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The Activist's Studio

Conversations on the
Art and Politics of Human Rights

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A conversation with

Roberta Achtenberg
Commissioner, United States Commission for Civil Rights

Julie Davis
Executive Director, Face Value Project

and moderated by

Timothy Patrick McCarthy
Harvard University


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Roberta Achtenberg has more than 30 years of senior-level leadership experience in business, government, and law and currently serves on private-sector and public- sector Boards and as a corporate advisor in public policy—specializing in banking and finance, housing and economic development, workforce training and post-secondary education.

Achtenberg was appointed in 2011 by President Obama as Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She is also a current member and past Chair of the California State University Board of Trustees, the nation’s largest four-year university system. She is a Director of the privately-held enterprise software company, Andrew J. Wong, Inc. and of the Bank of San Francisco where she serves as Vice Chair of the Board. She served for five years as a Director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco where she chaired the Affordable Housing Committee.

Achtenberg served in the Clinton Administration—first as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and later as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). She also headed the HUD Agency Review Team for the Obama Transition. A former elected member of the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors, Achtenberg represented San Francisco as a Director of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Achtenberg’s work as a corporate advisor in public policy includes positions as Workforce and Economic Development Advisor to major corporations and not-for-profits. Achtenberg also served as Senior Vice President for Public Policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and founded the San Francisco Center for Economic Development.

Trained as a lawyer, Achtenberg served as a Teaching Fellow at the Stanford Law School, Dean of New College of California School of Law, Staff Attorney of the Lesbian Rights Project of Equal Rights Advocates, Inc., and founded the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Achtenberg’s civic work includes board service with the United Way of the Bay Area where she was also named Management Volunteer of the Year, San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation, and Coro Center for Civic Leadership, where she also served as Chair. She founded and served for a decade on the Boards of SFWorks, a business-led workforce training program helping families transition from welfare to work, and EARN, an asset-development program for low-income working families to achieve financial independence through financial literacy, saving and investing. She has been recognized five times as one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s “Most Influential Businesswoman” by the San Francisco Business Times, was given an Award of Excellence by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and been named “Woman of the Year” by the California State Senate for the Third Senate District, among other distinctions.
Julie R. Davis brings a wealth of campaign and organizational experience in the LGBT rights movement to Face Value. She is a veteran of some of the most high-profile state campaigns on the West Coast. She was campaign manager of Oregon’s successful “No on 13” campaign in 1994, still one of the few statewide ballot campaigns ever won by the pro- LGBT side. As the founding executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, Davis transformed the momentum from this successful statewide ballot measure campaign operation into the formation of one of the leading statewide LGBT rights groups.

Davis has consulted on LGBT political campaigns throughout the country, including for the “No on Knight” campaign in California, overseeing the national fundraising efforts. Davis served as campaign manager and later chief of staff for Oregon’s first openly LGBT state representative, Gail Shibley. Davis was the Northern California Campaign Manager for California’s No on Proposition 8 campaign.

Davis oversaw public affairs for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, directed development for the progressive Horizons Foundation and has since served as a consultant on leadership development and issue-based efforts for a wide array of social justice and community organizations serving diverse populations including youth, seniors, sexual and domestic violence survivors, homeless veterans, and union members.

Timothy Patrick McCarthy is Lecturer on History and Literature and on Public Policy at Harvard University. He is also Core Faculty and Director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. At the Carr Center, Dr. McCarthy directs an ambitious research agenda; runs a biweekly student study group on Human Rights and Social Movements; hosts a monthly public conversations series, “The Activist’s Studio,” on the politics and culture of human rights; convenes an annual spring conference on “Gay Rights as Human Rights”; and co-chairs the Regional Working Group on Modern-Day Slavery and Human Trafficking, a first-of-its-kind research collaborative with scholars and practitioners working to combat the global scourge of human bondage. More >

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