In This Episode
DeRay, Kaya, De’Ara, and guest Myles E. Johnson cover the underreported news of the week. Then, DeRay interviews Michael Tubbs, author of “The Deeper the Roots.”
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay. Welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, Kaya, De’Ara and Myles talking about the news that you don’t know from the week before. And then I sat down with the one and only former Mayor Michael Tubbs, to discuss his new memoir, The Deeper the Roots.” And the [ ] this week is about grace, is that people are going through a lot. I feel like I’ve been there a lot, most of the people I’ve been around, this is just been a hard 18, 19 months. And the reality is a lot of people around us disappoint us or don’t meet expectations, and sometimes we disappoint ourselves and we don’t meet our own expectations. So give yourself grace. Give the people around you grace. And that doesn’t mean sort of excusing things that hurt you or harm you, but it does mean sort of thinking more deeply about the total context and knowing that we can be kinder sometimes than we are. Here we go.
De’Ara Balenger: My news this week is from the L.A. Times, and it kind of was serendipitous how this news came to me. I was on the phone this week with some of my Maestra team members and Naima Keith. Naima is VP of education and programing at LACMA, among other things. She’s a brilliant curator and has been in the art space jamming for a very long time, so we were very honored to have the opportunity to speak with her. But what she brought to our attention, among many other things, brilliant things, is Destination Crenshaw, which we actually had not heard of. And so, as the L.A. Times article points out, you know, Destination Crenshaw is a little over a mile of Crenshaw Boulevard, which is essentially going to be transformed into a arts corridor. And so it’s super exciting, and I really wanted to dig in more about how this all came to be, which the article doesn’t necessarily highlight. But I encourage you ought to go to DestinationCrenshaw.la to learn more information because I just think this is such an incredible project that really came out of kind of a crisis in Crenshaw and then Black folks getting together to organize and then having an answer that is just going to be so compelling and I think impact so many people of all ages—all hues, actually, not just Black folks—for such a long time to come. But for y’all that don’t know, Crenshaw Boulevard is really the spine of the Los Angeles Black community and some of this I’m reading from DestinationCrenshaw.la so I want to give them their glory on this. So Crenshaw has always been a place of dynamic expression, Black culture, Black economic development, Black economic legacy, and ultimately the corridor Destination Crenshaw came to be because at one point, the city was planning to put a train on Crenshaw Boulevard. And so it was planned for, you know, this train to go through Crenshaw really, to LAX, to the airport in Los Angeles, really slicing through the heart of, you know, this Black main thoroughfare. And we’ve seen this done time and time again through eminent domain in so many cities, and this has been happening over decades. And what would of happened is that if this train was put there on Crenshaw, it would have uprooted 300 business parking spaces, 400 trees, obviously impacting business, impacting culture in that thoroughfare. You know, and there’s also an argument, too, about cultural erasure that would have happened too with this, with this train going through Crenshaw. But as the website points out for Destination Crenshaw, Black Los Angeles had a plan, and really a creative, collaborative and community-led response to this injustice really brought this whole idea around Destination Crenshaw. So it’s exciting to see that, you know, all these folks came together with the goal of one, continuing to preserve and really breathe the creativity and the resilience and the potential of this community. But also, you know, drive economic and cultural revitalization to the Crenshaw corridor. So it’s just exciting to see how this has all come together. I’m so excited to see, you know, when it comes to be. It’s not planned to debut until fall of 2022. Some of the artists that are participating are just, you know, top artists, top Black artists, folks like Kehinde Wiley, and there are going to be these huge sculptures. And all of the art pieces really having meaning in contextualization in terms of Black identity, Black power, the legacy of Black folks in this country. So all that to say, check out the L.A. Times article. There are more details there, obviously. But also, you know, go directly to the source DestinationCrenshaw.la. Shout out to Naima Keith again for putting us on, and we’re so super excited to continue to follow this program and to be there at its debut.
DeRay Mckesson: My news of this week is about a new study that came out. It was profiled in Axios, and the study shows that Black offenders are more likely to get federal life sentences. Just as you might remember that the federal government incarcerates the least amount of people in the system, a ton of people still, but they’re about 2.3 million people incarcerated on a given day. Federal system is responsible for about 250,000 or so of those people. And what’s wild about this is that the study shows that two out of three people serving life terms are defendants of color. And when you disaggregate that by race, what you find is that more than 4,800 of all offenders were eligible for life imprisonment, and almost 1,200 received life sentences. Black offenders accounted for fewer than a third of all cases but constituted nearly half of those eligible for life sentences. That’s wild. And white offenders accounted for more than a third of all cases but constituted less than a quarter of those eligible. Now we zoom out. These are things that people have believed for a long time. These are things that people sort of knew the inequities are baked into the system. But this study confirms so much of what people understood before, that regardless of the offense or regardless of a host of other factors, that the overrepresentation in the system is high, but that overrepresentation in the severity of the punishment is high no matter how we track it. And the takeaway that I have for this and why I wanted to bring it, is it’s a reminder that when we think about just the impact of incarceration on communities, families—you know, I was talking to somebody recently about their work on wealth and I’m like you, it is impossible to do wealth work that is not also incarceration work. Like it is, what we have done to Black and brown people is just so wild and at scale that I don’t know how the other work happens without undoing it. And this was just another example for me that when you look at it, it’s like Black people underrepresented in the amount of cases, but overrepresented in the punishment is just like par for the course for both how people think about this system and almost all of the inequities in other systems. So I wanted to bring it here, wanted people to think about it. The study was published in Criminology, in the magazine Criminology, and it is called “Life Lessons: Examining Sources of Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Federal Life Sentences Without Parole.” And again, a life sentence without parole means that you will be in jail forever, essentially, because there is no parole and parole would be the way that you got out. In those places, you could technically get your sentence commuted by the governor, but that rarely happens in ways that people benefit from. So wanted to bring that here. Not the most uplifting, but true. Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People is coming.
Myles Johnson: Festac ’77 was one of my discoveries in the news, I found it on afterall dot org. It was, to put it simply, it’s a festival that happened in Lagos in 1977 in Nigeria. It included people like Marion [unclear], Sun Ra, and a host of other acts that went to go perform there. I was really fascinated with this festival, not just because it was just up my alley in things that I’m interested about, but because I didn’t know about it, and it reminded me of the soul documentary that Questlove directed and produced earlier this year. And it really made me think about how many things have happened in America and the world, in the nation, in all around the world, that we do not know about, that really housed and even maybe even foreshadowed where Black culture is going and where it could go. Early in 1977, thousands of artists, writers, musicians, activists and scholars from Africa and the Black Diaspora assembled in Lagos for Festac ’77, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, with a radically ambitious agenda underwritten by Nigeria’s newfound oil wealth, Festac ’77 would unfold as a complex, glorious and excessive culmination of half a century of trans-Atlantic and Pan-Africanist cultural political gatherings. As I looked around for more information on Festac ’77, it was sparse, to say the least, and there wasn’t as much footage as I would want. There was not much even like conversation around it as I would want. And again, it kind of connects to No Name the library and research and preservation and in the necessity of it. We really need to make it a point to preserve what has happened in the past, specifically that things have happened in the past, that are positive, the things that have happened in the past that make us smile or that inform us or that inspire us because we are a people that builds on yesterday to totally make our tomorrows the almost, the best tomorrows that we can create. So we don’t just create things out of nowhere, even if they are an innovative and new, we create things through research and in an appreciation from the past. And I think Black people, specifically American Black people, but I think Black people, just globally, we are great at remembering and it is a part of our just cultural DNA to preserve what’s happening to us today. And I think that specifically because of the access we have, we have a great need and privilege to be able to at least attempt the preservation of what has happened in the past because we have more access to media tools, technology. And more time. A lot a lot of us—now of course, this is not everybody—but a lot of us are granted with more time to be able to sit and preserve these things. And I’m hoping that the bug of curiosity is setting in on different people around things like Festac ’77 in Nigeria and other festivals that maybe I do not know the name of. And that is my news.
Kaya Henderson: My news this week comes from Queen Anne’s county, Maryland, which is a small county on the eastern shore of Maryland, and it comes to us from the front lines of school leadership. As many of you know, I’m a former school superintendent. I ran D.C. public schools for six years, and the superintendency is a job that I think lots of people know intellectually that it is a very difficult job, but I don’t think that people have a real insight into how difficult the job is. And I wanted to lift this story up because it’s about a woman named Dr. Andrea Kane, and Dr. Kane is the first African-American superintendent of Queen Anne’s county schools. It’s a high performing district and it’s a dream, it was a dream come true for her to become a superintendent. And this woman who had, you know, more than 20 years of education experience took on—took on might even be to affirmative a word—but she wrote a letter to her community in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, inviting people to conversation, calling out anti-Black racism, and inviting people to conversation about how they are going to deal with this in their school system. And she says she wrote, Black Lives Matter, and then everything just imploded. It turns out that her writing this letter created a year-long firestorm of negative engagement with a certain segment of community members in her area, and ultimately resulted in her resigning from the superintendency. And I bring this to the pad, I bring this article to the pod because I think that is really important for people to understand number one, that leaders, school leaders, any kind of leaders, are people and our deeply feeling the events that are happening. I also think it’s important because as a school leader, we have to help our young people understand and make sense of what’s going on around them. And that’s the thing that Dr. Kane tried to do, she tried to, like many educators across the country, use the George Floyd moment to recommit the district to goals around racial justice, and to help students make sense of what they were seeing on the news and in the world. And so in service of that goal, Dr. Kane helped to support young people who wanted to protest and have conversation and discussion. She supported a group of folks who were coming together in a Sunday dinner environment to talk about systemic racism in their district. She actually had evidence there had been reports done about disproportionate youth representation in Queenstown’s County. Black students make up only 6% of the student body, but they are overrepresented in arrests and sanctions in the districts, in suspensions in the district, in dropout rates and in educational attainment. In fact, she called Black students in Queens County: underserved and over disciplined. And in response to this, a group of parents who call themselves the Kent Island Patriots decided to take Dr. Kane on. They called for her resignation. They protested. They did all of these things. They showed up at school board meetings and made school board meetings untenable. In fact, they ran a slate of candidates to defeat existing school board members so that they could have a majority share of the school board votes. And they were successful in that. In fact, once they attained the majority on the school board, they began to turn back some of the policies that were put in place to support diversity, equity and inclusion. And this group, the Kent Island Patriots, actually is indicative of a movement across America. There’s another article in The Washington Post this week about Moms for Liberty. And it is, they’ve turned, the title of the article is Moms for Liberty Has Turned Parental Rights Into a Rallying Cry for Conservative Parents. Yes, all over the country, we are seeing conservative parents like the Kent Island Patriots or Moms for Liberty who are standing up, according to them, against the government to determine what is taught in schools, to determine who gets to teach and lead. And their mantra is: we don’t co-parent with the government. And this is it. In some cases, it looks like these are small and isolated incidents across the United States. But in fact, the Washington Post article goes on to point out that these kinds of conservative parent groups have been the most disruptive to the educational environment that many folks have seen in decades. And in fact, this is actually a precursor to what we should expect to see in the midterm elections and beyond. In fact, that this is a grassroots organizing campaign for the Republican Party, similar to the Moral Majority of the 80s or the Tea Party in the 2010 elections. And especially in Florida, where Imams for Liberty started, they are seeing huge increases in Republican voter registration. In fact, they’ve been trying, they’ve, it’s a way to now engage 20 and 30-year old females in the Republican Party in ways that they’ve never been before. Come with me back to Queen Anne’s county, where Dr. Kane, the superintendent, is not only the superintendent trying to lead in a time where this conversation about race is incredibly fraught and fractious, but in fact, she’s trying to support her students in their conversations. There are teachers who came to Queen Anne’s, which again is a high performing district, in part because of her leadership and because of her willingness to take on issues of equity. And you know, there were groups of people who rallied to support Dr. Kane, and Dr. Kane is an African-American woman, a mother of two sons and so our leadership is not just professional, our leadership is often personal. And so could you imagine being an African-American woman leading in this particular time and being attacked for your beliefs about, or for your advocacy to ensure that every student in your, in your school district is represented, to ensure that we learn to treat one another with empathy and compassion, to ensure that every student is treated fairly across your district. And ultimately that ends up wearing on you as a person. And so, you know, ultimately, as these the Kent Island Patriot parents continued to gain more and more ground, Dr. Kane ended up resigning. She watched them reinstate people who had made racist comments and had been fired. She watched them abandon critical initiatives that were put in place to support diversity, equity, and inclusion across the district. And ultimately, she actually said they made her feel subhuman. They hung me out and stripped me bare. And so I bring this to the pod because it is a tragedy of leadership for me. Only 2% of the nation’s superintendents are Black, and many people are quitting in response to these kinds of backlashes to DEI efforts. And I would contend that we need good leadership and we need representative leadership, and we need to make sure that things like what happened to Dr. Kane don’t happen to any other superintendent. Again, we have, as a community, the ability to determine who leads and how they lead and how we support them. And we need to be vigilant in this particular time as we protect school leaders in the job that they are doing.
DeRay Mckesson: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come.
DeRay Mckesson: And now my conversation with former mayor Michael Tubbs. He’s one of the youngest mayors in U.S. history, and also is the author of The Deeper the Roots. Today we talk about blackness, about burnout and where to find hope. Here we go.
DeRay Mckesson: My man Tubbs, thanks so much for joining us now on Pod Save the People.
Michael Tubbs: Thank you so much for having me. Always good to be in conversation with you, brother.
DeRay Mckesson: Now what is your, what is your world like? We first met what feels like forever ago. We’re both young and it still feels like we lived a couple of lifetimes when you were the mayor of Stockton. What is, what’s going on in your world today?
Michael Tubbs: I have two children now. I have a two year old and I have a child who was born August 30th. So my wife and I are parents of two children under, two and under, which is a lot of fun. We’ve relocated to Los Angeles. In addition to the book of a special adviser to Governor Newsom on economic mobility and opportunity. As part of that work, next year, we’re launching an initiative called Ending Poverty in California, which we really focus on how we make the Golden State actually golden for everyone, which I’m excited about. I’ve been doing some narrative stuff like getting more into storytelling. And enjoying the beach, and kind of enjoying time with my family.
DeRay Mckesson: Is this your first time living in L.A. and how is that different than living in Stockton? Or like what is it like to live in, live in a different place than you lived for such a long time?
Michael Tubbs: Yeah, I only have ever lived in Stockton. I started with four years in college. So moving to a different city was difficult, but in many ways I think it was necessary because it’s giving me the time and space actually, to reflect on my time in Stockton, on Stockton as a place and think about all the lessons, the wins, the losses that come from there. And L.A. is just amazing. We live in South L.A., which has more Black people than anywhere else west of the Mississippi. I love all of our elected officials. I love the art, the culture. I think from a nice place to raise our kids. It almost feels like a renaissance of sorts. It’s happening in L.A., and particularly in South L.A., so it’s been really good to be here. And my best friend lives ten minutes away, my wife’s maid of honor, her best friend lives ten minutes away. So it’s really good to be in a place where we have sort of friends that are our age. Because in Stockton many of my friends were older, which was fine. But I mean, most 26, 27-year olds aren’t kicking with 50-year olds all day. So it’s good to be in a place where there’s folks around our age who are also having kids who are also upwardly mobile, etc, to be our friends, as one of those who are a little bit older, more seasoned.
DeRay Mckesson: I love it. Now, you have a book that is coming out, The Deeper the Roots: A Memoir of Hope, and happy to talk about the book. Is the book, I have the book, like, I have a copy so I could talk to you today. But it’s not out yet, is it?
Michael Tubbs: No, it comes out November 16th. So you can preorder from independent bookstores, from anywhere books are sold, but the book and the audio book comes out on November 16th.
DeRay Mckesson: Got it. That’s what I thought. I was like, I have it though. Now, you know, let’s jump into it. The book starts with an introduction to your mom in a lot of ways, like she’s such a big part of the first chapter and our introduction to you. I’d love to know like, why is that so? How would you describe your mother’s role in your life? And then you, she is named “she-daddy” in the in the book? And can you just give us a glimpse into why?
Michael Tubbs: Yeah, my mom is the most, one of the most interesting people, I think because she, I find her to be so influential but she’s so quiet. She doesn’t take up a lot of space. She doesn’t, which is funny being my mom, she doesn’t like to talk. She didn’t like interviews. She actually like attention. And she thinks that everything, she’s like, well, what’s the big deal? Like this is what’s I’m supposed to do as a mother, etc.? I thought it was important to talk about her from the beginning because so much of what she, so much has been taught and socialized was this idea that her story, her struggles, her strength and her weakness weren’t worthy to be shared. That those things should not be talked about. That, who she was, her dreams or aspirations, her experiences didn’t matter. They were just life. So it’s important for me to start with her, I just remember growing up, her adage was like, don’t tell anyone our business. And I don’t think it was just about being embarrassed. I think it was about sort of too much information can be weaponized against you, or that no one actually really cares about what you, about who you are, they care about what you do. And I think it was important to start with her for her to show her like, no mom, our stories are valuable. That we’re worth being talked about, that we’re worth being discussed, that we’re both, we’re worth being emulated in some ways.
DeRay Mckesson: And what about Auntie Tasha?
Michael Tubbs: Yeah. So I was really blessed in that in addition to my mom who had me very young. She was in high school when I was born, my aunt and my grandmother, my nana, they were all sort of like a triple wall of mothers. So my aunt is super important in my life, and in the book, because she was brought up, my mom’s very hard. Like she’s not a very soft or sentimental person, even though she’s very sensitive, but she’s very like hard, tough. She’s a single mom raising two Black boys, and really embraced this notion of being very hard and almost callous in a way and not really soft. But my aunt is the opposite. She’s a big teddy bear. She’s super emotional. She’s a cry baby. She’s super, like loving, and she loves people, and she’s very social and she’s very talkative. And she was also equally had a role in raising me, and she was just incredibly important as a help to my mom, but also just her real emphasis on education, educational opportunities, always buy me, like charging a bunch of books on her credit cards so I would have things to read. And she was always sort of a constant in my life, as well as one of my grandmother who was the real spiritual grounding and the real kind of spiritual stalwart and was really the matriarch of our family and made sure we were in church, made sure we were taken care of, make sure that we learned what it meant to serve and to be a part of community. And I think all three of them were necessary for me to become the person I’m becoming, and I wanted this book to also be an ode to them, and Black women and Black mothers like them who are saving democracy, raising kids and doing all the things.
DeRay Mckesson: And you know, you talk about your father’s proximity and sort of inclusion in the criminal justice system in a host of ways in the book and his time being incarcerated. How is that, how did that influence your work as mayor? How has that shaped the way that you think about the system and your relationship with the family?
Michael Tubbs: Yeah. I, actually the older I get, the more I am reflective and the more I’m appreciative of what I’ve learned from having a father who’s been incarcerated most 90+% of my life. And I think one of the things I’ve learned is it’s a journey. Because I think growing up part of it was a motivation to be the best, part of it was this idea of pulling myself from my bootstraps and proving everyone wrong, and sort of being afraid to make any mistake, being afraid to not be perfect, being afraid to be human and fallible. But then, as I got older, I realized that it wasn’t necessarily just his actions, but sort of the actions of policymakers. He’s incarcerated under the three strikes law. And his last strike wasn’t that he murdered somebody, it wasn’t that he had even harmed a woman or a child. He robbed somebody that he robbed a rival drug dealer to pay for my sister’s funeral. Right? Right. And I think that context, I didn’t have growing up. When I learned that, I remember being like, oh my gosh, I had written this person off as this monster when he’s this guy who made a terrible decision but isn’t a monster or a serial killer or anything like that? But I think in terms of my approach, it really illustrates the power of redemption, the power of second chances. And so much of my work as mayor was focused on sort of preventing violence, but also providing on0ramps for folks who may have caused harm who are now out, to be part of the solution. I’ve spent so much time as mayor in San Quentin and other prisons, Folsom and others, talking to incarcerated folks, and talking about how much we needed them to be part of the community when they come back. I think a part of that work was rooted in sort of just in a way my father. And I also would say that a lot of the work we do in prevention in terms of education, in terms of the Universal Scholarship program was also rooted in this notion that I wanted to prevent kids from feeling like they have to sort of go on past [unclear] out of this. And lastly, I would say, I think to the chagrin of other people, I knew people would try to use my story or try to use it to demonize people and would love for me to be the face of sort of tough on crime, the face of cruelty, the face of lock ’em up, lock ’em up. And I just refused to do that. I was very, very cognizant of using the fact that my father was incarcerated to have a different conversation, a conversation of redemption, a conversation of how incarceration destroys families and communities, a conversation about all that’s wasted in prison, and a conversation about how those who are in prison, those are returning from prison have an outside influence on the [unclear], and we should probably more intentional about how we invest and engage in them.
DeRay Mckesson: That makes sense to me. I’ll come, I’ll come back to your family in a moment. I was also really struck by the role that school played in the way you thought about possibility, and you write about Langston Hughes Academy being so transformative. Can you talk about the role that school and teachers or just the education setting played in shaping your life?
Michael Tubbs: I know you appreciate this as an educator, but growing up, I love school, but I hated teachers. It’s like I loved school. I love the social part. I love the [unclear] groups. I love the hallways. I love the drama. I loved going to school. I hated teachers. I hated being in class. I think I have the language for it now but after getting my master’s in education policy and serving as an education for three years myself, I realized that part of what I hated was racism and microaggressions. I hated sort of my identity being weaponized or used as a reason for teachers to be suspicious on whether I did the work myself or not, or for being kicked out for asking questions, or refusing or fighting back the tropes around how folks who weren’t in advanced classes were going to be in prison, were going to be pumping our gas some day, as teachers would tell them, or that being Black meant you weren’t in calculus but that to be a Black person in calculus you have to be actually not Black, or you’re—that stuff bother me. So I was kicked out all the time. But then before college, I spent a summer as a student aid, but end up actually being—I was not supposed to be—but end up being an eight grade teacher for the summer and I realized that wow, that a caring adult, an adult who cares, an adult who has love and empathy and believes in the dignity of all students could have an impact, that I saw sort of in my students, my family, myself, some of my friends who didn’t make it to college, etc., and that’s why I became convinced that sort of changing the cast of characters in a school system, in a school district, in the classroom, really matters. And that’s when I thought at the time I would be like a superintendent one day. And I think even now the stories of my students are what inspired me, and I realized again that talent and intellect are universal, but resources and opportunities are not.
DeRay Mckesson: And you became an activist in college, right? Did I get that right? Like is that were your first sort of—
Michael Tubbs: No, in high school, I did some stuff, when I was NAACP so I remember my first big campaign was the Tookie Williams death penalty campaign in high school. I did like some student government stuff, but then in college, that’s where I really became sort of, to your point, a bit more activism in terms of not being part of a formal institution, not being part of institutions trying to make change. So my first week in college, our first month I led a protest at City Hall against racial profiling in Palo Alto. And this was 2008, I think you’ll appreciate just given your word. But we were having conversations then that sadly were still conversations that were happening ten years later, like around stops and traffic stops being disproportionally Black folks, in terms of—I remember they said they’re training the diversity, the training program of the police departments about eight was going to the Holocaust Museum. And that was like the extent—and watching the movie Crash. I remember being a freshman and saying, surely this is not the extent of your, this is not the extent of your, your police officer training. And even then, I realized that there was this, it mattered who was in the room, who was asking the questions, who was pushing and who was being provocative. And that was my first time, although I knew that would be a prelude to sort of the roll I would play, not as an activist but as someone, as leader in the political system. So it was those early experiences. I remember organizing Occupy Stanford protest, which was something I speak to a lot in the book. From leading the Occupy Stanford protest. During my Rhodes Scholarship weekend, I was leading a protest with Berkeley students before the big game protesting police brutality. So it was really, looking back it was really interesting to see how some of those experiences were really kind of crumbs or clues as to where I would spend most of my 20s doing, albeit from a different vantage point. My last story I’ll tell you, I remember 2014 being [unclear] city council and being on the U.S. 101 blocking traffic to protest the murder of Michael Brown. I remember been incredibly nervous, because I was on city council, I was in Palo Alto because I was working at Stanford as a fellow at the time, and they were being super nervous and almost not doing it because I was like what if I get arrested, right? What does that look like for the councilman in Stockton to be breaking a law blocking traffic in Palo Alto? So, I think that the activism experiences and sort of that leadership training was super formative and very instructive.
DeRay Mckesson: You know, I feel like the last time we talked, we talked about your time as mayor, in 2020 and not winning reelection, one of the things that you write in the book is “I was often too busy with reality to worry about politics.” How do you reflect on that period of your life—which you’re so young that I can only imagine that you’ll be elected to something else if you want to in the future—but what does that sentence mean, and how do you reflect on both that time, but also such an incredible run that you did have as mayor of Stockton?
Michael Tubbs: Yeah, politics is like a really weird, it’s almost like entertainment. It’s almost like very performative. And I really struggled with that part because all this work was personal to me so I don’t want to do anything I didn’t think it was going to have an impact and I just spent all my time and all my energy focused on the hard things moving, pushing. And I just didn’t care about how it would to be perceived or, which is stupid because you have to care at some point to get votes. But wasn’t my focus, and particularly in 2020, I mean, you had the protest against the murder of George Floyd, you had kind of COVID-19, and you have other stuff that comes with running a city. So I just really didn’t pay too much attention to sort of those things. I was really focused on setting up testing sites. I was really focused on getting a mask mandate. I was really focused on making sure my folks have food and setting up food distribution systems, and making sure non-profits could stay open, and that small businesses had support. I was naïve enough to think that just work would be enough, that we would do such a good job that even folks didn’t like me or like my politics, they can’t argue with the end result. And that’s what I think is needed, even more so now with our politics, we just need leaders who do what they have with the time they’re given, and if their given more time, fine. But then that’s four years—however long you have—actually govern, actually do. Because I think, to be reelected it was very clear what I needed to do. I need to do nothing. I needed to just show up at ribbon cuttings. I needed to demonize poor people. I needed to talk tough to young Black kids and tell them to pull up their pants and tell them we’re going to lock you up. And I just refused to play that game, and I thought through the work of governing, the reality of the problems we were facing would be enough to overcome that. But unfortunately, in that instance, it wasn’t.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, given that [unclear] that you lived through, what does that say for like the future politics? Like how does that, what do you think that means? Do you think that it all right-size itself to politics not being as performative? And I do think that Trump did so much to damage any sense of integrity that people saw in the political space. But do you think it’ll right-size itself? How do we get there? What does that look like?
Michael Tubbs: I think the work that you and others like you are doing are so important. I mentioned earlier in terms of what I’m interested in now, so much of this is a narratives game. And what did it for me was while governing, while kind of doing things—and not perfect, but doing a damn good job— part of it was that there’s another group of people who weren’t governing, who didn’t have to govern, who just created a disinformation site and just spent four years every single day making up lies and putting money behind it and manipulating the Facebook algorithm so it became the news for Stockton. And it was just fires and homelessness and [unclear] investigated. Like there were files, complaints with the Federal Political Practice Commission to say Tubbs is being investigated. When I was never investigated, but they were just filing claims for them to look and see if I should be investigated. Like stuff like that. And I think what [unclear] our politics is that as a body politic, we have to be more, we have to demand more of not just our elected leaders, but our information ecosystem. But we have to support local news. We have to have a politics or a governance that allows for dissent for sure, but also is facts-based. Because what you have, and we’ve seen it in the presidential election, we’ve seen in congressional elections, we’ve see in local elections—unscrupulous actors are just spending $50,000 or $100,000 Facebook and really distorting reality in a way that has impact on electoral outcomes. And until we address that, they’re going to keep getting politicians to spend all their time acting like they’re doing something. Like look at our friend, the senator from Arizona. She got elected playing a role. She got elected acting like she was someone who cared about working people, who was going to fight for folks, who were going to be part of the coalition to deliver the Build Back Better agenda and she’s been, she’s the reason why we can’t have nice things. Her and Joe Manchin at this moment it’s because our—people are so busy, people are so distracted and easy just to manipulate, play a game, vote one way, perform another. And that’s always been part of politics, But now it’s become so central. It’s scary because we’re facing like real existential crises as a democracy, and we need like government, leadership, things to be done. And not like performative stuff. Case in point, I know you’ll appreciate this, [unclear] the Nation on Brink, the Summer of 2020, you had all the Democratic representatives in the House and Senate wearing kente cloth and kneel in honor of the murder of George Floyd. But we have seen no legislation, and their job is to legislate. And I get, [unclear], I get the politics, but, I mean that for me, that’s what’s frustrating, and that’s for me, that’s the type of politics I won’t do. I’m not going to kneel and put on kente cloth unless I know I’m going to get this policy passed because I think it’s disrespectful when we do those things that then don’t deliver.
DeRay Mckesson: I get it. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and it has been wild to watch the past sort of year turn into a place where, you know, now people are nervous to talk about crime because this whole fear around the crime rate rising and you know, we’ll see what happens there. But I want to ask you as we close, I asked this to you before, but what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you?
Michael Tubbs: The piece of advice I’ve gotten and I know it’s right is this idea of take an opportunity to rest and to reflect and to be very judicious about how you spend time. That the busy Olympics is a losing sport, that you really have to be intentional about where your time goes, where your energy goes because you’re just not here to work. You’re here to live and to enjoy and to do things that make you happy and to spend time with the people you love. So I mean, easier said than done. I think I’ve been, particularly after the election, I’ve been doing a better job about being less busy, about being more intentional about where I spend time, and not feeling the need to prove everything all the time, but just to be. And that’s enough.
DeRay Mckesson: Tell people where they can get the book and remind people of the book’s title.
Michael Tubbs: Yeah, the book is called The Deeper the Roots. It’s out November 16th. Please preorder anywhere books are sold, local independent bookstore, [unclear], Black-owned bookstores for sure. You can go to, it’s on Amazon [unclear] go and shop, right, from Audible it’s a audiobook as well. The Deeper The Roots by Michael Tubbs, Nov 16.
DeRay Mckesson: Awesome. Well, you’re the man. We always consider you a friend of the pod and can’t to have you back.
Michael Tubbs: Love you too, man. Thanks so much for having me.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure to read 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 Lancz. Our executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and San Sinyangwe.