In This Episode
DeRay, Sam, Kaya, and De’Ara dive into recent overlooked news including gang symbols, Black voter turnout, Jamie Harrison, and down-ballot criminal justice reform. DeRay sits down with Chasten Buttigieg to talk about his new book “I Have Something To Tell You.” Then, a quick check-in with Dani Brzozowski, who is running to represent Illinois’ 16th Congressional District in the House.
If you run into any issues voting or witness voter suppression or intimidation, call the voter protection hotline: 1-833-DEM-VOTE (1-833-336-8683)
DeRay [00:00:00] The day has come! Millions of people are heading to the polls and the last thing we want is for anyone to be unprepared to run into any problems while voting.
Kaya [00:00:08] If you run into any issues or witness any attempts of voter intimidation or harassment, call a national voter protection hotline and 866-OUR-VOTE or the voter protection hotline in your state. There is language support available and all the numbers are available in our show notes and on Vote.
Kaya [00:00:27] Save America’s social media accounts,.
DeRay [00:00:29] Share the info and tell everyone you know to stay in line.
DeRay [00:00:35] Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People, on this episode, it’s me, De’Ara, Kaya, and Sam is not with us recording, but his news is here as we talk about the underrepresented stories in the news. And then I sit down to talk to Chasten Buttigieg to discuss his new book. “I Have Something to Tell You.” And then a quick check in with Dani Brzozowksi, who is running for U.S. House to represent Illinois’s 16th Congressional District. My advice for this week is stay the course. I was sued by a police officer in Baton Rouge in 2016.
DeRay [00:01:02] It has been a long fight. We won at the district court level. Lost four times in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and recently just one on Monday at the Supreme Court. And it’s a big victory. They vacated the order from the 5th Circuit saying that the 5th Circuit errored in how they got to the decision. So now we go to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The case is called Doe v. McKesson, and I’m proud that we fought it. But Lord knows it has been a four year fight to get this far. So keep up the fight. Stay the course. Do the work. The rest will follow.
De’Ara [00:01:35] Family, happy election day. Welcome to Pod Save.
Kaya [00:01:41] Wooooo, happy Election Day, yeah, yeah, yeah!
De’Ara [00:01:44] Yes, sound effetcs! OK. OK. Welcome to Pop Save the People, y’all. I’m De’Ara balenger. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @DeAraBalenger.
Kaya [00:01:52] I’m Kaya Henderson. I am on Twitter @HendersonKaya.
DeRay [00:01:56] And I’m DeRay @Deray on Twitter. Sam is not joining for the recording, but you will hear his news.
De’Ara [00:02:02] So it’s Election Day.
Kaya [00:02:04] It’s Election Day!
De’Ara [00:02:04] We know that most of you have already voted, which means you have the day free to do things like get other people to the polls, making phone calls, texting, etc. So let’s make sure we’re doing all that we can until we can to get out this vote. What are y’all doing in anticipation of Election Day? We were already having this conversation because I think I have decided that I’m not going to watch the returns. I think I’m going to like phone bank up until like 6:00 p.m. or so and then turn off the TV and turn off my phone and drink wine and then wake up and see what happens.
Kaya [00:02:42] The fact that you have that kind of discipline, I would like to turn it all off, but I know I’m not going to be able to. I am go. I voted early and I was excited about that. I’m super jazzed at, like, the record turnout for early voting. Right. Like in some places.
De’Ara [00:02:59] It’s Like just record turnout,.
Kaya [00:03:00] Period. Yeah.
De’Ara [00:03:01] Yeah.
Kaya [00:03:01] But in some places, more people have voted early than voted in the whole 2016 election the last time around.
De’Ara [00:03:08] Texas.
Kaya [00:03:08] That is good. And the young people are coming out to vote. Woo, woo! Go young people. But I yeah, I’m, I’m afraid that I’m going to I don’t want to be glued to the television really. I don’t. But I don’t see any way around it. I’m going to spend the day doing some phone banking and then, yeah, I’m going to try to stay away from my TV as long as possible until I mean, you got to be in it. You gotta be riding a wave. So I’m going to ride the wave.
DeRay [00:03:35] I’m trying to, I hosted some phone banks for the Biden campaign this weekend. I hosted one on sunda.
De’Ara [00:03:41] Oh that’s Right DeRay. I saw that.
DeRay [00:03:42] Yeah, yeah. Some some good phone banking. I feel like I’m like the phone bank. Pump it up guy. I come on. I’m like, remember, one is the most important number. One is your cousin, your brother, your sister. Make that one phone call. I’m like the pump it up now on the phone banks. I need to find out who I’m going to hang with. I don’t want to be alone cause exactly. That’s a big thing. Me a De’Ara were at the Javits Center around in 2016 and I don’t want to be in public. That was. That’s not great.
Kaya [00:04:08] That’s right.
DeRay [00:04:10] But you know, I look at the news of the past couple of days and when you see the Trump people blocking the bridges so that the Biden/Harris, like busses can’t come by when you see them trying to run the bus off the road, I’m seeing desperation. I’m like, y’all are really you’re nervous, right? Like, you didn’t think that our side would organize in the way that it has, because let’s be clear, it was a slow organizing on the left like it wasn’t. We sort of built up this momentum, but we did not have this fire in 2016 when he was when he was wild. The fire sort of wasn’t there in 2017, really. But the fire came through in the end. And like it is, you know, when you think about the record turnout. If I get another text message, I might lose on my mind.
DeRay [00:04:52] I didn’t know my phone number was on this many lists, but like the organizing has really done, I think what even their side didn’t think it could do. And that makes me really hopeful. I’m reminded that, you know, Trump didn’t win by a lot of votes last time to push him to the presidency. So we think about these record turnouts like that is the momentum’s on our side. My fear is that people might be afraid today that if armed people show up to the polls or if they get blocked or like some weird stuff happened, gunshots happen right outside the poll, you know, like that sort of stuff makes me nervous.
DeRay [00:05:25] And I put nothing past Trump. Like, I think that he will do anything to win. But I believe in the power community. And you saw that. Remember that black community? Did you see that video that the Trump people tried to come and, like roll around this black community? And the black people were like, ya’ll got to go. We not doing that here. And I love it.
De’Ara [00:05:42] But did ya’ll also, did you hear about Offset in Beverly Hills? He got caught driving through a Trump rally in Beverly Hills, of all places. Someone from Offsets entourage is now in jail because he was carrying a concealed weapon. However, I feel like DeRay, to your point, it’s one of those things like, come on, if you want to come and see.
DeRay [00:06:01] Cardi got out of the car.
DeRay [00:06:02] Did you see Cardi get out the car?
De’Ara [00:06:04] Yes.
DeRay [00:06:05] Cardi said come on, if you ready, Let’s go.
De’Ara [00:06:08] Ya’ll don’t, I don’t think y’all want this. I don’t think you want it.
De’Ara [00:06:12] So.
DeRay [00:06:13] It is interesting. Did you see Wal-Mart is pulling all gun and ammunition sales off the shelves leading up to Election Day, but it’s too late.
Kaya [00:06:20] People already have guns. They got guns. They have a lot of guns. I’m super nervous because I’m in Washington, D.C. right now. And and I’ve seen videos where, you know, some of these right wing folks are planning on coming to Washington and they are bringing their guns, all over D.C. stores are boarding up their windows and stuff, because it’s about to go down. We’re all pretty worried about the violence that could happen no matter what happens.
De’Ara [00:06:50] I think that’s kind of where my head has been at, Kaya, like, at least in the last 36 hours. Just, you know, not to be a Debbie Downer, but to make sure we’re all prepared. Like putting gas in your car, making sure you have groceries, making sure you have a plan for your loved ones. You know, just just to be prepared, if I think anything, you know, what 2020 has taught us is that we don’t know what’s coming.
De’Ara [00:07:12] We really don’t.
Kaya [00:07:13] We have no idea. That’s right. So we have to be ready.
De’Ara [00:07:15] Yeah. It’s game day, so be as prepared as as you can. And I think and we’ve been talking about this, you know, week to week. This country is looking more like a closed society. And this is what an election in a closed society looks like.
Kaya [00:07:27] Yeah, but I. I’m inspired by. I mean, I take dDeRay’s point about community, right. I’m watching people come together. I was watching social media and in my hometown of Mount Vernon, New York. People are online for hours and people are sending pizza and people are bringing cookies. And, you know, people are down for the vote. People are supporting those people. And if we have anything to hold on to, it is the fact that we are overcomers. And so I’m proud to see the community coming together in this way.
Kaya [00:07:59] So is my dog, The New York Times, had a very interesting article this week called Black Senate Candidates in the South Tell Democrats to Meet the Moment. And I thought it was interesting for two reasons. Number one, there are a significant number, five black Senate candidates in the South, which is pretty interesting because only six black senators have been elected since reconstruction. Yes. Like right after the Civil War. And only one from the south. And that is Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina. But these black Democrats are running competitively in conservative states and they are talking explicitly about race, which has not been the case previously. The five black Senate candidates are Jamie Harrison and South Carolina, who’s taking on Lindsey Graham. Praise God. Mike Espy in Mississippi, Reverend Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Marquita Bradshaw in Tennessee, and Mayor Adrian Perkins in Louisiana.
Kaya [00:09:06] And I thought it was worth highlighting this because I think there are lots of folks who know about Jamie Harrison, but not a lot of people who have a handle on the fact that five black Senate candidates are running and they’re running really, really competitively. There’s a political shift that is underway in the South. And if any of them win, it will have a catalyzing effect. Not many black candidates have stepped up to run in the south, and the south actually has the highest concentration of African-American voters. But historically has had hostility to black candidates running statewide. They usually will run a white moderate instead of a black candidate. And the National Democratic Party has been really slow to support black statewide candidates. In fact, the Democratic national leaders have been pretty risk averse. They want black candidates to raise money before they give money in. And it’s difficult to raise money when you don’t have the National Party’s backing. But in this go round, Jamie Harrison broke the record for the most cash raised in a quarter. Yeah, I mean, I think that’s primarily because he’s running against Lindsey Graham.
Kaya [00:10:20] These folks are urging voters to right the wrongs of their state’s past. They are appealing to voters for a more inclusive, more diverse, more welcoming south. In fact, Jamie Harrison says we need to close the book on Old South and write a new one called New South. And they’re talking about race and they’re appealing to white southerners who now have more tolerant racial views. They’re a lot more younger people in the south and their politics are different. The progressive’s both white and black expect them to embrace social justice, given what’s happening in the moment. And there are lots of young black voters who will turn out when they hear these messages around around race. And so it’s interesting, these black candidates are calling people to a higher place in the south. They are calling the National Party to meet the moment and they are talking about race and they are out here running and let’s hope as many of them win as possible, because, in fact, if any of them win them, more African-American candidates will see the opportunity and step up and maybe there’s a wave coming. So this was exciting. You know, the presidential race is the big ballgame, but these five folks running for the Senate are really, really important. And I’m not sure that we always dig deeply into what’s going on in some of these races. So I thought it was interesting.
De’Ara [00:11:52] Yeah, Kaya so excited about these candidates. I had the pleasure of working with Jamie Harrison.
De’Ara [00:11:57] I adore Jamie Harrison. You know, to your point around national leadership in the Democratic Party not being as invested in political folks in the South, particularly folks of color running in the south. I think that’s absolutely 100 percent true. I think the fact that Jamie’s doing so well. Yes. Is because of Lindsey Graham. But it’s also because South Carolina is a really strong state party that Jamie has been in leadership kind of in and out of over the years. And so I think just having that base helped him exponentially. And if you had strong state parties across the south, I think we would see these folks in a more national level. So hopefully knock on wood. Biden wins and we start to think about like what we want the DNC to be and how we want to reimagine it and what it looks like and what all these changing demographics mean. Because I think the DNC is far behind on black folks, but they’re way behind on Latinx folks. So what does that mean in terms of investment, of political power and political leaders so interested to see what happens post this election with the DNC generally.
DeRay [00:12:53] So there are a lot of things about this that I find fascinating, a shout out to all the candidates. Lord knows we need black people in the Senate. There’s a AP study that shows that there are 10 states where only white candidates have won statewide office.
DeRay [00:13:05] They’re Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming and Mississippi. Since Reconstruction, which is sort of fascinating. And, you know, you think about the people you brought to us Kaya, but you also think about like, why.
DeRay [00:13:21] Right. So let’s deep dove in Mississippi. So Mississippi hasn’t elected a black person statewide since 1890, which is wild. And you have to wonder why structurally. So what happens in Mississippi is that if you don’t win more than 50 percent of the votes, then the Mississippi legislature, not the voters, chooses the winner. Now, that’s not a rig system. I don’t know what it is. There’s another analysis that shows that in the South there are a higher concentration of at large elections. So, like, there’s one position that is elected by the whole place and that structurally drowns out the vote of the minority population that might be concentrated in certain districts. So district wide elections have a proclivity to put in office. People represent that community. But the at large structure, while it seems like, oh, this is like the will of the whole community actually is a ploy to make sure that the structure remains really white. So the more more that we start to pay attention to these things, I hope that we start to organize and bring attention to them. People at the local level have always been organizing around them. But people, you know, nationally, don’t understand, just like prison gerrymandering, the fact that we count bodies in prisons and a lot of place as voters for that respective town to shift the political power as opposed to counting them from where they came, like the city they came from. Like, that’s another thing that people don’t really understand. I think there’s a lot to be done here. It’d be cool for the Senate to turn black. You know, we keep we keep having some progressive people, but not as a black people in the House.
DeRay [00:14:56] I’m loving the House. I’m like, shout out to the House. The House is a really doing its thing.
Kaya [00:15:00] The House is representing.
DeRay [00:15:02] the House is the House. You know, it’s like the House you like you at the House right now? Yeah.
DeRay [00:15:06] We at the House. The Senate? Little Questionable. So I’m excited about this. But if anything, this is a reminder that, like organizing works, people power is real and that we can do it.
De’Ara [00:15:17] All right. My news. Speaking of that part of me, I’m just I get really upset. Obviously, because I’m like why don’t we do more to engage voters of color, queer voters, etc, blah, blah, blah. And so I get when resources aren’t spent there, when time and effort isn’t spent there. I obviously get upset and organized for that, but I love it and holler when I see communities to just say f that we’re not waiting on anybody. We’re gonna do this ourselves and then we’re going to have that power to hold these elected accountable. And that’s what’s happening in Milwaukee. This incredible young woman, Angela Lang, she founded an organization called BLOC Black Leaders Organizing for Communities. She founded it in 2017. It was her thought that black folks were being scapegoated in terms of being blamed for the loss of Wisconsin.
De’Ara [00:16:07] So as we remember in 2016, Hillary lost Wisconsin by a little bit less than 23,000 votes. So Angela got it in her mind, she’s like, shoot. I think I could find 23,000 people to vote. And since 2017, that’s what she’s been doing, literally going door to door in Milwaukee, explaining to people how to register to vote. Telling people who lost their right to vote because of convictions. Actually telling them that they can their voting rights have been restored. So just doing all of this work. But the thing that I also love about this organization is she’s employing and empowering people in north Milwaukee. Right. So these are just folks who want to see better in their communities, understand the value of vote and just understand the value of themselves and community. So I just encourage all of ya’ll. It really brought me so much joy. It’s like a six minute lesson on NPR. So just press play and hear what these incredible folks are doing in Milwaukee, because I’m sure it’ll put a little pep in your step. Again, this is what it’s going to take. It comes down to us. We can’t wait on anybody. We just got to do it ourselves.
DeRay [00:17:12] This just reminded me to that get out the vote election, all this stuff as a contact sport. You know, you gotta put something in the game, whether it’s talking to your cousin who said they weren’t going to vote, whether it’s like yanking somebody and just making it a field trip, making it a game like reading up on the issues before it like it is a contact sport. It’s a context where for people who are only voting in a certain context for for the organizers and activists. I think that what we found this time around, which is true of almost all the elections, people are hungry for information, but they don’t want to have to die trying to get it right. Like, they will read about the judge they should vote for or the ballot initiative. But people don’t want to click through 18,000 clicks on a Web, you know, like nobody wants it. I don’t even want to do that. So how do we make resources, like, really easy for people? Make it clear for people? You know, I think that that’ll become even more important as we think about the disinformation that’s out there. And that’s why organizations like this matter, because they translate for people that like I think that sometimes on the left we don’t realize it. Not everybody’s watching MSNBC. Not everybody is internalizing arguments in the MSNBC style, you know. Not everybody is listening to Morning Joe. He’s not speaking to my aunt. So who can speak to my aunt right? Like, we have to fill in those gaps and we think about what’s going on with black men. Clearly, clearly, cable TV on our side is not speaking to black men. So, you know, how do we fill in those gaps? I think that what you find time and time again is that black organizers, Latino organizers, indigenous community organizers, queer organizers fill the gaps.
Kaya [00:18:45] The thing that was interesting to me about this article is about how little it actually is taking to move people to vote. And what Angela Lang and BLOC are doing is just relying on, you know, the vehicles that we usually already used to talk to each other and explaining stuff to people.
Kaya [00:19:08] I mean, one young lady’s baby’s father’s mother got a job and she was all happy about it and they were wrapping it up about it. And that led to a job for her.
Kaya [00:19:19] And they’re out talking to, I mean, literally, we’re just talking to each other in a way that we do. And I think that, you know, we’ll tell you where to get the hottest this or the next that and you know, what they are doing is relying on community to tell people why they need to vote, where they need to vote, how they need to vote.
Kaya [00:19:37] And that sort of responsibility for the collective is the thing that’s going to get us over. And so it’s really nice to see me. First of all, big up to Angela, because I think I know a whole lot of people.
Kaya [00:19:48] But if I had to find 22,000, I don’t know. I’ve thrown some big parties in my life, but I don’t know about all of that. But the sista just decided she’s doing it and is using the community to do it with her.
Kaya [00:20:03] And, yo, that’s that’s how we win, that’s how we win.
DeRay [00:20:08] And like what? What a great big goal. She was like, Here’s the gap. I’m going to figure it out.
Kaya [00:20:12] I’m just going to take it. I’m going to do it. Yeah,.
DeRay [00:20:15] I love it. Right. Yeah. So my news is about Maricopa County.
DeRay [00:20:20] So we had one of the candidates running for the new county attorney in Maricopa County. We had her on the podcast a couple of episodes ago. But at the current county attorney and you know, let’s pray this person loses is charging protesters with street gang crimes, is using a statute of the Arizona state laws that says, quote, “A person commits assisting a criminal street gang by committing any felony offense, whether completed or property for the benefit of at the direction of or in association with any criminal street gang.” It goes on to say, quote, “use of a common name, a common identifying sign or symbol shall be admissible and may be considered improving the existence of a criminal street gang, or membership in a criminal street gang.” So first, let us remember that the gang stuff is all a sham and just a way to criminalize people. Like if it is as loose as like symbols that the police think are you like this is is just like such a slap stick, easy way to put people through this onerous process because of the ACLU of Arizona and other lawyers, the people charged under this will likely have representation. They’ll be fine. But again, when the cameras go away and all of a sudden Maricopa County, which is like the fourth largest prosecuting district in the United States, when they decide to do this and this catches on across the country, that is a real threat to people protesting. And I wante to bring this here, because this is the first time that I’d ever seen protesters get arrested under gang statutes, and that really blew my mind. But was a reminder, too, about criminalizing protests like, you know, we might see this trend continue as hopefully Trump loses. And like, we’ll need to be prepared on our side to get these people out, but also to defend these people. And you think about Trump having all these people in the courts, like, will we win at the appeals courts or like, what will this look like long term made me really nervous.
Kaya [00:22:10] I had always come to these things asking questions, dumb questions like where’s the accountability? I mean, the reason why they are affiliated with the gangs is because they are dressed in black and they’re carrying umbrellas. Umbrellas, really. This doesn’t even pass the smell test. Right.
Kaya [00:22:30] And so how do we, we shouldn’t have to wait until these people get arrested and then maybe on appeal we’ll be able to keep this back. Where is the public outrage for this? Where where are where are their organizers who can help lift this up?
Kaya [00:22:44] This is just, I mean, it’s ridiculous is what it is. And we shouldn’t allow it to get to the point that people have to spend money trying to defend themselves. We need to kick this thing in the stomach right now. Who can stop this?
Kaya [00:23:00] All right, kids. Happy Election Day.
Sam [00:23:06] Hey, it’s Sam. And if you’re hearing this the day the episode comes out, it’s Election Day, 2020. Now, I know you’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about this election and particularly what happens with the presidency and maybe the House and the Senate as well. But I want to draw your attention to what’s happening down the ballot, particularly the local and state races that will make a big difference on the issues that we care about. And there are a number of opportunities right now to change the systems and structures that contribute to mass incarceration and police violence across the country, in addition to so many of the other issues that matter to communities. So criminal justice, what’s on the ballot at the state level? There are four states that are voting on whether or not to legalize marijuana. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota and Oregon, measure 110 would go even further towards ending the war on drugs by decriminalizing drug possession in general of small amounts. Oklahoma also has a criminal justice reform measure on the ballot. State question 85, which would help contribute to reducing incarceration rates by preventing prosecutors from charging people with enhanced sentences due to a person’s prior nonviolent convictions on their record. In California, there are a number of measures at the state and local level that will make a big difference on criminal justice and policing. Prop 17 would restore voting rights to people on parole. Prop 20 would go in the opposite direction. It would repeal much of the progress that’s been made statewide in California since the passage of Prop 47. California has led the nation in reducing incarceration rates at the state level due to these measures, and Prop 20 would reverse some of that progress that’s been made. Prop 25 would eliminate cash bail in California, but replace it with a potentially more problematic system of risk assessments that could enhance racial bias in sentencing. And then at the local level in California, from L.A. County to San Francisco to San Diego to Oakland to San Jose, there are measures on the ballot that would strengthen oversight of the police. That extends to Portland, Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and many cities across the country that will also have measures on their ballot that are focused on police reform and police accountability. And then finally, in Nebraska and Utah, there are measures on the ballot right now that would eliminate the loophole in those states, constitutions that allows for slavery or indentured servitude for people who are convicted of crimes. That exception, that loophole in their state constitutions would be closed if this measure passes. So that’s just a sample. It doesn’t include the 2300 sheriffs and local prosecutors who are running in this election. That doesn’t include thousands of judges across the country running for reelection. It doesn’t include a whole host of politicians at the state and local level that have the power to shape the systems and structures that affect our lives. So make sure you know what’s on your ballot. Show up, vote, be heard in this election. Now, let’s go and win this.
DeRay [00:26:09] Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People’s coming.
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DeRay [00:28:54] Chasten worked as a middle school drama/humanities teacher before joining his husband, Pete Buttigieg on the 2020 presidential campaign trail. He has a master’s in education from DePaul University and a lifetime of experiences to share. And he put it all in his new book. I have something to tell you. I learned a lot in our conversation. Loved it, So happy we got to have this talk. And happy to share with you. Chasten, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:29:17] Hey, thanks for having me.
DeRay [00:29:19] Now, most of us first met you as the partner to Mayor Pete. But what was so cool about the book is that we actually get to learn your story. “I Have Something To Tell You,” which is also just a great title. “I Have Something To Tell You,” I’m like, that’s a good one. Can you talk about why memoir? Why did you think this is important and why now?
Chasten Buttigieg [00:29:39] Yeah, to be completely honest, when I was approached to write a book, they suggested memoir and I laughed like, you know, I’m 30 years old. To me, it felt a little pretentious at the time to think that, you know, your, your life is worthy of a memoir at 30, which I think is an incomplete memoir. Right. What I did in this book is really just give folks a very crash course in life and Chasten. At first I really didn’t believe that my stories were worthy of a book until I started opening up on the campaign trail. You know, the arc of the book is piscovering Power in my own story, my own vulnerability and all of these things that happened to me along the way that I thought I was supposed to keep locked up inside forever. Never talk about it. And then I wound up opening up about them on the campaign trail and realizing that people really connected to me and to the campaign when they saw someone being so vulnerable. So I wanted to make sure that the book was equally vulnerable and raw and emotional because I think that helped other people feel less alone.
DeRay [00:30:34] You write about so much. Can you talk about why it was important for you to come out, or to be publicly gay?
Chasten Buttigieg [00:30:40] Yeah, and it’s interesting because we all have very different stories. When I was young and growing up in northern Michigan, whether it was the government or my church or my peers or the social groups that I was in, I truly thought that being gay was abnormal, that something was wrong with me. Maybe medically something was off in my brain. I was being told that I was going to go to hell. And I felt like it was this monster living inside of me. I studied abroad my senior year of high school, which was really just my golden ticket out of northern Michigan. And I, you know, saw a completely different world. And I made friends for the first time who I felt comfortable enough opening up to. And it was the first time in my life that someone told me that it might just be okay to be gay. And by the time I realized that about myself and allowed myself to love myself and to appreciate who I was, I felt like it had to be vocalized. I felt like enough I didn’t say it out loud and was living openly and authentically, truthfully, even if I lost everything, that it was literally going to kill me. And I know that’s not the case for a lot of other people, that, you know, the motivations for success or love or family pushed them further into the closet. And it literally felt like it was tearing me apart from the inside. And so I just came out, I ran away from home. As you read in the book. But I did it feeling like at least I was being made truthful self.
DeRay [00:32:11] One of the other things that I didn’t know at all is your, “Ma’am, this is a Starbucks.” It was like such a short just like, fun chapter.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:32:19] Yeah, well, you’ve got to have those too right?
DeRay [00:32:21] I know, It was great. I was like when I got there, I was like, where are we gonna talk about Starbucks? Then I was like he saw it in Starbucks. There we go. Do you think about that period of your life often like that, What seemed to be like a sort of transition period?
Chasten Buttigieg [00:32:32] Yeah. And I think I have been living in sort of the shoes that I’m in now. Not as long as I have in the shoes of the guy that I’m describing in many of the early chapters in the book. I, for a long period of my life, was working multiple part time jobs, even right after college. Both of those full time jobs. And I talked about them heavily on the campaign trail, what it felt like to teach a full day and then go close Starbucks and, you know, not have enough money to put a full tank of gas in your car. And hoping that we get tipped out on Thursday so that I could have enough money to go to the grocery store and put some gas in the car. I mean, a lot of those jobs and experiences sort of shaped who I am today. And I do think about it a lot, and especially on the campaign trail. And, you know, you’re sitting at a roundtable with folks who are talking about trying to support their families, are trying to make sure they keep a roof over their head or trying to afford health care. In many ways, those were similar stories to the ones that I was telling in the book, and that’s why I wound up opening up about those things in the book, you know, some of the hilarious sort of, I used work at Starbucks, you know, to some of the really gut wrenching things like going to the emergency room, you know, and feeling like, you know, you feel that the game of life because you needed to get emergency care and you just know you can’t afford it.
DeRay [00:33:46] I also want to ask you about teaching, you know, I used to teach sixth grade math. We both have been in in and out of sort of teaching at different levels.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:33:52] Yes.
DeRay [00:33:53] How does that inform the way that you think about the world or about sort of possibility. You know, I think about myself. Teaching was a really big part of my. Just like the way I think about things. And I’d love to know what that means to you.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:34:03] Yeah. So I started teaching theater right out of college and then discovered I really liked spending an entire day in the classroom and so started pursuing classroom education. But for me, it was never I mean, I loved teaching theater. Theater Was my safe space in high school. It was my safe space in college. I loved being the fun theater teacher that kids looked forward to coming and seeing every day. For me, it was also never just about the content. For me, it felt like a calling. Just to be an adult in the room who cared about the next generation, who cared about kids. In a way, I was sort of driven to pursue education because I had so many bad teachers. I had great ones, but I had so many bad teachers who I think I still harbor a little animosity towards who just didn’t care. They saw the bullying, I think in some ways encouraged the homophobia, the divisiveness. And I remember vividly in high school going up to my math teacher and saying ” I don”t get this.” And he would slap me on the shoulder and say, “yes, you do.” And he’d send me back to my table. And then he would just, like, give me a B on my report card. And by the time I reached college, I had to take remedial math.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:35:14] And I just remember being so mad in college that some teachers could treat kids that way. And I wanted things to change. And I wanted to be the person who kids looked up to and who felt safe around. And certainly when I was in high school was not safe to be out. So, yes, I loved teaching social studies and drama, but I also just loved being that person, a teacher I wish I would have had when I was younger.
DeRay [00:35:40] No, I get that idea. I think about the teachers who like I’m like, did you really teach us? And we were like tracting classes. So like there was like a gifted and talented class. And then there was an honors classes. And it’s like, what’s going on, guys?
Chasten Buttigieg [00:35:52] Yeah.
DeRay [00:35:52] You know, I didn’t know that you met Pete on hand until I read the book. And I was like, oh, that’s that’s I love it. It’s like. So, yeah, that’s so our generation. You know what I mean?
Chasten Buttigieg [00:36:02] Oh, for sure.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:36:03] I’ve been doing interviews where like folks our age are like, oh, that’s really cool. Next question. And so a different generation are like, how scandalous for the mayor to be online and on an app.
DeRay [00:36:14] Right. I don’t, and like the face time dates. I’m like, I love it. This is like I feel like I get this. I’m like, I’m here in this.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:36:23] Yeah. We were doing face time, days before quarantine, before it was cool.
DeRay [00:36:26] Before I was before I was I don’t even know if it’s cool right now as much as the only thing you can do so. Of course, of course Is like this sucks because it’s the only thing you can do. Before we talk about sort of what it’s like to be the first spouse to a lot of people, what was what’s the Midwest like? And one of the early chapters is about to explicitly about the Midwest. But it seems like the landscape features are like the geography features is like the subtext to a lot of the texts. So I thought I’d just ask.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:36:55] Oh, man, there’s so much subtext in there. It’s an interesting place. Right. A joke. I’ve done the full Lake Michigan tour, so. Grew up, lived in Michigan, went to school in Wisconsin, lived in Chicago, and I’ve lived in Indiana. So the Midwest is a special place. And I think, you know, Pete did an excellent job on the campaign trail trying to connect progressive policies in a way where people in places like the Midwest could get on board with them. But certainly for me, the Midwest, when I was growing up, was a place that I wanted to run away from here, specifically in northern Michigan, you know, felt like it was pretty homophobic. People were pretty closed minded. A lot of people around here are religious. They root a lot of things in tradition and religion and this weird, warped version of conservatism, like if you were her a good country boy, like a good God fearing country boy, you must be a Republican and therefore you must act and speak and be a certain way. And so that was something that I, you know, did not respond to at all. And I wanted out of it. The Midwest has changed because people didn’t give up on the Midwest. I a lot of credit for moving home to a place like South Bend and trying to help his city in the same reason. You know, I’m up here in Traverse City, my hometown right now, a place that I wanted to be as far away from when I was younger. And it’s changed so much because people have forced it to change that they didn’t want this place to clinch to the past in so many ways. But it’s very hard to kind of wrap up the Midwest in a nutshell. I feel like a lot of people in the Midwest have this mindset of, you know, like we’ve got shit to do with a life to live. We have jobs to do. And politics and politicians are supposed to be there to take care of us so we don’t have to worry about it. And if you want to encourage someone to make a change or to change their mindset, it usually has to be rooted in a deep connection to how it changes their life or their, you know, their. Families lives or somebody that they love. I think that’s how we’d like progressed on issues like marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. But again, it’s not always that easy around here.
DeRay [00:39:02] It’s so interesting. There’s a chapter called “Meet Pete,” but sort of after that chapter, he’s like always he’s like Peter.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:39:09] Yeah.
DeRay [00:39:10] Do you call him Pete? Or do you call him Peter? I was like, what is? I was like, look at Peter. I guess if you met him as Peter he’s Peter to you.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:39:16] I think, you know, well probably on Hinge he was Pete.
DeRay [00:39:19] But when I when I met him like all of his friends called him Peter, you know, his mom and dad called them Peter, his calls his friends call him Peter. And it just felt like Pete was the politician, even though I really don’t think he’s two different people. It just felt like he only gets to be Peter to certain people, like people that he loves, people that he’s very close to. And I don’t know, I just picked up on it and I stuck with it. But I. I also try to like code switching sometimes as I’m talking about him politically. I usually try to use Pete because sometimes people don’t know who the hell I’m talking about or they’ll get confused.
DeRay [00:39:58] They’re like, yeah, we haven’t met Peter. And it’s like I think that you think you have actually.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:40:02] Peter who?
DeRay [00:40:04] Peter, who?
DeRay [00:40:06] You know, it’s fun because you talk about how, like, things didn’t change dramatically at the beginning. And then, you know, you lay out how things changed a lot. All of a sudden. What do you hope that people will get out of the book as they read sort of this narrative about what it was like to be a really public relationship, what it’s like to be a whole person in a public relationship and like have your own life and own dreams and own ambitions. What do you hope people take away from the book?
Chasten Buttigieg [00:40:34] My hope is that people just read it and feel less alone. There are so many things in the book that I was told not to talk about either, you know, as a kid, someone growing up or politically. And I just didn’t believe that I should write that kind of book. I didn’t want to write a boring book. And I, in a way, wrote a book I wish I could have read, you know, when I was a closeted teenager. One of those heartbreaking questions somebody asked me, but I had never considered was who were your favorite queer authors or like who are your Queeros when you were growing up? And then I realized, like, I didn’t have any. I didn’t have any of those books. They weren’t available to me. I didn’t know that they existed. I didn’t know it was oK. And so I talked. Yes. A lot about coming out and coming to terms with my identity and marrying Pete and the historical nature of the campaign. But there’s also things in the book that I just hope other people recognize themselves in. You know, struggling. Making it through college took me five years and a mountain of debt, medical debt. I even jump into some really personal things like sexual assault, experiences with dating and love in many ways, conversations And I just think more of us should be having, especially if you have a platform. And so now that, you know, people are interested in what I have to stay in and they’re picking up a book, I wanted them to pick up something that was authentically me. And I’m not a perfect person.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:41:59] In many ways we’re all flawed or we come to the table with some baggage or some trauma. And I wanted people to really be able to peek behind the curtain. I’m pretty proud of the book. I’m proud that, you know, when I hit send on the book that this authentic version of me was was was headed out into the world, for better or for worse.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:42:17] I guess I should say.
DeRay [00:42:18] This is why people should read it. One of the thing I don’t want to give too much away, which is why I’m happy you helped us see that, one of the things that that I thought was really interesting that people often don’t think about is just how much your life changes because they’re suddenly a ton of people around you. So, like at the end in “This is nuts, Eat the nuts” another great title. I love it. You’re like, I am not eating Clif bars. I’m like, okay. I like Clif bars, but also like what it’s like to have, like, this whole infrastructure that you aren’t necessarily in control of, like the security people, the advance people that like it’s just like. Yeah, it’s just a whole different beast. How was that really?
Chasten Buttigieg [00:42:55] It is crazy what your body can adjust to. I think it took me a good six months after the campaign ended to just like breathe to just like sit and be okay sitting. I could not write, the book was very hard. I had to go on long walks and record myself in stories and transcribe them because I could not stare at the cursor, you just get so used to being on airplane all day being in four states a day and, you know, waking up at 4:00 in the morning, going to bed at midnight and a hummus cup on an airplane is a meal just like all of these weird things that just became the normal. And, you know, yesterday Pete and I were doing some events for Biden and Kamala here in Michigan. And I drove myself to an event, and just drove myself home like, well, this is cool. You know, we did a joke in the book but it’s serious. I think it used to be like five people in three cars to Pete. Like, you can throw off people’s schedules and like where you’re going and what door You’re coming through and to have also your husband, his entire life sort of being tainted and decided by a group of people, you know, I use the analogy like they are building this rocket and their job is to get the rocket to launch like as far and as fast as possible. And I’m the one with the rope tied to the rocket trying to pull the rocket back down to earth, like fighting for a date night. Or sometimes we would meet up in one state and do an event together and we’d both go to the airport and get separate red eyes and go to separate states. You know, just like pushing to have like a dinner at a Chili’s in an airport for 30 minutes before we have to get on our separate flight. So I did not realize when we said “go” I gave the green light to it that it would be that insane and that hard. And that also you’re in anonymity is gone.
DeRay [00:44:42] Do you think you’ll ever run for office?
Chasten Buttigieg [00:44:44] Me?
DeRay [00:44:44] Yeah, you.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:44:47] I don’t think so. I really admire good politicians and I’m inspired by people like Pete who have tried the private sector. And they’re not going to go into public service because this matters. And I really do think it’s important that politicians be able to answer that question. Right. Like, why me? Why now? Why this moment? I don’t see myself finding the pleasures that I found in the classroom, running for office. I really love working with kids and for kids. I miss my middle schoolers. I know that sounds scary to some people, but I miss, like, laughing with them and like talking big ideas with them and inspiring them. And I have spent a lot of time in political circles where I’m just not sure if that is where my skills are best suited. I’ve never really thought about it other than when people ask me to. And I immediately push it away because I just I like public speaking. I like motivating people. I like talking to people. I love hearing their stories. I love helping people feel less alone. But I think I do a better job of that as a teacher than I would as a politician. I also I got to say, DeRay, Pete, I give him a lot of credit. He’d like never returns nastiness with nastiness. And he’s unflappable.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:45:59] And I take things a little differently.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:46:04] And sometimes I gotta wonder, like, if that is really the arena that I would want to be in.
DeRay [00:46:09] You’re the one cussing people out into a, being like, are you kidding me?!. And he’s just looking at the TV. [00:46:14]He’s on somebody’s got a Terria [2.2s] not running for office. But do you think you’d ever work in an administration like is that of any interest to you? Or like, do you want to do something different in public education? And like, do you want to stay in the classroom? Do you want to be a coach or like a, I don’t know, I used to work at the central office after I taught.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:46:32] Yeah. You know, I just want to be helpful. I think it’s really sometimes strange that people call and ask me to speak at an event or considered something on their board, you know, or look into this organization. A year and a half ago, I was a middle school teacher and life has changed so dramatically and so quickly. I really do miss where I was, but I would just want to make sure that I use the skills that I have in the platform that I have for good. And to be honest, I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I want that same feeling. You know, I want that feeling when you when you leave the classroom at the end of the day and you’re exhausted and you’re like almost on the verge of tears, but you’re also laughing at the same time. If you’re familiar with that, you know, like, you know, you did a good thing and, you know, you’re in the right spot. But it is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I want that feeling at the end of the day to know that everything I did was for the right cause, for the right people, and that I’m in the right spot. And so if that’s the classroom, that’ll be great. And if it’s somewhere else where I can be helpful and useful, I look forward to that. But I haven’t figured it out yet.
DeRay [00:47:37] I want to ask too. I’d be remiss without asking. How have you seen homophobia show up now that you live a much more public life? And I ask because, you know, homophobia shows up so much in the movement space. And I’ve always worry that most of our public language about homophobia only is present when it results in physical violence. Like that’s what people sort of universally get, right. The homophobia that doesn’t result in physical violence, people like I found don’t really have great. It’s sort of like you should just man up, right? Like you should just be a man. And you’re like, I think that was homophobic. But anyway, So I’d love to know from you, like, how has that been or what have you seen or like, I don’t know.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:48:17] Oh man. Do We have another hour? I should preface this conversation with saying that, you know, experience on the campaign trail was so good that people are good. This country is a good place. But there were times when I wondered why the blatant homophobia just went unchecked. People with very prominent positions in the media would say something. This book is not a burn book. I’m not looking to take anyone down, but I do reflect on that in the book that I would be sitting there in the studio watching Pete answer these questions. And you know this thinly veiled homophobic line of questioning would come out. He was never in a position to say like, oh, that question is very problematic because you’re playing into a homophobic trope. Right? You can’t do that as a candidate. Neither could any of the female candidates call the misogyny. Neither could any of the candidates of color call it the racism. You have to hope that other people would do it for you, because if you call it out, then that’s the story. You can’t play victim. He really struggled with that, especially people asking me questions. I think it comes up in a lot of suggestions about how you should appear, how you should dress or how you speak or what your role is, or the way people mix up gender and gender norms with your sexual identity. Some of the ways people describe Pete and I is different. Coming out stories played into expectations of like what gay people should look like and what queer trauma should look like and what it doesn’t look like. And I feel like many people just don’t have the language for that. They don’t have the vocabulary. Many of those people are well-intentioned. What I struggle with not being able to name it sometimes or just say something about it. And I think many people just assume that the LGBTQ community is just like a monolithic group that just like meets up on Wednesdays. We’re not. And to be like a white cis gender gay man means that my world view has been shaped by certain things. But, you know, for me, I had no idea what it was like to be a trans woman of color. That is not in my lived experience. And so when I was out on the campaign trail, I spent a lot of time touring LGBTQ centers and meeting with other people because I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to better understand because I also felt the weight of carrying this historic campaign. I want to be the right thing for everyone. But, you know, you never will be. So you might as well do something good with that time in that form. But I think some in the media just assume that the LGBTQ community must look a certain way and sound a certain way, well, you must be a certain way and your experiences must be a certain way. I remember very early on the campaign trying to withhold a chuckle of anger in a studio when someone literally looked at Pete and said, Have you ever experienced homophobia? That it was you must be like a kid with a rucksack and two bucks in your pocket running away from Oklahoma to have Like ever experienced homophobia or hatred. Right. You know, the fear of rejection. We just gotta keep having this conversation. And that’s why I wrote about it in the book. And that’s why I think we need thousands more books like this. That’s why queer people’s voices need to be elevated, especially people who are continuously on the fringe of acceptance and rights in our community, because people just don’t know their realities. And so, yeah, I guess that’s a very long and roundabout way of answering your question that pervades all of these spaces. Right, in our media, in pop culture. And we just have to keep having an honest conversation about that.
DeRay [00:51:44] Awesome. I appreciate you can’t wait to have you back, you’re the man.
Chasten Buttigieg [00:51:48] Thanks. Thanks for having me. I appreciate the conversation.
DeRay [00:51:51] Here, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
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Dani Brzozowski [00:56:15] I’m so delighted to be here. I really appreciate the opportunity to chat.
DeRay [00:56:18] So why are you running for Congress? What is it about this moment or what is it about your district or about Congress itself that makes you want to be in the House?
Dani Brzozowski [00:56:28] Well, it’s a bunch of things. So I grew up in a military household. My dad was in the army for 25 years and I lived on army bases all over. And we moved here to the middle of what is now Illinois 16 in the late 90s when I was a young teenager. And what I found in that moment of kind of looking around and trying to find similarities. Town of 10000 people in the middle of rural Illinois and the army bases on which I’d grown up. What I found was that the strongest set of commonality was really in the strength of the community. And something I knew was tremendously important to my family when I was a kid became increasingly important to me as I got older. And that sense of community fighting for it has been the driving force behind my entire career. So I worked in non-profits for about 15 years, mostly in education and literacy, served on essentially every civic and philanthropic board that dared to ask me. And I owned a small business that was a community center, and my family was one of those military families who subsist on food stamps. I grew up poor. We lived in trailers in Texas. When we first came to Illinois, we had a house, a rental property, but we couldn’t afford to heat it. And so we all slept together in the living room all winter long. And as I sort of cobbled together this career out of helping other people and trying to lift my community up, what I saw was that the things that had been difficult for my family. Number one, they weren’t unique. And number two, and I think more importantly, it’s getting harder, not easier, for working families to get by. And unfortunately, we have a representative who has voted against the interests of the people in this district against my friends, family and neighbors more times than I can count. Voted to prop up his corporate donors rather than rescue the struggling and suffering people of Illinois 16. And so I decided to run to give us all the kind of fighting chance we deserve and the kind of representation is going to make sure we get it.
DeRay [00:58:09] And what is your district like? Like, how do you what’s the demographics like? What’s the district?
Dani Brzozowski [00:58:14] Yeah, it’s a really interesting one. So I lived in Chicago for about 10 years and I totally get the impulse that people in Chicago have that Illinois 16 feels far off. That it’s, I don’t know, there’s like cornfields out there. It seems like, you know, let’s just keep our hands off of it. The district is a really big, really diverse district. So we’ve got metro areas. Rockford is a city of a couple hundred thousand in the northern part of the district. We have a big chunk of rural voters, we’ve got exurbs and suburbs. The district really is super mixed in that way. And so campaigning here is incredibly interesting. You know, you talk to people who have a real breadth of perspective and you would think that there would be a huge diversity in the kinds of things that people in this district are really concerned about. But the truth is that there are not. People in this district are concerned, regardless of exactly where they live and what their community looks like demographically. They’re worried about health care. They’re worried about jobs.
Dani Brzozowski [00:59:10] They’re worried about the climate. And increasingly, as we can get into the obstacles standing in our way of accomplishing things like higher wages and increased access to health care, education and child care, people are also talking about corruption. They’re talking about the intense, unmitigated need for sweeping campaign finance reform. They’re talking about how the compromises that we’ve made to the integrity of our democracy, particularly over the course of the Trump administration, are affecting their lives and affecting the ability of our legislators to get things done on their behalf.
DeRay [00:59:43] What do you hope to accomplish in Congress? Because, you know, there are a lot of people who say that like Congress isn’t the place. Right, that like nothing moves. You’re one of 500 people. Like, what do you say to those people who are like Congress isn’t the place to make change?
Dani Brzozowski [00:59:57] Yeah. So I absolutely disagree. And, you know, I’ve been an activist and an organizer. I owned a small business. I’ve been around for a little while. Right. And the reason I decided to run for Congress specifically, rather than just carry on in the vein of activism and organizing and community leadership, is because the legislature really is the place where we make decisions. The legislature is the place where we are pulling levers that help support working families.
Dani Brzozowski [01:00:24] And I find it very hard to believe that there is any place that’s more effective than the legislature to do exactly that.
DeRay [01:00:31] And what will some of your priorities be in Congress?
Dani Brzozowski [01:00:34] Yeah. So if you had asked me a year ago, we’d been campaigning for a little more than twelve months now.
Dani Brzozowski [01:00:39] And if you had asked me at the start of the campaign and of course people did, I said it’s job creation, increasing wages, moving toward a clean energy economy. We’ve got a lot of opportunities to do that in 16. That’s a really interesting districts from the perspective of environmental justice and addressing the climate crisis. I would have said increasing access to health care, education, child care. These things are all super important. They remain super important. But the very first priority I have when I’m elected to Congress is campaign finance reform. And it’s because it’s big money in politics that has permitted that corruption of the integrity of our democracy. It’s big money in politics that has put so many of our legislators in a position where they feel beholden to their corporate donors. Like my opponent. Right. Who takes 95 percent of his campaign funds from either ultra wealthy conservative individuals or from corporate tax. Ninety five percent. That’s outrageous. Of course, he’s beholden to corporate donors. Right. They are keeping him in office. And so it’s that campaign finance reform piece that I think empowers our legislators, number one, to have the time. Right. So part of this is a logistical issue. It’s that we all know that there is this nefarious thing out there called time and that unfortunately, our candidates and our elected officials spend a great deal of their time talking to wealthy donors all over the country. So we free up our time, right. So that our representatives can actually talk to their constituents. What a lofty, noble idea. Right. That representation, since your representation, really does require a direct conversation with constituents. And unfortunately, we just don’t have an infrastructure for enough of that right now.
Dani Brzozowski [01:02:13] But it’s also that, you know, frankly, our legislators both are bought. They’re bought and paid for by corporate PAC. And so when you look at the political structure, the economic structure in the United States of America, what you’re looking at is the manifestation of a real degradation of what I think of as American values.
Dani Brzozowski [01:02:34] Those real democratic values, what you see in our political system and our economic system is the propping up of corporations and their wealthy CEOs at the expense of literally everybody else, including the working people who prop up their profit.
DeRay [01:02:46] You sort of hinted at this in there, like if I’d asked you this before. Can you talk about how the pandemic has perhaps influenced the way you even think about the role of Congress?
Dani Brzozowski [01:02:56] Yeah, it’s so interesting. So I have been saying for a long time, and I still believe this to be true, that the role of the government is to provide for the greater good, and that doing so absolutely requires that we center the agendas of our most vulnerable communities right to do right by the people of the United States of America. We have to do right by the people who are struggling most. now over the course of the pandemic, what a lot of us have seen is all of these disparities and inequities in our systems, economic, political, environmental right, health care, education. We see all of these examples of those inequities and you see them being exacerbated. We see things getting worse for people who were already struggling. And in the meantime, we see Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos just making bank, right making literally billions of dollars since the onset of the pandemic. And I think this is a moment when people are paying closer attention then perhaps they ever have before, and recognizing that that sort of impulse that so many people have, that we have a political system that works against us, not for us. People have for a long time have felt that in their guts. I think it’s a significant factor in the election of President Donald Trump. People have felt that for a long time. Kind of in their guts and not been able to articulate it. And I think over the course of the pandemic, what we’re seeing is it’s an easier way to articulate why that’s the case. It becomes a little bit more obvious that the reason people feel like we have a political system that’s working against us, not for us, is because we have a political system that’s working against us, not for us. Our political system works for Jeff Bezos, works for Elon Musk, has worked in the past for President Donald Trump. But it doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for my neighbors. Doesn’t work for my family. Doesn’t work for you. It doesn’t work for literally anybody else. And I think the pandemic has really brought that to light for so many people. You know, when you look at examples like health care and you see that five and a half million people in the United States of America have lost their health care as a direct result of becoming unemployed due to the pandemic. What that points to is a real fundamental problem with our health care system. It points to a real challenge when you tie health care to employment in perpetuity.
DeRay [01:05:04] No, you’re right. And, you know, you think about all the things you’ve talked about that are at stake at the congressional level of what is your plan to how you make elections better or get more people to vote on our side. Like, what can we do there?
Dani Brzozowski [01:05:16] It’s things in two veins. And one is directly related to policy. Right. So it’s increasing voter access. It’s really tightening down on, you know, voter suppression techniques, making sure that we are combating those because it permits corruption.
Dani Brzozowski [01:05:29] But the other thing is that our elected officials have a responsibility for tone setting. I think it’s really critical that when we’re thinking about the role of Congress, we don’t limit the role of Congress solely to the passage of legislation. The role of Congress also has to be example setting. We have to be able to rely on the people we have elected to represent us, to represent us, not only when they’re making decisions on our behalf, but also to represent us in the way that they handle conflict, in the way that they discuss the issues that are important to our communities. And so when I’m thinking about the role of Congress here and thinking about Congress being a good guys. Right, we have to be able to elect people who are earnest on our campaign. We call it radical accessability, radical transparency, radical accountability. And it’s the only time they ever let me say radical. But those are the ways that I think it’s so critical for us to be responsive to our constituents. I think that’s really, really essential. And I think that putting people in office, electing people like me who are doing this work from a perspective that frankly is a little bit idealistic, you know, say about that what you will. But from where I sit fighting for ideals is exactly what we need. That’s exactly what we need in this moment when we have none, when we have no ideals, when things have fallen apart to such a degree, when the divisiveness of our rhetoric has become so characteristic of political discourse in this country. We need a restoration not just of civility and decency, but a restoration of faith in our democracy. I’ve talked to strong Republican voters literally every single day. They are overwhelmingly strong Republican at the start of our conversation and overwhelmingly Dani voters by the end of those conversations. And I’ll tell you, it’s not because I am the most persuasive person on Earth. So I will also tell you that I’m pretty persuasive. It’s because people want to be heard. People want to be valued. They want to know that they are electing people who are going to listen to them, who are going to respond to their needs, and who are going to advocate for solutions to the problems that they face literally every single day. And if every single person who ran for Congress in the United States of America came at the work from that perspective, if we all said no thank you to corporate donations, if we all said forget it, whatever is happening with this quote unquote establishment, if we all just focused on the needs of the people of our district and responded to those needs, then I’ll tell you what, we would have an overwhelming restoration of faith in the legislature, an overwhelming restoration of faith in our democracy. And I think we would see participation rates in that democracy in our electoral process increased super dramatically right away. People just want to know that democracy works, that it can function for them. I believe in American democracy. I believe there’s a version of American democracy that can work for everybody. And I believe equally that what we are doing right now has failed far too many of us.
DeRay [01:08:16] Well, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast. We consider you a friend of the pod, and can’t wait to have you back.
Dani Brzozowski [01:08:20] Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
DeRay [01:08:23] 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 that you rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple pocasts or somewhere else. 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. Executive producers Jessica Cordova Cramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Sam Sinyangwe, and our special contributor, Johnetta Elzie.