Neil Oza is a community organizer, activist, nonprofit leader, and professional from Rochester Hills, Michigan. After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Supply Chain Management from the Broad College of Business, he decided to put his skills to work fighting for the issues important to him. Last year, Neil ran for the Michigan State House of Representatives to fight for greater government accountability and transparency at the state level.
As a POGO Ambassador, Neil has used his voice to tackle corruption, waste, and abuse of power in the federal government, penning opinion pieces and meeting with congressional offices about critical issues facing our country. We sat down with Neil to ask him about it, and here’s what he told us:
POGO: What are the kinds of good government reforms that you would like to see on the federal level?
Neil: We need reforms that are going to push our elected officials to focus on their job of serving the people rather than their own personal, financial, or electoral gain. This means comprehensive campaign finance reform that gets dark money out of politics (including, but not limited to, a law that overturns Citizens United), a ban on congressional stock trading, closing the revolving door between government and lobbying work, and generally decreasing the undue influence of special interests on our politics.
POGO: What motivates you to speak out on these issues?
Neil: If we don’t push good government, transparency, and campaign finance reforms, we can’t make much of the needed progress on any number of other issues. Whether it be fighting to save the environment, reform the criminal justice system, or provide essential services for the most vulnerable, powerful entities and government corruption stand in the way of meaningful progress. Solving these issues is about achieving the promise of our country and freedom for all of us that we hold so dear.
POGO: Why do the reforms you’ve advocated for matter to you personally?
Neil: I’ve run for office and may run again in the future. I want folks to have a chance to elect folks who truly represent them, regardless of what the most rich and powerful individuals and institutions among us believe. The undue influence of money in politics and lack of government transparency make it tough sometimes to elect the best candidates for our communities to these crucial positions.
POGO: How does corruption at the federal level impact your community?
Neil: There are so many crucial community programs and initiatives that could easily be funded by the federal government, but instead much of this money gets diverted to feed the military-industrial complex and other types of government contractors with access to power. By reducing corruption and implementing good government reforms, we’ll be able to spend more federal dollars in local communities like mine. Corruption also often leads to politicians doing things that hurt communities, like drilling for oil under folks’ homes or in local green spaces (something that nearly happened in the last decade in my hometown, Rochester, Michigan).
POGO: What advice would you offer someone who wants to advocate on these issues?
Neil: Contact your local, state, and federal elected officials. Organize your friends, family, and communities to do the same. And if these officials who are supposed to represent you don’t listen, work to vote them out and elect candidates who do support anti-corruption legislation. Do all you can to support candidates who share your values and spread the word to people you know. Even consider running for office yourself to be that type of candidate. I know it sounds scary, but it’s worth it to fight for our democracy. And pay attention to what’s happening with the courts, which too often go overlooked. At all levels, judges can be crucial to making progress on these issues or deeply setting them back. This may all sound cliché, but it really is the best way to make a difference.