Women Who Are Changing the World: Jill Habig

Reading hundreds of picture book biographies of remarkable women for The Picture Book Club's "12 Women Who Changed the World" subscription has made me want to shine a spotlight on other remarkable women who, though they don't (yet!) have biographies written about them, inspire me every day.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club

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Q: What do you do?

I run a new nonprofit called Public Rights Project. I founded PRP to train and equip a new corps of talented attorneys to fight for people's rights in partnership with progressive state and local governments. We recruit talented attorneys to work as 2-year fellows in state and local public law offices (state attorneys general, city attorneys, and district attorneys) and we help those offices bring impact cases to protect people's legal rights. 

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

It's so hard to pick just one thing. I love working with an amazing team to create something that addresses a pressing need in our country, especially in this moment. I'm passionate about the power of state and local government to be a force for good in people's lives, and I think it's especially important to show people what it looks like to have their government fighting for them at a moment when so many people feel under attack by their federal government. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this work.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

Everything! We're trying to create a new organization that does something new, and it turns out there's no set playbook for how to make up an organization. Every day I learn something new, and simultaneously feel like I can't learn fast enough. It's exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

Running a half marathon. All my life, I hated running, in part because of asthma and in part because it reminded me of being an insecure, chubby kid in gym class. A few years ago, I decided to run a half marathon with a group of friends who all hated running, just to prove we could do it. I've now run 5 of them, and love going for a run every week. I'll never be an elite runner, but it's a great reminder that we can push through the artificial barriers we often create for ourselves. 

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

Senator Kamala Harris. I had the privilege of working for her for several years when she was California's Attorney General, and then worked on her successful Senate campaign last year. I've learned so much about integrity, leadership, and public service from her. Her first and last question before any difficult decision is always, what's the real impact on people? That's her North Star, and she never wanders from it or allows herself to get distracted. She's taught me to never be satisfied with the status quo and to be relentless in fighting for people. She's also taught me the value of being at the table where decisions are made, and the need to always be vigilant about who's NOT at the table to speak for themselves. I hear her voice in my head every day as I'm working to build this new organization.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Stephen Curry. This is really just an excuse to talk about my undying devotion to the Golden State Warriors and all things NBA basketball.  In all seriousness, Steph inspires me because he’s at the top of his game professionally and personally. He has both the passion and the discipline to excel at his work, breaking new barriers in the sport and putting on a pretty dazzling display of talent.  At the same time, he has his head on straight about the bigger things in life outside of work and is a role model as a parent.  As if that wasn’t enough, he’s now really coming into his own as a public presence, talking about politics and race in a thoughtful way.  All this before his 30th birthday! I aspire to have my life that together some day. 

Q: What is something you would like to change about the world? 

I want every city and state in the country to have a public civil rights law firm for its people.  We need to redefine what state and local public law offices are expected and empowered to do. For example, each city attorney’s office in the country should not just be the defense attorney for the city when it is sued; it should also be the civil rights law firm for the city’s residents, making sure communities can thrive and be treated with dignity. I started my legal career at the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, where I had the opportunity of a lifetime to work on the trial challenging Proposition 8, the case that established marriage equality in California. I formed PRP to seed more of this work in cities and states around the country. We’re seeing more and more of them step up to protect their communities in the last year, from student loans and fair housing to the DACA and sanctuary cities cases, among others.  Why should we place all the burden for enforcing our rights on nonprofits? The public should expect and demand that state and local offices do more to protect their rights.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

Where the Wild Things Are. It really fed my sense of adventure and imagination. 

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to PRP's crowdjustice campaign for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.  You can make your own donation here through October 13th: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/publicrightsproject/

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