Rachel Kopec is the Coalitions Manager at State Policy Network and also happens to be one of the coolest people in the liberty movement. She spends her days active – whether it be planning one of the most popular annual meetings on the right or climbing an actual mountain – Rachel is someone to get to know (if by some miracle you haven’t already).
Part 1: What I do
How I describe my job in 10 words:
As Coalitions Manager at State Policy Network: I cultivate strategic partnerships to advance state policy goals.
My day-to-day at work…in three sentences:
There is no day-to-day! One day I’m on a plane to represent SPN at a conference in Austin, the next week I’m learning about lands issues from ranchers on horseback in California, and the next I’m connecting with partners at a gala in New York City or meeting social entrepreneurs in neighborhoods of Detroit. Then there are weeks when I’m back at the office sitting through hours of conference calls and creating marketing materials and sifting through my email inbox.
I couldn’t do my job without:
My encouraging (and fun!) supervisors and co-workers. We’re really like a little work family.
Most important moment in my career (so far):
Hard to say. This summer, my team gave me the opportunity to lead some projects on issues that I care deeply about: community outreach, and land and energy issues that affect rural communities. Meeting the people who are living in the aftermath of bad government policy really sparked a passion for those issues.
Unexpected skill that has helped me the most:
I don’t know if this is a hard skill, but I’ll go with it: Bringing people into a brainstorm and using my imagination productively. Some ideas are crazy, but dreaming alongside other people smarter than me to come up with new strategies or predict what’s coming around the corner has helped me advance in my career in unexpected ways.
The best advice I have received:
I heard a PR executive speak in college about what she looks for in new employees, and it stuck with me. She said she wants people on her team who live interesting, diverse, and adventurous personal lives because their worldview and experiences bring a unique perspective. Expand your social circle to people unlike you! Travel! Scuba dive!
Part 2: Politics
The biggest change I’ve seen already in politics:
The shift in focus from a Congressional/federal to a state strategy. Even in my few short years, I’ve seen major movement players and politicos realize that the answers aren’t coming from Washington, D.C., and shift their resources to state advocacy efforts.
The element of working in politics that most surprised me:
How relationships are really the most valuable currency in this world. Building trust and just being a nice person get you a long way.
The most important issue many don’t see yet:
Property rights and lands issues. Especially in the East, most people have no idea about the struggle that rural folks in the Western states face. Bad policies coming from Washington have resulted in widespread forest fires, mismanagement of land and species and ranchers losing land their great-grandparents homesteaded. Not to mention the unexplored natural resources that have the potential to lift the economy and the education budgets of states. Bad news: EPA and Fish and Wildlife Commission regulations coming down the pipeline are going to exasperate the problem.
Where I think the movement will be in five years:
I think we’ll see an increase in young entrepreneurs getting involved. We’re seeing a big effort in the movement to engage the tech sector, the sharing economy and policies that promote innovation. And I think we’ll see more collaboration with them to help us start seeing how we innovate past our current policy problems and around clunky, status quo, slow-moving government bureaucracies.
How I formed my political beliefs:
My late Grandma Irma is my biggest inspiration. She escaped both Soviet and Nazi occupations of Lithuania by the grace of God, survived a German work camp, immigrated to Canada and supported herself before lending the money to bring her family over. Her stories created a strong conviction about the value of freedom at a young age.
Part 3: The Next Generation
What I’d say to my 18-year-old self:
You’re never going to know what you’re going to be when you grow up, even when you’re “grown up.” Let go, trust God, and enjoy the adventure!
Skill or experience I’d recommend students get now:
Learn to be a great conversationalist by truly listening and working to engage deeply with others.
Three things I’d tell every young political junkie to read:
The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Every Republican Should Care), 1776 by David McCullough and The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek.
My most useful class in college:
American Political Thought. We read every great speech and writing that shaped how we view politics, beginning with the John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” speech in 1630 and ending with Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. To this day, that class helps me see where progressive ideas come from and gives insight to the foundations of our principles—the rhetoric 100 years ago isn’t that different from today.
Three future leaders from my generation:
There are so many! Can I name more than three?
Part 4: Me, personally
The most fascinating figure in world history:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: He stood for freedom, justice and truth and followed his convictions to the point of death in a concentration camp. He could have saved himself and escaped Nazi Germany. Instead, he was a part of the plan to assassinate Hitler.
My heroes in fiction:
Laura Ingalls and Nancy Drew were my first fiction heroes. Melanie from Gone With the Wind is so graceful and good, while you have to love Scarlett’s headstrong perseverance, feminine sass and love for Tara. I have a love/hate relationship with Ernest Hemingway’s leading men.
The most inspiring art I’ve read, seen, or heard:
My little brother, Thad Kopec, just finished his second album, and the collaboration of music he brought together is really melodic and dreamy. His creativity inspires me. Go listen to his stuff!!
I’d star in House of Cards or West Wing (choose one):
I’m a bad Washingtonian—I don’t watch either!
I can’t get through my day without:
Being active. I feel like a dark, gloomy cloud is hanging over my head on the days I don’t run, hike or do a workout.
My connection to America’s Future Foundation and why I think it’s important:
I joined AFF when I first moved to DC after hearing about it from my boss, Kathleen O’Hearn, who is on the AFF board. AFF has provided me and many of my colleagues and friends with an entrance into leadership opportunities. AFF provides a platform to develop skills that you may not have the opportunity to explore in your job as a young professional just starting out: From hosting fundraisers with big-name movement intellectuals, to planning events, to speaking on panels.
Patti Simpson is director of political and career services at the Leadership Institute.