S02 E03: We Are Democracy
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Narrator: Please welcome to the stage, host of Pod for the Cause, Executive Vice President of Campaigns and Programs, Ashley Allison.
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Ashley: Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to We Are Democracy. I am so excited today. We are doing a live audience recording of Pod for the Cause. It’s the first time, so thank you so much for coming out today. I’m your host of Pod for the Cause, Ashley Allison, and we are coming from the We Are Democracy Conference in Washington, D.C.
Like we start every show, we got the Pod Squad, and today I have an amazing set of guests. First we have Cecile Richards, Co-Founder of Supermajority, Mayra Macias, from Latino Victory Project, and Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network. Welcome to the show and welcome to Pod for the Cause. Come on out, ladies!
Let’s get started and go right to the conversation. In 2018, we saw record numbers of young people, women of color, people of color not only win elections and run for office, but also turn out to vote. What do you think it will take for candidates to speak to the same group of folks to make sure they don’t just turn out to vote, but they actually support an agenda that stands for civil and human rights? Cecile, let’s start with you.
Cecile: I think people are ready for this election. I do think it’s important. We’re watching what was the most diverse cadre of candidates in the Democratic field, that is getting winnowed down, and I think it’s gonna be really important for women and people of color to see a ticket that represents the entirety of the United States of America. I think it’s gonna be really important to keep people’s energy up, and frankly that’s what our democracy deserves. That’s what the people of America deserve.
Ashley: I could not agree with you more. Mayra, what’s your take on this?
Mayra: At Latino Victory, the crux of our organization is really candidate-focused. We believe that when you have progressive Latinos on the ballot, Latinos will turn out to vote. We believe that because down-ballot candidates, candidates of color, know how to engage our communities. They know where to meet the voters, they know how to create entry points of access, which we have seen is really critical to expanding the electorate and really engaging people that haven’t engaged before. I think what we learned in 2018 that we did really well – learning from the lessons of 2016 – is that there’s an assumption that fear is enough of a driver to get folks out to vote, and it’s just not enough.
What we saw in 2018 was that you needed to have bold candidates that articulated a vision for a more inclusive country, a more inclusive democracy, government that’s representative of the people that have often felt neglected by this system. What we need to see in 2020 are more candidates that are not just bashing Trump – that are putting forth a vision of progressive policies that are really gonna help lift the middle class, acknowledge that we have a working class that is suffering right now, acknowledge that people of color exist and are the backbone of our Democratic Party. As long as we have these candidates that are speaking these values and engaging communities where they’re at, I think we’re gonna be in a good place.
Ashley: What about you, Alicia?
Alicia: I couldn’t agree more. I feel like everybody said exactly what needed to be said. I’ll just go into a little bit of depth. I’m a little bit terrified about the field right now, and the reason I’m terrified is because –
Ashley: Tell us why.
Alicia: We have billionaires who are buying their way onto the stage, and more and more the women, and the people of color, and the women of color are not able to stay on that stage. What’s scary about that to me is that 2020 is 100 percent going to be a turnout election, and if we don’t see ourselves reflected, then I worry that our communities will not show up. The way to deal with that is to make sure that we push who’s left to talk about the issues that we care about, but also – not just from a race-neutral perspective, or a gender-neutral perspective.
We have to be able to talk about issues the way that people experience them every single day. That’s why it’s important to have candidates of color and women who are running, not just for representation’s sake, but because we can speak to the experience of what it means to be left out and left behind, and we know how to engage people in developing the kinds of solutions that don’t leave anybody behind anymore.
I also think that it’s important that we have candidates who spend more than 10 minutes in our communities. We talk about this all the time, that voter engagement –
Ashley: Speak on it.
Alicia: – is a year-round process, and I think that some candidates are starting to get that, but some candidates haven’t really picked that up yet, and frankly, they’re gonna see the impacts of that when we get to July, and also, of course, when we get to November. Our job, I think, is to make sure that from our end of things, that we’re making sure that folks are turning out – not from a place of fear, as you said – and also, not from a place of trying to prop up political parties. We have to make sure that people are turning out because we understand what’s at stake for us.
I spent time in Georgia when Stacey Abrams was running for governor – and obviously won. One of the things that was so amazing to me is that in polling stations in black and brown communities where there were polling machines with no plugs, for example, people were standing in lines for three and four hours, and it was hot –
Ashley: Committed to vote.
Alicia: Committed. And you know why they were committed?
Alicia: It wasn’t just about Stacey. It was about understanding that what they were trying to do was keep people from being able to have a voice, and when folks got that, they realized this is about us, and if we don’t stand up and if we don’t show up, nothing’s gonna change. That’s what I think is gonna make a difference in 2020.
Ashley: Cecile and Alicia, you both mentioned how diverse the candidate field – we actually have more people still joining the race, surprisingly, as if there was not already a whole host of candidates – but even this week, we lost the only black woman running in the Democratic Party. Let’s just be clear, Leadership Conference does not believe civil rights is a partisan issue. It’s a people issue, and right now the contested field is on the Democratic side, so we’re gonna talk about that.
Ashley: Why do you think it’s so hard for women of color, women, people of color to stay in the race, to run, to get on the debate stages? If we want candidates to look like us and represent the country, like you said, they have to be able to actually sustain their elections. What do you think about that?
Mayra: We actually endorse Julian Castro, and grapple with this internally all the time because he didn’t make the debate stage the last debate in Atlanta, he hasn’t polled enough to make the debate stage in LA, and part of what we see – there are two chicken-and-egg issues here. One, the issues that these candidates of color, in particular Julian, is tackling are really intersectional, really nuanced issues that might not poll well in Iowa, New Hampshire. The way that our primary system is set up is that most of the media attention is focused on Iowa and New Hampshire. There’s some in South Carolina, but most of it is in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Iowa and New Hampshire do not reflect the diversity of our party or our country, and so a lot of the issues that get uplifted, and get coverage in the media, are issues that are not fully relevant to people of color. They’re not very nuanced, intersectional issues, and so I say it’s a chicken or the egg thing because when we’ve been talking to folks in the media, they’re asking us, “Do you think if we changed the caucus calendar, there’d be an opportunity for more diversity of conversation, issues that really affect communities of color, issues that affect women?”
Part of it is yes, but also part of it is the media continues to cover these issues in Iowa and New Hampshire, so it’s really, really hard – and that’s not delving into the bias and the scrutiny that candidates of color face, and the higher standard they’re held to than their white, male colleagues. Just in the basic outline and parameters of our current system, it’s a chicken or the egg issue of whether it’s the calendar or the media’s – the onus on either-or of why there are certain issues that get the coverage, that continue to propagate this notion of viability –
Mayra: – for the candidates. Electability.
Ashley: Cecile, what do you think?
Cecile: Oh my god, I have so many feelings about this.
Ashley: Tell us, please.
Cecile: No ‘cause I think it’s – I’ll be honest, it’s been a very discouraging few weeks, and I think for those of us who have believed that finally we had people representing on the stage, at the national level – finally people who were different, looked different than all the previous presidents with one exception combined was an exciting thing, and now I feel like we are getting reduced back to a system that benefits people who look like the folks who’ve always been president. We were talking backstage about this whole – somehow now “electability” has become the code word for you gotta be of a certain gender and a certain race if you’re actually going to be a viable –
Ashley: I’m not of it.
Cecile: Yeah, and that cuts out a lotta folks would be true. There are all the systemic things that Mayra mentions. This is the primary system, but until we have public financing of campaigns –
Mayra: That’s right.
Cecile: – we are never gonna solve some of these problems because if you can buy your way onto the stage, there is no way even the most successful, hardworking – and I happen to know Kamala Harris was one of the hardest-working candidates I have ever seen – you cannot compete with people who can write a check to get in the Democratic primary.
The other thing I will mention ‘cause I guess it’s really been so much on mind is two-thirds of political reporting is still done by white men. Exactly. Some of them I’m sure are very good reporters, but until we begin to have a media and a reporting system that actually reflects the diversity of this country, we are not gonna get fair reporting, and there is gonna be a double standard for candidates that are women, that are people of color – anyway. There’s a lotta work we have to do.
Ashley: We actually – the country saw a female nominee last election cycle.
Ashley: And we know she was not successful, and we know there was one population of people – white women – who were the headline story. One fact-check is that right after the election people said 53 percent of white women didn’t support Hillary Clinton. Doing some data analysis, it’s more like 47 percent, but that’s still a lot. What do we need to do – or do we need to do anything – to try and get that 40 percent of white women who did not support Hillary Clinton, to support civil and human rights?
Cecile: As a white woman, I think it’s important, too, not only that we reflect the fact of where white women were in that election, but it’s really important we reflect, too, where women of color were in that election because they overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton. They’ve been the most progressive voters for our entire history. Let’s actually do some education for the American people about the fact that a lot of folks have been basically carried by women of color for our entire history.
Ashley: And particularly –
Cecile: And particularly black women.
Ashley: Black women.
Cecile: That’s right. I think it’s important to complete that picture. Also, though, if I could just say – as much work as we have to do with white women, and we do, and I think that’s work that Alicia and I have been doing around the country – people who really voted against Hillary Clinton are white men. I think it’s also important to recognize that there’s a lotta work that a lotta people could be doing. I think in terms of talking about women, it is really important. That’s the work that Supermajority is doing now to build a multiracial, intergenerational community of women who are gonna get this right, and are actually going to work together because the issues that women have in common in this country are so deep, and so profound, and I think that’s what we’ve been seeing from Detroit, to Des Moines, to Austin.
It means intentional work, it means talking about things where we have way fallen short, and committing to do better. At Supermajority we just did a national poll that was wide sample, included disproportionate number of women of color, but when you actually then do the numbers back to what the population is, it’s really quite interesting. We asked a question of, “Has life gotten better for women under Donald Trump or worse?”
I don’t think that would be a hard question for most of us to answer, but the fascinating thing is, independent women, by 22 points, life has gotten worse for women. White women by 12 points, and that includes a lot of, obviously, Republican women – life has gotten worse. Obviously Latinx women, African-American women, college-educated women by 41 points they think life has gotten worse under Donald Trump. That is a static number, and we actually have to do this work to really talk about –
Ashley: People vote against their self-interest all the time.
Cecile: Right, but also I feel like sometimes we don’t do the work to say this is actually what’s happening. This who’s on your side, this who’s not on your side, and I hope that’s the work we can do at Supermajority heading into 2020, where our goal is to run the largest woman-to-woman voter contact program in the country and turn things around.
Ashley: Alicia – not that you have to speak for all black people. No one should, though some try. You’re off the hook, at least on Pod for the Cause. You, along with some amazing people started this new, vibrant life of the civil rights movement called Black Lives Matter. Very few people are actually even saying black lives matter on debate stages. Some are. I’m not gonna call ‘cause I don’t have all of them who said it, but they don’t really talk about it. What do you think, in your opinion, it will take – black people, particularly black women – we will vote. We vote in our self-interest.
Alicia: Yes, we sure do.
Ashley: We know what we need.
Alicia: Yes, we sure do.
Ashley: We know a lotta people will help a lotta people.
Alicia: We are crystal clear.
Ashley: We are crystal clear what we need and want, but what do you think it will take to make sure that black women, black people, show up in this primary season to elect someone that will make their issue first, that will say, “Black lives matter. Your lives matter. Trust black women.” And not just say it but then actually trust them.
Alicia: Yep. What it takes is long-term candidate engagement, and to be honest, earlier I said it takes candidates who spend more than 10 minutes in our communities, and it’s really true. I’ve spent the last six months talking to candidates, and I can tell you that the ones who have been proactive about reaching out – and not just saying, “How can we get a photo together?” but instead saying, “I really wanna understand how it is that race shapes these issues, and I wanna talk about what it is that black folks wanna see happen,” are the candidates that then project that in their public appearances.
There are some that are doing that. The thing I worry about is that our opposition is also very smart about the power and the role of black communities, and black women in particular, and so they are advancing a strategy right now that is targeting black men in particular in relationship to backlash. If we understand this moment as backlash to the first black President of the United States in the history of this country, then we also understand that all of the social movements that have emerged since then – Occupy Wall Street, MeToo, Black Lives Matter – there’s a backlash to that as well.
We all know that black people are not going to, en masse, vote for the Republican Party. It’s just not gonna happen, but it doesn’t have to in order for the black vote to be split. When we see things like Blacks for Trump, I don’t think that we should look at that and say, “Oh, it’s important to have diversity of thought” because that’s not what’s going on. What’s going on is that there is a concerted and targeted effort to prey upon pressure points in our communities, whether it be around immigration reform, whether it be around sexual violence and harassment in the workplace or in our homes, and it’s being taken in such a way where it is being used to turn some black voters into swing voters around issues that are imperative to the future of this country.
With that being said, I do think that it’s important for us to be paying attention and not laughing at the Kanye Wests of the world who are sitting in the White House, talking to Donald Trump and the administration about right-wing policies to address problems in our communities, whether that be opportunity zones, whether that be other ways of pandering to black people around the economy that we’ve wholly been locked out of – I think what that takes is real, targeted, and honest, conversations amongst us about what our actual interests are, and who else we need to be in relationship to.
Let me say one more thing about this effort to target cisgender black men in particular. I spend a lotta time online, and a number of things that I see concern me. One thing that I see is this narrative that because black people and black communities have been underinvested in by the Democratic Party, the line from our opposition is that you should leave the Democratic Party and vote for Donald Trump, or don’t vote at all. I wanna tell you that that is resonating with people. I wanna say that that is resonating with people.
Ashley: I would agree.
Alicia: What we’ve gotta do is meet people where they are in the sense of it is true that the Democratic Party has left communities of color behind. That’s true, but how do we do the work to get us to a different conclusion about what to do about it? We can’t be telling people, “Oh, that’s not true.” We’ve gotta say that is true, and we can do something about it, but we can’t do it alone. We’ve gotta do it in relationship and in solidarity with other people that are being left behind in all kinds of ways as well.
Ashley: The recent administration’s policies, particularly to immigrant communities, has been devastating, disgusting, and –
Ashley: Horrific, yes. There are immigrants that represent every shade of color –
Ashley: – on the stage.
Mayra: Black immigrants.
Ashley: Black immigrants, white immigrants, brown immigrants, but the narrative about who is a immigrant in this country is false. Mayra, on the border, with family separation, it is definitely a targeted effort on the Latinx community, and I’m wondering what you’re hearing in your community when you’re going down and talking about engaging from voters about are they gonna show up, who are they thinking represents them the most on the current candidates, or are they just so terrified right now that they just would rather not engage?
Mayra: Before I answer that, I wanted to uplift something that Alicia said about picking away at the black vote because that has been happening with the Latino vote, particularly in Florida. We lost a Senate seat, we lost a gubernatorial race, and the onus is always on Latino voters didn’t turn out the way that they were perceived to turn out. In fact, we need to flip that narrative because Latino voters overwhelmingly voted Democratic, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a sliver that are slowly getting chipped at that are either not voting – they’re not turning out – or they’re voting for Republican candidates.
It is terrifying because these concerted efforts are effective if we’re not addressing them head-on. We were actually in Texas a couple months ago. After El Paso, went to Texas because while we are a candidate-driven organization and while our impetus is to get Latino voters out to vote, when our community is literally being hunted – you have to put voting aside for a quick second and make sure that your people are okay.
We went to Texas and we wanted to hear directly from the Latino community on the border, but also all throughout Texas because our fear is that these anti-immigrant, anti-Latino tactics and rhetoric are slowly going to be chipping away at people’s motivation to vote because folks feel helpless. We’re literally being hunted, we’re targeted –
Ashley: Fill out the census.
Mayra: Damage has been done there, and now there’s so much more work that needs to get done to get folks to trust in this system that has been a cornerstone of our government for so long. We had a huge town hall in El Paso, and held several, smaller listening sessions, and did a statewide poll, and what we found was really encouraging. In a moment of so much darkness for the Latino community in Texas, but also across the country, it was encouraging to hear people say, “I’ve never been involved before beyond voting.” It was the ceiling. This is what we do; we vote. The fact that we’re turning out to vote is enough.
We are living at a time where voting should be the bare minimum. If you’re eligible to vote, and you are voting, that’s the minimum. We have to go and make sure that five other friends are voting. We have to go and make sure that folks who are new to this system understand the process. What we found really encouraging was hearing stories of women that were in their 60s saying this is the first time that I feel an impetus to get involved. Folks saying, “I’m returning my guns” because while I’m a gun owner, while I believe in the Second Amendment, what is happening is, as you all said, horrific.
No child should have to fear going to school, going to a Wal-Mart, going to church, fear for their lives. I think that there is really a groundswell in Texas. Part of our statewide poll found that over 80 percent of Latinos across party lines found President Trump responsible for this anti-Latino, anti-immigrant rhetoric that is enabling and empowering white supremacists to go and commit a massacre in El Paso.
The connections are being made. We had a focus group, and again, Republicans and Democrats alike were quickly making that connection within the first three minutes, which is something we hadn’t really seen before. Now, what does that mean? What’s at stake? There’s momentum, but as you all know, we have to create the infrastructure to allow people the opportunity to be able to find an entry point into our democratic process because for so long so many people were left out that if you are not familiar with civil groups, or in-state groups, or national groups that do this work, it’s really hard to get engaged.
We have momentum. We have numbers that are showing us that Latino voters are motivated to vote in Texas, they’re blaming Republicans for the lack of reform on gun policy, they’re blaming President Trump for this increase in anti-Latino rhetoric. It is incumbent upon us to start creating infrastructures yesterday, that are creating access to opportunity to engage because if we don’t do that, we’re squandering an opportunity, and after your community is literally being hunted down, what else is gonna motivate voters beyond this election if we don’t create the access to opportunities.
We have squandered an entire generation of Latinos to engage civically if we don’t do that hard work of organizing on the ground now.
Ashley: It can’t just be Latinos standing up for Latinos. The Leadership Conference is a coalition for the whole sake is that we are stronger in coalition than fighting our individual battles.
Cecile: I think the other thing, though – I just would like to add a layer here, which is: there’s a lot of folks on the ballot besides the President of the United States. I think Alicia’s mentioning this – I think one of the things that we’re finding around the country is the excitement that people have. For example, in Texas, the first two Latinas ever to go to Congress – Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar. That’s motivating for folks.
I think that one of the other things we have to do is make sure we are lifting up local candidates who are more diverse, coming from different backgrounds because a lotta the things that I think a lotta the successes we’ve seen in states like our Commonwealth of Virginia is based on local, grassroots organizing, candidates just getting in and doing it before anyone was tapping them on the shoulder. I think that’s a big part of what 2020 is gonna be about. It’s not all about the presidential.
Ashley: I’m glad you mention that because something also happened in Kentucky in 2019.
Cecile: That’s right.
Ashley: I think there is this narrative of what this country is that is not true. You can elect people who believe in progressive values and want to re-enfranchise people, wanna create pathways to citizen, but we are told that you have to be the moderate or the centrist to be able to win, and you don’t. You can actually want to bring people to have a seat at the table and be able to engage civically, and still win.
Cecile: That’s right.
Ashley: We’re coming up to our last question, and I want – all the candidates listen to this show – I don’t know if you knew that.
Alicia: Well hey, candidates.
Ashley: From the bottom to all the way up, in case you didn’t know. When they’re listening, if you could tell them one thing about what they need to do – Donald Trump included – if you wanna talk to him – but Donald Trump included, what would be the one thing you told those candidates that they needed to do to get people to turn out to vote and actually represent as the country is?
Mayra: We find ourselves at this critical juncture in our country where there is tension between radical imagination of envisioning a bold country with bold policies that are really gonna empower and uplift so many people that have been left behind by this current system, and then this emancitory pragmatism, which is the realization that people are dying, people are hungry, and we need action now.
I think that this tension is a good tension to have, but what I would advise any presidential candidate is to not fall victim of wanting to have an immediate solution now because we do know that there’s a lot at stake – as you mentioned, the Latino community has been target one from the first moment that this president started his campaign, but again, we have this beautiful opportunity to really re-envision what our country and what our government could be.
It would be a shame if we don’t take advantage of this time, and so we have a responsibility and an onus to make sure that we are finding a balance, but that we are still dreaming boldly because again, if we squander this moment, how many generations of first-time voters are gonna feel disenfranchised, or not engaged, or left behind by this system? How many more cycles is it gonna take to re-engage them? The tension is good, but I would really advise folks to look at this from a larger historical perspective, and while Trump is hurtful, and we need solutions now, we also need to think radically and big because our country’s democracy’s future really, really rests on that.
Alicia: The job of an elected official is to make the impossible possible. It is not to uphold what has always been, and in fact, the most important changes in this country have come from people who have dared not just to imagine what our future could look like if things were different, but who also dared to take the first step. Anybody who’s gonna get my vote is going to be thinking about that in that way.
The second thing that I think is just super important is that I hope that we’ve learned from 2016 that you cannot not discuss the things that people experience every single day: race, and class, and gender, and disability. All of these things are how we live our lives, and we don’t separate them into boxes. Any candidate that wants to energize our base is somebody who can, with nimbleness, talk about – not just in soundbites – oh, racism’s an issue – but can actually have an analysis of how does race, and gender, and class keep people from getting the things that they need to live well, and how do we change the dynamic of power where essentially we are asking people to show up without returning anything.
Race, and class, and gender is not something that turns people away from the polls. I think what we’ve seen is that it helps people run to the polls because they feel like we’re being seen, and that there’s a possibility of change.
Cecile: It’s the same rule, I would say, that we have as leaders and organizers, which is talk less and listen more. People are hurting in this country, and from every walk of life, and I wish more politicians would spend less time on the stage and more time in the neighborhoods.
We did this big poll of women across the country, and asked, “What’s your superpower?” The number one superpower they listed was empathy, and I just think we need leaders at this moment who can listen to the American people, and show empathy, and appreciate the humanity of all people. If we can do that, we can win this election. Let’s hope we do.
Ashley: Let’s hope we do, God willing. I can’t think of a better group of people to be the Pod Squad to do it for the first time in front of a live audience. Thank you so much Cecile, Mayra, Alicia. Everybody give it up for the Pod Squad.
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Ashley: Thank you for listening to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, please visit civilrights.org, and to connect with me, hit me up on Twitter, @podforthecause. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and please leave a five star review. Until then, for Pod for the Cause, I’m Ashley Allison, and remember, a cause is nothing without the people.
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