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July 30, 2018
The Wilderness
Chapter 6: The Big We

In This Episode

How can Democrats build a multiracial coalition that adds up to an electoral majority? A discussion about whether it’s necessary or possible to win back voters we’ve lost.

 

 

Transcript

 

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[clip of Robert Kennedy] I asked for the help of those who are proud of this country, proud of what we’ve done, proud of what we stand for, and I ask with the help of those who were dissatisfied, who are proud of all these things, but yet feel that we could do better, that we’re not going to stand for poverty, that we’re not going to permit illiteracy, that we’re going to find jobs for every young man and every young woman who wants to work.

 

Van Jones: It used to be that working-class white folks weren’t so foreign to people at the top of the party, and the pain of working-class black folks wasn’t so foreign. Don’t forget, in 1968, Bobby Kennedy was able to effortlessly go from a Black ghetto, as they called it, to Appalachia, to a Native American reservation, to sit with Cesar Chavez, to the top universities in the country, with the same message. And nobody thought it was weird. Well, he’s a Democrat. Of course he can do that.

 

[clip of Robert Kennedy] In these past 16 days, I have been in 18 states, north, south, east and west. Wherever I went, I found Americans of all ages and colors and political beliefs deeply desirous of peace in Vietnam and reconciliation at home. Despite all the discord and dispirit, there remains in this country today an enormous reservoir of hope and goodwill. Americans want to move forward. They want to better their communities, make this country not only more livable for all Americans, but a shining example for all of the world.

 

Jon Favreau: Bobby Kennedy spoke those words in April 1968, and for the most part, you could imagine a politician speaking them again today, rising above all the fear and anger to deliver a message of hope and unity. Kennedy would go on to become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States. But as we know, he would be killed in the process, gunned down after winning the California primary. As Van Jones just mentioned, Bobby’s message spoke to the larger Democratic tradition that was cemented in the 1960s, a big-tent party that welcomes in a diverse array of constituencies with a broad spectrum of views and ideologies. Decades later, the big tent remains. It can be unwieldy at times, but the basic ethos is still there. As a party, Democrats believe that if we can get into power, we can enact policies that benefit everyone, whether they’re inside the tent or not, policies that don’t split us along racial lines, that don’t separate the nation into us versus them, the haves versus the have nots. In short, we want to govern so that our laws can help build a more equal and just society for every American. But first, we need to win. And lately, that’s been our problem. So in this episode, we’re going to dig into the complex electoral realities born of a multiracial society. Given where we are right now, how did Democrats stitch together a winning coalition and what does it look like? I’m Jon Favreau. Welcome to the Wilderness.

 

Jon Favreau: In the last episode, we learned about America’s history of racial backlash, and talked about why it’s so important for Democrats to fight that backlash, and better represent the people who make up the true base of our party. We also learn that Donald Trump was able to win white voters of every age, education and income group, but especially non-college educated white voters, who’ve been moving away from the Democratic Party for the last few decades. And we learned that race played at least some kind of role in the shift. In this episode, we’ll talk about what Democrats can do about this. Just how big should our tent be? How can we win back some of these white voters without giving an inch on the fight for racial justice and equality? Well, the first question we should ask is: do we even need to win these white voters back? Some Democrats say no. At the end of the last episode, we heard Cornell Belcher tell us that the country is getting browner. And that’s true. The U.S. Census and demographic trends clearly show that a coalition of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and college-educated white voters will constitute a growing majority of America’s voting age population for the foreseeable future. So why not focus on finding, registering and turning out those voters? Isn’t that what Obama did? Michelle Goldberg, columnist for The New York Times, explains:

 

Michelle Goldberg: I remember how much skepticism there was, particularly early in the Democratic primary, you know, not about Obama’s ideals, but about the viability of those ideals in a national race, until he showed that you could win with a coalition of ethnic minorities, single women and liberal urbanites.

 

Cornell Belcher Obama won back to back majorities. Right? When was the last time a Democrats done that? Wait a minute, when was the last time a Republican, or anyone, has won back-to-back majorities.

 

Jon Favreau: Cornell Belcher, political strategist and pollster for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

 

Cornell Belcher I remember one of the early conversations around the table with then-Senator Obama was this ideal of, you know, him feeling that we got to build a movement. Right? And we’ve got to build a movement. We’ve got to bring more people in the process. We have to make the electorate look more like the changing face of America. Right. If we can expand the electorate, change the face of the electorate, we have a shot. And look, in 2008, 11% of our—I’m going to be getting in the weeds because, nerdy weeds with you, 2008, 11% of our electorate were new voters. Right? It was a new electorate. And that’s just amazing. Right?

 

Jon Favreau: It was amazing. Very few people in Washington or on the other campaigns believe that Obama could win the Iowa caucuses. They said that the universe of people who usually come out to caucus was disproportionately old and white, not exactly our target demographic. We agreed with their assessment, which is why we went to work expanding the universe of people who would show up to caucus. We found new voters and young voters and just about every Black voter in the state, and we got them to show up for the first time ever on a cold, snowy night in Iowa. And we surprised the hell out of everyone else. For the next year, we repeated the strategy in state after state, and that’s how the Obama coalition was born. Some Democrats believe we should focus on trying to recreate that coalition. Here’s Sean McElwee, writer, researcher and co-founder of Data for Progress.

 

Sean McElwee: You can forge a winning coalition if you focus on the Obama-to-nonvoters. These voters are disproportionately quite young, disproportionately people of color, and disproportionately quite low income. If we are really going to invest in Obama-to-nonvoters and the Obama-to-third party voters, we can win them back. And if we get a couple of Obama-to-Trump voters as well, that would be great. But I don’t think that we should invest a ton of time in folks who are willing to deny the humanity of pretty key bases of the Democratic Party.

 

Jon Favreau: Sean makes the argument that in 2016, 9% of the people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 decided to vote for Donald Trump. These are the Obama-Trump voters. But 7% of the people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 decided to stay home in 2016, and another 3% decided to vote for a third-party candidate. Sean believes that these nonvoters and third-party voters are much easier for Democrats to win back than the Obama-Trump voters. For one thing, they’re disproportionately younger, people of color, and they have lower incomes. Their views on issues like race and gender and immigration are also far more progressive than the average Trump voter, which is critical for a party that doesn’t want to compromise on those issues or even downplay them.

 

Michelle Goldberg: I think when people complain about identity politics, they’re often saying instead, let’s just revert to a party that’s more like maybe the party of FDR or even of Bill Clinton, that is just focused around populist economics. And it’s not that I’m opposed to populist economics, but a lot of the things that people dismiss as identity politics are also really crucial to people’s material circumstances. Right? I think that one of the problems is that people talk about identity politics as if they were something separate from economic justice, whereas often when people talk about identity politics, they’re talking about how women and how people of color can access economic justice.

 

Jon Favreau: As Democrats, we can’t dismiss that many people’s well-being depends on more than economic opportunity. It depends on equal treatment and access under the law. So then why don’t we go this route as a party? We know that African-American turnout was down slightly in 2016 compared to what it was in 2012. Why don’t we focus on increasing this turnout and finding new voters in 2018, 2020 and beyond? Well, we have a math problem and it starts with a fact about the Obama coalition that most people don’t realize. In 2012, 34% of Barack Obama’s supporters were white voters without a college degree. Think about that. More than one in every three Obama voters were some of the same kind of voters who’ve been drifting away from the Democratic Party over the last few decades. There’s some of the same voters who would go on to vote for Donald Trump. I talked to Ruy Teixeira about this. Ruy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and he also co-wrote a book with John Judis in 2002 called The Emerging Democratic Majority, which I have read way too many times since it was a big part of my college thesis. Basically, the book made what’s now known as the demographics is destiny argument. The idea we just talked about, that says demographic trends will give Democrats a majority that includes white professionals and voters of color for years to come. But Roy now believes that his book might have overstated the case for a Democratic majority based on demographics alone.

 

Ruy Teixeira: If you’re going to telescope the political developments of the last 15 years, one of the most significant ones was the continuing shift of the white non-college vote toward the Republican Party, including in the last election where it’s basically what delivered the election to Trump. So it’s not that Black turnout isn’t important, but if you’re looking at the things that had the most effect, it’s definitely among the white non-college vote. If you rely simply on trying to jack up turnout rates among your base constituencies, I mean, you have basically no degrees of freedom. You have no margin for error.

 

Jon Favreau: If every election were decided by the national popular vote, we might still be able to rely on boosting turnout among Democratic base voters, even if, as Ruy says, there’s little margin for error. But unfortunately, we’re all very aware that winning the presidency requires winning a group of states that add up to 270 electoral votes and winning control of the Senate in the House requires winning certain states that don’t necessarily look like America as a whole.

 

Ruy Teixeira: If you look at some of these states where the Democrats really lost the most significant ground and in the end lost the election, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and so on, if you look seriously at the demographic structure of these states, the concept that you can construct a winning coalition out of white professionals and minority voters and not worry too much about the white non-college vote is absolutely ludicrous. When we take into account the best data we have and who actually lives and works in this country, we find 44% white non-college, 30% white college graduates.

 

Jon Favreau: Ruy speaking shorthand: that’s 44% of all voters are white voters without a college degree, while only 30% are white college graduates.

 

Ruy Teixeira: So I think that’s a very different kind of country when you start thinking about that. We’re talking about a country where there’s almost half as many white non-college graduate voters as white college graduate voters. They aren’t equally sized groups. One is much larger than the other. If you think about that and you have that firmly in your brain, it makes writing off the white non-college vote or not taking it seriously or thinking they’re all just hopeless, a much less attractive proposition. You just can’t let a group that big slip away from you, as in a sense, the Democrats have.

 

Jon Favreau: I decided to talk to Dan Wagner about this since he’s actually been part of the Democrats last two winning presidential campaigns.

 

Dan Wagner: I was the Chief Analytics Officer for the 2012 Obama campaign after serving for almost six years in politics working for the Obama operation and the DNC.

 

Jon Favreau: Dan’s a data genius who some people on the campaign would refer to as Dr. Doom because he’d always deliver the most cautiously conservative projections about whether we’d win. Wasn’t quite as rosy as a couple of podcasters were during the 2016 campaign. But he was always right, mostly down to the percentage point. So I asked him the burning question. Do you think Democrats in the future can get to 270 and also can win Congress without improving on Hillary’s non-college educated voter number?

 

Dan Wagner: No. And the reason is very simple. There are certain set of states that have a certain composite of voters that represent the 270th electoral vote. And those states, just due to history, happen to have a very large percentage of these voters that have become increasingly distrustful of the Democratic Party.

 

Jon Favreau: You’re saying that these non-college educated white voters have disproportionate voting power compared to other America.

 

Dan Wagner: Yes. By a huge amount too. Not by a little bit. A huge, huge amount. Massive. And so a lot of this is scary for Democrats and people on the progressive side to say out loud, and the reason why is just the density of these voters in these states that are important to get to 270. If you look at the districts that are competitive, they look more like Michigan than they do like California. That sucks. And if you look at the Senate map in 2018: North Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia—it’s not California, New York—you unfortunately have a constitutional structure that gives two senators to Wyoming and two senators to California. That is, you know, a result of probably a drunken conversation between James Madison and other people, but we are living the legacy of that conversation and that kind of compromise that was made deep in our history that we can’t change. But we have to deal with the consequences of that.

 

Jon Favreau: So this is the real problem for Democrats and one of the reasons you’ve been hearing so much about this type of voter since the election. It’s not just that one third of the Obama coalition was comprised of white voters without a college degree. It’s that this group of voters is overrepresented in the states we need to win the presidency, and take back Congress. We might be able to make up for losing a good portion of these voters by focusing on finding new voters who are young, brown and Black. And we should. But Democrats have to win back at least some of these non-college educated white voters if we want to build a durable governing majority. The math is just the math. So instead of asking the age old question, can Democrats win back these voters? Let’s take it from another perspective. Can these voters feel comfortable in a party that’s committed to racial justice and fighting discrimination in all its forms? To answer that, we should talk a little bit about what some of these voters actually believe.

 

Lynn Vavrek: One of the things that comes out is this idea that people say: I don’t like the line cutters. This is a refrain in the book.

 

Jon Favreau: Lynn Vavrek, a political scientist at UCLA, is referring to a concept laid out by Arlie Russell Hochschild in her critically important book, Strangers in Their Own Land, which takes an in-depth look at communities in rural Louisiana.

 

Lynn Vavrek: The line cutters. These are people who have cut in front of hardworking Americans in line, to get some benefit from government. They say things like: sure, like the government should come down here and make sure that this company doesn’t pollute our water, but instead they’re busy helping undocumented citizens figure out how to become citizens. Well, I didn’t break the law. I’ve been working hard my whole life. Why isn’t the government helping me? So she calls this sentiment that people seem to have: the line cutters. People don’t like it.

 

man: Born and raised Democrat and now the last few years the Democratic Party has just turned into a bunch of giveaway goofballs.

 

man: There’s a lot of people that need it, but can’t get it.

 

woman: Because there are people that abuse the system,.

 

man: And people that don’t need it, get it.

 

woman: They, because their mom got across the border while she was pregnant, they get everything that they’re not entitled to.

 

Lynn Vavrek: So you run the risk any time—you’re a Democrat, you want to run in 2020—any time you want to do what Hillary Clinton was trying to do: stronger together. Soon as you start to make that argument, you run up against a whole bunch of white Americans who are going to say, I cannot be together with line-cutters. Right? I am not like—this is social identity stuff again. I’m not like them.

 

Jon Favreau: Van Jones, political commentator and founder of Dream Corps, offers analysis from another angle.

 

Van Jones: I think that it’s a mix. I think that there’s a deeper disquiet that’s partially economic, partially cultural, partly a sense of just individual alienation and helplessness in the face of all this technological change, a lack of community. And progressives often pretend like we don’t understand what people are talking about, you know. But this is hypocritical on part of progressives. For instance, I did all my work early on in Oakland, California, West Oakland, and it was the home of the Panthers, and it was 90+% Black and all that kind of stuff. You go to West Oakland today, and because Silicon Valley is half an hour away, it’s all kale and yogurt shops and bicycle shops and a bunch of like white kids. And I feel very uncomfortable with that. If I could build a wall and make Silicon Valley pay for it, I would probably do that. OK, so for progressives to pretend that we have no idea what people are talking about when they say that change is hard—change is hard. It is. And when you don’t feel that you have anybody listening to you and you don’t feel that you have any actual control or power, a strong man personality that seems to be on your side, even if he’s super offensive to everybody else, seems like a decent choice. I understand that. People say: Van Jones, why do you spend so much time talking to, like, young, you know, literally Nazis? I’ll tell you why. If a young white guy joins a Nazi organization, the first question I have to ask myself is: did I ever ask him to join my organization? If I didn’t, it’s kind of hard for me then to get too uppity about it.

 

Adam Serwer: Segregation is a really important factor here.

 

Jon Favreau: Adam Serwer, senior editor at The Atlantic.

 

Adam Serwer: Because what it says is that when you actually interact with people who are different from you, your prejudice goes down, like you learn to see them as people, you become more accepting, you are less likely to be able to demonize them in your mind. But if they’re simply present, but they’re an other, and you feel like they’re encroaching on you, but you’re not getting to know them at all, you’re not interacting with them—then that can create conditions for backlash. Racism and prejudice and this kind of like politics of discrimination is not actually inevitable, it can change. People can become different. I mean, you look at same-sex marriage, for example, in the way that public opinion changed on that. But we do have a society that is set up to be segregated along racial lines and so it’s extremely difficult to break through those barriers.

 

Jon Favreau: It’s clear from listening to Lynn and Van and Adam that many of these white voters without a college degree who left the Democratic Party may not be coming back. Plenty of data and political scientists argue that racial resentment is the strongest predictor of whether voters flip from Obama to Trump. Nate Cohn, who analyzes political data for The New York Times, dug into this last year. He found that Hillary won just 47% of white Obama voters without a college degree who disagreed with the idea that, quote “white people in the US have certain advantages because of the color of their skin.” But Hillary won 88% of white Obama voters without a college degree who agreed that white people do have certain advantages. In that statistic there’s actually an opportunity for Democrats, and it’s something rather obvious that we haven’t talked about yet. Not all white voters without college degrees have the same beliefs. Some are more conservative and some are more liberal. Some are driven by racial resentment, but some aren’t. This is even true among 2012 Obama voters who switched to Trump. In the most comprehensive post-election study of 2016, Nate pointed out that one in four Obama Trump voters still identified as Democrats. These voters are less likely to be driven by racial resentment, and more likely to support things like a higher minimum wage, abortion rights and same-sex marriage. The point is, it may not be possible to win back all or even most of the white voters without a college degree who have been voting for Republicans like Trump, but it’s certainly possible to win back some. And some may be all we need to build a winning coalition that also includes more young voters and people of color. Still, the question remains, how do Democrats build that big tent? We ask all our experts for their ideas after the break.

 

[ad break]

 

Bruce Reed: We’re a coalition party, our base is diverse, it’s not monolithic, it’s not coastal.

 

Jon Favreau: That’s Bruce Reed, formerly Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff, and a domestic policy adviser for President Clinton. And he’s picking up where we left off before the break: how do Democrats, the party of the big tent, build a winning coalition again?

 

Bruce Reed: I think we often misread our potential base. Our real base ought to be anybody who needs help getting ahead. Anybody who’s working for a living and not getting rewarded for it. A lot of the white non-college voters that we’re not getting, they’re not that different in their social views or their economic needs as African-American and Latino non-college voters. No voter should be off limits to us. We should want to persuade them. Now, obviously, there are a lot of closed minds out there that we’re not going to get, but there are a lot of people that we don’t get because we don’t try. We can’t take our base for granted, but we can’t write off any part of the country.

 

Cornell Belcher We haven’t come up with a new silver-bullet economic issue.

 

Jon Favreau: Again, that’s Cornell Belcher.

 

Cornell Belcher And we’re not going to come up with a new silver-bullet economic issue. But I do think that Trump has—this in your face, racial division has given an opening, has cross-pressured and made a lot of white voters uncomfortable. Right? And that cross-pressure is where we must live. We must give voice to the cross-pressure that they’re feeling and give them a comfortable place to land. And that’s a vision that is about a future America that works for everybody, has opportunity for everyone, and expands freedom for everyone, or we all fail.

 

Michael Kazin: When Democrats are strong, when Democrats really, I think, controlled the future and were talking about the future, they were talking about a future for the large majority.

 

Jon Favreau: Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin.

 

Michael Kazin: Large majorities of voters didn’t always support their vision of the future, but large majorities of voters, I think, did believe that the kind of programs Democrats were talking about were programs which would help them, regardless of their race or immigrant background. And that’s really important. I believe in, you know, the Democrats being a party of the people, you know, and a majority of the people. And that means not just in terms of what it says, in terms of values and rhetoric, but putting forth programs which will help the majority of people, the way Social Security has the way Medicare has.

 

Jon Favreau: Symon Sanders, National Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders, believes that it doesn’t even make sense to categorize these voters into different groups that need different messages.

 

Symone Sanders: I think the message about “we can do both” is still flawed messaging, because it still sets up the idea that there’s an either-or. The message should be there’s not an either-or. It’s not that we talk about class or we talk about race, gender or white supremacy, or immigration, or the Dreamers—it’s not an either or, we talk about it all. Because it is all absolutely intertwined. When Dr. King died, he was fighting the Poor People’s Campaign about economic inequality. And 50 years later, we’re still fighting the same campaign, because I don’t think we’ve got it. So Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign was across demographics. It was poor white people, poor Black people, poor Latinos, poor indigenous folks—just poor anybody that understood that you cannot truly get a fair shake in this country. We can address civil rights. We can address gender inequality. But if if folks don’t have money in their pocket to buy a hamburger at the counter that they can now sit at, that it means nothing. They should be able to buy the hamburger and they should be able to own the lunch counter.

 

Jon Favreau: Heather McGhee, distinguished senior fellow at Demos, a progressive think tank.

 

Heather McGhee: At Demos, we’re advocating for a multiracial populism. When we polled working-class Americans of all races, including some Obama-to-Trump voters, a very populist message completely resonated. And if you were able to, in the right context, speak about fundamental human values that connected the struggling white rural families with the struggling inner-city African-American families, or the struggling immigrant families, you were able to break through some of the racial resentment. But the problem is that Democrats in power today, here we need to chase the white working class, and that doesn’t say to them: we need to take on Wall Street, or we need to fight for unions, or we need to not be for corporate-driven global trade deals. They hear that and say: oh, we need to stop talking about race, oh, we need to stop fighting for people who are being attacked by ICE and the rogue police state. And when that happens, you suppress the votes and enthusiasm of the people who are your natural base, and you just look like cowards to everybody else. I mean, this is a moment when people want to see courage. Even if you’re standing up for people who are not quite you, I think Americans of all stripes want to see who you are willing to take on, that you’re willing to take on powerful people to protect people who are being targeted and are suffering.

 

Lynn Vavrek: The trick for a Democrat in 2020, I think, is to figure out how to make the group one that all people can feel like they’re a part of.

 

Jon Favreau: Again Lynn Vavreck.

 

Lynn Vavrek: So it can’t be: take your medicine, you know we have to be a melting pot, we have to be stronger together because it’s the right thing to do and it’s good for us. It can’t be that. It has to have a different frame to it. What’s the challenge? We want to create a social identity for the Democratic Party—the post-Clinton era Democratic Party—that will be appealing to Latinos, appealing to those white Louisianans and people like them, and the rest of the liberal community. How can we create a social identity with the party label that everybody will feel like they can be a part of? And maybe it is about thinking about a word like equality—I don’t know that it can be equality, because that word means so many specific policy things—but we need a word like that, that will signal to those white voters in Louisiana that: no one is cutting in front of you in line, you are going to get your place in line. And also to Latino voters, and union voters who have lost their union, and everyone else, that your place in line is secure and the government will help you. No one is getting in front of you in line, and you’re not getting kicked out. So something like that.

 

Jon Favreau: I’ve thought about this for a long time. But I probably thought about it the most over the course of a few days in March of 2008. The news had just broken that there was a videotape of some pretty anti-American, pretty racially charged comments made by Barack Obama’s long-time pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a man who’d mentored Obama, married him and Michelle, baptized their kids. It was brutal, and it was a few weeks before the Pennsylvania primary.

 

[clip of Rev. Jeremiah Wright] The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strikes law, and then wants us to sing God Bless America. No, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America . . . We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki. And we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted any eye . . .  America’s chickens coming home to roost.

 

Jon Favreau: I remember that some of the staff wanted Obama to quickly repudiate the comments and move on, but Obama thought he owed people more than that. And so late at night, on March 15th, 2008, after a long day of campaigning, he called me to lay out a speech he wanted to give in Philadelphia about the issue of race in America. It was one of the most honest speeches I’d ever heard from a politician. He denounced Wright, but he also said he could no more disown him than he could his white grandmother, who had sometimes uttered racial stereotypes that made him cringe. He talked about the origins of Black anger and anxiety, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and the institutional discrimination that’s robbed African-Americans of opportunity and left racial disparities in wealth and housing and throughout our justice system. He also acknowledged white anger and anxiety over affirmative action and bussing and line cutting, and the belief that they shouldn’t be punished for the sins of their ancestors. And he urged all Americans to move past our racial stalemate by binding our particular grievances into aspirations we can all share. It may not have been the single word or phrase that Lynn was looking for, but the speech reminded me of the idea that Cornell Belcher talked about in our last episode, The big “we”. And that was especially true of the story that Obama used to end the speech.

 

[clip of President Obama] There’s a young, 23-year old woman, a white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She’d been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there. And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom. She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat. So Ashley told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she had joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too. Now, Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were Blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she sought out allies in her fight against injustice. Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. And finally they come to this elderly Black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he doesn’t bring up a specific issue. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.” “I’m here because of Ashley.” Now by itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old Black man is not enough. But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the 221 years since a band of patriots signed that document right here in Philadelphia, that is where perfection begins.

 

Jon Favreau: The Wilderness is written and directed by me, Jon Favreau of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Zach Akers and Skip Bronkie of Two Up, and Ruth Lichtman. Tanya Somanader of Crooked Media is our co-producer. Andrea B. Scott is our editor, and David Fox is our assistant editor. Our archival producer is Rebecca Kent, and our archival researcher is Gianna Jefferson. Music by Marty Fowler. Sound design and mixing by Joel Robbie. Tracy Lien is our lead interviewee researcher. Additional writing from Zach Akers and Andrea B. Scott. John Maynard and Dan Kelly were our recording engineers. Fact checking by Anna Altman. Promo segment editing from Allison Grasso. Agency services from Ben Davis at WME. Legal Services from Dean Bahat at Ziffran Brittenham and Chad Russo at Ramo Law. Clearance counsel is Katherine Alimohammedi from Donaldson + Califf. Thanks for listening.

 

The Wilderness