moved the needle on the national conversation around gay marriage.
“Obviously gay marriage was not one of our 21 policy papers, but I’m really proud to have been at the table when the decision was made to do that,” Joyce says. “I worked really really hard on that with Mayor Newsom and my colleagues. I’m proud of the fact that not only my own life was impacted (Joyce and her spouse Susan are legally married in California), but an entire community. At the time, people were talking about civil unions… maybe they were going to be for it. We don’t even talk about civil unions anymore. That felt very impactful.”
Gay marriage and tax credits are just two examples of policies that Joyce has pushed for in her career. She has also worked on the Bank on San Francisco initiative, fundraised money for the No on 8 Campaign, chaired the Board of the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute for the Victory Fund, sat on the Board of Camp Tawonga, and worked at the Haas Jr. Foundation as the Vice President of Communications and Public Policy. Joyce was also the Director of Policy for California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris’ Transition Team.
In wearing each of these hats, Joyce has learned valuable lessons. The one that sticks out to her is the realization that even the tiniest accomplishment is worth celebrating.
“I don’t need to do all things for all people,” she says wisely. “If I can do just one thing, that’s great. That, to me, is world-changing. It’s not a low expectation, or a low bar. It’s huge. It’s a miracle, really. I really believe in thinking globally and acting locally. Each of us doing our small part in our community.”
She also has learned to value diversity as something to celebrate, not just tolerate. Between living in the mixed-race housing project in Rochdale, and belonging to a multitude of supportive communities along the way, Joyce has found that coming together in an open-hearted way to celebrate that which makes us unique is what strengthens communities.
“Disagreement is healthy and good,” she asserts. “I learn so much from it. I’m a very opinionated person, but if I can keep my judgements to myself and listen, there’s always something to learn from someone who has a different opinion. Their opinion is not wrong or right, it’s just different from mine.”
The Bay Area is the perfect example of such a space. “Part of what makes SF so great, and why I ended up staying here, is the wonderful coming together and celebration of differences,” she says. “It’s what makes our community work. The Hub, being a mix or intersection of for-profit and non-profit is also really interesting to me. I think the days are gone where being a for-profit is a dirty thing. I think we can come together and find a way to be social entrepreneurs and have significant impact. I think it’s the winning formula.”
Joyce dreamt of the Hub before she even knew it existed. “A couple months ago, I was thinking about how great it would be if I could gather some of my closest friends who do consulting work in the same office space to trade ideas and refer business clients,” she explains. “I had loved working in City Hall because I could go down the hall and ask my colleagues, ‘What do you think about this policy? How can we make this work?’ It was such a huge chunk of my learning and understanding.”
Joyce contacted her inner circle of friends, and asked if they would be interested in getting office space together. They all said yes. That’s when Joyce’s good friend Anne Stuhldreyer told her about the Hub.
“I told her ‘I’m putting this together. I’d love to walk down the hall to your office,’” Joyce remembers. “And Anne said, ‘It’s a funny thing you’re talking about this, because I just joined this great new office and I really want you to see it. It’s exactly what you’re talking about!’”
Joyce went to Sexy Salad and immediately knew this was the kind of community she wanted to be a part of. “I knew getting a Hub office would allow me to walk down the hall and have conversation and develop synergies,” she says. “I wanted more than a hot-desk, because I tend to talk loudly, so if I can be in a space where I can talk and not be totally disruptive, yet be in community with like-minded (or different-minded!) people who I can learn from, that would be awesome.”
And that’s what she got. “The Hub is a great community and a dream come true for me,” she says smiling. “It’s the way I work best. In community, sparking off of other people’s great ideas. And so the Hub is just a natural home.”
Joyce brings a political lens and policy know-how to the second floor. While her involvement in politics distinguishes her from other Hub members, she is convinced that her repertoire of expertise clicks well with the Hub community. For example, Joyce is now sharing office space with Julie Davis, Executive Director of Face Value, and one of Joyce’s close friends. Face Value is committed to developing a collaborative; cross-disciplinary community that brings together activists, academics and applied researchers to expose the underlying root causes LGBT stigma. It plans to conduct rigorous social science research in order to develop, test and disseminate new communication strategies that are designed to reduce the fear, prejudice and stigma experienced by LGBTQ people, families, friends and allies. All of Face Value’s work is focused on improving the day-to-day, lived experience of LGBT people.
“I think that it was a leap of faith that somehow I’d fit,” Joyce muses. “When I first toured this looking for office space, it was a hard hat zone: I couldn’t picture what it would be. But I don’t do anything part-way. I’m a crazy neurotic type A personality, and I always do everything at 600%. So when it comes to the Hub, I’m all in.”
Whether it’s adopting a cat from a Hub across the globe, painting whiteboards in the new conference room, or introducing herself to anyone that sits down across from her, Joyce is waving the community flag loud and proud in 901 Mission.
“I’m a believer that there are key connections in community,” she agrees. “There are partnerships that are just meant to be. I love the Hub. It’s working really well for me. I’m so jazzed. I can’t stop talking about it to people.”
Look for Joyce in the Rocket Science Office to the left of the upstairs Host Desk to ask about her current campaigns, or share a great idea or opinion.
Thanks for reading,
Samantha, Your Hub Stories Correspondent
Samantha is a staff blogger for the Hub Bay Area. She designed and launched the Hub Stories Project in January of 2011 in an attempt to capture the unique narratives of Bay Area change-makers as they help to build a better world from within the Hub community. She also writes a travel blog and is currently based in Tel Aviv, Israel.