Class of 2014
Executive Director, Foundation for Democracy and Justice
Area of Practice: Public Policy
Undergraduate: Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, UC Santa Cruz
Major: Philosophy, Language Studies, Italian
Sosan Madanat, '14, is on a mission to teach Californians about how state government works. Madanat is executive director of the Foundation for Democracy and Justice, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that promotes awareness about democracy and government through civics education.
The foundation, which launched in 2013, recognizes there is a need to better understand all three government branches, especially the judicial branch, says Madanat, who joined the organization in 2015 as its only full-time staffer.
"There doesn't seem to be much general understanding of how all three branches work individually, but also in conjunction with one another and the roles that each of them play, and how they are there to serve California residents," she says.
The foundation's goal is to get more people to be active in state government. That means being an informed voter and voting in each election, understanding local and statewide current events, attending city council meetings, contacting elected representatives, understanding how judges are elected and how the court system works; and that serving on a jury is both a responsibility and a privilege.
Madanat has been talking to the founders of similar organizations around the country to determine how to best develop a civics education curriculum for adults. She plans to create a speaker's bureau, first in Sacramento and then statewide, comprised of judges, local elected officials and government employees from each branch. Speakers, at least initially, would address civics groups such as rotary clubs, chambers of commerce and Elks Lodges.
"Part of what we're trying to do in developing our content is learning how to make it exciting for the public and trying to tell them why it matters," she says.
The root of her inspiration to do this kind of work started at UC Santa Cruz, where she earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a minor in Italian. She lived in a dorm whose theme was social justice and community outreach, and volunteered at a local elementary school garden teaching children who were primarily ESL and low income about sustainability and healthy eating. She served on student government and worked for student life, organizing activities with a social justice theme.
She chose McGeorge School of Law because of its proximity to the Capitol, unsure whether she wanted to be a practicing attorney or do legislative and policy work.
At McGeorge, Madanat interned with the Sacramento Federal Defender's office, thinking she might pursue criminal defense. But an internship with then-state Sen. Noreen Evans made her realize that policy, with its big-picture focus and variety of issues, was a better fit. Madanat, who was executive director of McGeorge's student-run Public Legal Services Society, graduated with the Capital Lawyering Certificate (now Certificate of Concentration).
During her internship as a legislative intern with Sen. Evans, who at the time was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Madanat researched the impact budget cuts were having on the courts and the ripple effects on Californians statewide. It's why she focuses her work on educating people about the importance of the court system.
"It was heartbreaking to meet with some of the judges talking about long lines people were facing to pay fines, or to file for divorce," she says. "A lot of self-help centers were closed. A lot of courthouses closed. People were having to drive unimaginable (distances) to try to resolve a dispute or problem, or file a temporary restraining order. It was impacting their ability to access these necessary services."