Peter Jacob, MSW ’10, is Running for Congress | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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Peter Jacob, MSW ’10, is Running for Congress

Alumni

When Peter Jacob knocked on doors in his Republican-leaning New Jersey congressional district last year, the Democratic candidate didn’t bypass homes with “Trump” signs in the yard.

“I’m a social worker – I don’t give up that quickly,” said Jacob, a 2010 Brown School graduate. “I knew that if I could get them at their door, I could get my message out.”

While many started to close their doors once they found out he was a Democrat, most came around once he started talking about issues like the role of money in politics and the mismanagement of tax dollars.

Jacob didn’t win the race, but he came closer than most analysts believed possible against the Republican incumbent, Leonard Lance. Jacob is running again in 2018, and he’s appealing across party lines using the evidence-based approach to policy he learned at the Brown School.

“Too often, we no longer pay attention to fact, we pay attention to our political identity,” he said. “One thing I learned at the Brown School is that if you want to create solutions, you need to have evidence. I have that skill set.”

Jacob said his interest in policy and government was sparked by his work as a community organizer and in programs for homeless adults in New Jersey after graduating from the Brown School.

“I saw many of the challenges first hand, like seniors who had to choose between paying for food, rent or medications,” he said. “I saw that institutional forces were in play. Enough was enough for me.”

Jacob said his practicum experiences at the Brown School prepared him well for real-world interactions. “It enabled me to go out into the community and do public speaking and talk to people across institutions like businesses and police. It showed me how to connect what you’re doing with the larger community.”

He said the Brown School’s expanded Master of Social Policy program, which current students can now pursue as a dual-degree option, deepens the School’s emphasis on policy and politics.

“We as social workers need to be attentive to what is going on in social economic development,” he said. “Policies are in place that prevent us from doing the best job we can for our clients. We need to be active and engage our elected officials.”

Jacob says the Brown School’s greater focus on politics could also build a network of alumni support, helping social workers like him thrive in politics. “What I’ve found running for office is that social workers don’t have the political capital or connections that some professionals, like lawyers, have.”

To this end, Jacob supports current Brown School students by sharing reflections on his experiences running for office. He is one of a growing number of alumni offering their insights about working for large-scale policy change.

Jacob’s campaign platform includes providing Medicare for all and taking steps to attack economic inequality, money in politics, and climate change. He’s also in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. The issue resonates with Jacob, who came to the U.S. from India with his parents when he was six months old.

“There is a narrative being sold that there are limited resources, pitting people against people. They say it is the immigrant who is taking their share away. It’s a distraction from the sapping of wealth from the people who create it.”

Jacob’s district in north central New Jersey includes both urban and rural areas. He believes progressive ideas can get a hearing if they’re framed correctly to address the concerns of voters that reach across partisan lines. “They’re ready to see a progressive get elected.”

“When you talk to people they’re very positive about what we’re fighting for,” he said. “We are at a very opportune time. People want to see change, they want jobs, opportunities.” And he doesn’t think moderating his views, even in a Republican-leaning district, is the answer for voters who are yearning for a clear choice. “When you’ve got a Democrat who sounds like a Republican, you might as well vote for the Republican,” he said.

His success in attracting voters in his first try for office has drawn other Democrats to challenge in the June primary, and his seat is one of 58 the national Democratic party is targeting. He’ll also face an uphill battle raising money, which hampered him the last time around.

“The stakes are high,” he said. “If our campaign succeeds, it will prove that a young person can bring about change, and inspire.”

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