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April 23, 2021
With Friends Like These
“Boys State” Star Isn’t Ready to Run Again

In This Episode

Documentary “Boys State” was short-listed for an Oscar for its engrossing portrayal of Texas teenagers’ cutthroat politics. One of its stars, Steven Garza, stops by to discuss if the kids are alright. Spoiler alert: Maybe not!

 

Transcript

 

Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox. Welcome to With Friends Like These. If you’re the kind of person listening to this show, you’ve probably seen the documentary “Boys State.” It was well-reviewed and a lot of people I know talked a lot about it. And it is up for an Oscar. It’s about a summer camp of sorts, where male high school students have a mock election for office, from mayor up to governor. And a lot of reviewers found Boys State uplifting, not because of what actually happens in the movie, but because it features a few kids who you really root for. And the idea that they might stay involved in real politics gives some people hope. One of those kids, one of those good kids, Steven Garza, is our guest this week. He’s now a student at the University of Texas, and he joins me to talk about the movie and all the publicity afterwards, and which experience is a better preparation for running for office. There is a “Girl State” if you are wondering. But my talk with Steven Garza of Boys State comes up in just a minute.

 

Ana Marie Cox: Steven, welcome to the show.

 

Steven Garza: Hi, thanks for having me. I’m really happy to be here.

 

Ana Marie Cox: The movie has been out for a while, so it’s an opportunity to talk a little bit about what the reception of the movie was, which is really interesting to me. A lot of reviews held that it was an encapsulation of our politics. Right? That the movie sort of reflected the way our politics as a whole is today. Do you think that’s a good analysis? Do you think that analogy works?

 

Steven Garza: I do. In some ways, it is kind of an encapsulation of what politics is, what it has become, how the current generation of young people view what politics is. And they don’t see it as just kind of, you know, what the founding fathers imagined of this civil debate with this kind of gladiatorial bloodbath where you need to attack your opponent and smear them and, you know, do this shock and awe, Karl Rove, you know, Donald Trump-kind of type of campaigning, because obviously you see that that’s what worked. I mean, that’s what won the election in 2016 and that’s kind of the politics of today. And then in other ways, you have the other side, particularly represented by by me in the film, where trying to move past that divisiveness and hatred, and try to work with one another to achieve common goals and to end the partisanship and gridlock, knowing that, you know, we’re kind of heading towards a boiling point, which we may not be able to come back from.

 

Ana Marie Cox: I wonder how much of this movie is a cringe fest for you.

 

Steven Garza: Not, not, I mean, there is there is a, funny enough there’s this one scene where I mentioned the idea of People State.

 

Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, I like that.

 

Steven Garza: Yeah. But then like immediately said the worst line, I think in cinematic history in documentary filmmaking, and said: aw, I’m just meme’ing on you. And I’ve had so many people review with, make a review of the film with just that one quote, you know, and it’s just, it’s funny and everybody makes fun of me for it. But I think it depends. Right? Because, I mean, if you’re like an outsider who’s not into politics, you’d think, like: these guys are just LARPing politics and are taking it way too seriously. But if you’re somebody who invested in the next generation of leaders and you kind of look at, well, look at the alumni that this program has produced. I mean, you got Bill Clinton, Samuel Alito, Rush Limbaugh. You know, you’ve got athletes like Michael Jordan. You had Neil Armstrong, James Gandolfini, John—

 

Ana Marie Cox: Oh wow! Long list.

 

Steven Garza: Bruce Springsteen. It’s a very long list of people who went through this program, ended up becoming the giants of their respective fields in the arts or sports or government. And so you kind of interested in like: OK, well, who’s the next president of the United States and are they going to go through Boys State? Who’s the next senator or congressman? And, you know, it’s a kind of a glimpse as—and I know that there’s a bunch of people within that film who will go on to become something big. I mean, just they just have to be, right?

 

Ana Marie Cox: I find that slightly terrifying, [laughs] because let’s be clear, let’s be clear—the reason why I said that is because it is a like, largely white, largely conservative—and not just conservative, but this kind of showy conservatism, I would say. This very performative . . . One of the things I thought was, almost made me laugh in this movie is the amount of time 17-year old boys spent discussing abortion, for instance. Like, that’s a lot of time. They gave that a lot of thought.

 

Steven Garza: There are about five things that people say when [?west] Boys State, and that is always one of them saying that: wow, for a bunch of, you know, 17-year old boys with no woman in the room, you guys sure love talking about reproductive, you know . . .

 

Ana Marie Cox: Well, cracking down on reproductive—

 

Steven Garza: Yeah, right, on reproductive freedom. And it’s just like, and I think the worst part about it is the fact that at least outwardly, nobody kind of acknowledges the insanity of what’s going on right now. Just like a perfect metaphor for what goes on in—yeah, it’s kind of just like, this is like, it’s like satire is dead, you know, like and we sit upon its, we sit upon its corpse like a throne, kind of thing. It is very unsettling and, part of me seeing that, it’s just—you have those performative people, you have like the Matt Gaetz’s and the, you know, the Josh Hawley’s of the Texas Boys State program who will pander to the lowest common denominator. And you know: I’m this, I support guns, I hate the Clinton love-in, Obamacare-supporting, liberal, Pelosi, whatever, whatever it is. And so when I’m sitting there as this kind of progressive-minded, you know, in the racial and political minority, knowing that if I get up there and I just decide to say: this is really, you know, this is really f-ed up, where you guys are doing right now, like this is awful—knowing that I’m going to get booed and then they’re going to elect an extremist, it’s kind of having to play your cards close to your chest and walk this tightrope of like, I had, I’m pretty sure like I was this close to making tongue bleed about how much I had to hold it, to not say anything, knowing that, like, I’m going to go off and then they’re not going to elect me and they’re going to elect some extremist who’s going to, you know, pass all these awful bills and stuff like that because the governor gets to sign bills actually.

 

Ana Marie Cox: I have to say, Stephen, I just want to jump in a little bit, that a view of politics sounds like starting with a compromise to me. And I’m a little surprised because I know that Beto and Bernie Sanders were two of the people that you looked up to in getting into politics. And I don’t think Bernie Sanders has that approach.

 

Steven Garza: We have to be realistic. Yeah, you have to be realistic. So here’s the electorate, right? The electorate is white conservative. I am not those things. So why do I, so why wouldn’t they just elect the white conservative? Right? So it’s just like, if it’s like, if I’m running, if I ever run for office in real life, which I don’t think I would, or maybe. Who knows? But, you know, obviously I’d like to run with everything that I believe on the heart, on my chest, heart on my sleeve, you know everything about me, this is what I truly believe in, whether you agree with it or not—but knowing that this is the electorate, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly conservative, lets me try to be a voice of reason and moderation and try to prevent a Donald Trump from being elected at this Texas Boys State program. It’s a mindfuck of trying to, of trying to stay true to yourself while also knowing that, like, I can go up there and say, like, I support Beto, Bernie, I support universal health care, I support this issue of this—get booed and that’s all you see from me at Boys State. And then you’re going to, either going to be terrified of the rest of them—I mean, if you’re not already terrified, you’re not going to have that voice of, like, kind of holding the wall, holding the floodgates a little bit. And yeah, it’s just like I see, I’ve seen some things are like, it’s disappointing to see Steven go from saying he supports Bernie Sanders to having this very moderate like Joe Manchin kind of thing. And it’s just like, well, realistically, you know, this is just the way you have to play this game in this specific electorate. I mean, if I ever ran for office, you know, whether it be like a 70-30, I’d like to speak my mind. I mean, that’s just that’s just it. But a lot of what I spoke of is one of the things I believe in, like, yeah, we need to kind of talk to one another or we’re going to end up killing each other. I mean, that’s basically what it’s going to come down to. Right?

 

Ana Marie Cox: Did the experience kind of feel real? Because it is so heightened and it is in some very significant ways, unlike real life. Not just that it takes place like over a week and you’re all wearing the same t-shirts and you get assigned to your parties randomly, but it’s this strange combination of treating it as a joke and as play-acting, right? Because there’s the fake bills that people propose about outlawing pineapple pizza and whatnot, but then also LARPing politics and getting REALLY into it, like really passionate. And that seems like a strange combination. It seems both of those things seem kind of unreal. But did it feel real while you were doing it?

 

Steven Garza: You get, you get caught up in the moment. So, again, you’re here for six days, right? Whether you want to or not. Like some people want to go to this program—so Boys State and Girls State is like apparently very good to put on a college resume, especially if you win something big, you know, and, but some people like their school makes them go right? And they don’t want to be there. And they do not participate. They don’t run for anything. They’re the people sitting in the back of the room observing it, being bored out of their mind. You know. That week actually was the week that Donald Trump was meeting Kim Jong-un for the first time in North Korea, which was like, but we were in our own little world. Right? I mean, phone usage—well, we’re on our phone some time—it’s very minimal because the program is very, very fast. It’s just one thing because, again, you have to take the entire Texas political system in six days, right. You have to form a party and form a platform and run for mayor and run for the state legislature and run for district offices and then run for the state offices. And there’s a band and there’s press. And you also get to go play sports. And there’s sports competitions. It’s just like you’re having, like my day started at like seven, 6:30 in the morning and I wouldn’t go to sleep until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. All of us were running on about three or four hours of sleep, were walking like, you know, 10, 15,000 steps a day with our shirts tucked-in in jeans in Texas, in Austin, in June. Right? It is miserable. [laughs] Then there’s a documentary filming this as well. So it’s really just, it was really all encompassing. And the thing is that—it’s a simulation of what politics is, but it’s a very imperfect simulation.

 

Ana Marie Cox: You’re listing some of the ways it’s not an accurate reflection, really. Right?

 

Steven Garza: Right. So in that way it doesn’t feel real, like this was not, you know, but within the confines, we’re here for a week and the option is either to be, you know, bored out of our minds and or, you know, try to make this interesting and try to make it like: OK, well, if we’re here for six days, let’s try to fix democracy. Right? Let’s try to see how you would do it. Right? You know, it’s again, LARPing. That’s what that’s what it comes down to.

 

Ana Marie Cox: And I know you’ve answered this question before, but I’ll ask it anyway: how did you manage to sneak in to this largely white conservative event that’s sponsored by the American Legion, who I believe also to be pretty white and conservative?

 

Steven Garza: Yeah, so I was in the Navy Junior ROTC in high school for years, and my two best friends at the time, one of them was two years older than I was and the other was a year older than I was. And so, you know, when I was a freshman, Elijah went, and when I was a sophomore, Enzi went. And then when I was a junior, I went. And then they’re like, do you feel like—and at that point I had been involved in politics and interning and knocking on doors. But it’s very funny because I almost didn’t get to go to Boys State for two different reasons, and I’ll tell you that right now why. So how the process works, at least from my school and it varies by school and by state as well, is that ROTC instructor recommends me to my school’s counselor, who then nominates me to interview before a board of American Legionnaires. And like you see in the opening of the film, they usually asking them, like: what does the flag mean to you? What is patriotism mean to you. Do you know what they asked me? Why are you so fucking bad at school? Like, why are your grades so low? Because I am not admittedly a very good student at all. Because and so, for 45 minutes they just basically were like: yeah, like your grades are pretty low for somebody we send to Boys State, why is that. And I’m like: OK, well admittedly when it comes to like do you want to do math homework or do you want to go to this political event with Beto? Do you want to do your science homework or do you want to go do this fundraiser or this young Democrats meeting? And like I knew that this is what I want to do with my life. Right? I knew that I didn’t you know, I loved history and reading. I was really good at that. I was terrible at math and science. My GPA was, you know, like low. Again, this is supposed to be like a very prestigious program, like the best of the best are supposed to get into. And here’s this guy with like an average GPA, like there’s nothing, like, you know, he just gets by school. Right? You know, C’s and B’s. Right? And I convinced them by saying, like: I was just, this is what I want to do. This is why, because I prefer to be able to go out here and do this and I think if you send me to Boise that I could do a pretty, pretty good job if you let me go. And I was so sure that they were going to say no. But they tell you right then and they’re like: OK, well, prove this wrong, here you go, here’s your packet, here’s the money you have to pay. And I’m like: OK, all right. And it’s $350 to go, at least for my case it was. And so the congressional candidate I was working for sponsored me to go. I asked if she could, if she would be willing to sponsor me to go because $350 bucks for a six-day campus, I mean, it’s a good price when you think about it, but it’s also like $350. And my mom was like: I don’t know what this is.

 

Ana Marie Cox: As a member of the media, I was delighted to see, at first, that there is a media in the equation of the Boys State elections. But as you said, they didn’t really pay much of a role. It’s very, it seems itself kind of more documentary than anything else, just like documenting what is happening. Not like analysis. There’s no pundits at Boys State, which would be kind of fun, I have to say, if they were pundits, and analyzing the race. So I’m wondering just, you know, from what you’ve been able to experience and learn after Boys State, do you think the experience of running for Governor at Boy’s State was a good preparation for office—again, you don’t know if you’re going to run—or do you think maybe being followed around by the media was actually maybe an even better preparation for future running for office?

 

Steven Garza: All these things kind of, I guess, better prepared me because, like, where else do you get the chance to run for office for pretend for a week in like decent conditions? I mean, everything is kind of set up for you to do so. Usually when you run for office, it’s the real deal. And here there are no money. There’s no there’s no real-world consequences on the actions that you do in the film. And, you know, with the media aspect, it definitely, [laughs] it helps. I like to think that I’m a lot more confident right now than I was in the summer of 2018. The media that we’ve been able to do for the film, the Q&As and the press days and these events and podcasts, and, you know, it’s all been like really fun to do. I’ve loved it. And both those experiences kind of helped me become more polished and better at expressing what I think and what I feel. And again, I think if I ever do run for office—never, not in the next 10 years for sure, but maybe down the road—like those experiences kind of dealing with pr—but I do say, sometimes the press goes easy. Admittedly, there were very easy on me, right? They are not asking me like: how do we solve the crisis in the Middle East? Right? They’re like: what was it like being at Boys State? Like what was it like getting chosen? Right? They are not like super hard hitting questions? So maybe I’m thinking I’m ill prepared for that when it comes to that being the actual thing, which is I really, I really loved your question earlier about because I was the first time somebody ever kind of pushed me back on that. And I was like, wow, that’s awesome.

 

Ana Marie Cox: Now that you give me permission to grill the college student, um, the question I had was, again, I completely understand like the thinking that I will make compromises now in order to be someone who can stand up for the values I believe in, instead of someone further to the right. Right? Like I’m want to get to the place, I’ll make these compromises to get to the place that’s going—and I’ll be protecting the country or the state or whatever from this worst outcome. But again, I go back to, I and the huge Bernie and Beto fan myself and their hallmark, both of them, is a lack of compromise in how they speak about their ideals. Right? So do you think you would appeal to you, if you [laughs] like if you were up there? Do you know what I mean? Like . . .

 

Steven Garza: Yeah. Yeah, I think yeah. So, and again, like that goes back to, like there’s a difference in how you run in a primary and how you run in a general election. You’ve got to, you got to win your party’s base and then kind of tweak your stances a little bit once you go in—you’re gotta sell it. You’ve got to sell it to these independents and these like never-Trump voters, right? Who are Republicans. You kind of have to, how do you, you can’t, you know, like the whole Biden thing was like: oh, I beat the socialist. Right? You know, I did this even though, like, the Democratic Party supports universal health care, like 70% or 80% or something like that. Right? It’s, you kind of have to, it’s that that insanity of politics. And I yeah, I get that. If I would appeal to me. Like would I vote for me on the outside of, and I’d say yes, considering what I was running against. I would say, I would say yes considering like it’s him or it’s, it’s the, it’s the anti-abortion I’m pro Second Amendment kind of—so like, you know, but again, wishing that I could have done that. I mean, because I had, I drew so much inspiration from Bernie and Beto and their kind of like, you know, we’re going to make you pay your fair share in tax, we’re going to give everyone health care, it’s a human right or ‘yuman right’ as Bernie would say it. Like when moderate Democrats run against Republicans in some seats, in some areas, it’s just like if the electorate is conservative and you have the option between a conservative and a moderate, you’re probably going to vote for the conservative most of the time. Right? Why would you vote for somebody? You would vote for somebody who is more like you and more like than the person who tries to appeal to you while also retaining certain elements of their liberalism or progressivism and things like that. So I knew that kind of like, if you have the option between myself, who is obviously, has liberal approach to things and is a moderate, versus someone like Robert, who presents himself as a champion of the unborn and the pro Second Amendment or Eddie, who presents himself as this small government libertarian who destroys them with facts and logic like Ben Shapiro kind of deal. Right? Like if you’re a Republican white conservative base, you’re not going to vote for me. But it’s kind of making a statement of like, why would you be willing to vote for me when you have the other option? Why? Even though, like, even though you don’t agree with me and so many people came up to me and said: I don’t agree with what you’re saying, I don’t believe in what you believe in, but the fact that you are willing to sit down with me and have a conversation with me. Because I was, I was, you know, I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I think now it’s called retail politics, is when you’re kind of one-on-one. I didn’t know what it was called at the time. And but when you’re one-on-one and I’m devoting time to speak to one person, instead of yelling at a group, and have this connection with them and see, like, I know, I don’t know where you’re coming from, I don’t understand what you believe what you believe. I would like to work with you to, you know, instead of just saying that’s dumb, I don’t believe in it. It’s a very, it’s a weird kind of tightrope.

 

Ana Marie Cox: We’ll be back to talk more Boys State, after these messages.

 

[ad break]

 

Ana Marie Cox: In watching the movie and looking at it a little bit just through the eyes of a pundit at who’s better at retail politics and whatnot. You know, Robert has an early lead in the retail politics department, I would say, right? He’s handsome, he’s gregarious, he’s charming, he goes around: hey, buddy, you know, hey bro, sign my petition, whatever. And then there’s you. And at first I was like: oh, no, he’s going to be at a disadvantage, because he’s a little quieter—

 

Steven Garza: Oh yeah, I’m the short, shorts stubby Mexican kid, who has this kind tic of like: oh, hey, how are you? Like, I’ve never done this before. Versus Robert, who is like the—

 

Ana Marie Cox: Prom king. Yeah.

 

Steven Garza: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. 100%. Like the textbook definition of a jock. Right? If you look up jock you see a picture of Robert.

 

Ana Marie Cox: So first I was like: oh no, he’s going to be a disadvantage. And then it’s actually your strength. Right? I think that you can see this, that your earnestness, I think, really affected people. Like you were very sincere and all the people you talked to, and sincere in wanting to listen— something you said a lot both in your campaign and when you’re giving speeches was: I really want to hear what my constituents want to say, I don’t want to get up here and, you know, tell you just what I think, but I want to do the things that are important to you. And I had a thought, and that I think it was your earnestness and sincerity and seriousness that help put you kind of, if not over the top, then very close, right? Like you said, there were people that came up to you and said: I don’t agree with you. Right? But you say you’d sit down with us. Right? And also your whole demeanor is of someone that would sit down with you. Right? Like that, it’s, and I, I wonder—it would be an interesting experiment to go back and do—if you had been. If you could have been bolder in policy, in policy terms, but stayed the same person in terms of your sincerity and willingness to listen. And maybe done just as well.

 

Steven Garza: I think what I admire about Bernie Sanders so much and I think what like is constantly said about him, both Republican and Democrat, is that he’s the most honest person in Washington. Right? Because he’d just straight up tell you: like I am not, like I’m not a polished politician, right, I believe in what I believe in, And I will talk to anybody about these views. And that resonates with people. That, I think that’s what attracted people to him. You know, I think of that town hall, a lot of, you know, like they clapped for this democratic socialist who believes in giving everybody health care and everybody should have housing and all these different things. I think in the moment when you’re just trying to survive, you know, I’m not thinking about, because what I decided to do was, my strategy was, OK, well—like Rene, who kind of decides to do the whole notion of that bipartisan plane, even though me and Rene are very, you know, left, like progressive. Right?

 

Ana Marie Cox: It’s not so much that Boys State isn’t realistic, it’s almost too realistic. It amps up everything about politics. Among those things is an actual kind of push to succeed as a state, right? Yes, that is a theme in the movie and apparently they did it the year before you went there.

 

Steven Garza: Yeah, yeah, they did it, and so my friend, my friend was part of that legislature that voted, and it was near unanimous. I think in the House and Senate there was like three no votes. That’s it. And there was like 150 members or something. And what’s funny about that, side note, is that there’s this thing called Boys Nation, where they pick two from every state who went to Boys State and send them to the thing in Washington, D.C., but where they actually run for president and stuff like that. And so every single person who goes to Boys State, or Boys Nation, is a senator automatically. And so that year, the two people who went to Boys Nation actually weren’t recognized by the rest of the delegates there because Texas had voted to secede from the United States, from the United Boys Nation. So Texas was not part of the union at that time. And so there had to be—and you can look it up—there had to be a vote to readmit Texas back into the union so that these two poor senators from Texas could actually participate and they barely passed. It was like 51-49.

 

Ana Marie Cox: Well actions have consequences. It’s a good thing to learn in politics. [laughs]

 

Steven Garza: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It barely passed too, right? Because it’s just like you could shut these two guys out for the rest of the week, you know, because it’s a really, they really do give like the kids like, the power—the adults aren’t interfering and be like: you can’t do that, the adults are just in the back watching you do it, right? Like as long as you’re not stabbing somebody.

 

Ana Marie Cox: As long as there’s no physical violence. Yeah.

 

Steven Garza: Almost anything goes. Yeah, right. Almost anything goes. And so, with the [high-dense] I’m like: OK, well, you know, I’m going to rail against secession, because again, you have that half that wants to goof around and they want to just have fun and pass the cargo embargo—is what the cargo short ban was called. You have the Lone Star, yeah the Lone Star Death Star project. You have like relocating all Prius drivers to Oklahoma. And so you have: let’s secede, it is funny! Let us form the Republic of Texas again. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And so for me it was like, that’s dumb. And also, like, it just immediately when you think of secessionism in the United States, you think of the civil war. Like that, just like, that’s what happened, right? You think of, they seceded to preserve the institution of slavery. States’ rights or whatever, states’ rights to own slaves. That’s where it was, you know, clear and cut. It was about slavery. And so, like that just invokes images of like of that thing. And so it didn’t seem like such a brave thing to do. Right? Like, oh, I am for pro-keeping the union together, most people. Not at Boys State, though. At a Boy State this is an actual issue. And so, and I even say in the speech like, because you see that one kid in the film in the legislature who goes up there, that poor, brave soul, and says: come on, guys, are we actually debating this? This is ridiculous. We shouldn’t be debating these joke bills. And he gets booed, and he probably didn’t ever get anything else to do the entire week, you know. But and so I’m going up there and I say, first thing I say is like: what I’m going to say, it could cost me this election, but it’s important to me and I want to say it anyway, I think this is wrong. This is dumb, like . . .

 

Ana Marie Cox: I’m just going to argue, I think the fact that you won the primary with a speech that was sort of dangerous is proof that, damn it, you could have done better just, you could have done well, just being completely yourself. Because the thing that appeals to people is, like you were saying, is authenticity. Now, I am also, this what’s funny about this conversation is it’s turning out that I’m, I think, more idealistic than you are. And I’ve been covering politics for 20 years, so . . .

 

Steven Garza: I never saw the West Wing before Boys State. I didn’t watch them until after. And so, and people, that’s a question they keep asking me is: are you still idealistic about politics? Yes. I think that that idealism is more, is rooted in the reality of the situation, that it was a, we’re in a dire situation, but like around January when you honestly don’t know what the fuck is going to happen with this inauguration. Like, it’s easy to get very cynical about it. I mean, you saw, you know, like what’s hap—like in 2018, right, like we couldn’t think this possibly could get any worse. Right? And it did. It did pretty badly. And it’s just trying to be realistic about, but again, not being like idealism is bad. It’s just have that idea, like it’s a, you know, I don’t if you’ve ever seen the movie Lincoln, but there’s a great conversation in that film with, Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens when they’re talking in the cellar about the idealism versus pragmatism of Lincoln wanting to kind of reconstruct and let’s bring the South back in with open arms. And Thaddeus Stevens began like this: let us shoot all these traitors, let us free of the slave, let us give them land, let us have these revolutionary tribunals. Right?

 

Ana Marie Cox: In retrospect, I don’t know Steven.

 

Steven Garza: Yeah. I know. I’m a huge Thaddeus Stevens fan. Believe me. Thaddeus Stevens is like one of the greatest unsung heroes of this country. But kind of, you know, deciding, hearing the conversation and kind of trying to be idealistic and pragmatic, realistic and hopeful, is how do you make sure that one doesn’t take over the other? Because again, yeah, like, there’s so many things that I believe in. And you see like what’s happening. You have this 50-50 Congress with a president who won a majority. Right? But it was like 51% or something. Like, you know, you had the Capitol, the Capitol riot. And then you had, you know, you’re already looking at 2024, right, and you’re kind of scared for what the future is going to hold. Right? It’s just, it’s exhausting. I think. I think and you know, and you’ve been covering politics for a lot longer than I’ve been in it, and it’s, I don’t know how you just don’t get tired at one point. Like, how do you become, like because when I was a big Bernie fan and when I was like 14, 15 years old and he lost the primary, I was devastated. Right? And I’m like, OK, well, let’s beat this orange fuck and let’s get let’s get him, and we don’t. And then I’m like: OK, OK, now it’s Beto, OK, we’re going to actually flip the state of Texas, oh my God, we’re going to do it. And he doesn’t do it. Oh, OK, it’s Bernie round two baby. Let’s go. And he doesn’t do it. You know, and now it’s Biden and he, and what is it like? It’s like if 11,000 votes change the other way in some states than it would have been Trump. Like just a constant like, having to settle for what’s there is exhausting. [laughs] And I think looking back at Boys State, it’s like you wish, you know, I wish I could have done what I did but it’s out of fear of losing and fear of letting this kind of extremist demagoguery, big—because some people were bigoted. Like some people were just straight up like, you are racist, you are racist, you’re homophobic, you’re xenophobic, you know, you care more about an inanimate object than you do people. And then again, that’s not say, that there were so many people who were just really nice.

 

Ana Marie Cox: Our sponsors would like to be introduced. My conversation with Steven Garza will continue in just a minute.

 

[ad break]

 

Ana Marie Cox:  I didn’t want to let this conversation end without asking you about right now, which is to say the pandemic. You know in the film, and I know still you talk about gun violence being one of the defining issues of your generation, and the trauma that the generation faces because of mass shootings. The pandemic is causing its own kind of trauma right? And for young people like yourself and even younger, this is a formative event in your life. Like I, again, I keep joking about how old I am, but this is just a year out of 47 for me. Right? Like, proportionally, I haven’t had much pandemic in my life. You know, young people, this is going to be the thing that they have to remember about their youth, so what do you think that’s meant for you?

 

Steven Garza: So I think about growing up, like what we’ve had, again, we’ve had—and I’ll just run it to my view as somebody who lives in Houston—you had, what, 2008, you had an historic election, you had the crash, recess—so now I’m 21 old and I’ve been through two recessions. [laughs] Two major, two major depressions. Right? Like the two worst depressions since the Great Depression within like ten years or like 12 years of each other. These cataclysmic climate events, you know, Hurricane Ike and then Hurricane Harvey, which decimated the state of Texas. We just got through with, you know, a goddamn winter storm in Texas. Right? In Houston. And all in the past year just been dealing with a pandemic, and racial justice movements, and a contentious primary, and a contentious election, and a contentious aftermath, and a capital riot, and an inauguration, you know. All while going to school virtually. All while, I transferred schools and I had been struggling, admittedly, to kind of readjust to this—like I just transferred to UT Austin this year, but all virtually. I haven’t been on a campus class. I’ll be a junior before I have ever stepped foot on UT Austin. It is hard, and it’s just kind of, again, something that you’re going to have to tell your kids of the time that you didn’t get a graduation, you didn’t get to have a prom, you didn’t get to see your friends, your family, you couldn’t go to school, you couldn’t hug your family members. Right? On top of the fact that a lot of this generation can’t afford to go to school, can’t afford to, you know, aren’t going to probably be able to afford a home, aren’t paid the wage that they should be paid. They’re just there’s so much that they’re carrying with them that I think makes this generation probably the most politically active generation since the Vietnam civil rights era, of realizing that, like: this sucks. Like, we are, we are being hit left, right and center by everything that this world is throwing at us, either manmade or out of our control. And we need to do something about it. And you see this record turnout. You see all these people come out, you know. Like how does a 70 something like a 78-year old white guy from the Northeast energize young people? You know, how, you know, like, why is it, why was it that one 70 something-year old white guy from the Northeast could energize young people and one seventy year old white guy from the northeast couldn’t, in the primary. Why are—it’s just, it’s frustrating. I mean, there’s no other word for it. It’s just, it’s an anger and vibration throughout this generation of being involved, and voting in record numbers. And they say like: oh, you know, what can we do to stop it? Well you can vote.

 

Ana Marie Cox: So I hear these people, they’re pissed off and they want to fight for what they need. And the question is just how do you give them enough wins that they’ll keep fighting. Am I right? Like, you win every once in a while?

 

Steven Garza: How do you kind of, how do you maintain that, that, you know, that coalition, you know, again, Flip Georgia that got a fight in the presidency, they got Kamala Harris elected vice president—how do you keep that fire without a target? Right? We don’t have Trump anymore. He’s a private citizen. The fear of him running again is in people’s minds. Right? But, you know, how do we do something and how do we give the people something to fight for, rather than to fight against? I think is the ultimate question for our generation.

 

Ana Marie Cox: Steven, thanks so much for coming on the show.

 

Steven Garza: Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

 

Ana Marie Cox: And that is it for the show. It is a production of Crooked Media, it is produced by Allison Herrera with assistance from Izzy Margulies. This episode was engineered by Louie Leano. Whitney Pastorek owes me more pictures of her dog. And I have not recently asked you to rate and review the show. So I’m asking you now, if you haven’t done so or if you have, please rate and review this show. This is a very much pod-eat-pod world and established shows like this one actually have a harder time breaking through to new listeners. So rate and review, tell a friend about us, or buy some With Friends Like These merch crooked.com. And I am doing all of that in part because it’s all true, and in part because I usually have a hard time promoting myself. So I’m making myself do that. I’m doing it. Because I want you to do the thing that I’m doing. Be proud of your accomplishments, tell people about them, ask for support when you need it. Cultivating a habit of taking credit for the awesome things you’ve done is how you do more awesome things. Take care of yourselves. You deserve it.

 

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