State Del. Kris Amundson (D-44th) has just returned from Chile with a new perspective on economics and culture in an emerging democracy.
Amundson made the trip as one of 12 fellows with the Eleanor Roosevelt Global Leadership Institute, a program of the Center for Policy Alternatives.
"The goal of the program is to expose state legislators to the culture and economy of new democracies,” said Carolina Zumaran-Jones, a spokesperson for the Institute. “We selected Chile because it is an important trade partner for the United States, because it is in the Western Hemisphere, and because it is an emerging democracy. We wanted the legislators to see the good and bad impacts that this is having on the country and how the people and the government are dealing with those impacts.
"Also, we wanted them to draw the parallels between Chile and their own states and bring that more global understanding back to their legislative bodies.”
The fellowship lasts for six to nine months and includes a three-day domestic retreat, distance learning and, finally, an eight-day foreign-study experience. Fellows are ethnically, regionally, racially diverse and are a bipartisan group.
“We select legislators who are considered to be rising stars in their states and who are thoughtful and willing to make the necessary commitment in terms of time and study,” said Zumaran-Jones. Kris Amundson was the only legislator from the mid-Atlantic region who participated in this year’s fellowship program to Chile. It is sponsored by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation.
“As the world gets smaller, and as trade issues affect local communities, it’s very important for people on the state level to have some understanding about global issues and trade issues,” Amundson said. “That was really the purpose of the trip to Chile. Also, Chile is a country that is doing many things that are quite interesting. Many of them could not necessarily be a direct model for us here but certainly some of them could.”
THE GROUP VISITED factories and learned how individuals are becoming part of an economy that is shipping more and more goods to the United States. “Sometimes you have to step back pretty far to get a clear picture of what’s going on. I think that when I was in Chile, I began to get a clearer picture of some of the things that are happening in Virginia,” she said.
Amundson said she gained a better understanding of the impact of jobs that are being lost to developing countries. “The jobs that we lose through globalization, manufacturing types of jobs, for example, that, while they don’t affect Mount Vernon directly, do affect the commonwealth. They’re not coming back,” she said. “We visited a plant where workers are making $1.50 an hour, and that was a union job – a good job. “The labor unions there are saying to the AFL-CIO, we’re unions too, and this is a good job and a good rate of pay for this particular economy.”
Amundson also learned about bringing people out of poverty and into the middle class. “This is a society, in Chile, that has made a decision that over the long haul, the elimination of poverty and bringing people into the middle class really is critical to long-term success,” she said. “So, although currently they have a really conservative fiscal policy, they are chugging along.
“Chile has made a real investment in small businesses,” Amundson said. “For instance, you see beekeepers, ladies who are doing embroidery and all sorts of truly small businesses that they are helping to find markets. That’s an approach that makes sense. Giving people tools and giving them access to markets and training them so that they can start a business and grow, it strikes me as something worth looking at.”
AMUNDSON WAS impressed with one of the Chilean efforts to get out the vote. “We worked with an organization called Participa,” she said. “In helping the government to move from military repression into a democracy, they had 7,000 volunteers who went out into the barrios and the countryside and got people to vote. They were amazingly successful.”
Amundson will discuss the details of her trip with her constituents at the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church on Sunday, Dec. 8, from 4-6 p.m.