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September 07, 2021
Pod Save The People
Don't Suffer in Excellence (with Cliff Albright)

In This Episode

DeRay, Kaya, Sam, and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week, including Naomi Osaka, Black surfers, juvenile discrimination, the labor shortage, and car fatalities. DeRay interviews Cliff Albright about Black Voters Matter Fund and the battle over voting rights.

TRANSCRIPT:

DERAY MCKESSEN Attention California listeners. Due to some wacky laws, a small minority of California voters have forced a recall of Governor Gavin Newsom. 

KAYA HENDERSON: If you’re a registered voter, check your mail for your ballot, fill it out, and return it by September 14. Make sure you vote no on question one should Governor Newsom be recalled, and to leave question to blank. 

-DERAY MCKESSEN: And please note, what we just said was not authorized by a candidate or committee controlled by a candidate. Visit votesaveamerica.com/california to learn more. 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

DERAY MCKESSON: Hey, this is DeRay. Welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, Sam, Kaya, and De’Ara talking about all the news that you don’t know from the past week. And then I sit down and talk to Cliff Albright, who is a co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter. 

In the midst of the Voting Rights threats circulating throughout the country, Black Voters Matter has been on the ground fighting back on these bills and urging corporations to take a stand against injustice. He’s also the host of the new podcast, Black Power Revisited. And we sat down to talk about the accomplishments of voting progress so far in 2021 and how we maintain the momentum. Let’s go. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: Family, welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me De’Ara Balenger on Instagram and being silent on Twitter. 

SAM SINYANGWE: And I’m Sam Sinyangwe at Sam Sinyangwe on Twitter. 

KAYA HENDERSON: I’m Kaya Henderson at Henderson Kaya on Twitter. 

DERAY MCKESSON: And I’m DeRay at DRay on Twitter. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: So we were trying to figure out what exactly to talk about in terms of banter. So much happened this week, obviously. Abortion ban in Texas, super important to the culture, D Nyce and his club quarantines, which are 

– Woo woo! 

DE’ARA BALENGER: –coming to a concert venue near you. Don’t miss it. 

[LAUGHING] 

And then also Naomi Osaka. So I’m going to be honest. I haven’t been watching the US open closely, so, Kaya, I feel like you had more of a handle on what’s going on with Naomi and another potential break for her. I’ve watched a little bit of the open, and Naomi lost, and she in her post match press conference, which has been a source of problem for her over the last little while, it was really difficult. She cried a lot. It felt like every time the moderator was trying to shut it down, she kept on talking. She had something she wanted to say, and it was painful, frankly, to watch this young lady talk about the fact that tennis is not giving her joy anymore, that when she wins, she doesn’t even feel excited about it. She just feels relieved, and when she loses, she’s super sad. 

And she talked about needing a break, and I think it’s been really difficult to watch whole thing unfold over the last few months. It’s been both difficult and, I think, a breakthrough in terms of the conversation that we’re having about these elite athletes and the toll that it takes on their mental health. At some point, I turned on the open last week and Coco Gauff had just lost to Sloane Stephens, and when I turned on the TV, they were just following Coco as she left the stadium way back into the dressing room and stuff, and I just can’t imagine you lose on the big stage, you are already feeling some kind of a way. And to just have a camera in your face the whole time or to have to do these post-match interviews where these people aren’t treating you like a person but treating you like, I don’t know, a piece of property or whatever. And these young ladies and young men, I think, the same is true– we’re hearing a lot of young men also talk about the toll that this is taking– it’s difficult to watch these 20 something year olds or teens or whatever respond to all of this pressure. And I think it’s opening up a conversation, for sure, about mental health. I think we’re at a watershed moment where we got to do something different for these young people if we expect them to continue to compete at this level. 

DERAY MCKESSON: You know, I saw Naomi on opening night. I was at the US open. It was incredible to watch her. It’s been really interesting to see her and hear her talk through– she’s a champion, but she doesn’t always feel like one. We’re like, best player in the world. I think she’s won the most money out of any woman ever almost. I think that is true, right? 

DE’ARA BALENGER: That’s true. 

DERAY MCKESSON: The way she has to deal with it and people’s response to it, and what does it mean that you won everything you can win? And the sport doesn’t bring as much joy as it did before, and that the pressure of staying at the top is actually hard and what that means. 

There’s a generation of people who would say, suck it up, and it is what it is. And there’s a newer generation that’s, we should talk about this stuff, right? You shouldn’t suffer in excellence. You shouldn’t suffer at all. You actually can be healthy and love this thing. You can be joyful and appreciate the art. All of those things can be true, and it’s actually been really powerful. And like you said, Kaya, the interviewer tried to cut her off when she was saying that she no longer feels joy, essentially. And she kept going. She was like, I don’t know when I’m going to play again. 

And, again, it is refreshing to see somebody say like, I know that what I’m feeling doesn’t feel right to me. I don’t have all the words, but I know that doesn’t feel right, and I’m going to take time to figure that out as, I think, a model and a lesson for all of us. 

SAM SINYANGWE: I think one of the things that is clear is just the authenticity and honesty that she demonstrates. And this is hard, right? And this is now front page news. Everything that she says is now going to get unpacked and deconstructed in all of these venues and critiqued. And nevertheless, she boldly said, I’m just not feeling this in the way that I was feeling it before, and I’m going to protect my health first, my mental health first, and take care of myself. And I think that that is something that is courageous and something that I’m hopeful can be an inspiration for more people in really high stakes professions, not just in sports, but across the spectrum. 

It is difficult right now. It’s a pandemic. There’s a lot of pressure in general for people. And then you think about what does it mean to carry all of that and then represent Japan in the Olympics. At the highest level, represent the United States in many venues. She’s playing at the highest level possible with the highest level of scrutiny, more scrutiny than white male athletes ever have to deal with. And she’s going to protect her mental health and be courageous enough to say when enough is enough and that this is just not something that she’s feeling anymore. 

And I think that that is really, really amazing to see and to see a new generation not sort of suck it up and not just sort of take it on the chin and endure things that you shouldn’t have to endure, but rather critique the profession, critique the way that the media has been critiquing her. And push back on some of these dynamics that don’t just impact her but impact many other people in this profession that may not have come forward, that may not have had the platform to generate this kind of conversation. 

And so that’s good to see. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: And I’ll just say this is a theme that comes up again and again and again in my work with companies and brands. Companies now are trying to evolve their culture both to be inclusive and equitable, but also to account for new attitudes and ideologies from these young folks. And part of that is wanting a job with purpose. 

And so I think no matter tennis or tech or art, this generation in particular– and thank goodness for them, gratitude for them– they want to find purpose in their work. They want to have a reason to get out of bed to go to work, and I think for generations before, that wasn’t necessarily the thing. It was like you go to work to put food on the table. And I think that culture is really transforming. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come. Pod Save the People was brought to you by Demystifying Disability. People with disabilities are the world’s largest minority, an estimated 15% of the global population. That’s more than one billion people, and one in five Americans live with a disability. It’s a part of the human experience. 

KAYA HENDERSON: Demystifying Disability is a thoughtful guide to being an informed ally to disabled people. The author, Emily Ladau, is a renowned disability rights activist, and she narrates the audio book. 

SAM SINYANGWE: Rebecca Taussig, author of Sitting Pretty calls this book quote a candid and accessible cheat sheet for anyone who wants to thoughtfully join the conversation. The book is written in a relaxed, conversational tone that makes it an easy read, and it covers important disability issues we all need to know about. 

KAYA HENDERSON: Readers can pick a topic and find any number of entry points, including how to talk about disability and engage with the disabled community, and understanding and avoiding ableism. 

SAM SINYANGWE: This is a great line in for outsiders to practicing good disability etiquette and ensuring accessibility, appreciating disability history and identity, and taking actionable steps to help make the world a more inclusive place. 

KAYA HENDERSON: Published by Ten Speed Press, available wherever books and audio books are sold. 

SAM SINYANGWE: Pod to the People is brought to you by Sunbasket. Now, I love Sunbasket because y’all know I can’t cook a single thing, so the beautiful part is that either the meals are already made when you get them or they come with all the ingredients, so you can just whip it up. I can do it, and if I can do it, anybody can do it because I really have been on a peanut butter and jelly kick for the past week. 

KAYA HENDERSON: You know, I loved Sunbasket before, but now there’s fresh and ready meal delivery from Sunbasket. Restaurant quality food packaged up, delivered to your home, and ready to heat and eat. Fresh and ready meals arrive fresh and fully pre-prepared by award-winning chefs. 

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[MUSIC PLAYING] 

Speaking of transformation of cultures at work, my news this week is about what is being called the great reassessment of work in America. Since the pandemic, we have seen tremendous shifts in what’s happening in the world of work. In fact, resignations are the highest on record, up 13% over pre-pandemic levels. 4.9 million more people aren’t working or aren’t looking than was the case pre-pandemic. There’s been a surge in retirements with two million more retirements than expected, and a boost in entrepreneurship. Lots of people starting new businesses. 

And what that means is, while there are 10 million job openings in the United States right now, 8.4 million people are unemployed. And it is about a mismatch in terms of where the jobs are and where people want to work, can work. In fact, you hear a lot about companies struggling to find workers and unemployed people having trouble getting hired. Yet and still, there are all of these job openings and all of these people who are unemployed. 

It turns out that the job openings are not in the same occupations or locations as where people worked pre-pandemic. So there’s a huge mismatch between the industries with job openings and the unemployed people who used to work in those industries. In fact, hospitality and education and health services are facing particularly acute shortages. In fact, health care workers and educators quit their jobs at the highest rate on record since the Department of Labor has been keeping track of this. 

Ben Bernanke, who is the former Federal Reserve chair, says, and I quote, We are reallocating where we want to work and how we want to work. People are trying to figure out their best options and where they want to be. And so, the long story short is, even though companies are raising pay, the average pay of rank and file workers is up 2.8% in the past five months alone, that’s not enough because workers are shifting their ideas about what work they want to do and where they want to do it. And companies are beefing up automation. They are redoing their office setups, and they are rethinking supply chains. 

So what’s happening right now in the wake of this pandemic is two ships passing in the night. The people who want to work and can work are passing right by the jobs that are being created. And this is one of, I think, the results of the pandemic that is just starting to be talked about in real detail. This pandemic has wrought a whole bunch of change for us across a lot of dimensions, but this great reassessment of work in America is huge, and I think we’ll continue to see it play out whether it is millennials asking for a different culture or service workers, restaurant workers saying, I’m just not into the long hours and the bad treatment and the low pay, to companies saying we’re going to rejigger how we do everything. 

There’s a lot of upheaval in the labor world right now. And so, this is one of the things that we need to keep our eyes on as yet another outcome of this global pandemic. So I brought it to the pod because I thought it’s worth– for people who haven’t noticed yet or people who are not paying attention to the unemployment numbers– it looks crazy to 8.4 million people are unemployed when there are 10 million job openings in the US. 

And so we need to figure out how we retool. Industries need to figure out how they attract people. We need to rethink what going to work looks like, and I think that is probably happening a little more quickly than anybody thought. So I brought it to the pod. 

SAM SINYANGWE: Thanks for bringing this to the pod, Kaya. And this is not at all surprising, but it is definitely fascinating to see sort of the scale of the mismatch between job openings and folks who are not currently employed. And I think the pandemic has changed the calculus in terms of employment. It has raised the costs of going to work, right? And you are not getting paid more to go to work. So you’ve actually taken a pay cut is what that means. 

So if you, especially as an educator, especially as a health care worker, your risks of going to work are dramatically higher now than they were before the pandemic. And you’re not getting paid more for it, right? So you actually took a pay cut. So I don’t understand, it’s not hard to understand why folks are not seeking out these jobs anymore or are leaving many of these jobs. And it’s a sad commentary on how we as a nation have failed the folks on the front lines of the pandemic. 

We have not dramatically increased educator pay, dramatically increased health care worker pay, in order to offset those costs and those real risks that folks are incurring. In fact, we’ve made things even more difficult. We’ve required educators to come back to school. We have made it easier for parents to defy mask mandates and not get vaccinated, and put teachers in a situation and health care workers in a situation where they’re dealing with a pandemic that is happening at a scale now that it shouldn’t be happening given that we have widespread availability of vaccines, and folks are just not taking them in a lot of cases. 

So this burden is being shouldered by service workers. It’s being shouldered by health care workers. It’s being shouldered by educators who are not getting paid more, who are not getting appreciated, who are enduring tremendous psychological hardship, who are, in many cases, having to be in environments where those risks that they’re exposed to then might impact their family members. 

So it’s a really difficult situation. And in this time, you would hope that the government would step in, that employers would step in, and figure out how to make these jobs doable for folks, how to make them desirable for folks, how to make them so the folks don’t feel like they are taking on more and more and more for less. This is a commentary not on the folks who are not employed, but more so a commentary on us as a society on how we have not really done justice by the folks who have done the most in this time. 

DERAY MCKESSON: You know, the thing that I’m reminded of is I looked at a specific state, and there are roughly 40,000 hospitality jobs unfilled across North Carolina. And I bring this up because it’s just such a reminder that this is now the employees market. It is not the employer’s market where they get to decide all the terms. Kaya, in preparation for this, I read that people are offering pet insurance as a perk of the job, now. People are offering better dental and health, which I anticipated, but also covering mental health in ways they’ve never covered, covering all types of things as a perk. 

But I was talking to a friend recently in Baltimore who owns a new event space, and she’s like, Baby, we cannot servers, bartenders. She’s like, they get to choose where they’re working now because there’s so few of them who will work right now or want to work, and like Sam said, there’s no real incentive right now for people. People can stay home and at least you’ll live. You know, people are being fussy about being vaccinated. You might be at an event in a shady place, and you know actually you could take unemployment and live and not have to deal with any of this. 

But it is interesting to look at the sheer scale, like Sam said, to look at what it means, that it is an employee’s market now, where employees really can dictate the terms of engagement. And when you look at restaurants and convention centers and stuff like that struggle to get workers, it’s a reminder that when you pay people $8 an hour, they’re like, I’m not working 15 hours at your random event for $8. I’m not doing it. 

And I’m interested to see what happens because there are a lot of businesses that you all know, we all know, cannot survive without like, you know, you just need the bodies. You need like the sheer people to do the work. It won’t be able to survive without it. 

SAM SINYANGWE: So my news is from Fast Company, and the title is 10,000 Women Die In Car Crashes Each Year Because Of Bad Design. So this article wasn’t necessarily surprising just given all that we know and we’ve talked about in the past, but I had not necessarily thought of this in the context of car safety. 

So the National Highway Safety Transportation Association, which is the nation’s safety rating agency for car crashes and car safety, they run a number of tests in order to make sure that cars are safe. One of the things that I did not know is that they require a frontal crash test but only performed using a simulated male driver. There’s no mandated test that simulates a female driver in the crash test. 

And that for tests in the passenger seat, they use a test dummy that represents a woman who is four foot 11 and 108 pounds, which, as you can guess, does not reflect the diversity of body types of people in general. And what that means in terms of the design of automobiles is that automobiles are designed to protect men more than they are to protect women. And you see the outcomes in terms of injuries and deaths in car crashes. 

Women are 72% more likely in the United States to be injured and 17% more likely to die in a car crash than men. And the design of those vehicles and the failure of the National Highway Safety Transportation Agency to test adequately for both male and female drivers of vehicles is responsible for that difference and that higher risk to women in cars. 

Moreover, there are other factors, as well, that this article goes into that contribute to higher injury and death rates for women in vehicles, including the size of the vehicles themselves. So vehicles have kept getting larger and larger. The number one vehicle sold in the United States is the Ford F-series, like the Ford F-150, which is a massive and extremely heavy car. In general, the larger the vehicle, the more likely that folks who are hit by that vehicle, whether you yourself are hit are in a vehicle or a pedestrian, your risk is higher of being injured or killed, and women are more likely to be injured or killed when they’re hit by a larger vehicle. 

So these two factors, the article goes into, one the failure of the safety apparatus to actually properly consider the differences between men and women in terms of body type to be able to actually protect women in vehicles, and just the large size of vehicles that Americans are buying day in and day out contributes to over 10,000 deaths a year in traffic accidents of women. 

So I to bring this to the pod. This is sort of another dimension of inequity that we see play out in injuries and deaths on a huge scale each year and something that I hadn’t thought of and certainly isn’t limited to vehicle deaths. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: I’ll just say, Sam, I don’t know if I’m more offended that I’m more likely to die in a car or that I live in a country where the top selling car is the F-150. 

[LAUGHING] 

Just kind of a toss up to me. Am I in the right place? Am I in the right place on the Earth? Not so sure. 

KAYA HENDERSON: One of the things that was particularly offensive is that regulators have known for 40 years that this is a problem and still haven’t done anything about it. And when they tried to do something about it back in the early 80s, the Reagan administration came in and cut the budget and, of course, the thing that they cut was the female crash test dummy. But other countries have figured it out and have different types of crash test dummies, and I guess because this is important to them and they pay attention to it. And, Yeah, the offensive thing, De’Ara, is we live in a country that continues to deprioritize women across every single dimension. 

SAM SINYANGWE: The thing that this reminded me of is also clinical trials. So we know that Black people are underrepresented in clinical trials, but I didn’t know, and I realized this in preparation for this. There’s a really good article in Stat, statnews.com, called Clinical Trials Need To Include More Black And Other Minority Participants, Here’s How. 

So they talk about– we knew that Black people are underrepresented in trials. What I didn’t think about was the under-representation of clinical staff in the trials. So with one of the points that the author makes is not only do you need to have Black people in the trials, but you need to make sure that they stay, right? And Black people drop out of clinical trials at a higher rate than their peers by race. Blew my mind. 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

DERAY MCKESSON: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: If you’re enjoying our show Pod Save The People, I want to tell you about another show I think you’d really like, 70 Million, an investigative documentary podcast from LWC Studios. 

SAM SINYANGWE: Did you know 70 million American adults have a criminal record? That is wild. And did you know that there is something called offender-funded justice, which is basically when the legal systems are paid for largely by exorbitant fees levied against people who are arrested, even before they’re tried. These and other fascinating and revealing facts about our country’s intertwined legal systems provide greater knowledge and understanding, thanks to 70 Millions’ deeply reported episodes. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: So far, over three seasons, the Peabody nominated narrative series has chronicled how remarkable people across the US have transformed legal systems and entire communities in the process. 70 Millions’ fourth season will delve into how police, jails, and prison became the catchall for unattended social ills and forgotten populations. It will take on the big questions we must answer as a society about who we are and who we pretend to be when it comes to achieving liberty and justice for all. 

SAM SINYANGWE: Season four launches on September 13. Take a listen and subscribe or follow wherever you listen to podcasts. For more, visit 70MillionPod.com. That’s 7 0 million pod dot com. Pod Save the People is brought to you by Helix. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: Helix sleep has a quiz that takes just two minutes to complete and matches your body type and sleep preferences to the perfect mattress for you. Why would you buy a mattress made for somebody else? With Helix, you’re getting a mattress that you know will be perfect for the way you sleep. Everybody’s unique, and Helix knows that. So they have several different mattress models to choose from. They have soft, medium, and firm mattresses, mattresses great for cooling you down, if you sleep hot, and even a Helix plus size mattress for plus size sleepers. 

SAM SINYANGWE: We took the Helix quiz, and we were each matched with a specific mattress. I am actually the midnight luxe. It’s great because it is for side sleepers, and who knew they even made mattresses like for– like who even knew. Like that’s weird. I didn’t even know this as a kid. A mattress is a mattress is a mattress. But it’s dope because it really is made for you. 

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[MUSIC PLAYING] 

KAYA HENDERSON: My news is about brilliant, beautiful, extraordinary, black surfers. I was looking at my colleagues, friends, news today, and I was like, Ooh, Lord. I need something that’s going to bring me up. So I want you all to check out this piece. It’s in the New York Times, but it’s about Black surfers reclaiming their place on the waves. And it’s like very interactive, so it has all these really beautiful and arresting visuals. So please, please, please, go check it out. 

And it sets the stage a year ago talking about how some black surfers got together to do what they call a paddle out. And so they do a paddle out basically to honor the dead, and this particular paddle out was in the aftermath of George Floyd being murdered and so many other lives lost. I had no idea that this happened. It happened in Santa Monica. 

But it’s so beautiful. And I think the symbolism behind it is just so incredible because there really is something so liberating to Black people being in the water. And this article goes into it, as well. How for years and years, because of segregation, because of discrimination, black folks weren’t allowed to do a whole lot of things, including going to beaches, including going to public pools, and the story really is about how these black surfers, and how there’s a history and a legacy of Black surfers that have been reclaiming the water. 

And although surfing was started in Polynesia, there’s also this rich, West African history of being on the waves, being in the water. And so, I just thought this was so beautiful because I think, with so many things, it’s on us too, us Black folks. Like, Oh, that’s white people stuff, hiking, surfing, et cetera, et cetera. But it’s not. It’s not. 

And so I think, particularly in a time where mental health is so important, feeling liberation however you best can, and I think sometimes that comes in the form of being in nature. I think it’s important for us to be in water, to be in greenery, to be in spaces and places where we can breathe and feel free. So I just thought this article was just so miraculous and talking about the history of Black surfers but also just Black folks relationship to water. 

So I just wanted to bring it to the Pod because I thought it was so beautiful, and we should all go surfing, y’all. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: This was inspiring to me because one of the things that I love about Black folks is we do everything, right? People might not see us. People might not know that we do everything, but we do everything. And this was a lovely reminder of yet another space where people don’t expect to see us, but where we are. And I was particularly moved by the fact that while surfing looks like a very individual sport, right? It’s just you and your board and a wave, that these black surfers have found community, especially in the wake of all of the racism that they’ve faced in surfing and in the world. And that’s who we are. That’s what we do we do it all, and we do it all together. 

And so this was just a reminder of that. It also reminded me that there’s history that we’re not taught about the places and the spaces that we’ve been in. This ain’t new to us, right? It is historical for us, and people have been doing this for decades. It is just a reminder of who we are. And I thank you for bringing it to the pod, De’Ara, because I’m an East Coaster. We all have a whole lot of black surfers from Mount Vernon, New York, 

[LAUGHING] 

–but that doesn’t mean there can’t be one sometime soon or from whatever other little black enclave that you come from. Our folks can do anything. And so I hope it serves as– I mean the pictures are beautiful. And so, I can imagine being a little bit younger and being inspired to get out there and get on a board because the freedom and the abandon looks pretty amazing out there. So thanks for bringing that. 

SAM SINYANGWE: Yeah, De’Ara, this article was dope and also like a reminder of the things that we didn’t know that we could do, right? When I see surfing, there are many different barriers that I see, right? One, is it’s extremely expensive. A surfboard is not cheap. Being able to surf is not something that is necessarily easy. You have to have access to the beach. You have to be able to go out there and pay for that board, et cetera, et cetera. 

And then there’s the racism that folks are encountering, that Black folks are encountering, who are surfers, that I didn’t even– obviously, that exists, but last year was the first time that I had heard it specific to the surfing community where there was an incident in Manhattan Beach, California where Black surfers were yelled at and racial slurs were hurled their way. And it was terrible from white folks, and you know, the caucasity of this because, as you mentioned, De’Ara, surfing is certainly not something that was invented by white people. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: That we know for sure. That we know for sure. 

SAM SINYANGWE: That we know as a fact. And yet you have a situation where Black surfers are having to deal with white people saying, these are waves. Nobody owns the waves, and certainly, y’all didn’t invent surfing. We shouldn’t have to do that just to be free on the waves and be out in nature and have that experience. And it’s sad that that is the case, but it’s also inspiring to see surfers come together, build community, in spite of all of that and demonstrate that, Yes, we do have a right to be here. Yes, we have a history and a tradition of being here, and we’ll continue to be here regardless of the caucasity that you all demonstrate. 

So it’s cool to see that happening, and it’s cool to see that visually represented so beautifully in this article. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Let me read the quote that stood out to me. The quote was, “The vast majority of us are descended from African people who were coastal, ocean dwelling people, and yet most of us have been disconnected from the aspect that was a crucial part of our ancestors identities,” said Natalie Hubbard, a surgeon and surfer who was part of the Laru Beya Collective, which encourages surfing and water safety among under-served youth in the Rockaways in New York. 

“I think there’s a power too,” she continues, “as a person with African ancestry, connecting with the ocean because you’re also connecting with a part of your heritage.” And it just reminded me the way that the storytelling about ourselves is revisionist history, that like the most popular trope is that we don’t know how to swim, that we’re afraid of the water, that the water is– that is like the popular meme is that Black people don’t know how to swim. 

SAM SINYANGWE: But what is true is that we were disconnected from a history of our relationship with the water because of the slave trade. That was the revelation I had here. I’m like, wow! It was just a reminder that the stories that we have been told about each other, and that sometimes we participate in replicating, are a revisionist, white supremacist history that is not rooted in reality. And when I read that, I’m like ma’am, Yes. Yes. Yes. We were ocean people before all of this. And that spoke to me. 

So my news is about the history of adolescence, and it is based on an article called Fear Of The Black Child. It starts with the story of a black kid who gets accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail. The response is wild. He gets sent to a juvenile detention center, all this stuff. So the black boy was actually not throwing a Molotov cocktail. He was just throwing stuff, being a child. This white kid was actually concocting a Molotov cocktail. His consequence is that they rearrange his class schedule so that he can be in chemistry, and that leads her down this path of understanding the difference between the way that Black kids and white kids are treated by the system and the history of it. 

So what stuck out to me is, I honestly had no clue that adolescence was a made up thing. I just didn’t know that it used to be children and adults. And in the 1950s, 1960s was like this moment where people created this idea of adolescence. The teenage years were like their own moment, and the adolescence was invented by white middle class parents to give their children an advantage in the changing Western world. That all of a sudden there were programs, and there was this whole ecosystem that started to arise around that moment. 

So it was around mandatory school attendance laws, but also child labor laws were put in place. It was around that time that there was a whole juvenile system that just dealt with delinquent young people. It was an effort to allow the states to impose middle class values on young people that further separated adolescence from children and adults. So they were now three categories. There were kids. There were adolescents, and then there were adults. And so she paints that picture, but she also does a really good job of saying that even in this new category, the rub is is that black adolescents get treated so differently than everybody else. 

So create a new category that is specifically just for white people, essentially, and then you get this moment where white kids get to experiment, and white adolescents get to do all these things, and when black adolescents do those same things, they are penalized at a far greater rate. So she talks about– one thing that stuck out to me, is that she writes, that despite years of evidence that white youth use drugs at the same rate as black young people, a 19% of all drug cases referred to youth juvenile courts in 2018 involve black youth, right? 

So she highlights a lot of those disparities, but what stuck to me was I never even thought about the idea of adolescence as a political category that was created for a specific reason, blew my mind, and that in that category that black young people fare worse than everybody else, that did not blow my mind. That was par for the course, insert the podcast, but I was really fascinated by the idea of the invention of adolescence and what that has meant for our kids. 

DERAY MCKESSON: This sort of reminded me of the research literature that shows that white people are all about being progressive, and programs that are all about social welfare and redistributing resources, when they perceive the people to receive those benefits to be white, but as soon as they perceive black people to participate in any of that, they cut it off. And I think what we see here is the creation of adolescence. This creation of this idea that there shouldn’t child labor, right? That’s not a bad thing. You shouldn’t have to work when you’re like 13, 14 in a sweatshop. You should be able to go to school and go off to college and experiment, yada, yada, learn about the world. 

Yeah, I’m not opposed to that idea, but it is an exclusionary idea when you look at the fact that, as black people participating in those things, they are getting pushed out. They’re getting charged as adults for things that other kids are doing and not even getting charged at all. 

So it is a reminder of this double standard that exists in every dimension but is especially present, I think, when we think about the history of how these things came about, when we think about the idea that adolescence was just sort of created, and that Black youth still to this day cannot fully participate in that concept without being arrested, without being disciplined, without being pushed into the juvenile justice system, without being pushed down the prison pipeline. 

And that we have to deconstruct the ways in which those benefits are not actually shared, and make sure that they are, right? And make sure that folks should have some version of adolescence, should be able to experiment, should be able to go off to school, should be able to be in an environment where they’re not doing child labor. But again, that only happens when it is equitable. That only happens when we’re able to share those benefits broadly, when it is not done in a discriminatory way, when folks are not excluded. 

And so, again, this is par for the course, but it’s something that we see every single day in the statistics, that we see in the disparities within schools and we see outside of schools. And ultimately, that is a critique on the society that we live in, on the structural racism that we’re dealing with. And hopefully, we can have an adolescence for everybody that actually is equitable, that is inclusive, and that folks can grow up in a comfortable environment in which they have resources, and if they don’t, the government can step in and provide those resources and are not being criminalized for being a kid. 

DE’ARA BALENGER: This also reminds me of something that’s super compelling. We’ve talked about it before, but, DeRay, it was also in the other article you put in our chat this week from the Marshall Project, just in terms of how Black infants died twice as more as white infants. And in 2019, almost 3,600 more black babies died before their first birthday. 

And so, I think– there was a similar statistic in the same space where Black babies die more when there’s a white doctor as opposed to a Black doctor. So I think, even way before our babies can walk, talk, and be kids, they’re seen as less than right out the gate. It’s ridiculous. 

So I think part of it is how do we get to a better society? How do we reconcile? How do we reckon? How do we– This racism thing, are we just– how many more generations is this going to impact? A ton, we know, because we’re dealing with a huge incarcerated population. We’re dealing with people who are in poverty, generational poverty. But I think at some point it is– this racism business is just ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And I think, from the very outset, determining people’s lives. And how can they live or not live? 

So I don’t know. And I think this is settling in more and more for me as I think about having a family and as I think about having a baby, and no matter how privileged I am and all my little degrees and credentials, socioeconomics doesn’t matter when you’re a Black woman having a baby. It does not matter. You die just the same, potentially. 

So I think, Yeah, policy. Yes, government institutions breaking down systemic barriers, yada, yada, yada, yada. But at some point, it’s just got to come down to the human being and how we see each other. But I know that’s happy land. But that’s where I went with this one this. 

KAYA HENDERSON: This article pissed me off because it just reiterated all of the things that we know about the way we treat black children so differently than the way we treat white children. And then I was like, OK, Kaya, you can’t stay in angry space. And what are you doing about this? And I’m an educator, and I spent a lot of time trying to think about how to provide a world class education for a majority black school district. And one of the things that I say all the time is when wealthy white kids can’t read, we don’t stop them from their sports. We don’t take them out of their arts classes or their violin lessons. We don’t say they can’t go on a family trip. We do all of those things, and we get them help. 

But when little Black kids can’t read, we strip away all of their sports and extracurricular activities. We take away all of the electives, the physical education, the art and music. We don’t let them go on trips. We don’t– and we drill and kill and tell them that this is going to be determinant of their whole entire lives and whatnot. Meanwhile, you know, we’re telling Becky and Brad, It’s going to be OK. Even if you can’t read now, it’ll be fine. We’ll get you there. It’ll be fine. 

And I’m proud to say I’ve spent my life trying to rectify that in the way I approach education. In fact, we have to demand, in spaces where kids are kids, that we treat black children like children. And in fact, it’s not just enough to make sure our kids can read and write, it is, I say all the time, it’s as important to develop their talents as it is to develop their test scores, that we have to give them opportunities to be joyful, to learn how to surf and ski and do archery and bowling and things that don’t look regular. All of this is part of the childhood that we are willing to afford white kids so that they’re able to be exposed and that they understand that anything is available to them in the world. 

And we systematically deny that for Black kids and that’s what this article continued to point out for me, but it just reinforced my commitment to ensuring that Black kids are black kids. I think one of the most important things coming out of this pandemic is that black parents are finally agreeing that their kids’ well-being is important. It’s not just about, can you be twice as good? Are you academically prepared? But we’re asking are our children happy? Are our children in a space where their social interactions are solid, where they’re finding community, where they are doing the things that they enjoy? 

And I think that we have the potential for revolution in this country when Black parents and black community members and the collective start to stand up for our kids, and that we treat our kids like kids and we demand that other people treat our kids like kids. 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

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[MUSIC PLAYING] 

DERAY MCKESSON: And here’s my conversation with Cliff Albright, the co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter. 

Cliff, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save The People. 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Thanks for having me. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Now, I’m excited to talk to you about the work that you do around voting, around community engagement, but before we dive into the work specifically, can you talk to us about how you got here? How did you get to organizing? How did you get to focusing on voting and electoral politics in this way? How did you get there? 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Well, there’s really two or three different ways of answering that question. One is, how did I get involved in racial justice work, right? And that story really starts when I was a student at Cornell and as an undergrad got involved in activism. Took a class from a professor who ultimately became my ideological mentor, Professor James Turner. Took a class on racism in American society, and it just blew my mind, and it just opened me up to this whole different way of looking at the world and looking at some of the racial realities around me. 

And then from there I got into campus activism and then graduated and came out and started engaging in community activism. But I was from a perspective of community activism was important, but I wasn’t into electoral organizing. In fact, I really thought that electoral organizing was problematic, that it was deepening our engagement in the system that fundamentally wasn’t for us, and has always been against us. 

So if anything, you could actually say I was anti electoral organizing. But funny thing happened on the way to freedom, I’ve met somebody who is from Alabama and wound up moving down to Selma, Alabama. Now, you can’t be an organizer and be in Selma, Alabama and not engage somehow in electoral organizing. And in doing so, in the first election, I’ll never forget, and I tell people all the time, this was when Black Voters Matter was created in my mind, there was an election– I moved to Alabama in 1998. 

In the year of 2000, there was a mayor’s race in Selma, Alabama, and the man who was mayor when I moved there was Joe T. Smitherman, who was the same person who was mayor on Bloody Sunday in 1965. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Holy snap! Really? 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yes. Yes, he was mayor for 37 years. The first campaign that I actually engaged in, in terms of mobilizing voters, was the campaign to get rid of him. And I’ll never forget the slogan we used was, Joe got to go. And sure enough, by the end of that night, Joe was gone. There’s actually a video circulating on the internet that some young folks we’re doing a documentary, and they were actually following me and Latasha, my friend and co-founder, around, and there’s a video clip of me confronting the city’s attorney at one of the polling places because he was trying to tell us we couldn’t stand a certain place, very similar to some of the voter suppression laws that we’re fighting right now, right? 

But he was saying that we could stand certain places, and he has these two cops with them. And so, I was going back and forth with him, and I said, you know what? Joe going to go, and when he goes, you’re going to be going right behind him. 

[LAUGHING] 

And so, that night, when we won, not just got rid of Joe Smitherman, but also got the city’s first Black mayor, people stopped their cars in the middle of the street and started dancing and crying and just screaming and hugging. It was like it was a big Super Bowl party in the middle of the city, and it was that moment that I realized the power that can lie in electoral organizing when done correctly. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Well, that’s a good how you got into the work story. 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Right? 

DERAY MCKESSON: What’s the work do you do now? 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: So right now I’m co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter, which is a power building organization. We tell people all the time, we’re not just a voting organization. We are a power building organization, trying to build power in Black communities, and elections are one way of doing that, but it’s not the only way. And so we go about doing this work by partnering with local groups and getting them a couple of things. One, getting them resources because the name of our 501c4 organization is actually Black Voters Matter Fund. 

So we fund some of this work. We fund local groups in places, in communities, and in states, that people often forget about or neglect or progressives have even given up on. Places like Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana, and up until very recently, Georgia and other places across the South. But there are groups that have been doing incredible work. We say all the time that there’s no such thing as red states. There’s only states that where our communities have been under appreciated and under-resourced. 

And so part of what we want to do is be able to partner with groups and get them some of those concrete financial resources but other resources, as well, like tools, technology, the ability to send text messaging, and Facebook, and social media, and other technology, and then sometimes just strategy, just coming in and being able to offer some of the lessons that we’ve developed over our collective 40, 50 years of community organizing. And just letting folks know in some of these communities, oftentimes rural communities, that the things that they’re trying to do, and that they’re dreaming and scheming, that they’re not crazy, right? And it’s things that can happen, and that we’re going to play some part in helping to make it happen. 

So that’s the kind of work that we do. And we partner with groups that range from anything from a NAACP chapter to a Black Lives Matter chapter, to a church group, to a youth group, to a cultural organization. And sometimes they organize around a range of issues, but as long as they love black folks, and have authentic relationships in their communities, then we’re there for them. 

DERAY MCKESSON: As an organizer, I’ve heard people use phrases like a power building organization, but that’s not the language that I grew up with, and it’s certainly not the language that, when I meet some people who are new to this work, or who don’t identify as organizers and activists, that’s not the language they use. How would you explain what is a power building organization? What does that mean? 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: – First and foremost, you should start with the definition of power, right? It’s most fundamentally it’s the ability to get stuff done. 

I happen to be a Soros fellow, and so I’m engaging in some research around some concepts I have about what power looks like and how you measure it. How do you know that you’re making progress, right? And some of that is based on like on actual science. What is power scientifically? And how do we translate that to social dynamics. 

But most fundamentally, it’s the ability to get stuff done, right? Or I think it was Malcolm or maybe it was Martin who once said, it’s the ability to go to a corporation, in terms of labor and power, the government corporation that wants to say no and force them to say Yes. But it’s the ability to get stuff done, to be able to control aspects of your lives. 

And so what we recognize is that the first step towards that, oftentimes, is getting folks just to be comfortable with the concept of power, right? Getting folks to be comfortable saying power. And don’t mess around and get them comfortable saying Black Power, right? I actually have a podcast myself called Black Power Revisited because part of what we’re trying to do is get folks to believe that we deserve power, that power is something that we need to have. As King said, that power at is best is love implementing the demands of justice, that is not a dirty word. And it’s something that we actually have, and we just need to build more of. 

And sometimes, if we could just get folks comfortable with that basic concept, that you are loved and that you have power and you need and deserve more power, oftentimes, that’s half the battle. Sometimes that’s a difficult task because we’ve been trained for so long to view power as a dirty word. Because we’ve seen the way power can be used when it’s used absent of love, when it’s used recklessly and abusively, right? We’ve seen the kind of power that has a man put his knee on somebody’s neck for over nine minutes, right? 

We’ve seen abuse of power, and so sometimes we’re like, Ooh, I don’t– we shouldn’t talk about that. There’s no good way to use power. We say, no, that’s not true. We just got to root our power in something different than what the other folks have rooted it in. 

So that’s the first step that we take is just getting folks comfortable with even talking about the word and talking about the concept and knowing that we deserve it and then knowing that we’ve already got some, and we need to tap into what we’ve got in order to build some more. 

DERAY MCKESSON: I’m always interested to– you’ve been doing this work– this last election cycle was such a wild cycle for everybody, right? It was– thank God Trump got out of there, but you’re in a place where the Senate races really mattered for the whole country, not just for the region, not just for the state. What did you learn over the last year? 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: More than a learning of the lessons, there’s been an affirmation of the lessons, right? And so, we were just talking about power. Well, one of our theories of change that we’ve used in Georgia and really in all the states where we do our work, is that we can’t just get focused on trying to build power and mobilize voters just in the urban areas, right? You can’t flip Georgia just by focusing on metro Atlanta, right? I ain’t got nothing against metro Atlanta. I lived in metro Atlanta. But it takes more than metro Atlanta to change Georgia. 

And so, we went about from the time we started doing our work here a couple of years ago really focusing on Southwest Georgia, the rural areas, South Georgia, the mid-sized cities that often get overlooked, right? Even though they’re cities, people don’t really put a whole lot of resources in places like Columbus, Georgia or Savannah, Georgia or Valdosta, Georgia or Augusta, Georgia or Macon, Georgia, right? 

And so part of what was affirmed is that when we prioritize all of the pockets where we exist, right, including smaller cities, rural areas, right? When we prioritize all of those places, and build relationships, and relationships that don’t even just center on the elections, that center on trying to build the capacity of local groups that are trying to do good things 365 days a year, when we go about that type of approach, in terms of when we do the work, and where we do the work, you can wind up shocking the world. You know, you could wind up doing something that hadn’t been done since 1992 or whenever. 

So it just reaffirmed that theory of change that we have. And even, the other lesson that we take, which again, isn’t so much a new lesson, but it was an affirmation, is just how damn remarkable we are as a people, that we came through all that we came through in 2020. We came through COVID. We came through the police violence. We came through all the voter suppression, not just the voter suppression of 2020, but the voter suppression in 2018 when we saw them steal an election, and a lot of people said, Oh, my God! Black folks will never come back out in 2020 because we came out in historic numbers in 2018, and then they stole election, there’s no way you’re going to be able to mobilize black folks to come back out in 2020. 

But guess what? That’s exactly what we did. That’s exactly what Black folks did. And so, again, that’s not a new lesson. That’s just an affirmation of just how remarkable we are and how much we’ve been able to overcome. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Tell me about the bus, the blackest bus in America. Did I get that right? 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yes, the blackest bus in America. How did I leave that out? Yeah, so, part of that support that we provide to folks is that every now and then we hop on the blackest bus in America, and we go around, and we drive around these states, and we go to these counties that folks don’t often go to. We were just in rural Texas driving through sundown towns in East Texas, right? 

But those are the kinds of places that we go to, places that have never seen a big old black bus. And we call it the blackest bus in America, it’s not just because the color is actually black, but it’s because everything it stands for is black. All the images on it are black. You got black fist in there. We got our logo, Black Voters Matter. We got the words love and power on the bus. We got to Sankofa symbol on the bus. A lot of people think it’s a heart because the one that we use, the Indinko symbol that we use the Sankofa, is the one that kind of looks like a heart, but it’s actually a symbol that means to look back because we very much consider ourselves students of the Civil Rights movement. 

And so we look back at our history, and we try to pull from the best of that history. We’re not the ones that you’re going to see out there talk about this ain’t your grandparents civil rights movement because the real deal is without that grandparents civil rights movement that we wouldn’t be where we are. There’s some lessons that we have to take from all that. And so we have the Sankofa symbol on there. 

And so that’s what we mean when we call it the blackest bus in America. When that bus comes through, you know there ain’t nothing but some Black love, Black joy, and Black culture and Black power that we’re going to be talking about. But the thing that’s also important is that when that bus comes through, you’d best believe that there’s been some work going on before the bus got there, and there’s some work that’s going to be going on after we leave, right? 

So the bus is not the end all be all. It’s an important source of inspiration, right, and joy. But it’s not just about the work that we do when the bus comes through. It’s about the work that we do with those vocal partners 365 days out of the year. But it’s because of that work that we’ve just recently launched and announced that we’re going to be doing a Freedom Ride coming from the South, from Jackson, going to D.C. to demand our voting rights, demand this federal legislation, HR 1 and HR 4. So that’s going to be an eight day bus tour, like I said, going from the South bringing to D.C. the reverse of the route that they did back in 1961 with the original Freedom Ride. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Now, can you tell us what HR 1 and HR 4 are? 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Both of them are voting rights bills that are pending in Congress. HR 1, the For the People Act, is the one that deals with a range of voter access issues, from voter registration to early day voting and a whole bunch of other things related to just how we are able to get registered and use the vote, right? So it’s trying to expand voter access. It’s also got some other pieces in there around campaign finance reform and redistricting and some other things, but it’s a broad way of dealing with elections in general. 

HR 4, which is also called the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, right, which was renamed after him after he passed away last year, HR 4 is also critically important because what it does is it seeks to restore some powers to the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was gutted when the Supreme Court had a decision that took away a key part of the Voting Rights Act that basically required preclearance for some of these states. Before they could do any new laws, they had to get a pre-cleared with the Justice Department. But that was taken away back in 2013. 

And so what this act would do, HR 4, John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, would be to restore some of those powers to the Voting Rights Act and some other things. 

So those are two critical pieces, one that helps to expand voter access overall, and the other one which prevents some of these states from doing the very things that they’re trying to do right now in 47 states sweeping this country with these voter suppression bills. Many of those states would have had to get these things pre-cleared before they could be enacted. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Now, I’m assuming you’ve seen or heard the doomsday stories about what’s coming up with the next election. What can we do to get prepared? Or like, what’s next? How do we do this? How do we fight again? We just fought, people we’re going to lose the house in the upcoming or I don’t know. What’s your– You were closer– I do policing. I don’t do voting stuff, so I see the voting stuff on the news, and I’m like, OK. Hope I can talk to somebody smart about this. And you’re the somebody smart. So what comes next? 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: First, we’re still pushing back on some of these state laws. Even in Georgia where the law was already passed, we’re still arguing but there’s never been a law passed that we can’t get unpassed. And so we’re still trying to keep pressure on to get some of these state laws undone. 

Secondly, like I mentioned with the Freedom Rides, we’re trying to push for federal legislation that will try to prevent some of these laws from actually taking effect prior to the midterm elections next year, right? So if we can get this federal legislation passed, then some of these laws we might be able to challenge. The ones that haven’t already been passed, we can block. Some of the ones that have passed, we might have grounds on which, again, to get them struck down as being unconstitutional. 

So there’s that route. But then there’s also the route of, OK, if none of that works, then what do we have to do? And the answer is, we have to do the same thing that we did in Georgia, again, after 2018, which is go back and work harder and just outwork them and organize and reach more of our folks and educate more of our folks to make the connection for more of our folks about why, not just getting registered, but actually turning out is important. 

And part of what’s going to help us do that is this issue of accountability. What happens after the election? Because we’re not just about rounding up the Negroes for the election, and then after the elections are over, we all good. No, we got to hold folks accountable. We got to make sure that folks are delivering. So when we said to people in Georgia, Look, if you come out, if you risk your lives in the midst of COVID, if we get these two Senate seats, then we’ll be able to get some stimulus money out there. And then it happened and people actually got those checks, right? Whether it was 1,400 plus 600, or 2,000, or whatever, right? There’s a discussion there. But at the end of the day, folks got some checks that they would not have gotten if we didn’t win those two seats. 

That’s what we promised them, and that’s what happened, right? We also talked about if we get these seats, we’re going to get some voting rights done. And so we’ve got to make that happen. But if we can show people, at each level, presidential, congressional, local, mayor, city council, if we can hold people accountable and get them to deliver on some of the stuff on which some of these campaigns are run and on which we are organizing the community, then that increases the incentive for folks to turn out because then they can see, Look, it’s not just a matter of, Oh, they just wanted to come out and then they don’t do nothing, but they were actually getting some concrete results. 

We don’t ever tell folks that they’re crazy when they say, Oh, I’m not into voting because I don’t see the results. You know, the first thing I say is, you know what? I feel you. I hear you. I see it. Sure, right? But let’s have a discussion about what it is that we’re trying to get done. What’s your objectives for yourself and your family and your community? And then we can have that dialogue from there. 

But at the end of the day, the answer to your question, what do we do now? Is by doing those other steps that I mentioned, trying to fight these bills, trying to overturn these bills, and at the end of the day, doing the work to get more people involved. If they want to tell us that we can’t give out food and water on the lines at the polling places in Georgia, then we going to figure out another way to motivate our folks and help them to stay online and help them to have the food and water. Maybe we’re going to do it where before they even get to the line, we’re giving them some bags of food and water, right? 

But at the end of the day, we are going to outwork them and we’re going to not allow them to take us back to Jim Crow 2.0. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Well, we appreciate you coming on the Pod. We consider you a friend of the Pod and can’t wait to have you back. 

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Thank you. Looking forward to hearing it and hope to have you on mine one day soon. 

DERAY MCKESSON: Let’s do it! 

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Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it, wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else, and we’ll see you next week. 

Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lands. Our Executive producers Jessica Cordova Cramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors, Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Sam Sinyangwe. 

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Transcript coming soon.

Pod Save The People