Representation Is Not Enough: We Need Collective Governance
Demos President Taifa Butler explains what true democracy looks like, and why what we have right now just ain’t it.
Episode 6: Representation Is Not Enough: We Need Collective Governance
References and resources
- This scene from Bullworth
- “No One Person Can Transform a System,” The Forge
- Demos Case Study: “Water as a Public Good: Pittsburgh’s Our Water Campaign”
- “Hear Us: Community Organizing Is How We Win Public Power and Justice,” by Daniella Zessoules for Next City
- “Hear Us: Policymakers Need to Get Out of Black Organizers’ Way,” by Tracey Corder for Next City
ORGANIZATIONS TO FOLLOW: Demos, Jackson People’s Assembly, Jobs With Justice, Black Visions.
Kendra Bozarth 0:09
You’re listening to Raci$m Is Profitable, a podcast by and for people of color that aims to dismantle the assumptions that fuel the oppression economy. Your hosts are Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice, the co-founders and co-executive directors of Liberation in Generation Action. Let’s get it.
Solana Rice 0:26
This episode of Raci$m Is Profitable, we’re exploring governance. Run by corporations and elite policymakers who put markets above all else, our current economy is designed to exclude and literally kill us. Understandably, people of color have very little confidence in government today. Yet, it’s also the pathway to winning our power in the economy. So we’re here to bust assumptions about our so called democratic processes, and more importantly, imagine what governing could and should be. What if we redefine the relationship between elected officials and movements? What if American governance was rooted in community? Taifa Butler of Demos joins the show to cut through the chaos and help us envision a new governing moment.
Bulworth Movie 1:12
The riots and civil unrest went down about four years ago. You promised us federal funding to rebuild our community. What happened?
What happened was that we all knew that was going to be big news for a while, so we all came down here, Bush, Clinton, Wilson, all of us, we got our pictures taken, told you what you wanted to hear, and we we pretty much forgot about it.
Did he just say what I think he said? Let’s see where he’s going with this.
We can’t get health insurance, fire insurance, life insurance. Why haven’t you come out for Senate Bill 2720?
Well, because you haven’t really contributed any money to my campaign, have you? Got any idea how much these insurance companies come up with? They pretty much depend on me to get a bill like that and bottle it up in my committee during an election. And then that way we can kill it when you’re not looking.
Are you saying the Democratic Party don’t care about the African American community?
Isn’t that obvious?
Jeremie Greer 2:24
What’s up y’all? That was Warren Beatty in the movie Bulworth, a movie that I don’t think a lot of people know about, but is a jewel. I suggest everyone take a look at it. But most people probably remember that movie from, “Eyes is sore from being a senator/ And ODB, Pras, well/Ghetto superstar/That is what you are…” Remember that song, Solana? Yeah.
Solana Rice 2:53
Yes, I remember that song over and over and over at too many parties. Yeah.
Jeremie Greer 3:02
Right. Well, we raised that because there was some like, truth-telling that you often don’t see. That was the kind of comedy of it, is that there’s a senator in front of this group of black people at a church, telling real truth about how things get done in Washington, right?
Solana Rice 3:22
Yeah, and I think unfortunately, we see those narratives even today. I mean, I, I’m pretty sure we heard Joe Biden on the campaign trail, say, who are Black people gonna vote for, you’re gonna vote for you’re not gonna vote for a Republican, are you?
Jeremie Greer 3:37
You’re not voting for Don Trump, are you? Nah.
Solana Rice 3:42
So I unfortunately, you know, that was, I think that was 1998, Bulworth was, but could have been just in two thousand… two thousand twenty.
Jeremie Greer 3:54
Like yesterday, maybe?
Solana Rice 3:57
Yeah, like yesterday. So I think what’s so illuminating about this, too, is that there’s just a lot like, we are living in a time when we’re, a lot of us are skeptical of government, no matter who’s at the helm. We’re just skeptical of government, we’re skeptical of governance. And I know we’ve got to, like, figure out, like, what is what is what does governance mean? Not just like government, because like, we I we’re thinking about, like the big buildings and things like that. People in suits. But what are the decisions that are being made in our sort of collective interests? And who’s really, who’s really deciding? I mean, I think, you know, I just love the scene in The Wiz at the very end, right, where they’re pulling back the curtain, and it’s like little Richard Pryor operating this big old machine.
Jeremie Greer 4:57
Now, the little to “Doo doo doo doo doo,” those used to scare me. So like, when I watch the Wiz, that’s what comes to mind for me. But…
Solana Rice 5:07
Yeah, yeah. Flying monkeys and “Doo doo doo doo,” aside.
Jeremie Greer 5:12
No no, stop! It’s scary. It’s scary. It’s traumatizing.
Solana Rice 5:17
Besides that, I mean, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about, like pulling back the curtain on who’s really deciding what, and I remember a conversation Kandace Montgomery and I had with Mo Mitchell and Rukia Lumumba about co-government, co-governance. Right? This idea that who is deciding isn’t just the people that we have put into office, elected, quote, unquote, air quotes, big air quotes “elected” into office, but it’s also the capital, like people with money are co-governing with the people who we have elected. So we do have some models of like, what does it look like to have co-governance? What does it look like, for our elected officials to decide in tandem with a another entity? It’s just that that other entity is not us, as Mo Mitchell would say, it’s not the people, right? It’s it’s capitalists, people with money.
Jeremie Greer 6:17
Yeah. And that’s what we heard in that clip, right, like this, senator is, is laying the truth out by saying, you know, the, the, you know, the Black woman stands up said, “Are you going to support this bill that is, you know, something that we support here? You represent us.” And he was like, “No, because like, I really represent the insurance companies, right? I really, I represent some other interests than the one that you think I’m here to represent.” And like again, the parody in that is that he’s saying that openly. But I think what we know about how our system works is and as Mo and Rakia, you know, laid out in the conversation that you had with them, that’s really how it is. Like, that’s how things are being run. That like the people that have access to these senators, these representatives, the people that have money, and that money that money pays for that access, is who is running things. So when you think about who’s governing and who’s making the decisions. It’s not us, it’s you know, your Amazons of your world, your Facebooks of the world, your Prudential Insurance Company, it is like all of these other entities that are making these decisions on our behalf.
Solana Rice 7:34
Yeah, and I think also, what was so important about that conversation, folks should check it out, was the idea that we shouldn’t just discredit the idea of governance, we shouldn’t totally just say, “Well, then we don’t need government,” because what is clear is that our government is the way that we take care of ourselves collectively. And, just because we have never seen a true democracy doesn’t mean we can’t have it, and shouldn’t strive for it. We should know, we should go into it with clear eyes about what we’re dealing with. But, at the same time, we can imagine a world where we are deciding on many levels, and what I love about what Rukia was saying too, is like we can have co-governance today in small and big ways, right? And I just love the People’s Assembly work that they do in Jackson, Mississippi, as a demonstration of that. We’re seeing a lot of participatory budgeting happening across the country. And I feel like that’s just like the very very tip of the iceberg around getting folks acquainted with what it’s like to make these kinds of decisions for our collective.
Jeremie Greer 9:01
And all that sounds like more than voting. Right?
Solana Rice 9:03
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, right right right right.
Jeremie Greer 9:07
Like it seems like all them people talk about is voting and then like, get out the vote and like, you know, which is important. I’m not like discrediting that but like, it’s, it seems like what we’re talking about is beyond the ballot box.
Solana Rice 9:21
That’s absolutely yeah, absolutely. Like, once you vote what we still have a responsibility to hold the people that we’ve voted in accountable to understand and know what’s happening. I, you know, I remember when Barack Obama was elected he said, “Y’all have to hold me accountable, like you your work doesn’t end.” I mean, we we were like, “No, we did it! Bro, we did it like you there, we did the thing.”
Jeremie Greer 9:47
Nah, we in the White House.
Solana Rice 9:48
We in the White House right?
You, you got it. And he was right. We needed to keep on pushing him. Because it turns out, it’s about the position which actually also comes up in that conversation with Mo and Rukia. And that, you know, these positions are are baked in, it almost doesn’t matter who you put in the, you can only have so many virtuous people in these, their, your virtuosity only goes so far in positions like this that are set up not, not equitably, right? So we do have a lot of work to do on the inside and the outside to make sure that co-governance really happens.
Jeremie Greer 10:37
Yeah, and I mean, that’s what, and that’s how they get when we say racism is profitable, right, part of the cost that they pay, in order to access the government so that they can come, so that they can reap profits is the suppression of black voters, the difficulty, making it difficult to engage in government so that people are sort of the representatives are aware about what we want and what we need. It’s a way to silence us so that they can take control. And so when we talk about like, how do you dismantle a system that allows racism to be profitable, and dismantle an oppression economy, you absolutely have to talk about governance, because the governance of the country is, governs the economy. It governs how people can make money and governs how people can grow their wealth, it governs what kind of jobs you have, how much money that job pays you. And if we’re not able to engage in that governance, then the rules are going to be set up for, against us, which is kind of where we where we sit today.
Solana Rice 11:41
Yeah, yeah. And this isn’t pie in the sky. We, it’s not like we’ve never seen this type of like transformation happen. And we’ve had models like this, like I love what Smiley at Jobs for Justice talks about and changing our economic relationship, like we have unions that are co-governing with private employers, right? That’s, that’s essentially what is happening. And it’s changed, and it’s folks that are in the practice of, people that are union members are in the practice of every day, demonstrating their governing ability and power. Now, you know, we have seen what union membership decline over many decades. And still, this is not a, this is not a dream, like we have this today still.
Jeremie Greer 12:37
Yeah. And we’ve been painting a very grim picture of the now, but Taifa was good to help bring some light to this conversation and help pave, help us see a path through all this darkness, right?
Solana Rice 12:51
Yeah, I can’t wait.
Jeremie Greer 12:56
Alright y’all, Taifa Butler is here holding it down for the Dirty South. She is the former president of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute and is now running things at Demos. What’s up, Taifa?
Taifa Butler 13:10
What is going on, good people?
Solana Rice 13:12
I just, I have to ask you first, like you were leaving this powerful statewide organization building coalition, putting out really transcendent policy, now you’re at Demos, how are you? Like, how are you doing in the transition, like, in all the things?
Jeremie Greer 13:34
Because they put us in charge, but then they like to wear us down, you know? So we just want to check on you. You know?
Taifa Butler 13:40
Yeah, I appreciate that, I appreciate that, and I need some folks checking in. ‘Cause sometimes we not okay.
It’s a lot going on as y’all well know. And I think just honestly, you know, looking at the landscape, it is a daunting time to have left state level work, you know, after 20 years, and of course, doing it down in Georgia, in the South, where our context was very challenging and a little bit hostile, if I’m being honest. To the, you know, the work that we were trying to do for Black and brown people, is to now look at the national landscape and see our democracy is on fire, our economy is likely to never be the same again after this pandemic, and, an organization like Demos that has centered, you know, Black and brown people in racial equity, right, when it comes to having a say and a voice in our democracy and in our economy. Like yo, it’s serious times. And and I just appreciate you know, the warm welcome at the national level, quite honestly, people have, like you Solana, have recognized the work that I’ve done at the state level, but it’s it’s a different landscape. And I think what I’m trying to navigate now is, how do we do this work looking at the federal policy levers that need to be flipped on, right, in order to improve the state context, where we’ve got so much opposition, right? So, so those are the things that I’m holding. But right now I’m doing okay, I’m doing a lot of yoga and playing a lot of tennis.
Jeremie Greer 15:12
Solana Rice 15:13
Good on you. Serena’s MasterClass is really good, by the way.
Jeremie Greer 15:21
Oh, oh, it’s so to teach us how to not be as good at tennis as Serena, because Serena’s just like… So, you know, we think about, you know, the topic of the day, we want to talk about governance and what that means and what that means for Black and brown folks. And it feels like, if you were just watching the news, you’re just following things that like, really, we’re talking about governments, governance, we’re talking about voting, because that seems to be like, what a lot of the conversations are around. And I know following you and following Demos, y’all look at governance more broadly than that. So like, how would you define governance? And why is it not just about voting?
Taifa Butler 16:09
Yeah, that is such a good question. And I would say governance is about power. It’s about control. And it’s about as Shirley Chisholm would say, you know, if they don’t have a seat for you at the table, pull up a folding chair, like you bring in your own seat to the table to influence the conversation, even when you’re not invited. And I think, you know, as we have seen how this economy is set up, and how this democracy is set up, it has not been conducive to having the people who are most impacted by the decisions that are being made, you know, to be able to have a real say, and, you know, we think democracy is just access to the ballot, but it is not. You know, it is actually being able to influence and control the forces that shape our lives every day. And that’s what we at Demos have been really conscientious about, especially after this pandemic, seeing how impacted Black and brown communities were from the health effects, right, of the pandemic, but also having to show up as essential workers and go back to work and not have power and voice in their own working conditions to be able to say “No.’ Although, you know, some would say that they did, based on the Great Resignation. But again, I think those are the things that we want to see as we reshape the current construct and systems of our economy and our democracy. We want people, all people Black and brown people in particular, who have been most harmed by the system, to be able to, to have a say.
Solana Rice 17:46
Yeah, so I’m curious about what that looks like. And like, your vision and Demos’s vision about governance in what you all call an economic democracy, right. We talked, we referred earlier to a conversation we had with with Mo Mitchell and Rukia Lumumba about co-governance and governing with the people. But I’m curious about like, when people of color are deciding, where are you all seeing people of color deciding and controlling and in power? And what’s the vision? What’s the long, long arc vision?
Taifa Butler 18:27
Yeah, we, just having launched our economic democracy project or agenda, if you will, I think it’s our way as Demos to do what we do best, right? Bring research and policy solutions to the table, connected to movement, connected to, sort of, what’s happening on the ground, and also thinking about the broader systems that are controlling people’s ability to thrive in their lives. And so, you know, we want it to be able to have folks articulate that power, right, and that control in ways that decentralizes corporate power, right? Because corporate, corporations have had such an outsized influence on our economy, in terms of just working conditions, and, you know, how we, our bodies have been used, as, you know, profit making efforts for other folks. And as, as we think about, you know, how our economy is set up, right? There are makers or I would say, winners and losers inherent in how our economy has been built. And based on where you live, or the melanin in your skin, or your age or your, you know, sexual orientation, like there are a bunch of ways that we have been devalued as a people in this economy. And when Black and brown, those who have been most marginalized, those who are disabled, who want to, again, have ways in which that they live and move in the world that they can, you know, have that self actualization, right? Like they want to be able to, be able to control, again, the things that are happening to them, you know, it’s how do we put those things in place, so that, you know, they have influence over over these systems? And not at a detriment right to other people, because I think there’s a broader narrative that we’ve got to push back against. You know, there is power in inclusion. There’s power in diversifying who’s making decisions, and not just power, but there’s good in that inclusion. And where is that narrative living and coming from? You know, because I think, as we’ve seen play out at the national level, white men, particularly who are in the seats of power, see the growing diversity in our electorate, and in this country as a threat to their power, right? And so instead of embracing this rising majority, new majority, they are continuing to put systems in place that would minimize their voice and their power. And I think, at the at the end of the day, that’s going to be a detriment to this country, you know, when I think about the long term trends, that America will be projected to be majority people of color by 2045. But yet all the wealth is concentrated, you know, not in the hands of Black and brown people, the trends tell us that there will be negative net wealth for Black and brown people by that same time period. And it’s not, not because of any decisions, or a lack within Black and brown people, it is systemic, that they have created this inequity and inequality in our economy that continues to persist. So if we don’t disrupt that, and change that, what does that mean for the long term viability of Black and brown people, and to this country? And for us, we’ve got to be able to show that there are glimmers of like, great work happening on the ground where people are seizing opportunities to reclaim a seat, you know, or bring their folding chair, if you will, and that it is for the good of their community. So that’s what our economic democracy has been about.
Jeremie Greer 22:14
Yeah, I wonder if you could go into, because we know there’s a lot of skepticism about government, and not like, you know. Of course, there’s like, the kind of bullshit stuff that Trump and his folks do to like, try to get people to like disengage because they know that the fewer people engage, the better off it is for them. There’s that stuff. But there’s, like legitimate, like, particularly in Black and brown communities, distrust of government. Like that, you know, because government hasn’t always showed up in the best way in those communities. So I wonder if you could talk a bit about like, what do we have to do to overcome that? You know, and to begin to engage folks in the governance of the country, not just, again, not just on Election Day, but kind of day to day operation of the venture that is governing the country.
Taifa Butler 23:08
That’s a great point. And, you know, when you know, having led the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute for a number of years, and so just knowing as a think tank, right, as a research based organization trying to put policy ideas in the world, that shows like, government has an important role to play that, to influence people’s lives. And coming from fiscal policy, the fiscal policy background is that, you know, we would say the budget is the number one piece of legislation that passes every state legislature because it appropriates and shows where the priorities are for for governing, right? And to see where government is investing or not investing and how it has been detrimental to communities, particularly Black and brown communities, because of disinvestment, or, you know, corporate interests. People have been really, really skeptical and not believing that their their voices are heard or represented well in government. So I think for, for folks, like me, who’ve been in the research arena and game for a while it’s, you know, trying to show that their policy can make a difference, right. It’s about solving public problems. That’s what public policy is all about. And when people don’t see government leaders, policymakers, legislators, governors, right, presidents, helping to solve these public problems through policymaking and appropriations, you know, and investing in programs, then they’re like, “Well, why should I even vote?” Right? So that is the thing that I think connects people to their connectedness to the democratic process. “Why should I show up and vote? Why do you come around every two years with an election cycle where every year depending on if it’s local or state or you know, federal elections, and ask me to show up when I don’t think anybody in those seats are looking at me and listening to me?” And I think it’s the, the notion that, you know, your voice does matter. And the more that we can diversify the people in those seats, you know, that can better represent you, then that also helps. But, but I’ll say this one thing, Jeremie. You know, having done state policy work and being down in the Georgia legislature for, you know, 17 plus years, you know, for lawmakers to say to me, “Hey, Taifa, you know, we’ve read your report. Yeah, this is good information, but you know, what? I haven’t heard from my constituents on this.” So to me, you know, constituents, the public will, at the end of the day, people’s voice, whether they’re calling they’re showing up at the Capitol, they’re writing letters, that still makes a huge difference, no matter if the lobbyists, lobbyists are up there, or researchers like us or, you know, submitting, you know, policy proposals and legislation that we think will solve the day, people still have to give, make their voices heard. And we cannot forget that or forsake that.
Jeremie Greer 26:03
I mean, if Citizens United said that money is voice, that means voice can also be money, right? Like our voices can drown out their money, if we do if you do that work right. Yeah.
Taifa Butler 26:15
That’s right. That’s right. And I just think too, the more that, you know, we can make case for why these, why government is good, why government can be a purveyor of, like the common good and improving people’s lives through its, you know, lawmaking, and policymaking, the better we can, you know, improve this country in the context of for our economy. So, so those are the things that I think we have to continue to connect the dots, that people’s voices still have to be lifted up, that public pressure is so important, right, for policymakers to be held accountable. And that’s the accountability, that, you know, is, we’ve got to work on not just at election time. Like people think if they get indicted, and they don’t get reelected, then that’s, you know, the accountability pieces. It’s “No, what are the mechanisms that we, help people show up day in and day out to show that those, they are watching?” They’re watching the process, they’re watching the decisions, that as much as they try to make those decisions in a very opaque, non transparent way, there’s somebody lifting up what’s happening in these statehouses and in Congress, so that folks are more aware. And then again, that they stay engaged. So I think there’s work to be done on our part on creating those constant systems. And I’ve just appreciated learning from our movement partners, for example, you know, working down here for years, where, you know, we’ve tried to be better oriented to movement, you know, as folks are canvassing and knocking on doors, you know, they came back to me and said, “Hey, Taifa, you know, as we’re talking to folks, they’re talking about their issues around health care. Well, hey, we need to connect these people to the issues around Medicaid expansion.” So there’s got to be a way to connect the civic engagement piece back to the policy, you know, advocacy.
Solana Rice 28:11
I’m curious about lessons that you’ve learned at the state level about governance that you’re applying in this more national perch, purview. Are there things about like what you said, corporate power, which I think is so, what I love about what you said, too, is like, yes, corporate power exists. And, our voice our individual voices and our collective voices also matter at the same time, like it’s not either or. So I’m curious about are there things that you’ve seen at the state level, either about corporate power or continuous engagement, or even just like the money that it takes to have this continuous engagement? Because democracy isn’t free. Like it actually takes a lot of work and and money if you really want folks to be engaged and informed. What are you what are you taking with you from your many, many years of experience?
Taifa Butler 29:20
Yes, you know, I’ve appreciated Demos’s research over, especially over the last year, just looking at issues around Build Back Better, for example, right? You know, how this was a tremendous policy idea and platform that had so many significant components to it to help improve the lives of people, particularly low-income folks. It was revamping the tax code in a way where you had the child tax credit and earned income tax credit and all these ways to help give a bottom up tax cut right, or tax break to families struggling. And to have corporations behind the scenes lobbying to push back and beat back against the Build Back Better for their own self-interest that we, you know, we exposed with People’s Action in our Behind the Curtain report last fall, you know, those are the things that people have to see. Corporations talk out of both sides of their mouths, you know, in terms of “We believe about racial equity, and we you know, we recognize all the harms that have been happening over the last couple of years.” But at the same time, here’s a policy solution that could really help invest, you know, in the lives of people to help them recover and recover equitably, right? Because we’ve seen in these downturns and in the recovery cycles, you know, Black and brown people and low wage workers, low wealth individuals, like they take a lot longer to bounce back. And that’s something that we felt Build Back Better was one of those policies that could really help, you know, change, change that sort of recovery trajectory for communities. And to see corporations hand over fist fighting, with their dollars to push back on that is, this should be alarming. And it should be continued, we should continue to expose that. I think the other thing that I’m learning and hearing, especially given the context here in the South, where you know, corporations were king, every economic decision was to the benefit of businesses. And I would often say, it doesn’t have to be a zero sum, where businesses win and families lose. Like, we are making a conscious decision a policy choice. And, you know, for us at Demos, now even looking at, you know, data capitalism and how corporations are using our data and our decisions, our clicks, our movement on the web, and the Internet to manipulate and to control for profit, you know, are other ways that we have to regulate those systems. Because again, they hold tremendous power with those data that, again, shape, you know, our our consumed our consumption, if you will, just because of all the things that are happening with these algorithms, and just need transparency and regulation and some ways that we can look at co-governance within the whole corporate big tech space as well. So I think it’s thinking about how we look at the national level, and again, I think, changing how our economy is influenced, in sort of, again, decentralizing corporations and the outsized role they have. We’ve got to think about other mechanisms and practices to get people to have a seat at the table. And participatory budgeting is like one of those things, right it’s a co-governance model, it’s seen in like 7000, you know, jurisdictions in the world where people are actually engaged in like how the dollars in the budgets are spent in their community. We need more of that, please and thank you. Right? In our world. So those are just some of the things that we’re thinking about as we launch our economic democracy. How can we make sure that corporations are not controlling everything? And how do we get more people in impacted community to have a seat at the table? And I can talk about a few exampleds launching too, later.
Jeremie Greer 33:18
Oh yeah, go ahead and talk about those examples. I wanna hear about those examples! Don’t keep me waiting!
Taifa Butler 33:29
So one of the things, you know, as we think about all, you know, all the jargony terms about our racialized capitalistic society, but like, where there are glimmers of communities taking control. We just launched, released a paper in partnership with Pittsburgh United, where, again, public goods are incredible portion, piece of our economic democracy agenda, and how do we keep public goods like water and utilities in public hands? In the Pittsburgh case study, we were able to show how government partnered with private entities and those private entities did harm to communities, particularly around cutting costs, increasing the health effects of, you know, not managing the water in the pipes and all of those things, and it had tremendous health effects to the community, but also increased costs. People saw their bills skyrocket. And so what the community did was step up and say, “You know what? We need this public utility back in the hands of government and not in the hands of this corporation, who is robbing us and killing us, you know, because of the health effects of our water not being clean and full of lead and all of that. So I think that was an initial kickoff of our of our program to show here’s a case where you have both corporate control over a public good that had been privatized and again, government’s attempt was “Save money by outsourcing this,” as opposed to investing in systems that would help improve the quality of the water, and working in partnership with the community, and at the end of the day to have Pittsburgh United and the community step up through advocacy, through movement, and say, you know, it’s our water, and then now have a community board in place to help work with the public water utility and authority to help continue to have community oversight, in that, that public good is a tremendous benefit, right long term for that community. So we’ll be releasing a few more examples.
Jeremie Greer 35:38
And I love that example. Because it’s so concrete and so tangible to people’s everyday life, like you turn on the faucet how many times a day? Right, and the water comes out. You were touching on some narratives there, like around “Saving money,” and you know, public, you know, “Corporations do a better job than government,” some of those narratives. And narrative has been a big part of this podcast series. And you know, we talked with Michael Tubbs, for example, about narratives around deservedness, and how these kind of racist ideas around deservedness enter into our public space. I wonder if there are any of these kind of racist narratives that are driving the push away from like, you know, participatory governance, like you just talked about?
Taifa Butler 36:24
Mmhmm. You know, for so long, you know, I think our community, particularly Black and brown communities have been undervalued, like I said earlier. But to the point where, you know, our intellect, our ideas, our agency, right, to be able to show up in a way to be valuable to our government leaders, our community leaders, has been negated. And I think, instead of seeing us as liabilities, is we need to, you know, continue to change the narrative that having community members at the table who are closest to the issues, right, and have the solutions, that that is an asset. And when we govern in that way, it is beneficial to the community. And so I think that’s the narrative that we have to continue to offer, you know, that we have to have community driven, you know, co-governance efforts, participatory budgeting, having a seat at the table that’s broad and inclusive, is the way to go. It is, that is democratic. And if we believe in our democracy, we would create more practices and policies to help support and undergird that, as opposed to continuing to minimize who has a seat at the table. So again, I think that’s a broader narrative that we need to work on. But I also fear that the more you know, this counter narrative about power hoarding and power grab, and you know, is going to be hard to fight against, you know, because that’s what we’re seeing even in the US Capitol, right, in the Senate. And as we see across this nation, with these 19 states that have passed all these voter suppression bills, the fact that you had, you know, a, the most, the highest rate of turnout amongst Black and brown communities in an election cycle be met with, you know, the white backlash, as they say, and then knowing our history that this is cyclical. It happens every time, it happened 10 years ago, it happened 10 years before that. So how do we continue to know this cycle happens as part of our history, but how do we dismantle that trend? I think is going to be really important for broader narrative shift.
Solana Rice 38:54
Yeah, I think what’s so important about what you’re lifting up is that, and what you have said is that voice is power. And when we understand, when we all collectively understand that voice is power, that actually has economic retribution, is sometimes it’s met with economic retribution, right? And so we’re seeing so you know, LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter often says like, yeah, we vote for, we we fight for voting rights every day. And at the same time, we are readying and steadying ourselves for economic retribution in these states, right? And these, and clawbacks and clamping down on social services, all kinds of things. Because it is a demonstration of not only voting rights, but just participation in our governance is a demonstration of power.
Taifa Butler 39:50
And to your point earlier Solana around, you know, resourcing the movement or resourcing sort of the our, the civic engagement that we need to happen, I mean, even with January 6, and the, for example, the the critical race theory conversation, that is not a majority of voices, right? That is a minority of voices that have been well resourced, and in a way that now they have a large megaphone and are making a lot of noise. And it’s a fringe group of people. So when I think about how do we resource our side, you know, where we’re looking at equity, and, you know, inclusion and Black and brown liberation, if you will, thinking about you guys and your work, is how do we resource a few voices on our side to be able to elevate, and max and provide a counter narrative or meta narrative to what we’re hearing, you know, from this fringe on the other side, which is about division, and about supremacy, and about nationalism, and about whiteness. About centering whiteness, let’s just be really, really clear. And so, so again, how do we resource that kind of, you know, communications effort and apparatus that we are giving voice and credence to the rising majority, right?
Solana Rice 41:14
Taifa, what is the one thing or two things that you want everyone to know about what Demos is doing right now? We’re on the edge of our seats to hear more about this Pittsburgh work on water. I like, I’ve so many questions, and I want to see how it unfolds. What else to should folks know?
Taifa Butler 41:34
Yep, so we’ll be releasing three more case studies, part of our economic democracy project, we’ve got uh, some work coming out, in, what’s this month, March? We’ll be highlighting Harris Community with Texas Organizing Project, and how they stepped up and got the community engaged in how to appropriate those hurricane relief dollars in Harris County. Another great example of, you know them stepping up looking at co-governance, fighting for a seat at the table. We’ll be looking at New York and how communities intervened and stepped up to influence public banking to really support worker rights and protections in New York through public banking. And then we’ll be looking in Virginia at how that community fought back against Amazon headquarter number two, to make sure that they didn’t have a transformative effect on their community. So again, some really strong glimmers of pushing back against corporate influence, making sure communities had a seat and a say at the table, particularly communities of color. And then we’ll be having an event in the summer to sort of bring all those folks together to just really launch how we have to change the narrative and focus on what this economy needs to look like moving forward to make sure that we can have again, just as much control and power in reshaping this country. So I’m excited. Demos is also undergoing a new strategic plan, as everybody and their mother is right now, because I think the moment demands it, right? The moment demands it, the world has drastically changed. And so I want to make sure that Demos is situated in a way with movement and with our movement partners, that we’re taking really good cues from what the field is saying that they need from research, from our litigation apparatus, from our movement-building support of what’s going on in the field. So I’m just really excited about what’s next. It’s like I said, crazy daunting, but I believe we got the team and we’ll be recruiting a bunch of positions. We got some open folks, open positions, so folks go to our website, if you want to engage with Demos, Demos.org and look at some of our open positions about I’m looking to build a team. We’re rebuilding the organization, I’m just excited. And to be in partnership with you both Jeremie and Solana, as we reshape the economy. Let’s go. Appreciate the opportunity to hang out with y’all.
Jeremie Greer 43:59
We’re excited to be with you. That’s, uh Demos.org. Because that’s a lot of stuff. And it ain’t all coming out tomorrow, so you will have to keep checking that website and keep going back. So yeah. Well, Taifa it’s been great.
Thank you so much, Taifa.
Taifa Butler 44:20
Appreciate y’all. Talk to you soon.
Jeremie Greer 44:22
Appreciate you, peace.
Solana Rice 44:26
Yeah, I, oh, Taifa. Taifa, Taifa, Taifa, Taifa. So inspiring! Um, I’m just thinking about that, that Pittsburgh example that she shared. And why it goes back to your point about it’s so much more than voting. When was the last time you voted on anything to do with water? Guess what? We don’t often elect, like there might be a commission, a water commission or water board in your community, but the likelihood that you’ve actually elected those folks and they have control over, literally like what you said, what comes out of your faucet day out day in and day out? Like, that’s the type of, that’s how deep this governance work is and why it’s so much more than what is or is not on your ballot.
Jeremie Greer 45:15
Right. And she mentioned that critical race theory and like right now, these, this moneyed interest is flooding these, like small school boards across the country, but these school boards control millions of dollars in how, what is the curriculum that’s going to teach our kids. And they’re just flooding these school boards with with like, these loud, radical voices that are really about hoarding power. Like these people that are showing up, they’re not the ones that’ll get the power, but the money behind it is the ones that are going to get the power. But but but but that tangible, like solution of like, get involved in your local water board or your local school district or your local, like, there are ways that people can be engaged today. And things that are probably not even a mile away from your home.
Solana Rice 46:08
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I, we, we stopped short of talking about this, but also the it’s not just about us as individuals getting involved, but us also having the support and the infrastructure of local organizations like, like a whole bunch of nonprofits, community based nonprofits across the country to be able to support people in these positions once they get into positions. Right? So it’s not just, you know, it’s not just like sitting at the meeting and saying, yea or nay, it’s also being able to have the time and the resources to sift through, you know, these board packets, these huge dockets, and make informed decisions that actually requires support from all of us. Right. So it’s, at that point, it really does become a community effort to have folks that represent us making decisions in our interests that are from our communities.
Jeremie Greer 47:12
Right, right. And, you know, she, another thing she alluded to, that I think brings out something we didn’t have time to discuss with her was she talking about the accountability and holding people accountable once they’re there. And often we as Black and brown folks, because we’re only asked to show up at election time, we get really fixated on getting people like us in the seat. And then we assume that there’s some trust there that they’re going to actually do the things that we sent them there to do. And the hard truth of that is like y’all all skin folk ain’t kinfolk, right, like we’ve sent a lot of people into public service. Black folks come out to vote hard, get people put into this place, and then they don’t represent our interests when we when they get there. And, they use their position to actually double down on oppression. Like Tim Scott, right? Every time, Tim Scott’s a Republican from South Carolina. Black senator, the only Black Senate Republican senator, the only Black Senator now other than Cory Booker, and Raphael Warnock. And what he does is he’s like, “Well, this can’t be racist, right? Because I’m Black and I don’t think it’s racist.” And he uses his position to like silence people who call out racism, right? Jim Clyburn. On the Democratic side, says things like “Abolish the police is a slogan. That is not an actual policy.” Dismissing the hardcore political activism, the policy development, that folks like Movement for Black Lives has done, Dream Defenders, you know, Black Visions, like like, just across the country, just dismissing all that, because you know, I’m who I am. I’m Jim Clyburn. So then you’ve sent me here. So I get to decide what is and isn’t right. And that if what we have to do as people is to consistently be a part of the accountability process, which means continuing to show up. And continuing to tell folks like Jim Clyburn, folks like Tim Scott, who we sent there, what it is that they have to do in our interest. So if we’re out here in the streets talking about “abolish the police,” goddamnit you need to have a fucking conversation about abolishing the police and not dismiss it as a slogan off-hand, you know.
Solana Rice 49:33
Yeah, that’s absolutely right. Yeah, I think there has to be, and again, it was a brilliant conversation that I had with Rukia Lumumba and Mo Mitchell, so I’ll refer to it one more time.
Jeremie Greer 49:45
Yeah, we’ll put it in the notes for the for the podcast, ’cause like, people are like “Damn, I need to listen to this conversation! Right?”
Solana Rice 49:56
You know it just came up right, that these positions aren’t, aren’t what we need them to be. It doesn’t matter who we put in these positions necessarily. It’s, they’re not, they’re not, we have to make them what what we need them to be. It’s it’s, it’s, it’s not necessarily that we put in somebody that looks like us. That might be a step, may very well be a starting place, but we know that the position itself is also not set up to serve us. And so we have to really so like, what I think about and what I sit with a lot is what is our relationship to elected officials and movements? How can we change the dynamic between elected officials and movements? I know in that conversation, we talked about “What if the people that are that we are electing are of movements? And we are putting behind it resources?” Again, like and maybe I’m talking to philanthropy, maybe I’m talking to, like, you know, elected officials themselves, but like, democracy is not cheap! Like it actually requires a lot of time and money invested in people from community. And we just can’t underestimate the infrastructure necessary for community participation, and community governance to really happen.
Jeremie Greer 51:21
Yep. And again, I just hope what, you know, what Taifa did a great job was bringing those concrete examples of the work they’re doing to demonstrate how this democratic governance is going to impact people’s day to day lives. And I hope that people take away with that it takes our engagement, it takes our involvement, that the idea that this stuff is really technical, or that only experts can do it is only just a ploy to keep you out. It is you really have to put, we have to push through that. And we have to show up because you know the truth about your community, you know the truth, you know if your water’s dirty, you know if it doesn’t taste right. And you need to show up and say, “Yo, my water doesn’t taste right. I want someone to do something about this.” And that that’s what we really need to get back to, and we need to get back to that like, look, if money is voice that means voice is always also money, and that our voices are valuable. Our voices are probably the largest currency that you could put into the political system. And we need to put it in there with more force so that we drown out the greenbacks that, that the lobbyists and that the folks that are running this oppression economy are putting in.
Solana Rice 52:34
Yeah, and that we can eventually actually change the rules by which the democracy runs, right? Not just not just drawn out, but actually say like, yeah, we are not going to tolerate just money having the largest voice, and we’re going to ensure that it doesn’t. I mean, this is the fight for the filibuster. This is the fight for just changing our processes altogether.
Jeremie Greer 52:59
Solana Rice 53:00
But we can do it together, and I can’t wait ’til like 2037 and we fly a different, not a Confederate flag, the opposite of the Confederate flag in together, through the halls of Congress.
Jeremie Greer 53:17
Yes, and we have participatory budgeting. Aight, peace y’all. Love.
Kendra Bozarth 53:27
Thanks for listening. For more information, check out our list of episode resources and visit us at liberationinagenerationaction.org. Shout out to our producer, Jacob Bronstein; audio editor, Nino Fernandez; communications director, me, Kendra Bozarth; the design team at TrimTab; and the whole squad at LibGen Action. Like what you heard? Help us make some noise by telling two friends about the Racism Is Profitable podcast. Until next time, y’all. Peace!
Transcribed by https://otter.ai