Last week, Rebecca sat down with some of the folks behind Next100—a think tank that’s turning the traditional think tank model on its head, to create a public policy sector where those with the most at stake are driving the change they and their communities want to see. We at Off-Kilter enjoyed that conversation so much, we decided to turn it into a three-part series.
So, continuing last week’s conversation about what it looks like to put people at the center of policy change in the area of antipoverty policy… for this week’s pod, Rebecca sat down with two more Next 100 policy entrepreneurs—Dan Mathis and Diana Martinez Quintana—who are working to change how climate policy is made in the United States, at the intersections of housing policy, immigration, and racial justice.
And ICYMI: don’t miss last week’s episode, which kicked off Off-Kilter’s series with The Next 100.
And learn more about Next100 in this video on how the organization is working to change how public policy is made by building a more inclusive policy sector.
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REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off-Kilter, the show about poverty, inequality, and everything they intersect with, powered by The Century Foundation. I’m Rebecca Vallas. Last week, I sat down with some of the folks behind The Next100, a think tank that’s turning the traditional think tank model on its head to create a public policy sector where those with the most at stake are driving the change they and their communities want to see. We at Off-Kilter enjoyed that conversation so much, we decided to turn it into a three-part series.
So, continuing last week’s conversation about what it looks like to put people at the center of policy change, and in particular in the area of antipoverty policy, for this week’s show, I sat down with two Next100 Policy Entrepreneurs, Dan Mathis and Diana Martinez Quintana, who are working to change how climate policy is made in the U.S. at the intersections of housing policy, immigration, and racial justice. You can learn more about The Next100 at TheNext100.org, nd in last week’s episode, which kicked off this continuing series. Let’s take a listen. [upbeat music break]
Diana, Dan, thank you so much to both of you for taking the time to come on the podcast.
DAN MATHIS: Yeah, thank you so much for having us. I’m really excited about this.
DIANA MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, thank you so much. I’m also really excited. We’ll see where this goes.
VALLAS: I am also really excited, and I really enjoyed getting to meet both of you in person, a rare treat these days, when I got to come up to meet this Next100 cohort a few weeks ago in New York. So, I’ve been really looking forward to this as well, and this has been a really fun series so far.
So, before we get into talking about policy and talking about the ways that you guys are both working to change how policy is made in this country, I’d love to give each of you the opportunity to talk a little bit about how you come to this work. And each of you has extensive résumés of organizing and policy work and all kinds of things before coming to The Next100. Diana, I’m gonna start with you. Talk a little bit about out how you come to this work.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah. So, I come into this work, I think, with a lot of intention. I was formerly undocumented, got my residency two years ago now, at the beginning of March of 2020, right before the pandemic. So, I have experienced the…I’ve experienced the policy failures of our immigration system and faced the barriers of simply the simple things: not being able to drive, not being able to have a job. So, I’m coming into this work with a lot of those experiences that I’ve had, and also coming from the organizing world. I think for over, it’s been over a decade now I’ve been doing immigration work. Before moving, before coming to Next100, I was in Kansas City, doing deportation defense work, focusing on really just making life a little easier for the undocumented community in Kansas City. That’s where I’m from, coming from Kansas City, Missouri. Originally from Parral, Chihuahua, México. So, I’m bringing all of those experiences into this work in Next100 with me.
VALLAS: And you really do have an incredible set of experiences coming into this project that you’re leading at The Next100, really spanning the gamut of many different progressive causes. So, really excited to have you in this conversation, given how intersectional so much of your work is.
Dan, same question to you. Talk a little bit about how you come to this work, and then we’ll get to bring in how each of you is working on really a lot of policy areas that actually overlap, even if they’re thought of as somewhat separate.
MATHIS: Yeah. So, Diana started with the word “intention,” and I think that is a good starting point for me also. I think I sort of set my intentions early. Growing up in Florida, I always had this interest in where and how people, particularly as a descendant, as far as I know, of American slaves. I was always sort of curious about and familiar with the sort of considerations and the compromises that Black folks have to make when it comes to housing, and also sort of interested in the intentional policies that have excluded so many folks from this sort of American promise that is like the promise of a home. So, I was always interested in housing growing up.
And prior to Next100, I actually worked with an affordable housing coalition in Florida, my home state. And while there, I became increasingly concerned with the intersection between housing and climate. And part of that is mostly because of my family and my community. So, I think a lot of my grandparents who live on the coast in South Florida, their home is their biggest and basically only asset. [chuckles] So, I thought about them, and I thought about our collective future and ending climate change and the sort of sea level as this affront to an already precarious position that they have. So, I became more and more interested about that intersection and figuring out what we can do to protect folks that are like my grandparents, like me, just the Black and brown communities that are often left behind in these policy conversations.
VALLAS: And that’s a really, really, really great way, I think, to segue into talking about some of the policy here. And just to put my cards on the table, part of the reason that I thought the two of you would be really terrific to have in the same conversation on this show is because, as you’re bringing up climate Dan, that’s a big part of Diana, what you’re also working on, again, in an intersectional way, given your immigration focus. But Diana, do you wanna talk a little bit about some of how that connects to immigration work? Dan starting to set up a little bit of how it connects to housing policy and how he’s tackling that.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, totally. So, I came in. Before Next100, I was getting my master’s in sustainable leadership, and we focused a lot on the climate. And through that, I realized that, you know, I took a step back and realized in my immigration work that I’ve done, climate change isn’t really something that’s talked about. And in the same way, climate change, in the climate change world, immigration isn’t really talked about, either. I think where people are impacted, that’s often left to the wayside when it comes to talking about climate change. So, I realized that’s something I wanna focus on, is the intersection of immigration and climate change. ‘Cause as the world gets warmer, as climate change exasperates all of our inequalities, people are gonna be forced to flee their homes.
I think each year, like tens of millions of people are forced to flee their homes because of floods, storms, droughts, but we don’t talk about that. And tragically, it’s like the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities that are hit the hardest. And I would say climate displacement is an extreme manifestation of climate injustice ‘cause we don’t focus on the people that are forced to move in that most vulnerable communities. So, that’s how I’m coming into the work and focusing on climate migration.
VALLAS: And there’s so much more that we’re gonna get into ‘cause that’s really the bulk of the work that you’re leading at Next100. And you’ve already started to lay out some of that work.
So, Dan, I’m not sure if it’s you who would rather speak to this or if Diana would, but it feels like before we get too deep into the policy conversation, and before we start to talk about the ways that each of you is trying to really change how, in some ways, climate policy gets made because of the marginalized groups who, as Diana was describing, have not been at the table when it comes to the climate conversation, let alone developing the leading policy solutions in that space, I feel like it is probably important for us to talk a little bit about and actually to offer a definition for climate justice. I’m gonna suspect that most of our listeners are pretty familiar with the phenomenon of climate change at this point, but that some may not be as familiar with what climate justice is. And that’s a phrase that each of you intentionally—to go back to the intentionality of each of your work—that each of you intentionally uses in describing how you’re approaching the work that you’re leading at Next100. So, which of you wants to kick off with a little bit of a definition about what is climate justice?
MATHIS: I can take that. And it’s really building on what Diana just spoke about. I think climate justice is really centered on the idea that the impacts of climate change are not felt equally among people. And I think we see that in my work to sort of focus internally, domestically, but even on a larger scale in Diana’s work sort of looking internationally at the impacts of climate change. And I think the entirety is really rooted in fairness. We all, as humans, are going to be subject to the consequences of climate change, but there are differences across groups how climate impacts, exacerbates existing inequities, in how is allocated among communities. So, I think the ultimate goal of the climate justice movement, if you will, is to really advance solutions, centering these disparities across race, class, gender, country of origin, no matter what, centering these disparities in our approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation.
VALLAS: Well, and let’s keep digging there. And Diana, is there more you wanna add to that definition before we start to get into a lot of how that’s actually really kind of a through line between and through each of your work?
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, totally. I think Dan really hit all of the great points. I mean, really, climate justice broadens the scope from purely focusing on the environment and the physical impacts of climate change to social, economic, and the political impacts of climate change, and really explores the intersection of race, poverty, and understands that the risks of warming are, as Dan said, not felt equitably among people. And it’s working to address the historical injustices that kind of led to where we are.
VALLAS: And I feel like that’s just really probably the right place to then start with each of your work. So, each of your work at The Next100—and you’ve started to describe little bits of it, but let’s really start to dig into the meat and potatoes here—each of your work intersects with climate justice, with who it is that’s bearing the brunt, in many ways, inequitably of climate change, as you’ve both been describing. And in doing that, each of you is effectively working to bring a marginalized community, and really, a set of human faces and human beings who have largely been currently missing from the climate policy conversation—both domestically and globally—to the metaphorical table that’s making climate policy recommendations, that’s driving the global and also domestic conversation on what we need to do about climate change. And in each of your work, you highlight that lives are quite literally on the line here, and that it’s disproportionately Black and brown folks whose lives are on said line.
Dan, I’m gonna kick it back over to you because, in a lot of ways, the entry point that folks might have to this conversation takes us back to Hurricane Katrina. That really was, in a lot of ways, the first moment when the intersection of, say, climate policy and racial justice became visible to a lot of folks. Different way of asking that question might be: What are the lessons from Hurricane Katrina that we should’ve learned by now?
MATHIS: No, that’s a good question. And I think Hurricane Katrina is a nice entry point for this conversation because it really became a defining moment for our sort of contemporary relationship with climate disasters and extreme weather events. It was such a big storm and a really big moment for us. And part of that was because it was and still is the costliest storm on record. And I hate to say this, I hate to say it this way, but it also became a sort of pop culture phenomenon: I think from Kanye West’s infamous statement that George Bush doesn’t care about Black people, When the Levees Broke, the show Treme, the more recent podcast, Floodlines. What we are looking at really is a storm that not only changed lives, it completely reshaped an American city. So, I think it’s a good case study for us to look at this complex relationship between climate and racial justice. Because now, with the benefit of time and the efforts of countless, we know a lot about, a lot more about what happened to New Orleans after the storm. And New Orleans lost basically 190,000 Black residents after Katrina. And the city is rebounding now, but it’s a smaller, whiter, wealthier city with a poor population that is overwhelmingly Black.
So, in looking at the wake of the storm, we had these data points that illuminate some of these, begin to illuminate some disparities and also seem to mirror disparities that play out in communities across the country all the time in the wake of disasters. And two of those points, I guess one is that four of the seven zip codes in New Orleans with the flood damage were at least 75 percent Black. So, a lot of the damage in the city was contained to the areas that were predominantly Black.
And then when it comes to federal assistance, Black homeowners received an average of eight percent in federal assistance than white homeowners in the city. So, not only were they disproportionately hit on the back end, they didn’t receive comparable levels of assistance from the federal government. So, it’s kind of getting the short end of the stick on both ends.
So, in thinking about climate policy and racial justice, it raises questions for me about how we both prepare for and respond to disasters. And I guess that’s like larger questions of who gets to rebuild. What social context are we restoring? Whose property and lives are we protecting? Those are the sorts of big questions, I think, that animate my work.
VALLAS: So, just to recap, because it really is sort of a twofer the way that you’re laying this out. You’ve got Black folks being disproportionately likely to bear the brunt of extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina, which are becoming more common and more frequent with climate change. But you’ve also got Black folks getting the short end of the stick, as you put it, when it comes to the relief measures that end up getting put into place or that are triggered in federal law compared with white folks, even though they’re the ones who are most at risk and get most impacted. So, really kind of a double whammy and a double set of injustice.
And I’m gonna stay with you for a moment, Dan, and then, Diana, I’m gonna bring you back in because there’s a similar story here when it comes to climate migrants, as you started to describe. But Dan, you wrote a recent piece for The Next100 and for The Century Foundation, where Next100 is housed. And in it, you write that, “Climate disasters are inevitable, but their disparate impacts—and our disparate responses—are not.” That’s actually the title of the piece, and we’ve got it in our little syllabus page and in show notes if folks wanna go check it out. But to put an even finer point on it, you write, “Our policies in this area need to care about Black people.” And you’re choosing your words there, I would guess, pretty intentionally. Do you wanna talk a little bit more about the policy response that you’re seeking to really kind of ring the alarm bells around and how we fix this? What is the better response? What is the policymaking that we would see if impacted folks were actually centered in this type of policymaking?
MATHIS: That’s a good question. And I like the term that you used, “the double whammy,” because that’s basically what happens. You have communities getting a disproportionate share of risk, and then our federal response is, in my opinion, not accurately accounting for that risk in terms of the benefits that folks receive in the wake of disasters. And how that plays out is, I guess if you look at two of the biggest avenues for federal funding in the wake of disaster, you have FEMA’s assistance programs and then HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program for Disaster Recovery. These are two of the biggest sources of funding for climate-related spending for these communities, and research basically has found that money from these programs often flows to whiter, wealthier areas. Recovery allocations and grants related to these programs are often based on property values, which we know communities of color are more likely to have diminished or underappreciated property values. And then also, a lot of these programs are subject to delays in relief that ultimately impact those most socioeconomically vulnerable. So, even if folks do get access to relief, if it’s too far down the line, then their lives are completely disrupted, and they’re kind of past the point of being able to rebuild [inaudible].
So, I guess effectively what my approach to this is calling for when I say that our policies need to care about Black people is it’s saying, look, our policies arguably aren’t meeting the needs of these communities after disasters, and something is wrong there. What can we do differently? And I think a lot of that might look like structuring access to these programs differently. But also, I think a huge part of this is really using the data and the information that we have related to risk ahead of storms to really plan for what happens down the line.
VALLAS: And there’s a ton more I know you’re gonna be developing this year and next year through your work with The Next100, and you’re doing a lot of talking to folks and thinking about how to get that right and who needs to be at the table. So, we’ll come back, and we can talk a little more about some of how you’re shaping that work.
But Diana, I wanna bring you back in. You also wrote a recent piece for The Next100 and for The Century Foundation laying out a lot of what you’re looking to raise attention to as well with your work. Your piece is titled Climate Displacement Gives America the Opportunity to Improve the Record on Immigration. And in it, you write, “The U.S. immigration system has a harrowing history of racial exclusion. It needs to do better for climate migrants and displaced people, especially as their numbers increase in the coming years.” And you started to talk a little bit about that before. But I feel like the right place to start in providing some of the background for your incredibly important work is to share a little bit of that history that you refer to there, that harrowing history of racial exclusion that really is the history of America’s immigration system. And in your report, you offer what you call a very brief history on our immigration system. Would you share a little bit of that for our listeners as maybe some of what folks need to understand to understand how the work you’re doing on climate migrants fits in?
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, of course. And this is gonna be an even more brief history, so, for anyone. But I mean, I think it’s no big secret or really not anything new that the U.S. has a race-based immigration system. I mean, from the beginning, U.S. citizenship was meant for a very specific group of people, which was free white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and it was meant to exclude Black communities. And it was meant to, to be honest, it was meant to murder Indigenous communities. And to this day, Black and Indigenous communities are still fighting. And touching on the history, I think, as migration continued from other regions within the U.S., the U.S. expanded their scope of exclusion.
So, they passed laws to exclude Chinese migrants with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. They excluded Japanese immigrants with the Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1907. And you kind of see it all throughout history. Like in 1917, they passed the Immigration Act of 1917 and excluded anyone from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. And then you see it again in 1924, where immigration was severely limited from all over except northern and western Europe with the Immigration Act of 1924. And that wasn’t abolished until 1965 because of the Civil Rights Movement and all of the struggle and work that they put in.
And I will say that while who is considered white has shifted and evolved, and that exclusion has shifted and changed, I think we can say that the one thing that hasn’t changed all of these years is that brown and Black immigrants continue to be excluded from our immigration system. And this is concerning to me and why I decided to write about the piece because it’s the same brown and Black communities that are going to be the most impacted by climate change.
VALLAS: Well, and Diana—
VALLAS: Oh, no, please, Dan, jump in. I had a feeling you were gonna wanna jump in there, which is why I paused!
MATHIS: [laughs] No, I was gonna say, I think Diana raises a really good point about the impacts on Black and brown communities globally. I think if we look at the United States as one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, but then if we also look at this sort of history of racial exclusion and discrimination both domestically and globally, it’s almost like we’re holding up a mirror to this country to say, “Look. Look at what you’re doing,” and trying to hold us accountable through our policies for the impact that we’re having on the world’s changing climate. So, I think Diana has some valid points there.
VALLAS: Yeah. And Diana, I wanna stay with you for a moment there because a big part of what you really argue in this piece is we have a responsibility to climate migrants, we the United States. And yet we don’t have a system of policies right now, we haven’t made public policy choices to date, that really are in line with that taking of responsibility. And that’s probably an overly charitable way to describe our current immigration public policy landscape and how it intersects with climate policy.
So, staying with you, Diana, talk a little bit about our current system and why it falls short. And this is sort of a continuation of a lot of the conversation we had last week as well with Lindsey and with Chantal about what it looks like when public policy is designed by sort of the usual suspects but without the voices and perspectives and expertise of impacted folks. That’s very much the story, right, when it comes to our current immigration system and climate policy, because, as you said before, there really hasn’t been almost any level of contemplation given to the intersection between climate and immigration. So, talk a little bit about our current system and how it falls short and why you argue and really are trying to shine a light in your work and in this piece on the fact that lives are very literally on the line if we maintain the status quo.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, totally. I mean, to reiterate first what Dan said that the U.S. is responsible for the largest share of historical carbon dioxide emissions, which are closely tied to the global warming that is already happening, which is causing all of the climate change that we’re experiencing. So, we have, to start there, we have an obligation not just to eliminate those greenhouse gas emissions, but to also assist people who are fleeing their home countries and being displaced by climate change. And currently, there is no legal protections that climate migrants have right now. There is a huge legal gap that we have more for cross-border climate migrants. But I think for anyone that is being displaced even internally within their own countries, there’s no protections. So…it’s, as you said, costing people’s lives, and they’re being left in limbo. And we’ve seen that with everything that’s happening in the border for the last while.
I think going back to an example of how we’ve seen it work is with Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota back in 2020, right? We saw that Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, they got walloped within two weeks of each other in 2020, and it caused great damage, which caused people to migrate. And they came to the U.S. to seek asylum, but they were turned away. And we now have these policies. We have Title 42, which gives border agents the discretion to turn people away despite it being their right. And we have the MPP, or as we call it, the Remain in Mexico, which is turning people back to Mexico until their court hearing. It’s just it’s a whole lot of a mess that’s happening right now with our immigration system, our asylum system, which is causing people, it’s costing people lives. It’s causing unnecessary deaths that don’t have to happen. People are already making these journeys. So, we need to ensure that they can migrate in a safe and dignified way by passing policies that are just and equitable instead of just continuing to ignore the problem and expect people not to migrate.
VALLAS: Yeah, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” feels like it really sort of applies here, right? It’s as long as you’re on the privileged side of that climate justice inequity that we were talking about before, it doesn’t seem all that important to you to make sure that other folks are OK, is some of what’s going on here. I don’t mean to say that that applies to everyone in the United States, nor does it apply to everyone in the climate movement. But it certainly is what ends up happening if we sort of do nothing and just maintain the status quo, is a lot of what you’re arguing.
A question that we talked a lot about in last week’s conversation, and which I would love to give each of you the opportunity to speak to in particular because your work does connect so directly, but coming from sort of different sectors of intersections with the climate policy conversation. It comes down to unstated limiting beliefs. We talked last week a lot about the prevalence of unstated limiting beliefs that end up holding back how policy is made or actually even really holding back the policy sector itself, not to mention us as a society as a result. Dan, first to you. What unstated limiting beliefs do you believe are holding back policymaking when it comes to climate policy and disaster policy, which, as you argue, are really somewhat inextricably linked?
MATHIS: Ah, that’s [laughs], that’s a good question. And I’m sitting here thinking about my answer, and for the housing advocates, it might cause some strife. But I think an unstated limiting belief in the housing and climate policy areas is a focus on homeownership or homeowners more broadly. And I say that as a guy that takes the train back to his Harlem apartment that he pays too much rent for. [chuckles] But so many of our policies in this area focus on homeowners. And in the wake of storms, it’s like, how do we give homeowners the funds to restore their properties? How do we engage homeowners who are essentially more valued? Their opinions and concerns in these areas are more valued and reflected. But the issue here is that homeownership in this country is largely white. So, what happens is Black folks, Latinx folks, immigrant communities are sort of excluded from the conversation because a lot of the folks, most of those folks are majority renters.
So, I think in the sort of climate policy related to disaster space is really looking at how we protect lives and not property, or how we extend that protection beyond property in a way that is effective for the millions of Americans that don’t own homes. So, I think that is something that I’m working to change in some of the work that I’m doing now.
VALLAS: I love that answer. And boy, is that applicable across a whole bunch of different policy fields, right? The sort of laser focus on homeowners and people sort of forget that renters exist.
Diana, same question to you about unstated limiting beliefs. What’s holding back the climate policy, climate justice conversation, especially as it intersects with the immigration and climate migrants when it comes to unstated limiting beliefs?
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Totally. I mean, I think there’s a lot. [laughs] To narrow it down, I think one of the biggest ones is that migrants, immigrants, refugees, they’re not a contribution to the U.S., but I think time and time again, and evidence has shown, that immigrants are an asset. They contribute a lot to communities. And [sighs] I think the way that the narrative of immigration is that we’re bad, right? And I think I see a lot in headlines like an invasion and kind of those very ugly beliefs. But also, I think in terms of policy, which is what Next100 is working towards, is that people with lived experiences, people that have lived through the immigration system don’t know how to create policy or don’t know what they want. I think there tends to be this belief that if you’re an immigrant, you’re too close to the issue, and you can’t possibly know what solutions are needed. I think that’s completely wrong and not at all how we should be thinking about policy. I think it’s the people that are living through the impacts that actually need to be at the forefront and need to be saying, “This is what we want. This is what makes sense because we know the issue closely, and we know how it impacts us.”
VALLAS: Yeah, and I feel like you’ve already started to segue into the next question I was gonna ask both of you, which really brings in the subject of narratives, right? And Diana, you started to speak to that, that a lot of the narrative that really predominates when it comes to immigration and immigrants is an incredibly ugly one. Obviously, that’s only gotten worse in recent years and really was sort of put on steroids in the Trump era in ways that really don’t even need description, ‘cause we all just lived through it, and everyone remembers probably a little too well. But I wanna give each of you the chance to talk a little bit as well about how narratives need to change and how you’re working to shift those narratives in order to make the policy change that you are each working to make possible.
And that’s part of what I actually really admire about and love about so much of The Next100 Policy Entrepreneurs’ work, yours included, each of yours included, is that you aren’t just looking at what’s achievable in the near term. Yes, that is part of what all of you are trying to do to make change today. But you’re also looking at how do we change how the work is done in this space to make the change that we actually need something that can then be within reach as opposed to something that continues to be understood or viewed as impossible or not something that’s on the table. So, Dan, back over to you. How do narratives need to change in order to make the policy change that you know we need to see possible?
MATHIS: You know, that is, I feel like there are so many ways to approach this question. I think…I will go back to the earlier line about our policies need to care about Black people because I feel like I chose that language really to center the lives of Black folks. And I know we’ve had this, or I guess we are sort of deep in this movement of centering race and really elevating the lives of Black and brown folks and folks of color in this country. But I see that as like a through line in the work that I’m doing. I try and connect it back to, related to Diana’s history, the racial exclusion and the sort of valuing of voices and how policy was created then and now. And I think we’ve had some, we made some progress. But I do think the policymaking space is, in some ways, limited by a sort of reliance on credentialism and credibility and authority that really devalues oftentimes the folks that probably have the most to say.
So, in my work, I try to not just show up as a lawyer and a policy fellow. It’s really as a Black man that grew up in the hood in South Florida and thinking about the sorts of folks and voices that have something to say about climate, have issues with their homes, and that go back generations, but haven’t had the avenue to sort of elevate those to influence the policy that gets made for their areas. So, and thinking about those folks, all the work that I do is like, how do we channel those voices to really create a new narrative to show that if we relax some of the constructs that we’ve created around who is credible, who is deserving of time and resources, who is an authority on an issue, you really open up a whole new world of opportunities to do this all differently. And I think that’s something that I value about the work that we do here and really kind of just like breaking open, breaking open the mold to try new things. So, I’m hoping that over my time here that I can just bring more voices of folks that look like me to the policymaking making table.
VALLAS: And same question to you, Diana. And obviously, there’s, [chuckles] we could have an entire episode just focused on probably this one question. And so, some of these questions I’m throwing at you guys are maybe a little bit unfair in that they’re kind of million-dollar questions, but I feel like they’re worth asking. And I know you guys have a lot of thoughts on each of them. So, Diana, same question to you around how you think that narratives need to change—and you started to get into this just a little bit—but how narratives need to change, particularly around immigration and immigrants and within the climate policy conversation as you approach that intersection, so that the policy change that you are outlining and that you’re pushing for can actually be possible.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, totally. I think to expand a little bit more on what I was saying earlier, there’s a lot in the narrative that needs to change. But I think also, an important one is that people don’t want to leave their home. They’re forced to for whatever reason. And one of those reasons is going to increasingly be because of climate change. Whether it’s disasters or slow onsets of sea level rise, people are going to be forced to move. And I don’t think…. I think as we think about solutions and pushing solutions forward, it’s not that we are helping people that are helpless, it’s that we are providing protections for people that are forced to relocate. I think refugees, migrants should have a say in how they relocate. Climate migrants should have a say when and if they want to migrate.
I think a narrative that needs to be pushed more is that migration is increasingly going to become a key adaptation strategy for climate change. People should be able to choose. We should build systems where people are able to choose if they want to migrate because climate change is affecting the region. I think that’s one of the biggest ones, but also, that they should have a say in how they move when they move, and make sure that it’s a safe and dignified journey so that it’s not a traumatic experience of having to be displaced by climate change.
VALLAS: Each of you has talked about how you’re working to center the voices and experiences of some of the folks who are the most impacted by the policy problems that we’re talking about here in the realm of climate, in the realm of disasters, to the table to be part of the policymaking. But I’d love to hear from each of you a little bit of how you’re going about that. You can talk about the policy all day, but I feel like there’s a lot less conversation, often, about how the work gets done and how to do this well. It’s not just each of you as individuals out there doing this all by yourselves. You’re also connected to communities and community groups and whole networks that have previously been largely excluded or missing from these policy conversations.
Dan, back over to you to talk a little bit about some of how the work that you’re doing is actually playing out and some of how you’re looking to tackle this, whether that’s building bridges or making connections or disrupting tables. Talk a little bit about some of how you’re going about rectifying who’s been excluded from the climate and disaster policy lane.
MATHIS: Yeah, I think Diana said people should have a say in how they move and when they move, and I think that is really powerful. Because in all of my work, it’s really just like people should have the say. Folks should have agency when it comes to most decisions in their lives, or all decisions in their lives, but particularly as it relates to where and how they live. So, in my work with Next100, what I tend to do is sort of bridge that gap. I think a lot of the projects I’m looking at are focused on either federal programs or state-level policy initiatives. But what I’m attempting to do is connect with communities around the country locally, ‘cause a lot of times there are community-based organizations, tenants’ organizations or just general movements that have ideas and have concerns and wants that don’t filter up.
So, I’ve been working with organizations in Miami, here in New York, along the Gulf Coast. So, I’m really trying to pull in a set of perspectives that may not necessarily be included in our typical policymaking approach. And I say that because they may be intentionally excluded as we sort of go through the standardized process sometimes. So, it’s really working to leverage connections that I’ve had as just a young person of color growing up in this country, but also building new ones with organizations and movements that are sort of like, are sprouting around the country.
VALLAS: And Diana, same question to you around how you’re working with folks around the communities that you are connected to, the communities that you also come from, some of their networks that we were describing before when you were talking about your résumé pre-Next100. How does the work look for you? How is that shaping up for you as you work to bring voices to the table who have previously been largely excluded or missing?
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah. I think part of it is building stronger coalitions. I think right now, not a lot of voices of people that are impacted by climate change are being heard, are being uplifted in a real way that materializes through policy change. It’s more through news stories of like, oh, this is what happened. But nothing beyond that is actually being…nothing beyond that is actually being pushed for people, for climate migrants. And I think part of building coalitions, and within those coalitions, making sure that the voices of the most impacted are at the forefront and are the ones that are saying what solutions they wanna see, is, yeah, I think that’s kind of where shaping could be, is really just building strong coalitions.
VALLAS: And what would each of you say to the person listening who says, “OK, I’m with you. These are voices and groups with expertise who should be at the table. But I don’t know how to find folks who know anything about climate policy and who come from the communities you’re describing. And do those people even really exist?” This gets a little bit into some of what you were talking about before, Diana, with the unstated limiting belief, which maybe in my hypothetical here, the person is actually stating out loud, that folks who come from marginalized communities that are the most impacted couldn’t really possibly have any expertise to offer in this policy area. How do you respond to that type of thinking? And I’ll offer that question to either of you.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, I would say when you give people the opportunity to lead and give people just even opportunities, they will take them, and they will thrive. I think we see that with immigrants overall. And I saw that with, for part of my time I worked for the Fight for $15, and we were organizing fast food workers, low-wage workers, and just the leadership development that was being built in people that are usually excluded and usually aren’t thought of as leaders is incredible. I think just making sure to give people the opportunity and really just broadening your space and what you think is possible is super important.
VALLAS: And Dan, I don’t know if you have anything you wanna add there as well. It is sometimes said, and perhaps not often enough, that the climate policy movement has largely been pretty white for quite some time. White leaders, white-led organizations really dominating for decades, most of the leadership and the power in that space. Is that something you’re starting to see change, or is my hypothetical something that also applies when it comes to bringing in communities of color, given how much more likely they are to be impacted and more dramatically by climate change and by disasters, as you were describing?
MATHIS: I think your hypothetical definitely applies. I do believe that there is a sort of thirst or desire to include more impacted communities and more diverse voices in the space. I guess my message to folks with these sorts of considerations or ideas, if you will, is that it’s not always easy. I think sometimes policymakers and advocates, they want to include folks. But if they run into any sort of roadblock or barrier, then it’s easy to sort of fall back to old ways of thinking and acting and decision making. And I think it’s in those points where you hit those roadblocks and those barriers that you really have to question the processes and question how you go about incorporating new voices and new communities into the work. So, I say that it’s not always easy, but I think there is a way. And as Diana said, folks want the opportunity to lead. Folks want their voices to be heard. So, if you can lessen the friction there and sort of ease some of those barriers, I think it gets a lot easier to include more folks into this process.
VALLAS: In the last several minutes that I have with both of you—and there’s so much more that we could get into—but there are a few questions I wanna give each of you a chance to speak to because we talked a little bit about them last week with\ Lindsey and Chantal and also, to some extent, Emma, the executive director of Next100. And that’s how it feels and what does it mean to be able to bring your full self to the work, which really, as Emma described and as we heard a little bit from Lindsey and Chantal last week as well, is a big part of what the intention of Next100 is for its Policy Entrepreneurs, who really shape the work, who do it in the way that they bring it to the organization, not the other way around. One phrase that we heard in the video that we played a little clip of in last week’s episode—and folks can also watch that video at TheNext100.org if they wanna see the full thing—but a quote that particularly stuck with me is, and I’m just paraphrasing here, is that it’s not just about bringing your full self to the work, it’s that the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds that each Policy Entrepreneur brings to the work is explicitly understood as an asset instead of as a liability, or worse, a basis for exclusion, as is often the case in the policy sector.
So, I wanted to give each of you an opportunity to speak a little bit about what it means to be able to bring your full self to the work, and for that to be the intention of the organization: that diverse perspectives and backgrounds and centering people who are most impacted in the policy work that has historically excluded them is something that makes that type of lived experience actually an asset instead of a reason not to be at the table. And Diana, I’ll go to you first with that question.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah. I mean, I think what it means to be able to be my full self is sharing my experiences about being formerly undocumented, about working in the immigration space, but also the most important thing, I think, dance as self-expression and a way to liberate myself. And I’m able to just like dance in the middle of the day in the office without anyone judging me. And I think by now, most of my colleagues will say, can say, that they’ve seen me dance in one point or another. And I think that’s super important for me to be able to bring my full self to work.
VALLAS: I love that answer, and I haven’t seen you dance yet ‘cause I was only there for a few hours.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: [laughs]
VALLAS: But I’m sorry that I missed it, and I have to say I appreciate that as someone who is almost always in movement while I’m doing the work. It gets a little easier when you’re doing it at home, I suppose, and Zooming into something. But definitely something I understand. Dan, same question to you.
MATHIS: I will say I have seen some of the dancing. [laughs] So, you’re missing out on it, Rebecca.
MATHIS: I think that is something that we all enjoy it at Next100 is just the opportunity to show up as you are. And for me, I think that is just the chance to feel relaxed. And I feel like there is often a sort of formality that comes with these places. Prior to joining a think tank, I had a sort of an inkling of what happened there. People are thinking of big ideas and sitting in their suits and offices and coming up with these broad policy concepts. But in practice, what you realize is like, oh yeah, I have ideas. My team, my colleagues have ideas, and our ideas are just as valuable and credible as any other. And it doesn’t matter what I’m doing while I’m coming up with them. If I’m listening to some trip hop, if I’m dancing around, if I’m wearing my Nike blazers and a hoodie to the office, I think those are the sorts of things that make you feel like less of an imposter in the space. And they’re very small sort of signals, but I think if you project them outward, they can be welcoming for other people that may identify in similar ways.
So, when I go into a community, and I’m talking about FEMA’s assistance programs, some of that policy barrier is lifted away if folks can relate to me on another level. It’s like, “Oh yeah. Hey, like, oh no. I got the latest Js too, but tell me about our issues in renting. Oh yeah, I was behind on rent before. I’ve been close to eviction. Tell me what’s going on.” Like, I think those sorts of, I guess, moments of relation are really good. And I think working in this space it’s just nice to be able to show up as your full self and get [bleep] done differently. I know I shouldn’t have said that! [laughs]
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: [chuckles]
VALLAS: No, no, no. You know Troy will just bleep it out, and that’s why we love him. So, I’m gonna give each of you then the opportunity to close with just sharing a quick 60 seconds on what’s next for your work at The Next100. And, Dan, we’ll stay with you there, and then Diana, you’re gonna get the last word.
MATHIS: Yeah, I am, going back to what I brought up about our central focus on homeowners, a lot of my next work is focusing on renters and looking at flood risk and climate risk for renter communities and how we can protect those communities. Particularly thinking about right now, I’m thinking about flood risk disclosure laws and how we can give renters warnings in advance about whether or not their apartment or rental property is at risk of flooding. So, that’s just a small window into the sort of larger slate of policy initiatives that I’m thinking about related to the renter community.
VALLAS: Hugely important work, hugely important. And for anyone who is living in a flood zone, has lived in a flood zone, I’m sure they’re hearing that, and they’re like, “Well, that sounds really useful, doesn’t it? Let’s definitely get some heads up if that’s something we can actually, we can do in a smart way through policy.” Diana, you’re gonna get the last word in sharing a little bit about what you’ve got next at Next100.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot for me, and I think we can say for the greater climate migration space, is still trying to figure out where we fit in, in this space. Especially with everything going on with immigration, how do climates fit in? And really, my work is going to focus on being able to fill that legal gap of climate migrants on whether they can be considered under refugees, or if we can use current legal frameworks like Temporary Protective Status or even a new legal framework that’s complementary to our refugee system. That it’s really just trying to figure out where climate migrants fit in and how we can make sure that they are able to migrate in a safe and dignified way.
VALLAS: And you can read lots more from Diana and Dan in their recent pieces for TCF and for The Next100. You can find them in our show notes or the TCF.org/Off-Kilter page. But don’t miss them. Diana’s piece is Climate Displacement Gives America the Opportunity to Improve the Record on Immigration. And Dan’s piece is Climate disasters are inevitable. Their disparate impacts—and our disparate responses—are not. You can also follow both of these brilliant folks on Twitter if you’re not already. Diana is @Diana, the letter Y, Martinez and then the letter Q. And Dan is DMathis—Mathis—underscore. You can find both of those in your notes and at TCF.org/Off-Kilter as well to make following them easy. Thanks to both of you for taking the time to join the show, and just really, really appreciated this conversation and how each of you is approaching this work. And I’m really excited to see where it goes for both of you in the weeks and months ahead.
MATHIS: Thanks so much, Rebecca. It was such a pleasure.
MARTINEZ QUINTANA: Yeah, thank you so much. Glad to be here.
VALLAS: And folks can learn lots more about the entire Next100 operation, which we’ve had this continuing series on Off-Kilter about at Next100.org. And just a little plug to go back and listen to last week’s episode talking about how Lindsey Cazessus and Chantal Hinds are working to change how antipoverty policy is made. So, lots of good stuff going on over at TheNext100.org, and looking forward to continuing this series into next week as well. So, I hope you haven’t gotten your fill yet of Next100 Policy Entrepreneurs, Off-Kilter listeners. We’ve got one more great episode with these folks coming at you next week, so stay tuned. [bright theme music returns]
And that does it for this week’s show. Off-Kilter is powered by The Century Foundation and produced by We Act Radio, with a special shoutout to executive producer Troy Miller and his merry band of farm animals, and the indefatigable Abby Grimshaw. Transcripts, which help us make the show accessible, are courtesy of Cheryl Green and her fabulous feline coworker. Find us every week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods. And if you like what we do here at Off-Kilter Enterprises, send us some love by hitting that subscribe button and rating and reviewing the show on Apple Podcasts to help other folks find the pod. Thanks again for listening and see you next week.