In This Episode
DeRay, Sam, Kaya, and De’Ara dive into recent overlooked news including HBCUs joining Esports, streaming DNC, mental health in a pandemic, and Burundi’s reparations. Johnetta Elzie joins again to update us about developments around the current protests. Then, DeRay chats with Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, to discuss the fight over one of 2020’s most important swing states.
DeRay [00:00:01] Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People in this
episode, it's me, Kaya, De'Ara and Sam, as usual, and we talk about the news that you
probably don't know. And then a quick check in with Netta about what's happening with the
protests that continue. And then I sit down with Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party
of Wisconsin and an organizer, to talk about the fight over one of the election's most
important swing states. My advice for this week, it's Tuesday. Go download "The Untold
Story: Policing." It is a podcast that we helped put into the world. It's hosted by none other
than Emmy nominated Jay Ellis from "Insecure." And you will learn so many things about
police unions and the role they play in blocking accountability and blocking the
transformative change our lives demand. Let's do it.
Kaya [00:00:45] Welcome to another episode of Pods Save the People. I'm Kaya
Henderson @HendersonKaya on Twitter.
Sam [00:00:53] And I'm Sam Sinyangway a@sammsway on Twitter.
DeRay [00:00:55] And this is DeRay @deray on Twitter. De'Ara is with us and sending
her is in, but not here on the recording today. But you'll hear her.
Kaya [00:01:05] So let's talk about the situation with the United States Postal Service,
which is the big news all weekend. In fact, I think I just saw that Congress is going to
return early to try to deal with some of these issues, is that right?
Sam [00:01:21] Yeah, I think they actually, the Democrats scheduled hearings on the
same day as the GOP convention, which is fascinating.
DeRay [00:01:27] Oh, they did?.
Sam [00:01:30] I think so. Yeah. I just saw that. If this is wrong, please cut it.
DeRay [00:01:36] That's all we need this week is this, for people to be mad at Sam.
Sam [00:01:41] Yeah. I mean, it's been wild to see the images of them taking the
mailboxes and putting them on a truck and targeting particular areas, black and brown
communities in swing states, in Wisconsin, in Ohio, in Florida, in Michigan. And it's just so
Kaya [00:01:59] It is so blatant.
Sam [00:02:00] It's like intentionally blatant because they really didn't even need to do it.
Like, if their goal was to disrupt everything, they could have been behind the scenes, you
know, disrupting the mail carriers and not sending things. But they're like out in front,
putting all of the mailboxes on a truck in front of everybody recording it and like, driving it
away. So it is blatant. It is intentional.
Sam [00:02:21] It is really aggressive voter suppression, building on top of all of the other
types of voter suppression that the Trump administration and the Republicans in general
have been engaging in. We've got to fight this like there has to be an ability for people in a
pandemic to vote.
Sam [00:02:36] And it can't all be in person voting because we know that the lines are
going to be too long and the polling places have already been closed in too many places.
Sam [00:02:44] And so, people need pathways to vote and voting by mail is one of those
Sam [00:02:49] And so, have to preserve that, have to fight against this administration and
have to be able to preserve some semblance of democracy so that we can continue to
build on that with the new administration starting in January.
Kaya [00:03:01] It's also a little ironic that this president and his wife requested mail in
ballots from Florida because I guess they won't be in Florida on the actual Election Day.
It's going to be November and a lot of places, it's going to be cold. We saw was it
Wisconsin earlier this year where people stood on lines where people actually contracted
Covid while standing in line. It was rainy. It was terrible. And I think we're going to see
similar kinds of things this Election Day, although I did see something running around
social media which effectively said you can get a mail in ballot and take it to your polling
place. I think it's going to be really important to spread the word about how we make this
process as functional as possible, even if everybody can't mail in because of these
shenanigans that these people are doing.
Sam [00:03:52] I mean, I've heard a lot of people say things along the lines of it won't
matter as long as you send in your ballot ahead of time, it'll be fine. And it's you know, I
think people don't really fully grasp the implications of this. I mean, there were thousands
and thousands of ballots that were delivered right up to the deadline of the election. And
had they been delayed a day or two days, wouldn't have been counted. I know personally
many folks who are friends and family members in Florida who in the 2018 election
requested mail in ballots and didn't receive them before the election. And I don't know
what was going on with all of that, but because it was so slow to be delivered, they actually
didn't get their ballots in time to be able to deliver them in person or by mail.
Sam [00:04:39] So there are so many aspects of this that will just take us not only
requesting early, but if we don't get the ballot, we have to show up like nothing should be
able to stop us from exercising our right to vote.
DeRay [00:04:51] You know, the thing that I think is really important to remember is that
the Postal Service process is around 2.5 billion pieces of mail that week before Christmas.
That is more than all the voters, right? So, like the Postal Service has the capacity to do
this. This is not a capacity issue. Remember that the Postal Service is not run with any of
your taxpayer dollars. It runs on its own money. That the only reason why there's any issue
with the money over at the Postal Service is because the Republicans screwed up the
money that they made it fund itself into the future in ways that make no logical sense, but
besides, to break it, it is good that people are telling this story and those images are
coming out of them, literally just pulling up mailboxes. And like Sam said, when you
overlay it on the communities, you're like, wow, this is really blatant voter suppression.
DeRay [00:05:40] And, you know, I am nervous. I want everybody to vote early. Vote
early. If you can vote early, vote, now. The moment that voting early comes, I'm going to
DeRay [00:05:48] In my polling place at the moment that I can say that, like, I'm not
beholden to any of this stuff, I might even go vote in person at a random time in the day
where I know it's not gonna be a lot of people there just so it can be as safe as possible
because he is going to pull out every single stop.
DeRay [00:06:04] And here's the thing is, I think it's going to get worse as we get closer to
Election Day. And like you think about if he's able to do this this far out. Ten days, five
days to Election Day, you know, who knows what he'll be willing to do then?
Kaya [00:06:16] And now it's time for the news. My news is about a new sports league that
will debut next week. It's an eSports league, eSports being electronic sports. And it's the
HBCU eSports League. For many people who don't know anything about the sports
industry, it's a 1.5 Billion dollar industry of people playing a variety of sports online. And in
fact, there are lots of schools that are currently engaged in eSports leagues, about 2,000
colleges and universities with over 100,000 players. But the HBCU's have been late to
eSports games. In fact, there's millions of dollars in awards and scholarships and billions in
revenue. And the HBCU's are just now getting into it through a partnership with the
Collegiate Star League, which actually has the ability to be a game changer for a lot of
young people of color. One of the things that's really interesting about eSports is African-
American representation on major eSports teams and in high profile events is abysmal,
according to this article in "The Undefeated." And when I looked into why that is, why so
few African-Americans are represented in EA Sports. It was an interesting issue that is
around kind of racial opportunity gaps, just like we see in schools. So white and Asian kids
usually play games on their personal computers. African-American and Latino kids usually
play console games. Right? Games like, oh, I don't even know what you call these things.
DeRay [00:07:59] What do you call these things?
Kaya [00:08:01] What do people have you know, clearly I don't have one. What do you
play Madden on, what's the thing, uh?
DeRay [00:08:06] Like, a PlayStation?
Kaya [00:08:07] Like a…
Sam [00:08:07] PlayStation?
Kaya [00:08:08] PlayStation. Yeah, exactly. Sorry, I'm an old lady. So black and Latino
kids play on console games.
Kaya [00:08:16] White and Asian kids mostly play on P.C. games and P.C games are the
entree into eSSports. Most of the eSports games are on P.C's. And so you see a
tremendous racial gap in terms of representation. But that's all going to change through
this partnership, which could help the HPCU's catch up. This league that they are creating
is not just about competition, which is why it was really interesting to me. But they are
building a broader ecosystem beyond just the sports competitions and entering into
authentic and long lasting partnerships with a lot of the businesses that support eSports.
So in addition to having students compete, they are developing eSports curriculum and
career certifications. They'll do research and development with an HBCU league. They're
building a pipeline of future professionals into sports and the business because they are
steering students into internships and to jobs in sports companies. So this is really about
creating people all up and down the eSports ecosystem. At Hampton, which is one of the
schools that is will be in the HBCU league, they have a certificate program that doesn't
require a college degree or it doesn't even require college enrollment. And so I think as we
look at the changing face of higher education broadly post pandemic or during the
pandemic, and you see innovations like the ability to get a certificate without being enrolled
in a college or without having to get a degree that could open you up to new economic
opportunities. I think we'll see interesting things that have the potential to happen for these
young African-Americans who are joining this new HBCU eSports league.
Sam [00:10:01] So this is really fascinating. I knew nothing about eSports leagues in
general or some of the racial dynamics underlying who's able to participate in eSports, like
the differences between videogame consoles and P.C's and how that opens up access for
white and Asian folks, but not black and Latino folks is like something I didn't even
consider. I'm sort of fascinated in the ways in which this eSports League might create
pathways for folks to participate in the economy more broadly to begin earning revenue. I
know like college sports in general, there are huge issues with players not getting
compensated. So just wondering to what extent many of those issues will sort of track over
into eSports or whether there's sort of a different structure that will be put in place for
DeRay [00:10:50] Okay. So just like Sam, I had no clue about this. I didn't know there's a
National Association of Collegiate eSports that's the governing body for varsity eSports. I
didn't even know there were a varsity eSports. I didn't know that was a thing. I definitely
didn't know this was a billion dollar industry. And I hadn't even thought about you know, I
was reading about the physical toll that this takes on people that what it means, especially
young people are sitting in front of a computer or a console for eight to 12 hours a day in
some of the computer related or console related injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome,
repetitive strain injury and back pain. And there are even competitors who is lungs
collapsed because they were holding their breath so much during intense moments. I
hadn't even thought about what it means when you professionalize this body of play. So
that was really interesting to me. And I'm happy that the HBCU's are being included
because, you know, this might be one of the only sports that returns for colleges in the fall.
Right? This might be one the only things that is organized by universities, that is sort of
university affiliated because who knows when like football and basketball and baseball,
and it's hard to have a bubble like the NBA was able to do and shout out to the NBA for
having a bubble that is so successful, it'll be interesting to see what happens with the NBA
because I've seen so many people talk about, I know this has nothing to do with eSports,
but I am interested in, you know, home court advantage and all those things are just null
and void all of a sudden when you're in the bubble because it's nobody's home. Right?
And it's been interesting to see the dynamics play out and like how that might change the
NBA in the long term, given what we've seen so far. But shout out to this eSports league. I
will pay attention. I'm sure you can, like, tune in. I need to figure out how you watch as a
viewer, but I'm sure there's a way to do that.
Sam [00:12:37] So my news is about Burundi, the East African nation that has just called
on Belgium and Germany to pay reparations for the legacy of colonialism. So this is huge.
They're calling on those two nations, Belgium and Germany, to pay 43 billion dollars in
reparations for a whole host of atrocities and harms and colonial aggression that
happened against Burundi historically from 1899, all the way through the 1960s, 1962,
when Burundi became independent. And this is fascinating because, you know, we often
talk about the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States. But I think it's important
to note that, you know, during that time in Africa, you had essentially the entire continent
that was under colonial rule. And it wasn't really until the 1960s, around the same time that
in the U.S. we had the civil rights movement. You had the repeal of Jim Crow by and large,
although in some places they continue to have laws like that needed to get repealed, like
Amendment four that are a legacy of that. But at the same time, in Africa in the 1960s, you
had independence movements that were very much about overthrowing this colonial
structure. And so this is a call by Burundi for reparations for that history. It's also a call to
repatriate a lot of the artifacts and cultural relics that were stolen from Burundi by Germany
and Belgium. And this is really, really interesting because it's the second African nation
recently that has called for this. Congo has also called for reparations from Belgium for the
legacy of colonialism there. But, you know, I wanted to bring this to the conversation. I'm
always interested in the sort of international intersections of how white supremacy has
shown up in so many different countries across the globe, how it's impacted black people
all across the world, and the ways in which different countries, different populations are in
this moment seeking reparations, seeking redress for that harm that's been caused.
Kaya [00:14:50] Two things were interesting to me about this. The first was that Burundi
has been in the midst of a long time revolution and that the genesis of the revolution is this
decree by Belgian King Albert, the first to classify the population according to three
different ethnic groups. And those three ethnic groups, really two main ones that the the
Hutus and Tutsis have been fighting. That's like this whole thing boils down to how the
white people divided folks up. Right? And we see that. I was in Nigeria earlier this year and
some of the problems between north and south Nigeria are just because where the white
people drew a line. Right? And randomly separated people. And so this idea of naming
people and drawing lines and separating people that you don't know anything about that
leads to generational conflicts that persist over decades and and in some cases hundreds
of years was fascinating to me to think about. The other thing that this article made me
think about was just the idea of how do you calculate what is owed to an entire country
that has been colonized. I mean, we can't we're trying to figure out how you calculate what
is owed to generations of the descendants of formerly enslaved people in the United
States. But there's a whole entire country. Right? As I was reading about this idea of stolen
artifacts. I was thinking about the scene in Black Panther. Right? When they go to the
museum and reclaim I mean, the people dont even know that it's Wakandan and how, like,
what museum are these people's artifacts and how do you reclaim stolen objects? How do
you reclaim your history? How do you come to 43 billion dollars? I think it's interesting and
I would love to know a little bit more about that, but I think this is just the beginning. Lots of
folks are asking for their do.
DeRay [00:16:51] So there's a lot that I had to learn about the range of colonialism, I feel
like in high school, it was just the UK. And then as I got older, I'm like whoo it was a lot
more countries than that. But I didn't know that in twenty nineteen, Belgium apologized for
the kidnaping, segregation and deportation and the forced adoption of thousands of
children born to mixed race couples during their rule of Burundi, Congo and Rwanda. And
that in 2019, that was the first time that Belgium had ever recognized any responsibility for
the harm that they caused in those Central African nations, which they colonized for a
combined eight decades. Now, you know, what was interesting about this to me is, A, I
didn't know anything about this apology, but more importantly, I didn't know anything about
the fact that they were stealing mixed race kids from families to the tune of about twenty
thousand children were taken from their parents, mostly single African mothers, and
placed in orphanages in schools predominantly run by the Catholic Church because they
were afraid that mixed race kids were going to overthrow the government. There's a quote
that I read from Mr. Budagwa, who's a Belgian engineer and an amateur historian who was
born in colonial Congo and whose family experience a separation of mixed race children.
And he was a coauthor of the parliamentary resolution that was unanimously adopted in
2018, urging the government to apologize. And what he said was, and I quote, "Children
born out of parents of mixed color during colonial times are always considered as a threat
to the colonial enterprise, to profits and to the prestige and the domination of the white
race." And it was just fastening it made me think of how many other things did I not know
about. I also didn't know that in 2017, the Catholic Church apologized for its participation in
the kidnaping and segregation of mixed race kids. And in the banning of mixed race
marriages. So in that time, in a letter, the Belgian bishop stated, quote, "Many never knew
their mother or their father. And many mothers never saw their children again. For a long
time. They couldn't fully exercise their civic rights. And a large number later found itself on
the margins of Belgian society and insecurity and hardship. We present our apologies to
those people for the part taken by the Catholic Church in these deeds." And you're like,
that is just not enough.
Kaya [00:19:12] But what's galling about that is that this is like a double offense. On the
one hand, who were, the mothers were African mothers. And so presumably the fathers
were German or or or Belgian. Right? And my guess is they these were not all consensual
relationships. And so you have a power dynamic with these white fathers and then these
African mothers and then, oh, the offsprin, let's just take them? So there is kind of the I
perpetrated this crime against these women. Oh. And I'm going to take their offspring
because they might overthrow us. The whole the psychology of all of this is also pretty. I
don't know. It makes me aggravated.
Sam [00:19:56] So in addition to that, first of all, the 43 billion dollars is a lot of money,
considering that the economy of Burundi is about three billion dollars. So it is you know,
you got to ask for what you're owed, first of all.
Sam [00:20:11] So, like, I'm hoping that Burundi can teach.
Kaya [00:20:12] Know your price.
Sam [00:20:17] A lot of folks across the world to ask for what you deserve and secondly, I
think for me, you know, my my dad grew up in Tanzania under colonial rule in Tanzania.
And I asked him about, like, what this was like in he, you know, there weren't a whole lot of
white people there. So like people, you know, in the U.S., it was it was still in most places
like white majority, except for maybe like South Carolina, Louisiana and a few states in like
Tanzania, Burundi, like all across the continent.
Sam [00:20:43] It was like a handful of white people in an entire continent full of black
people. And the white people hoarded all of the resources. Right? And so it was just like
wild level of inequality.
Sam [00:20:55] And then what they did, which is not unique to the African continent in fact,
they were doing this all across the world and in the United States was divide people based
on ethnicity, based on color, based on race and created, so each of these countries has its
own sort of racial or ethnic hierarchy that is largely a remnant or a legacy of white
supremacy. And it looks different by country. So, you know, in South Africa, they have sort
of a tri racial hierarchy where you have whites at the top and then you have sort of mixed
race people and Indian people who are sort of in the middle and then like black Africans
are at sort of the bottom of their hierarchy. And it's different depending on where you are.
Right? And so I think a lot of times we talk about race. It is through the lens of how it's
been constructed in America. But like white people have been doing this in so many
places across the world in slightly different ways. But ultimately, the outcome has led to
these vast inequities that we see on the African continent within countries within the United
States. And it's good to see people stand up and demand reparations for that harm.
DeRay [00:22:02] It is also wild to think about how, you know, I feel like the overall space
uses the word violent a lot. And it is a meaning as much to people anymore. But just how
intense it is to take any child from their family but twenty thousand children and just be like,
you know what, we're sorry. Like that is like that is offensive to just, and you think about
like the pain to mothers to not only not only am I, like, separated from my child. This isn't
temporary. This is a permanent forced separation.
DeRay [00:22:35] And it's not, the children were put in orphanages like you literally took
children from their families and put them in orphanages so that they would never amass
political power. Because you are afraid of that. Like, how disgusting is that? So, you know,
I'm always shocked. Thank you for bringing this to the pod, Sam, because I literally had
never heard of this. My news is about mental health. So we've all been inside for a long
time at this point. And according to the latest study by the CDC, almost 11 percent of
Americans have reported seriously contemplating suicide in their pandemic time. And that
is about double the percentage of people who were surveyed at this same time. Last year,
suicidal ideation was highest among 18 to 24 year olds it's about 25 percent. And among
unpaid caregivers for adults, it's about 30 percent. And in total, 40 percent of Americans
reported some mental health issue or substance abuse related to the pandemic. And I just
want to bring this here, because, you know, we've all been inside for a long time. And if
anything, this has been a reminder of how important community is, how important it is to
like be around people. You know, Zoom is not a great substitute, but it is better than not
seeing anybody. And also this moment for me has exacerbated how difficult it is to get
mental health support, like how hard it is to find the therapist, how hard it is to get your
health insurance, to potentially cover somebody who is not necessarily in network at the
time. What happens if you want a therapist and don't know how to use technology in a
moment like this? And then how do you know going back into larger society when the
pandemic ends won't be just a cakewalk. Right.? We've talked about schools. There areall
these kids who have been they haven't been around a group of anybody for so long that
that transition period back will be something that we will need to plan for. Like that
transition back to the workplace will be something we need to plan for. All of this will be
something that we actually need to plan for. I just want to bring this here, because 11
percent is high. That is a lot of people dealing with suicidal ideation. And the question for
me becomes, how do we make sure that people get what they need? Can this be another
rallying cry for Medicare for all or universal health care, whatever you want to call it,
whatever your version of it is, it gives everybody access to high quality care.
Sam [00:24:59] So one of the things that was fascinating about the data was seeing the
breakdowns by race. You know, when you disaggregate the data, it is eight percent of
white people seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days and 15 percent of black
people did. And 10 percent of Latinos did. So it is particularly intense for black folks.
Similarly, around adverse mental or behavioral health symptoms, black people are more
likely than white people to report experiencing those symptoms, anxiety or depression, the
whole range of symptoms here, black people are more likely to have reported experiencing
that than white people. And it is not a coincidence, given the ways in which we've seen this
pandemic and all of the other crises that have happened disproportionately impact black
communities. And now we're seeing that materialize in the outcomes, in outcomes, in
terms of mental health, in terms of depression and suicidal ideation. And it's a reminder
that the response to this also needs to grapple with which populations are most impacted
and cannot be a response that excludes the very populations that have experienced and
borne the brunt of this crisis.
Kaya [00:26:16] There's also an overlay here with Covid,, 19, in that in early reports
coming out of China and Europe, people who recovered from Covid, 19, saw increased
cases of depression and anxiety. And so what they're starting to believe are that there are
post covered neuropsychological problems that as this virus keeps on changing in new
ways. And so they're seeing mood disorders and deeper cognitive impairment, post Covid
and trying to figure out. So I also wonder if some subset of some of these mental health
issues are coming from the preponderance of Covid cases. And as we know,
disproportionately, people of color are suffering from Covid. I was excited to see Mrs.
Obama last week talk about suffering from a low grade depression as a result of this
pandemic, as a result of some of the race relations stuff going on and some of the political
strife, because I think, as we well know in the black community, talking about mental
health still carries a significant stigma. It's getting better. But when you have somebody like
auntie Chelle who says I'm feeling depressed, then it opens the door for a lot of other
people to be able to acknowledge what they are feeling and to be able to think about what
it means to get help. And so I appreciate that she was honest and put it out there and
invited people to deal with some of their mental health issues.
De'Ara [00:27:51] So my news this week, I decided to focus on the Democratic National
Convention. I wish that we could be there in person, but that's not the case, unfortunately,
given Covid. But, you know, the show must go on. And we needed to go on to continue to
build momentum as we go in to November. So I wanted to focus on it because I just
wanted you all to know, like the where the what the how how to how to watch, essentially.
So the convention will air from nine p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Time every day, Monday
through Thursday. The New York Times is also streaming the full convention every day.
The official livestream is at Demconvention.com. It's also available on YouTube,
Facebook, Twitter and Twitch, whatever that is. And ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX News will
also carry the convention from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. each night. You can also stream it on
Apple, Roku, Amazon fire. You can also search Amazon Prime video for DNC and you can
watch it that way. Also, if you have an Alexa device, you can say, Alexa, play the
Democratic National Convention. So clearly it is available. Whether or not the word has
gone out to the masses in terms of the when and the where is still unknown. We'll see
when we get the ratings back and get an analysis on viewership. But hoping that all of you
watch and you encourage others to watch. It's important to watch that we really can get a
full understanding of where the party is on issues. I think there's been a lot of conversation
around, you know, obviously Biden being anti Trump or, you know, the Democratic side
just being anti Trump, but really getting a sense of what those policy platforms are. You
know, where we got with the Biden-Sanders committees that were meeting on particular
issues, whether it was the economy, education or climate change. In terms of the
speakers, there's been a little bit of controversy around who was speaking and how much
time you all probably saw that AOC is only allotted 60 seconds while we have Governor
Kasich, who obviously is a former Republican governor of Ohio was given time, also kind
of middle of the road, Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, obviously she was the
Democratic nominee. But, you know, given time as well. So not so much time given to
AOC or time given at all to Democratic candidates like Julian Castro. So, one, it's going to
be in this whole conversation around who's getting time and who is not given time, I think
is very emblematic of, you know, kind of the traditional theories and traditional ideologies
of the Democratic Party, obviously panding more to the middle of the road, people trying to
pick up Trump supporters, which I think is a really interesting strategy, as opposed to
giving emphasis and time and investment into your base. So you're black and Latino
voters. So we'll see how it goes. I think we all should watch that. We all should see what
this platform is, how it has come to be, and how we can hold all these folks accountable
regardless of what happens in November. So I'm hoping that all of you all tune in. There's
also performances. John Legend, Billy Eilish, Common, Jennifer Hudson. So, you know,
you can find their time slots as well. But again, you can tune in to the full convention
Monday through Thursday at Demconvention.com. Hope you all tune in.
DeRay [00:31:17] Don't go anywhere. More Pod Save The People's coming.
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DeRay [00:35:43] And now check in with Netta to see what's gone on the protest and
what's on her mind.
Netta [00:35:47] Hey, what's up, everybody? It's me, Netta, and thanks so much for tuning
back in. The last seven days have been full of anticipation and excitement for me. It's a
good time to announce I'm back with Campaign Zero, an organization I hope co-founded
with DeRay and Sam back in 2015. I'm a little older, a lot wiser, and still just as committed
as before to living in a world without police violence. I'm excited to be returning in time for
Nix the Six, a campaign that had its genesis back in 2015 when we started with around
just like 80 contracts. It was just our brain, baby, and I call ideas that just stay safely
tucked away in my mind, away from compliments or critiques. I call them brain babies. So
shout out to other friends and organizers from across the country who sat on cause with us
last week to offer their valuable feedback to make sure that we got this and continue to get
this right. The continuation of this work feels like a full circle moment in my life. After
originally stepping away from Campaign zero in 2017 to spend time with my family, friends
myself and return back to school. It was much needed time away.
Netta [00:36:58] And in those three years I learned so much about myself taking so much
time with myself. Those meditation retreats that I mentioned a few weeks back, that was
lovely. And I didn't start deep diving into my own personality. My own decision making
skills, my own personality type. Like, I just went super deep with it, just trying to learn what
it was that inspired me to even make the series of decisions that I had made to lead me to
where I was in life. And yeah, that was when I was 27, going on 28. I'm now 31. So
everything just feels, you know, this feels good.
Netta [00:37:40] So I'm so happy to be back and back with the crew and we've got so
much left to do if we want to live in the world we say we want to live in. The work feels
grounded. It feels focused this time. It's accessible and I'm really proud of it. I'm excited
and very anxious to see how this will impact the world.
Netta [00:38:00] We've examined more than 700 police union contracts from all over the
country. Our hope is to aid organizers on the ground in every neighborhood they're in to
use this tool as a way to bring about justice in their communities.
Netta [00:38:13] The way that we hope to do back home in St. Louis, because at the end
of the day, that's what this is about. It's true that Congress can do some things. But real
change happens community by community. And what works in Chicago may not work for
Las Vegas or St. Louis. What works in big cities may not work in rural areas. It's all about
returning the power back to the people. Whatever that happens to look like for you and
your city. It was another tense weekend in Chicago as police and protesters clashed at
Millennium Park. According to the Chicago Tribune, the protest organized by GoodKids
MadCity, Black Rising, Chicago Freedom School, March for Our Lives, Chicago and
Increase the Peace, had four key demands: take the Chicago Police Department out of
Chicago Public Schools, cancel the ICE Citizens Academy, reallocate funds towards e-
learning and community centers and for local universities to cut ties with ICE. Chicago
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Superintendent David Brown are blaming the weekend clashes
on outside agitators who hijacked the peaceful protest.
Netta [00:39:21] While Lightfoot is tepidly toeing the company line standing with the police
without a full fledged condemnation of the protest, Brown is in full Blue Lives Matter mode,
offering up a near moment by moment account of why his officers decided to get violent
with protesters. While the organizations who organized this weekend's protest do not have
the expensive PR apparatus the Chicago police do. I can only assume that Brown thinks
that the public is some mix of gullible or outright stupid. We can't get to the president
without briefly covering the past. CPD is in the running for the most violent and corrupt in
the country. Hands down. It's the same police department that ran a literal black site, an off
the books interrogation warehouse of those detained. The overwhelmingly majority were
black and other people of color. In 2016, the city also paid out 5.5 million dollars in
reparations to 57 people who were tortured by the police from the 1970s through the 90s.
Netta [00:40:22] I've also had my own experiences when I lived in Chicago in Rogers
Park. That area had little to no police activity, but a Chicago police car would be posted on
my block regularly. When David Brown tries to plant his officers as the victims of
protesters, it flies in the face of all we know about CPD. It also flies in the face of video
evidence. Protesters stated that they were kettled, pepper sprayed and beaten during the
encounter. Video evidence confirmed this. Meanwhile, video released by CPD is at best
sketchy. When confronted with allegations of kettling, the ever detailed, Brown suddenly
didn't have much to say, telling reporters, quote, "I haven't heard these allegations that
there was kettling going on. There is video captured. People can judge for themselves."
Quote. We sure are judging superintended Brown. We sure are. It is also not lost on me
that protesters organizing against police violence are met with what, more police violence.
The protest demands were not and are not unreasonable. Neighborhoods and schools in
the city have been under-resourced for decades. The intentional divestment from black
and brown communities is one part of a lethal concoction that fuels the city's issues with
violence. Instead of looking at solutions to violence through the lens of public health, the
city's response, year after year to underresourced schools is overpolicing cops and school
cops and neighborhoods cops working with ICE. These young people in Chicago have
realized what more people should. Expanding the police state is not the answer for
everything, and they are willing to fight for those resources that they actually deserve. And
by the way, if a police department with a reputation for torture and kidnaping is surrounded
me on the street, I'd fight back too, because my life may literally be on the line. I couldn't
end this week without touching on the biggest news of last week, this election of Kamala
Harris as Joe Biden's vice presidential running mate. By the time you hear this, though,
pick the stakes and what it means for us in November will have been analyzed at length.
However, I will leave you all with this. 12 years after Barack Obama entered the history
books as the first black president. We're once again knocking on history's door with the
opportunity to elect the first woman who is of black and South Asian descent to the office
of vice president. And as much as I love seeing people who look like me on the biggest
stages, I hope we don't make the same mistakes we made in 2008 and 2012 under
Obama. Social justice, much like politics, is a 24/7 game with very real consequences that
has no off season. People heavily invested in maintaining the status quo, whether that be
the police state, the military industrial complex or the transferring of public dollars into the
hands of the obscenely wealthy never rest, and neither can we. No matter who is in the
Oval Office on January 20th at noon, we should all be ready to keep fighting to make sure
that the world we say we want to live in is a reality. Thanks so much for listening. Talk to
you all next week.
DeRay [00:43:42] Hey, uou're listening to Pod Save the People. Don't go anywhere.
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DeRay [00:45:35] Today's episode of Pod Save the People is brought to you by season
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Kaya [00:46:00] Pod Save the People is brought to you by "Nice White Parents". In the
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Kaya [00:46:55] New episodes are released every Thursday.
DeRay [00:46:59] Based on the data on 2016 election, Wisconsin is identified as maybe
the most important swing states for Trump's victory. Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic
Party of Wisconsin, he's been working on the ground and make sure that that doesn't
happen. Here is our conversation. Ben, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod to
Save the People.
Ben [00:47:14] It is great to be with you. I'm a big fan, longtime listener, First-Time Guest.
DeRay [00:47:18] Longtime listener, first time guest.
DeRay [00:47:21] So I'm excited to talk to you today because of your role in the
Democratic Party in Wisconsin, because of your roles in Move on, stuff like that. Can you
talk about how you got to sort of organizing what was like your path to this and politics?
Ben [00:47:36] So my first political memory is being on my mom's shoulders, and that's
that's when my dad's older. I remember going with my mom and be on someone's
shoulders when I was seven to a Jesse Jackson rally on the steps of the capital of
Wisconsin in 1988 when he was running for president. And he ran an amazing campaign
in Wisconsin. That's kind of the first time I tuned in when I was eleven, my godmother ran
for Congress, a woman named Ada Deer, who is a hero and mentor of mine. She had led
the Menominee Nation at a time when the federal government had terminated recognition
of her tribe. And she had led this amazing fight and gotten a law passed through Congress
and signed by the president to re recognize the Menominee nation. And that was the first
tribal restoration in the United States. And so she had become very close to my mom
because they're both social workers. And when I was 11, she ran for Congress and I
volunteered on her campaign just like stuffing envelopes and putting up yard signs. I have
this very vivid memory of when she won the primary. She came out to the microphone. I
was like a few feet away looking up at her. And she said, I've been waiting a long time to
say this me nominee, which is like the best pun that you can make on the name of the
Menominee nation. That kind of like, I think got me hooked when I was in middle school
and high school friends and I had underground student newspapers. I volunteered on
other campaigns. I worked with a bunch of other students to try to get the Coca-Cola
Corporation that signed a marketing contract with our school districts. And we didn't like
corporate influence and public education. So some friends and I organized a big campaign
to, like, protest the school board and eventually get them to cancel the contract with the
first school district in the country to cancel a contract with the soft drink company. And I
think that experience of activism put me on the other side of the coin, which is, you know,
you try to get progressives elected and get elected as progressive.
Ben [00:49:38] So that led to then the next year in high school working to get a student
seat established on our school board in Madison. And then finally realized that the Coke
contract and everything else was due to state policy and education funding. So I helped
start a statewide network in high school called Students United in Defensive Schools,
which was a name chosen because of the acronym SUDS. And our slogan was "It's time
to clean up school funding." We protested. We like brought all these students to the
capital. We had people testify during the State Budget Committee hearings. The Joint
Finance Committee, I think, allocated twenty million dollars for special education that year
that they hadn't been budgeting before. So the experience of being part of fights where we
got to see the impact of the work made me hooked for life. And I've sort of zigzagged
between electoral politics and advocacy and media, you know, ever since.
DeRay [00:50:24] Tell us what's happening. Wisconsin, like what? What is the state of the
party in Wisconsin? Why is Wisconsin an important place to organize? Why is it the place
that you chose? I mean, I know you're from there, but why is it the place that you've
chosen to stay and organize?
Ben [00:50:37] So from a national perspective, Wisconsin is so critical because if the
election is close, just about every model puts us maybe the top three, maybe the top two,
often the single most important state for tipping the Electoral College one way or the other.
When the electoral data scientists look back at 2016, they found that Wisconsin was the
tipping point state in that cycle. It is widely predicted to play the same role in 2020. One
way to kind of think about that is that if you take all the states where Trump is less popular
than he is in Wisconsin, that, you know, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are poised to win.
They add up to just shy of 270 Electoral College votes. So you got to add Wisconsin to win
the White House. And when you take all the states where Trump is more popular than he
is in Wisconsin, it's also just shy of 270 Electoral College votes. So he has to add
Wisconsin to. The Trump campaign, had a briefing last fall where they laid out their their
plan and they said if we win Wisconsin, we win the election. If we lose Wisconsin, we lose
the election. And it winds up being as simple as that. We just have to win this state. And
there's a reason why Wisconsin is in this position. It's because the GOP has been rigging
the rules for really the last decade very intensively to make it easier for Republicans to win
and harder for Democrats by especially restricting access to the ballot. Wisconsin's had
three presidential elections out of the last five where the margin of victory was under one
percentage point. We were the closest state in the country in 2004, even closer in 2000.
When in 2016 we had the public polling average, we had Clinton up six and a half points
and then Trump won by twenty two thousand seven hundred forty eight votes, zero point
seven percent margin. That is the shape of fights often in our state, even though when you
pull the public, there's wide support for progressive policies, right now, Biden is solidly
ahead of Trump. But we can't take anything for granted because we have this history of
things getting just down to a hair's breadth in the in the final stretch. So that was a big
piece for me. The other thing is the future of the state is also at stake. Republicans
gerrymandered Wisconsin so intensively that they're now three seats away from
supermajorities in both the state assembly and the state Senate.
DeRay [00:52:47] Wow.
Ben [00:52:47] Yeah. In 2018, in the blue wave, Democratic assembly candidates got 54
percent of the vote for state assembly seats. They only got 37 percent of the seats. That
means that Republicans now have 63. If they get to 66 in the assembly and they they
bump up to 22 in the Senate from 19, they'll be able to re gerrymander the state for
another decade, even though we have a Democratic governor and we can not let that
happen. Wisconsin has this very complex political history where on the one hand, it's been
an amazing kind of bastion of progressivism and of a forward movement. We were the
only state in the country to declare the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional after a huge riot
freed a man who'd been enslaved, had escaped to Wisconsin, was tracked down by
federal marshals, and they had him imprisoned in Milwaukee. And this riot broke out 5000
people, which is like the whole population of Milwaukee at the time and helped to free him.
He escaped to Canada. And then litigation after that led to a unanimous Wisconsin
Supreme Court ruling to declare the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional. The Republican
Party started as a radical anti slavery party here. The Wisconsin Democratic Party insisted
on ceding the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party at the DNC in the 60s. And yet
Wisconsin now has the biggest, by many measures, racial disparities in the country and
incarcerates black men at a higher rate than any other state in the country, according to
the 2010 census. That is maybe the biggest fault line. But you can trace it across all these
other areas of policy as well. Like we created public sector unions in Wisconsin and had
one of the strongest labor movements in the country. And then you look at what the GOP
did. Scott Walker came in first, crushed public sector unions, then turned Wisconsin into a
right to work state and has just hammered organized labor, which, by the way, was the
engine of a black middle class prosperity in Milwaukee. Milwakee had the lowest poverty
rate among major cities in the black community in the country in 1970 and now has some
of the highest poverty rates and lowest homeownership rates. All these pieces, there's this
struggle that's gone on for a century and a half in our state, and it's all on the line this fall
at the same time as the entire national struggle could hinge on what happens in our state.
DeRay [00:54:55] So what's the point? What do we do? What's the plan?
Ben [00:54:59] The plan is to organize.
Ben [00:55:01] The thing about the state is Republicans have turned voting into an
obstacle course. They put one of the most restrictive voter I.D. laws in the country in place,
when Scott Walker was governor. They made it so that to request an absentee ballot
requires having a photo I.D., having a voter I.D., uploading the voter I.D. to a web form or
scanning it and printing out or photocopying it and mailing it to your county clerk. Then you
get your absentee ballot. Then you have to get a witness signature on the envelope of the
ballot, which is tough in the middle of social distancing. And then you send it in. And now
Trump is sabotaging the Postal Service. And we know that the Trump campaign is relying
on a massive voter suppression operation to try to depress the vote in person on Election
Day. You know, our election laws are really specifically rigged against people of color and
young people across the state because Republicans have over and over, they've cleaned
up with older voters. So this year, we need to organize and support people getting around
all these obstacles Republicans have put up and any new ones they throw in our path. And
what we saw in the spring Supreme Court election is that the GOP is willing to put people
in harm's way and risk infection with coronavirus, if they think it'll help them electorally. But
what we also saw in Wisconsin Spring's Supreme Court election is that the hunger to vote
and the refusal to have our votes taken away is a huge motivating factor for Democrats.
Across geography, across race, across gender. All of our state. So in our spring Supreme
Court election, the day after Republicans got a state and a federal Supreme Court ruling to
try to hammer on voting rights in our state. People returned their absentee ballots in record
numbers. People lined up for hours to vote and dozens of people. I mean, tragically,
dozens of people. It looks like contracted coronavirus on that day. Nonetheless, we won a
10 point landslide against the Trump backed candidate for state Supreme Court. As we
look to this fall, it is about spending every possible hour from now through polls closing on
November 3rd to call people, to text people, to do everything we can to help people get
absentee ballots early, to put them in the mail wung in advance. And then as we get closer
to hand, deliver them to polling places to make sure people know about curbside voting,
drive thru voting. Every option that we have to keep people safe. Everyone has to figure
out what is the safest way for them to vote. But every ballot that's cast early reduces the
chance of lines and things being jammed on Election Day. And the other path for us is that
we are recruiting people to make sure there are enough poll workers to keep every one of
these precincts open. In the spring, we had five polling places in Milwaukee. We just had
our partisan primary for the fall election in Wisconsin and there were one hundred and
sixty eight polling places open. So there is huge progress underway. But the key to all of it
is people power.
DeRay [00:57:42] You know, I remember that election of the state Supreme Court judge in
Wisconsin because it was when the few judge elections, that sort of made national news
like that was an election that everybody watched. Can you talk about why the election
matters in the grand scheme?
Ben [00:57:54] The spring election had multiple layers of significance.
Ben [00:57:58] The first one was it's the only statewide general election pitting a
progressive Democratic supported candidate against a Republican supported candidate in
the country since the pandemic hit lots of places about primaries where the only place that
had the two sides actually go up against each other. So at one level, it was really
significant as a dress rehearsal for the fall. And I know that both Republicans and we on
the Democratic side saw it that way. There was a just an extraordinary mobilization by
community organizations and grassroots groups, by labor unions, by everybody, and
certainly by the Democratic Party to do everything we could to fight in part for that reason.
The second thing is that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has become a kind of third branch
of the legislature because the Republicans on that court are so utterly partisan. You could
see it in their decision right before that election to override the governor's emergency
powers and said that the election had to take place in person. You could see it a few
weeks later when the Republicans in the state legislature sued to the state Supreme Court
and got it to strike down the governor's ability to issue emergency health orders through
the Department of Health Services. And that ended the stay home order in Wisconsin and
Coronavirus has been going up ever since. There are a lot of aspects of governance that
are affected by this. And one specific one that we were very conscious of before there is
race is that there was a court case pending to purge huge numbers of Wisconsin voters,
although the number shrank as people reregistered for the spring election. It used to be
two hundred thirty four thousand Wisconsinites were on the verge of being purged using
an inaccurate list, notoriously inaccurate database of people who supposedly had moved.
Republicans on the Supreme Court seemed like they were itching to purge those voters.
And the guy who is on the ballot, Dan Kelly, had recused himself before the Supreme
Court race because I think he realized it would've politically backfired to look like he was
trying to purge Democrats from the election that he was going to be in. But he said he was
going to unrecuse himself afterwards. So it really looked like if he won that election, they
were going to make that purge happen and kick a lot of voters off the rolls, maybe shortly
before Election Day, when it would have been really hard to reregister votes. As it
happened, we won and the Supreme Court afterwards decided not to consider the case
until I think they have the first hearing about it in September. Nobody expects them to rule
until after the election. That is a big change that will affect what happens in the fall. They're
probably a bunch of other voting rights cases that could come before the Supreme Court.
So it both affects the life of every Wisconsinite. These are 10 year terms on our state
Supreme Court. But it also affects voting rights and what we learned about organizing for
the presidential election.
DeRay [01:00:33] It's always interesting to talk to organizers because it feels like the
Internet has been both a gift and not a curse that feels too strong. But it's not all positive
when I think about organizing. And one of the things that I get worried about is that people
are nervous about putting a stake in the ground that like it has become sort of a sport to
criticize and to sort of tear apart. And like the critique has to be a part of what we do
because it's the only way we know sort of the good and the bad. But I get worried that it's
not always coupled with people wanting to build the next thing. I like putting a stake in the
ground. How do you think about what the Internet has done in terms of sort of the good
and not so good in terms of organizing?
Ben [01:01:11] I think a lot about how the Internet has made it easier for people who have
relationships or are in community with each other already to be able to connect even when
it might not be safe to do it in person. This is the way it's shown up to the biggest degree in
Wisconsin this year. Our strategy at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has been to build
neighborhood teams. So we use the Obama model where our organizers on our staff
recruit and train and support local leaders who launch neighborhood volunteer teams to
mobilize voters in their own communities. We've been doing that since the spring of 2017
and we now have hundreds of teams all over the state. When Covid hit, those teams had
been gearing up to knock on as many doors as possible doors that they'd been knocking
on in some cases for years. We had to switch to a virtual system, but because we actually
had this infrastructure in place, we could run trainings for all the neighborhood team
leaders and, you know, set up an enterprise zoom accounts so everyone could get online.
Hook people up with virtual phone banks. And suddenly this whole local infrastructure was
organizing local virtual phone banks where people would meet on a Zoom call and dial
their neighbors and know that they were all doing it together and. If it hadn't been for our
ability to work online, that would have been incredibly isolating and it also would have
been incredibly hard to recruit, you know, new volunteers to have teams like this if they
hadn't been building those online relationships. At this point, there's relational organizing
where you kind of adopt voters in your own social network and reach out to them. We track
all that work through apps and through the Internet. There's virtual phone banks there,
peer to peer text messaging. All the coordination is done in this way that's online, but it's
not public in the same way as the Twitter wars. And that kind of stuff are. I think there's a
whole layer of online organizing that happens below the surface of the kind of public
debates and battles that is facilitated to an extraordinary and entirely positive degree by
the Internet. I do think things can get pretty nasty on Facebook, on Twitter. I do a lot of
tweeting. There are a lot, if you go to a local county party organizations around the state in
any part of the state, a lot of people are using Facebook and nuance can disappear and
people can be at each other's throats very quickly in that kind of setting. But so much
organizing that happens is actually the individual direct messages and Facebook
messages and the text messages people send. And that has been that's been a
DeRay [01:03:27] And what do you think about the upcoming presidential election? Like
what's your strategy? You know, a lot of people who are like not like it wasn't 2016. Do you
remember 2016 where people like president doesn't matter. You don't have to vote for
president, only vote local. And like that was, you know, a nightmare of a message. How do
you talk to people about voting today, especially for the president when people are like,
you know, Biden and Harris aren't, as to the left as we need them to be and da da da da
Ben [01:03:52] You know, if you are someone who is fighting on issues and has a strong
left analysis of this fight. To me, I think one of the really compelling arguments is that the
president, who is in the White House, who is leading the different departments and their
cabinet, which are such incredibly powerful positions, those create the terrain on which
you fight. And you can either have someone who is responsive to white nationalists,
organizations and the extreme right wing fringe, or you can have someone who actually
listens to what the public has to say and what, you know, broad based social movements
are are saying, you know, it doesn't guarantee an outcome, but it changes the type of
battle that you can wage, the type of arguments that you can make, that you can actually
make an argument based on a set of shared values about wanting to build a country
where everyone can thrive and have a government that works to listen to those. You know,
you're not like electing a dictator who can just fix everything. You're electing a person and
a team and a whole network of thousands of appointees who are part of the fabric of a
democracy in a civil society that might be more responsive to public concerns than the one
we've got right now. And in that light, you know, it helps explain why we can't expect
everything to change on a dime. And the work is not done when Election Day happens.
But also why it is so absolutely critical to fight. In the art of war, the terrain that you choose
for your battle is 99 percent of the fight. And I think the same thing is often true in politics.
DeRay [01:05:17] There we go. What about policing? Right. So, like, obviously, you know,
I first knew who you are because of the protest in 2014 when we were the street in St.
Louis. And then the protest just emerged again, reemerged. What is your take on the work
around criminal justice and like the fight ahead? Do you have any advice for people? How
do you help people sort of navigate the terrain, even in the Wisconsin space where the
disparities around race are just so great when it comes to criminal justice?
Ben [01:05:45] There's a theory in political science about the issue attention cycle.
Ben [01:05:49] And the concept is that there are these kind of cycles, these waves, where
every so often an issue or set of issues becomes clear in the public's mind as something
that has some urgency around it. And when that moment comes, there's a question of is
there an organized movement? Are there people in the streets? And are there policy
entrepreneurs with specific policies that could move at that moment so that when
politicians feel pressured to act on something, to do something, do they have clear ideas
laid out that they can do. In this frame there's the Overton Window, the concept of like
what is politically feasible and thinkable and expanding that is part of the picture. And then
there's the question of the interlocking coalitions and interests and fears and state of public
opinion and all those things kind of move at the same time. In this moment, we've seen
public opinion, especially among white voters, radically shift, just radically shift a
tremendous sense that we need to rethink public safety, that we need to rethink policing.
Ben [01:06:45] I was in a debate a few weeks ago with a Republican Party chair here, and
the question of policing came up and I said, look, police officers are being called on right
now to deal with mental health crises that they're not trained for and that are not why they
signed up for this job. That work could be better done by other folks. My sense was he
actually agreed with that. So first, the salience of addressing the crisis of policing and
especially of the racial disparities in how things land on people, the public attention and
willingness to address this is now suddenly there. The second thing is a whole range of
policy ideas are now up for consideration and. They weren't before, and that's huge
progress. The third thing is just to keep focusing on the mechanics of government. There
are so many different levels of decision makers and the work especially of movement
leaders and so many folks, including the you and the whole team, and hosts of the show,
have helped to lay bare for people who has what power, in what configuration in
government, at what level to make things happen. In Wisconsin grassroots organizers
have been pushing like leaders, igniting transformation in Milwaukee, has been pushing to
not have police officers, armed police officers in schools for years. They just won that fight.
There's a similar conversation happening in Madison now.
Ben [01:07:55] There are ideas that have been prepared and drafted and put forward. And
newly elected leaders who are now responsive to those movements and, you know, like
with everything else, nothing changes until suddenly things change very fast. You don't get
everything the first moment, but you get things that had been impossible. They suddenly
become easy that I think we see that happening right now. I think the biggest thing for me
as an organizer is and, you know, I'm wearing a party chair hat.
Ben [01:08:21] So it's a little different from a lot of my past work in places where other
people sit. But it is about like really illuminating all the different actors and figuring out what
is the sequence of dominoes that have to fall to be able to make change and then finding
ways to get those concerns, demands addressed to the specific people who can move in
the right sequence. It can be incredibly frustrating when you realize you're knocking on the
wrong door, but it is it is liberating and empowering. And, yeah, it's what got me pulled into
this work for life to figure out exactly who can make the change and then bring that change
to them in a way that makes it easy for them to say yes.
DeRay [01:08:59] Do you think you'll stay the party chair after the election? Like, what
does it look like to be the chair of the party, not during an election cycle. I don't even know.
I'm just curious, what does it look like?
Ben [01:09:10] So Wisconsin has generally four elections a year. We have a lot of
elections. There's every four years there's one 10 month period without an election in
Wisconsin. So in a sense, we're always in election season. We have primaries for the
spring, general election for the spring, primary for the fall, general election for the fall. It's
only in 2021 that they'll only have two elections for state superintendent of public schools
and the spring election. So politics is ever present here on the electoral side. When I ran
for chair in 2019, my platform was, it spelled out F.I.R.E . It was fight on our issues year
round and fight to win. The IR is for include and respect people from all communities
across race, across geography, in suburbs and cities and in rural areas alike. And the E is
for empower the grassroots. So that was my platform. And part of that idea there is that we
need to show up and be present year round. We need to be listening to the concerns of all
of our communities around the state and standing with folks fighting alongside folks year
round, not just in the weeks preceding an election. So I don't see there being an Off-
Season. I think sometimes there's planning and scheming and sometimes there's doing.
But the work continues. I love this job. I love this work because in Wisconsin, I think
especially it's so clear that there's a giant gulf between the parties and that one of the
parties is so poisonous with how they treat everything the way they divide. I mean, Scott
Walker's race was divide and conquer. The way that they just hammer at the public and
this state, it's just imperative that the GOP lose and that we elect people who are grounded
in public service and values and responsive to the public instead of just to Republican
billionaires to serve us in public office. So that makes me proud to be a Democrat in
Wisconsin. And I love the work state party chair. It is also an elected office. So ultimately,
it'll be up to the voters in Wisconsin to decide. The state party chair elections are in June in
odd numbered years. So I will be up for reelection next spring. And I hope I have the
opportunity to continue to serve because ultimately my goal is we've got to win Democratic
majorities in the state assembly and state Senate and the governorship. And to do that, we
need fair maps. We need to stop the veto now. We need to get gerrymandering dealt with
through the governors ability to veto Republican maps.
Ben [01:11:28] And then once we have fair maps, we have a democracy and we fight for a
progressive majority in our state supreme court and then we can actually make the change
that we need.
DeRay [01:11:37] Are there any positions that we should know about that people don't
think about but matter a whole lot? Like I'm always interested in the sheer number of
things people vote for in the news that you would think that the only election was like a
state legislature and the governor. But there seem to be, especially in your context, there's
so many elections and it has to be other positions that we aren't thinking about. What are
Ben [01:11:56] There are thousands of elected positions in Wisconsin and hundreds of
thousands nationwide. It's possible to just see how significant so many of them are. I
mean, one of them that is just vital is Clerk. There are 1852 municipal clerks in the state of
Wisconsin that administer elections locally, and all 72 counties have county clerks. And
those clerks in Wisconsin control them. Machinery of the election that will determine a lot
of ways the direction the entire world goes this fall. There are really strong clerks. I mean,
I'm here in Madison where I grew up. Mary Beth Weltzer is our municipal clerk. And Scott
McDonnell is our county clerk. And they do so much amazing work to make sure that
everybody can vote and that it's safe for everybody to vote. And when a ballot comes in,
that would be rejected, they do what you're supposed to do, which is reach out and help
people cure their ballot and make sure that their ballot actually is going to work. Some
clerks there's a clerk in Marathon County in Wisconsin who, as the local press is reported,
is, you know, sent email saying she's going to do everything behind the scenes that she
can basically to to push school board members to try to reopen the schools this fall. That is
not what a clerk is supposed to do. And so those offices that are so far from the headlines
wind up having an enormous, enormous impact on what happens in people's lives. There
are elected district attorneys and anyone who's listening, who's in Wisconsin or anywhere
who wants to change our criminal justice system, go to law school and then run for district
attorney. We could use your help. Those are elections that are rarely contested. And it is
often hard to recruit candidates for those positions, but they make a huge difference too.
Those are two that jump to mind. There are so many others as county board that play a
critical role. School boards, city councils. And then there are statewide offices like Scott
Walker tried to eliminate the office of Treasurer in Wisconsin. He didn't want any
independent power base, anyone looking over the books. And an amazing woman named
Sarah Godlewski led this fight to make sure that Scott Walker could not eliminate this
constitutional position. And then she ran for that office in 2018. So for first, she defeated
the GOP, the attempt to amend our Constitution. Then she ran. She is now our state
treasurer. And she's doing an amazing job and looking at things like what can the state
treasurer do to address student loan debt? Often there is power to be found in these
positions, power to make people's lives better. That just hasn't been used because
creative people haven't occupied those offices before. I think running for office is just an
extraordinary calling in our aspiring democracy.
Ben [01:14:28] And if you look down the ballot, any of those things that you have to
Google to find out what they do and who these candidates are, there's probably an
opportunity that someone listening right now could use to transform people's lives by
running for that position.
DeRay [01:14:39] OK. Ben, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Ben [01:14:43] Thank you so much.
DeRay [01:14:46] 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 you read it wherever you get your
podcast whether its Apple podcasts or somewhere else. And we'll see you next week.