Welcome to the fall season of Off-Kilter! I’m Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, co-director of the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative, and host of the Off-Kilter podcast.
As we get the fall season of the podcast underway, I wanted to share a little bit about where we’re going to be taking the show this season—particularly for our listeners who’ve been with us as the show has evolved over the years.
After getting to do some soul-searching about the various projects in my work life over Off-Kilter’s summer break, I felt it was time to update how the show defines itself and shows up in the world, as a living, growing entity that I’ve had the privilege of being on a journey with for about seven years now.
I’m not a radio or podcast host by training, nor did I envision becoming one when I got into this work; I’m a policy advocate who’s a believer in the power of storytelling and narrative as tools for shifting and expanding collective consciousness. So the podcast has evolved to serve different education and advocacy purposes at different junctures.
It started as a SiriusXM interview show called TalkPoverty Radio about “poverty, inequality, and everything they intersect with,” uplifting critical academic research, advocacy, journalism, and the voices of people with lived experience of poverty and inequality—with the goal of educating a national audience about the fact that poverty is a political choice made by those in power. During the Trump era, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the podcast (by then called Off-Kilter) became an information hub for resistance, including all-hands-on-deck efforts to protect key social insurance and basic needs programs such as nutrition assistance, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and Medicaid.
And since 2021, when the pod moved with me to The Century Foundation, it’s served as a platform for breaking down historic debates on economic and social policy ideas such as a guaranteed minimum income for families with children, paid leave and child care, and home- and community-based services—issues that have seen greater momentum and attention in the past couple of years than ever before. It’s also become something of a “behind the music” on how economic and social public policy gets made in Washington, D.C., with interviews going behind the scenes with advocates on the front lines of major policy fights.
Throughout these twists and turns over the years, there’s been a not so subtle through-line: that for public policy to be aligned with its highest potential—laws and public policies being, at their best, tools to help our society evolve and grow into a container that allows us all to live up to our highest potential—we must start by putting people back at the center of policy as we interrogate and re-envision America’s social contract.
Now, as we sprint toward the November midterm elections in the United States and round out year three of the COVID-19 pandemic (nope, it’s not over)—in my opinion, it is a critical moment for everyone to do (at least!) two things. First, folks need to get educated and vote in November, because a tremendous amount is at stake when it comes to basic human rights and freedoms. And, second—and more to the point for purposes of the podcast—to zoom out and keep perspective on the broader context of the moment in human history we find ourselves in, and the roles we can all play in shaping our collective future.
“We will not go back to normal.”
It is in that spirit that I opened our first episode of the season with some words that my dear friend Rebecca Cokley shared with me and others on a panel recently, which have really stuck with me as the call to action it feels we all need in this moment. They come from poet Sonya Renee Taylor:
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
We often talk in the advocacy world about paradigm shifts. But what really is a paradigm shift? And how does one come about?
The word paradigm comes from the Greek word for pattern. So one way of understanding paradigms is as a set of patterns, scripts, and life statements that invisibly set the parameters for what we all experience.
Individually, paradigms show up as the conceptual frameworks through which we experience life—and collectively, as a set of invisible beliefs and agreements on which our society and cultural norms are based. Like the notion that “poverty is inevitable.” Or that one person can’t make a difference, so why even try.
Brutal and lethal as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been, as Sonya Renee Taylor beautifully notes, the pandemic has offered us an invitation for myriad paradigm shifts—should we accept the invitation not to “go back to a normal” that never was apart from the parade of social ills it normalized.
In service of that goal, Off-Kilter is evolving once again: into a podcast about economic liberation—and the shifts in collective consciousness it will take to set us all free.
The medicine our policy and advocacy spaces need now
In the weeks and months ahead, Off-Kilter will be diving deep into many of the key limiting beliefs we as a society must release and replace in order to realize true economic liberation for us all. This feels in many ways to be the medicine our policy, advocacy, and movement spaces need most right now—as a much-needed antidote to the short-termism that dominates so much inside-the-beltway strategy and thinking today.
For example: it’s long past time we moved beyond “cutting poverty” as our north star goal. America’s poverty measure itself is itself so broken that by starting at that frame we’re already limiting ourselves to tinkering at the margins. The antithesis of the poverty and economic oppression we’d normalized prior to COVID isn’t how many people are moved above some arbitrary line that doesn’t bear any resemblance to what it costs to afford the basics.
Modern-day oracles are increasingly describing this moment in human history as a “battle of imaginations”—in which oppression is what happens when an individual or a whole group of people are living in someone else’s dream, instead of being free to dream their own. But we can’t just tear down systems of oppression (nor is talking only about what we want to tear down going to get us there); it’s on us to proactively envision the dreams of what we want to build in their place.
So, with Libra season the perfect time for starting a series of conversations about justice; about bringing that which is out of balance (or, dare I say, off-kilter?) back into balance; and revisiting the social contract (with Libra governing justice, balance, contracts, and laws, among other things—shout-out to all y’all stealth astrologers out there among our listeners). . . Welcome to your economic liberation imagination curriculum for the fall, courtesy of Off-Kilter.
Listen to the first episode of Off-Kilter’s fall season here.
We’ve got a great lineup coming together for this season, but feel free to nominate the visionary changemakers you most want to hear from by emailing us at [email protected].