“We believe that it is possible to create an economy where all Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and Pacific Islander people thrive—in one generation. To accomplish this we must fight to dismantle what we call the Oppression Economy. Today, elite institutions use racism as a tool to expand their wealth and power and suppress the wealth of people of color through theft, exploitation, and exclusion. Suppressing economic power leads to suppression of political power to influence policies that oversee resources. The elite institutions that control resources use that control to change the rules of our economy in their favor, which continues the cycle of profit.”
This is the vision of Liberation in a Generation, a national movement support organization building the power of people of color to totally transform the economy—who controls it, how it works, and most importantly, for whom. Formed in 2018 by cofounders Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice, LibGen as it’s come to be called, brings together advocates, community organizers, economists, and other proven and emerging leaders of color across the country to build a Liberation Economy within, as the name suggests, one generation.
So as Off-Kilter continues this ongoing series of conversations with economic justice leaders working to turn the traditional think tank model on its head—for this week’s show, Rebecca sat down with Jeremie and Solana for a look at the story behind LibGen and how it’s working to dismantle what they have termed the “oppression economy” by putting people of color at the center of policy change. We also take a sneak peek at their new podcast, called Racism Is Profitable.
- Learn more about Liberation in a Generation and get involved at liberationinageneration.org.
- Subscribe to their new podcast, “Racism Is Profitable” and find all of the episodes we talked about here
- Follow them on Twitter @solanarice and @jeremiegreer
[bright theme music]
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.
“We believe that it is possible to create an economy where all Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and Pacific Islander people thrive—in one generation. To accomplish this, we must fight to dismantle what we call the Oppression Economy. Today, elite institutions use racism as a tool to expand their wealth and power and suppress the wealth of people of color through theft, exploitation, and exclusion. Suppressing economic power leads to suppression of political power to influence policies that oversee resources. The elite institutions that control resources use that control to change the rules of our economy in their favor, which continues this cycle of profit.”
This is the vision of Liberation in a Generation, a national movement support organization building the power of people of color to totally transform the economy—who controls it, how it works, and most importantly, for whom. Formed in 2018 by co-founders Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice, LibGen, as it’s come to be called by many, brings together advocates, community organizers, economists, and other proven as well as emerging leaders of color across the country to build a Liberation Economy within, as the name suggests, one generation.
So, as Off-Kilter continues this ongoing series of conversations with economic justice leaders working to turn the traditional think tank model of policymaking on its head, for this week’s show, I sat down with Jeremie and Solana for a look at the story behind LibGen and how it’s working to dismantle what they call the Oppression Economy by putting people of color at the center of policy change. We also take a sneak peek at their new podcast called Racism is Profitable, which you can check out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your pods. You can learn more about Liberation in a Generation at LiberationInAGeneration.org, and as always, in show notes. Let’s take a listen. [upbeat music break]
VALLAS: Jeremie, Solana, thank you both for taking the time to come on the show. And Solana, I’m so excited that you’re finally here with Jeremie!
SOLANA RICE: [laughs]
VALLAS: I’ve been hanging out with him a couple of times on the show, but we’ve been needing to get you in here!
RICE: Thanks for having us, Rebecca. Pleasure.
JEREMIE GREER: It’s always a pleasure. Great to be back.
VALLAS: Well, Jeremie, it’s always great to have you here. Solana, I’m so excited to have the total dynamic duo here, the complete dynamic duo. Because as listeners of the show will know, I’m a huge fan of Liberation in a Generation, have been since you guys launched, and you’ve got a ton going on right now. You’ve got lots of stuff we’re gonna talk about: a podcast, you’ve got a new 501(c)(4) organization. But before we get into all of that, for anyone who’s not familiar with what you guys are up to and what the organization and organizations are doing now, I’d love to give both of you the opportunity to talk a little bit about how you come to this work and the story behind Liberation in a Generation. So, Solana, how about we start with you since you’re new to Off-Kilter’s listeners?
RICE: [delighted chuckle] Yeah. Hi, everyone. Yes, Jeremie and I have known each other for quite a long time. I believe we met back in maybe it was like, oh, Jeremie, maybe it was like 2015 or something like that, 20—
GREER: Yeah, somewhere around there, somewhere around there.
RICE: 20…. Yeah, it might’ve been a little bit before that.
GREER: I think it was a little earlier.
RICE: Yeah, like 2008, 2012. And I was working on economic security for an organization called PolicyLink. Jeremie was working for what was the Center for Economic Development, CFED, and is now Prosperity Now. We both have a history of working on issues of racial justice and racial equity in many, many different spaces, whether it’s housing, whether it’s looking at infrastructure development. And we both found ourselves in this sort of economic security, like how do you build assets for everyone, but specifically people of color? And I don’t know if it’s our Midwestern roots or just being two Black people in national think tanks. We both looked at each other and was like, you know what? Something’s not hitting.
Like, we have been doing work together. At that point I was then at Prosperity Now, and we had launched the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative and really had looked at a lot of data to show that this racial wealth gap was not going to close anytime soon. We looked at what we were doing at these national think tanks, which was advancing good policy and building some partnerships, I wouldn’t say a base, but a collection, a network of people that cared about this issue across the country. And honestly when we looked at each other across the table at a fancy hotel—
GREER: Fancy-ass hotel.
GREER: Like the Gaylord at National Harbor, one of those fancy hotels where they—
RICE: Super crystal everywhere. We’re looking out onto this water. And we said, “I think it’s time to do something else.” I think we have to be, one, we need people with us. We are not talking to the people who are actually building power. Two, even if we were, the story that we’re telling right now is, “Well, if you save a little bit more, you can make it in this nation.” And the third was that we were also feeling like the policies that we were pushing weren’t transformative enough. And it was because we were really looking at what we could win, right, incrementally instead of what is really going to be transformative. Like, what is going to pull Black and brown people into liberation? And that’s why we started Liberation in a Generation.
And the name, it’s funny. We were like, what are we gonna call ourselves?! Is it the racial wealth gap? Never! Like, what are we trying to accomplish? And I was like, well. We were driving around the streets of Oakland. [laughs] Jeremie was out here for a visit, and we said, “You know what? What are we trying to stop?” And it was like, “Oppression.” OK, well, the opposite of oppression is liberation. And when do we wanna do it? Well, we don’t have forever. If we know the racial wealth gap is, if we know that Black and brown people in this nation will have zero wealth by the end of this, by the middle of the century, 2050 or so—and I’m sure that stat has changed even since we started back in 2019—then we need to do it within a generation. We need to do it now! So, Liberation in a Generation.
And we are a movement support organization. We support organizers who are building power, specifically, people of color—Black, brown, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Indigenous people—who are building power in their communities to change the narrative about what this economy is—it’s our economy—to advance really important, transformative, big, maybe not winnable today policies that really change our economic relationship, like our relationships to the economy. Whether it’s as workers, as students, as tenants, all of these economic relationships, really flipping them on their head. So, we do this day in and day out. We just launched a (c)(4), as you noted, and we’re recognizing that we can’t do any of this without real political action and without determining who is actually making the rules.
VALLAS: There’s so much in that story, and I wish actually we could only just talk about the story of how you guys came to be in some ways. And so, let’s stay there for a minute before we get into some of the new stuff you guys are doing because I feel like wrapped up in a lot of what you just said, Solana, in sort of the candid telling— And I love the setting the scene, too, right? ‘Cause I can picture the conference or whatever you’re at with the fancy glassware and the scene setting and all the privilege and nobody questioning it, right? It’s quite pervasive within the economic justice space, even with people increasingly using that phrase, the way that business as usual has sort of been done.
But part of why I really wanted to have you guys on this show is not just some of the great, exciting, new stuff that you’re doing right now, which we’ll get to, but we’ve actually been doing a series of conversations on Off-Kilter this year about what it looks like to put people at the center of policy. And in a lot of ways that series of conversations has really been about how do we turn the think tank community on its head? How do we turn policymaking on its head and bring it back to what it’s really supposed to be about? Which is people rather than just numbers or facts and figures or reports that get posted to websites or whatever kind of business as usual has been done by the usual suspects who have been people who are not impacted by the policies that they’re opining about and developing, in most cases.
But I really feel like in so many ways, Liberation in a Generation is an outgrowth of and a response to what has been wrong with how we’ve been making policy for as long as any of us can remember. But you’re doing it, not by standing up on a soapbox and saying, “Everything is terrible. [laughing] Everyone is making policy in the wrong way!” You’re standing up and you’re saying, “Actually, this is how we do it.” And it starts by not just saying, “What can we do this year or this Congress,” right? That’s important. That’s part of what you guys sometimes opine on and engage on. Sometimes, like Build Back Better or whatever the vehicle of the day is, right?
VALLAS: You can’t totally ignore those moments. But you guys are stepping back, and you’re asking the big picture question: How do we dismantle an Oppression Economy? And you’re calling it out. You’re really, you’re actually calling out what we have as opposed to saying, “Let’s just continue to work within this system and think that somehow, it’s fundamentally going to change if we do that.” And so, Jeremie, I don’t know if you wanna get in here next just to comment a little bit on what it means to dismantle the Oppression Economy and to pull a little more on the thread that Solana started to pull on before about really describing the theory of change that underpins this organization and how you guys connect to not just the Washington folks, but to people.
GREER: Yeah, there’s this great quote that kind of guides our work, and it’s from Audre Lorde, the great Black feminist. And it’s that, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” And it’s something that hit us early that it was like, one, we can’t approach analysis to the problem in the same way that we have. Because the way to not approach the problem is to kind of dance around the issue of systemic racism and white supremacy. It’s to treat it as like this externality or this thing that is kind of influencing things, creates those unintended consequences, things like that, like a lot of the jargon that you hear in policymaking.
And we took it to say like, no, this racism, systemic racism, and white supremacy is built into the fabric of our economy. It is woven into the fabric of our economy. It was there since the beginning, and it was put there intentionally. And that’s where we got to talking about this Oppression Economy because it is an economy that from the founding of this country was meant to steal from people of color, whether it’s the land or the labor of the people of color that were in this country; to exclude them from important economic systems that are designed to create wealth and stability for American citizens, that intentionally is excluding people of color out of those systems; and that those systems because, and to prey upon the vulnerability that’s created by that exclusion to exploit Black and brown people. We see this in all corners of our economy.
So, for us, it was like, in order to create these new ways of working, we have to be honest about how we got here and be honest about what is driving the outcomes that we see in our economy. And that was really the birth of the Oppression Economy, and it was really talking about in an oppressive economy, we have to end the criminalization of people of color, that people are criminalized, that’s that exclusion. That we can’t operate a dual financial system: have one financial system that is meant to build wealth for largely white people and to extract wealth from Black and brown people. And we can get into specifics if that’s where you wanna go at some point, Rebecca. And that corporate power is so power that it just crushes people of color around labor practices, around consumer activity, and so on and so forth, that the wealth of corporate power has gotten too large. And then finally, that piece—and this is where the (c)(4) for us comes in—that our political power is suppressed so that we can be exploited economically. And that again, it is intentional.
Like these conversations about voting rights, these are really economic conversations. Because the intentionality behind restricting the voting rights of Black people or immigrant people or other people is so that the government, so they don’t have representation in the government, and the government can then set the rules that continue that Oppression Economy. So, this is something that has been core to us, but we didn’t wanna stop there.
So, of course, it’s one thing to be honest about the world in which we live in, which is important. But the other thing that we wanted to do was think about, well, we have to be visionary and envision an economy that is different from the one that we have and think about what is the pathway to that? And that’s that Liberation Economy. And that economy is one where all people of color have their basic needs met, all people of color have safety and security, all people of color are valued and then compensated for their value, and then all people of color belong. Because we have an economy today in which exclusion is so core to how it works, and that in a Liberation Economy, it’s actually about bringing more people in rather than pushing people out. And that, to us, you know, it’s like after years of experience talking to people about what they want the economy to do for them, it was those basic things, and really, again, centering the economic well-being of people of color. And having the government and our economy responsible for delivering that for people of color is really the vision that we hope to be a part of moving our economic systems towards.
VALLAS: I love—
VALLAS: I love— Oh no, please, go ahead, Solana.
RICE: Well, I was just going to say, Rebecca, that I think also in your question, which I think I wanna double click on ‘cause I feel like what we’ve been talking about is in the substance, the what we are talking about, you know?
RICE: But we also had to understand that if we weren’t talking about it this way, that we were not going to build relationship with Black and brown people.
RICE: People of color know this story. So, we’re not here to be on high, like, “Behold! This is what is actually going on!”
RICE: People absolutely know this, and we had to say it outright. And when I tell you, like the folks, that, there are many organizers that we work with that have said, like, “Finally, somebody’s saying the thing. Somebody is actually saying the thing!”
GREER: The thing that we know, yeah.
RICE: The thing that we know, that sometimes when we walk in these circles, we can’t always say, but somebody needs to say it. So, I wanna say that.
But I also wanna say it’s also about how we approach the story itself, but our work. We exist to support movement leaders. We are not here to say, “Here’s your 10-point plan for liberation.” Yes, we have some ideas about what might get us there, and we wanna workshop that with folks. We wanna really test it. We wanna pressure test it. We want to, you know, iron sharpens iron, as one of our good friends Demond Drummer likes to say. That like, we know that the folks that we are working with, the folks that are organizing in their communities know the problems, and they have inklings about the solutions as well, and they have solutions. And so, we’re here to really lift that up, to bridge, if there needs to be a bridge, and we’re always trying to figure out how we can be invited in. We’re not here to just knock on people’s doors and say, “Hey, we’ve got this wonderful policy platform for you. I’m pretty sure you’re gonna love it. Come along.”
RICE: [laughs] That’s not our stance in the world. Which is also quite different from at least the think tanks that we have been involved with or know and know of. So, I just wanted to make sure that we talked about [inaudible].
VALLAS: That’s such, yeah. And that’s such an important point, right? Just ‘cause that’s literally what I was about to say. And so, I love that you took us there further, right? When we talk about what does it look like to turn the way that think tanks have been operating on their head and to actually put power back in the hands of people, right? I mean, that’s a lot of it, right? As opposed to this top-down, Washington knows best, we’re gonna be—“we” quote-unquote, you know, the folks in D.C. think tanks, ivory towers—are gonna be the ones who know what the solutions are. And we’re gonna come and tell you people who are struggling to afford food and housing and health care because of systemic problems that were created by those same circles who are now telling you that we have the solutions, right? I mean, that’s a lot of what you’re really taking on head on and saying, actually, sure. Maybe there’s, like you said—I love that you said it—“We’ve got some ideas,” right?
‘Cause you guys are policy experts. You’ve got years and years of doing work with think tanks and policy organizations, as you said. But it’s really about saying actually, we need to be talking to communities that are impacted and asking them, “What are the solutions here, and what do you need, and how can we be working to shift power and who holds power in this country” in a way that then allows those very basic things that people know that they need. Jeremie, you were starting to lay it out sort of at the principle level, at the values level. How do we put all of that within the realm of the possible versus the realm of unicorns and puppies and whatever we get told our ideas are when we talk about what it looks like to actually center human rights and human dignity and valuing all people?
And I feel like that’s a really good jumping off point into some of what you guys are up to right now and some of the really exciting new developments with Liberation in a Generation in how you guys are doing what you’re describing. And honestly, it feels to me—tell me if I’m wrong here—that really, a through line of a lot of this work, the (c)(4) especially, the podcast, it’s about narrative shift. It’s about identifying and calling out the lies, the myths. And in some ways, and this connects to the ongoing series we’ve been having of conversations on Off-Kilter these past several weeks, the unstated limiting beliefs that hold us back as a country and that hold us back as a policymaking sector from actually getting to root causes, from actually getting to the big picture transformational solutions like you’ve been referring to. So, I feel like this is a really good jumping off point into some of how you guys have been doing that. But am I right? Is narrative shift really, in some ways, a lot of what you guys think needs to happen in order to be able to achieve the gains we need to see in a generation?
GREER: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, it is just not our…. Our economic systems and our policies are built upon narratives that we hold and worldviews that we hold. And they’re worldviews that have been deeply embedded in us. And like you referenced earlier, the show that I was on, the Off-Kilter show that I was on, with Aisha from Magnolia Mother’s Trust around the narratives around Black people that we as a country hold and then inform our public policy in a way of creating like work requirements for TANF, for example. And in the pathway that we believe that narrative and worldview is incredibly important to dismantle in order to get to a liberatory space.
The thing that we talked about in that podcast was guaranteed income. And what holds us back from that type of policy is this idea that Black people haven’t earned, they don’t earn their money. And if they do get it, they waste it on things, and this myth of the welfare queen and things like that. So, it’s important for us to really deconstruct these racist narratives that hold the Oppression Economy as part of the work to get towards creating liberation
So, much of our work, particularly in the (c)(4) we’re gonna talk about a moment, Liberation in a Generation Action, is about dismantling those narratives. And doing it in the (c)(4) recognizing that those narratives are political, that particular parties and particular people within parties are the ones that are really responsible for perpetuating a lot of those narratives. And if you’re not ready to enter into that through a political discussion, then you’re really not, it’s gonna be really hard to do that narrative dismantling.
VALLAS: And that episode for anyone who wants to go back and check it out was, it’s called The Racist Roots of Work Requirements, and definitely a lot there that connects to what we’re talking about now. The other episode that we should plug, Jeremie, that you were also on was called Reimagining Anti-Monopoly Activism and doing that through a racial justice lens. So, folks can check out both of those episodes for a little bit more.
But I feel like this is a good segue into talking about some of what you guys have been doing with the podcast. The podcast is called Racism Is Profitable. [chuckles] The name kind of says it all, right?
GREER and RICE: [laugh]
VALLAS: You’re just putting it right in there, putting it right up front, not hiding the ball at all. And the thing is, we know this, right? This is a thing we know. But you guys are talking about it in a systematic way. You’re having on advocates and researchers and activists. It’s a really cool set of folks. You’ve already had four episodes that I’m aware of. But I’d love to kind of walk through some of the lies, the myths, the kind of neoliberal narratives that you guys have been calling out with the show ‘cause it’s sort of like, at least the way that it looks to me as I’ve been listening to some of them and seeing what you guys have been putting out, it’s sort of like you guys are going week by week, constructing a syllabus of like, here is the lie, and let us take it down and tell you what is actually going on.
GREER and RICE: [laugh]
VALLAS: And we’ll have on a smart person to do it with us.
VALLAS: That’s kind of the structure of the show, which is very, very cool.
GREER: Yeah, it’s really the structure to all of our things we do.
VALLAS: Like, let’s find a smart person that knows something about this, and let’s work with those people, like that. Yeah. [chuckles]
RICE: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And this was really, it’s actually a test, you know?
RICE: Jeremie and I sat down. We’re like, OK, we have some things to say. We probably need to say them so that folks really get a sense of who we are, our voice. And it’s also why we start with our personal stories and experiences with these issues. It’s not even that we, no one is above them because this is the water that we swim in. And Racism Is Profitable is not just a catchy name, and it’s not something that we totally came up with. I mean, Toni Morrison has this great quote that’s from a country where, we live in a country where racism will disappear when it’s no longer profitable, no longer psychologically useful, and when it happens, it’ll be gone. And for me, that was just like, right, oh my gosh! I don’t have to bear the weight of all of these interpersonal racist attacks ‘cause it’s actually—
You know, sometimes I wonder. I sit around, and I’m just like, why? Why are people so racist? Like, what is this? Why is this useful? It’s actually work. It’s not like…. You have to uphold it. You have to put some work into it. And honestly, when I sat with this idea that it’s profitable, then it started to make much more sense that people are holding onto a real asset in white supremacy. People are protecting an economic position with racism. And then things started to fall into place. So, it’s that kind of story that we all have to deconstruct and reconstruct a new one. But these stories are deep.
This idea that we all have to work, and we have to work ourselves to the bone in order to get by, that one, I don’t know. For me and for Jeremie, that was a definite like, if you are not working, what are you doing? [laughing] Like, you’re not doing anything! And if you’re not working really hard and twice as hard, probably, as your white colleague, good luck. Good luck. You’ll be, right? But my parents would be like, “You’re not coming back here, [laughs] so you better figure it out and do the work!” And it’s dangerous. That’s actually, this myth is actually physically and psychologically dangerous, and it’s harmful for our health in the long run.
VALLAS: And that was your first episode. You guys came hot out of the gate with just a totally, totally incredible and really ambitious episode where you basically, you kind of like, it’s kind of like you shot for the king, right? It’s like, and then you can’t miss, right?
GREER and RICE: [chuckle]
VALLAS: And you didn’t. And you call the first episode Work and Your Worth. And you just go right for it, and you say, look, there’s this lie, quote, that we’re only valuable, “We Black people are only valuable and valued if we work hard and produce, produce, produce. It’s time to smash the illusion that keeps us building wealth for other people, when we deserve to build it for ourselves.” So, a little bit of a different way of going after, say, the racial wealth gap, right, and how think tanks with their buttoned-up sweaters like to talk about this stuff. But it’s, you know, you’re just going right at the heart of what ends up producing grind culture, and like you said, Solana, just really, really unhealthy choices that don’t feel like choices and are not really presented as choices for a lot of folks. Do you wanna say a little bit more about that episode? ‘Cause it feels like in so many ways that was sort of the topic sentence for a lot of what this podcast is doing and really, the cornerstone of what the Oppression Economy is all really constructed on.
RICE: I mean, Lauren Jacobs is on that episode. Lauren is amazing with PowerSwitch Action. And if you don’t know them, Google [laughs] right now. And it’s a stance, this idea of you work is not your worth is actually a tough one for us all to wrap our heads around because it does fundamentally change the way we think about what we’re working for. And it goes right back to what you all were talking about in the podcast with work requirements. We’re trying to uplift these deeply embedded worldviews and notions that actually shape our material world. It’s not just like, “Oh, I just love this color dress, and that’s just what I’m going to wear.” It’s not like a whimsy. This is actually, it shapes the way we operate in the world.
And so, it does call to question what are we fighting for when we’re fighting for worker rights? What are we fighting for when we fight for worker voice? Are we fighting to build somebody else’s wealth at the end of the day? Are we fighting to have a little bit more ease? Are we fighting to change our economic relationship? I love that Erica Smiley of Jobs With Justice often talks about like, we are building worker voice and worker power to really change the dynamic between employer and employee and to actually shift power, [laughs] right? So that we’re not just at the whim. Yeah, Jeremie, you probably have quite a few gems from that episode too.
GREER: Yeah, I mean, and we start the episode, we start every episode, with a kind of way in which this idea that we’re talking about shows up in cultural discourse. And with this episode, we pulled a great scene from the play Fences in which Denzel Washington is talking to his son about the importance of his role as a father working for the family. And they’re like, it’s this thing around like, I ain’t got to like you. And it’s just like story, this discussion about how my job is to provide for you. That is what I’m here to do. This is why he says the words, like, “I bust my butt for them crackers” in the speech and in this conversation.
And for us, it was like, yo, as Black people, we’ve gotten that talk! We have gotten that talk in our lives where it’s like, you are a laborer first, and that is how you survive. And so, we really kind of wanted to explore that about how that’s so deeply embedded in us and that that feeling, that lesson that we all get is really not for us. It’s for someone else, that that work that we do is really for someone else. And there’s so much in our public policy that reinforces that we play that role in society. So, yeah, I’d say that. And Lauren brought that out, so many gems in her life experience, her work at the PowerSwitch. So, yeah, that was a really, I’d encourage everyone to listen to that, so.
VALLAS: Well, and it’s such an important conversation for so many reasons. But it also, it really helps to, I think, explain and to underscore what it means when things that started out as racist policies that were actually written into law or were the norm—whether it be slavery or convict leasing or draw the line to today—all those things may not be on the books anymore, but have sort of been sublimated into cultural norms, right? Narratives that have the same oppressive consequences, even if it’s invisible and in the air or in the water we swim in, as Solana put it, right? So, really kind of continues that through line from that conversation we were talking about the racist roots of work requirements to today.
GREER and RICE: Mmhmm.
VALLAS: Your second episode really picks that conversation up and goes to another really, really core lie underpinning the Oppression Economy.
GREER and RICE: [laugh]
VALLAS: And I have to say I liked all of the episodes, but I have to say this one in particular has some real timely resonance for a lot of us who have been living through the adventure to try to do right by our country in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic and recession.
VALLAS: You call that episode Whose Money? Our Money, and you go right at another lie. You say scarcity is used as a racist lie. “Two years into the COVID recession, and Congress is still squabbling over how much they’re willing to spend to keep people safe, housed, and fed.
VALLAS: And you’re talking a lot about the role not just of monetary policy and fiscal policy, but how money gets distributed, given that, back to the title, it’s our money, right? And yet somehow that is missing when we talk about, or the mainstream media reports or think tanks talk about, what’s going on in Congress and how tax dollars are being distributed. Talk a little bit about that scarcity lie and some of what you guys delve into in that episode.
GREER: Yeah, that was great. That one was with Demond Drummer for PolicyLink. And we dove into, and he had some really great gems in there, two of which, was the first one was ain’t no such thing as private money. All money is public money. And it really gets at this reality that the government is the provider of money; it creates the money. So, this idea that there’s a scarcity of money is a myth because literally, the government creates the money. And then he talked to us about how it was distributed, and then he had this great data point that like 9 to 1, the money that is created, $9 goes to major banks and corporations to distribute as they see fit. And $1 then goes to the government to spend through its spending programs. So, we often think of scarcity as this thing within discretionary budgets versus nondiscretionary budgets and entitlements and all of that. And all of that is the $1 as compared to the $9 that just goes to banks to choose how to distribute it to the economy in the way that they want to, so that they can make profit. It was an incredible revelation for me in listening to Demond talk.
And then the other piece is he talked about in scarcity that the United States government has always been able to afford what they choose to do. And the way that our society is set up, the way that our government is set up, taking care of Black people and taking care of immigrants, taking care of Indigenous people is something that they have showed no interest in doing. So, they don’t do it with the resources that are at play.
GREER: So, the real work is how do you shift that on its head and say to the government, “Take responsibility for people of color?” And then you can start to chip away at these scarcity lies because again, if it could choose to take care of Black people, it has the money to do it. So, that was, yeah, that was a really, really great episode, along with some of the great pop culture. We had a scene from Good Times.
that scene. A scene from The Wire in that one. So, yeah, it was a great episode, a lot of fun.
VALLAS: I do love how you guys have been weaving pop culture throughout, right? But also, I think it helps because it’s basically you’re holding up a mirror.
VALLAS: You’re holding up a mirror to not just our policy choices, but also to our culture and how the narratives seep in and are really embedded and keep coming back at us in ways that for a lot of people are kind of subconscious. You’re taking it in through movies, you’re taking it in through not just the news headlines that you read, right? It’s sort of all around us. So, I really love how you guys sort of weave that through. Solana, I don’t know if you wanna say anything about the Whose Money? Our Money before we go to toxic individualism.
RICE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, that was another great episode. But yes.
RICE: I did wanna mention that when we’re talking about that data point that 9 out of 10 dollars that runs through our economy is actually going through banks, that actually has a very significant impact on our democracy. It means that 9 out of 10 dollars that is circulating in this economy is not, while it is our money, while the government has generated it, and we are the government, it means that who decides how that money is circulated is not, we do not have as much control as we should have over those 9 out of 10 dollars. And so, when we’re— I also thought this was so important, this conversation was so important because it puts the fiscal policy, the stimulus bills, and the spending that we’re doing through Congress, it puts that in real perspective, not for today’s fight, not for the Build Back Better fight or whatever and infrastructure bill fight, but for the long term so that folks understand what we’re really fighting is meant to create adversaries. Like, we’re fighting over the one dollar!
RICE: [laughing] It’s meant to create adversaries amongst us. That is on purpose. We think we can’t get the Child Tax Credit and raise the minimum wage and cancel student loan debt and. Like, we can! We absolutely, we have that ability. If we want to do it, we can do it. So, it can be a heady conversation about where money is generated and what it actually is and what it’s not, but when it comes down to it, it impacts our everyday lives.
VALLAS: And I also just so appreciate so much of what you guys do with these conversations, and that one, I think in particular, is to really kind of zoom out so that rather than starting from the place everyone’s conditioned to start the conversation, it’s like, well, why don’t we ask some questions about how this stuff runs, right? Why are we—back to unstated limiting beliefs—why are we in a place where we get scraps thrown to us, and as a movement, we’re all supposed to be fighting amongst them, and there’s never enough? But somehow, we can still celebrate because we moved the ball slightly forward for X group at the expense of Y group, right? I mean, which is the norm when we get into fights like the Build Back Better fight, which now is on ice and getting renamed. And we won’t talk about that now. But to the point of Congress squabbling over how much they’re willing to spend to keep people safe and housed and fed, what could be more important when it comes to national and societal goals than the well-being of our people? Yet that isn’t the metric that drives these kinds of debates. It all starts with quote-unquote “what can we afford,” right? And so, you guys are really zooming out and holding up a mirror to that to show what a funhouse mirror we’ve been using and how distorted that conversation has been.
I wanna get into the toxic individualism episode, which, phew, so, again, I love all of these, and I sort of feel like I can’t choose between them.
VALLAS: But with this one, I mean, you guys go right for the lie that really is in many ways at the heart of almost everything progressives fight about in a really siloed way, usually, which is the neoliberal narrative, the bootstraps narrative, the personal responsibility, right? And the quote here I wanna give you guys a chance to respond to as a jumping off point for that discussion, you write, “The struggles that people of color endure are not the consequences of our own actions or inactions. It’s really systemic barriers and the blatant racism that built them that let policymakers minimize our deservingness and ultimately deny Black and brown folks access to economic opportunity and government support.” I’m just gonna give you guys both a chance to respond a little bit to that, because boy, is the neoliberal narrative really at the heart of so much of what you guys are looking to dismantle here.
GREER: Solana, you should use to talk about this. But before you do, Solana, I wanna just shout out our producer, Kendra Bozarth because she writes those little snippets before we go in. And so, I just wanna shout her out ‘cause listening to you read it, Rebecca, I was like, damn, she’s good, so.
VALLAS: Kendra’s amazing.
GREER: Yeah. [laughs]
VALLAS: And also, Kendra will be coming on this show as we can get her to do it. We have confirmation that she wants to. We just have to actually get her on. So, just want her to know she’s been called out on air, which means now she has to come on.
GREER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
RICE: Exactly. Deep, deep shoutouts and thanks to Kendra. Without her, Jeremie and I would be adrift talking about our personal experiences all day.
GREER and RICE: [laugh]
RICE: And she is so great about roping us back to like, yeah, but why is this Racism is Profitable? So, deep shoutouts to her.
And I have to say, toxic individualism is not something new. It’s the old, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, like, you can make it, if I can make it. It is often a way that people of color are pitted against one another. “I did it. Why can’t you do it?” And I will say part of the reason, at least for me—I’ll just speak for my own self—the idea that I have agency, I have individual agency, is really seductive, right? It’s really like, oh! I can just go out here and do this, and the world’s my oyster. And then every, like, I won’t say every person of color, but I’m pretty, all the people of color I know have experienced that moment when you realize, oh, that’s not real. That whole like, I’m gonna do this on my own is not real. It shouldn’t be. We are all better in community. We are all better when we are working together and in alliance.
There’s also that moment when you realize, oh, but the people who are saying “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” also had a lot of other things going besides their bootstraps that we as a collective created for them so they wouldn’t have to actually rely on pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, which is literally physically impossible. So, this was one, honestly, that was first top of mind when we said, well, what do we have to address and take on?
But as we talk about guaranteed income, for example, this is absolutely one where, if we are holding on to this idea that we as a collective can’t take care of each other individually, guaranteed income flies in the face of that. It flies in the face of the idea that you have to be out here on your own struggling. And if you’re not struggling, then you’re lazy, and you don’t deserve help. And you don’t deserve support, and you don’t deserve to make a way. And so, this notion is absolutely one that we have to drop in order to imagine things like a guaranteed income where we all get a modicum of benefit from the wealth of this nation.
VALLAS: And Jeremie, it sounded like you wanted to get in on that as well, yeah!
GREER: Yo, all of that. I was just like, she was not just speaking for herself. All of that. And the one thing I wanted add was that it was with that episode with Mayor Michael Tubbs, former mayor of Stockton, California, who has launched a dope new initiative called Ending Poverty in California, EPIC, which is as bold and as visionary as what we’re working on, so we’re working in close partnership with him, not just on that podcast, but just generally supporting that effort to end poverty in California. So, I just wanted to shout that out. That’s all I wanted to add to that, yeah.
VALLAS: And then we’ve got one more episode I just wanted to hit on, and then I wanna give you guys a chance to talk a little bit about what’s going on with this (c)(4) ‘cause that’s incredibly exciting, too, and gets you guys into a whole new way of doing some of the work that really is very politically engaged and related. But the fourth episode you guys have done so far is, you called it, We All Belong, and really what that’s about—and again, credit to Kendra for some of these summaries here—the episode is about lifting back the curtain on why U.S. citizenship is denied to so many people in this country and why, as you put it, it has yet to be fully realized for most Americans.
I’m gonna pull a quote again here: “We know that we don’t have democratic citizenship, and we damn sure don’t have economic emancipation either.” I feel like that episode is probably one folks didn’t have necessarily on their bingo card as they were thinking about what are the lies that need to get called out and the unstated limiting beliefs within this realm. But talk a little bit about that episode and why that was so important to include as you guys start constructing the syllabus week to week.
GREER: Yeah, no. That episode was with Greisa Rosas Martínez. If folks don’t know who she is, Google “United We Dream” because they’re doing some really awesome work. And that conversation was so rich because what we talked about was the concept of real citizenship, right? There’s a citizenship that we believe we all have, particularly I, as a Black person, because of the hard fights of emancipation and the 13th Amendment which established our citizenship in this country, but that people are still fighting for it today, you know, immigrant folks who come from other countries. There’s that legal citizenship. But then there’s real citizenship, which is really about belonging, right? Like, having access to the systems and structures in this country that facilitate your ability to do well in this country. And that while people may have legal citizenship, most people of color don’t have that. They don’t have that belonging into the economic systems, the systems that build wealth, the systems that create prosperity, the systems that allow you to navigate this country freely without worry of harm coming to you, right? Those systems are withheld from us. So, we really talked about what is real citizenship in this country, and how do we get to a place in the future Liberation Economy where all people, just by their feet being down on this country, on the land of this country, feel like they have full citizenship and belonging? And it was, to me it was, you know, I don’t wanna pick favorites, but it was a real powerful conversation with Greisa that I really enjoyed.
RICE: Yeah, I just wanna shout out to Greisa, Greisa Martínez Rosas.
GREER: Oh, yeah. I flipped them. I flipped them. Yeah, yeah.
RICE: It’s no problem. But we, Jeremie and I, have some folks that we really love to roll with and talk to. So, we basically are like, how are we gonna get Greisa on this pod? [delighted laugh]
GREER: Yeah, right, right. Yeah.
RICE: But when we really started to think about it, just like Jeremie said, our economic, the way I think about it is, our economic rights are conferred through citizenship, and we have been constantly redefining what citizenship is since the beginning of the nation. And we have constantly been saying, you get citizenship, but not you. And you get citizenship on these days, but not these other days. I mean, every amendment! It’s like every amendment to the Constitution is like, who actually belongs, who actually gets a say?
RICE: Who actually gets citizenship rights? What do you get with those citizenship rights? And it’s unfinished business, really. So, we felt like we, while it’s something that actually, I don’t know, at least for me, I didn’t grow up thinking about it. My parents weren’t talking about it constantly. But it was one of those things where we couldn’t not really, we couldn’t not address. We had to.
VALLAS: Well, in a lot of ways it’s sort of the most ultimate, most fundamental question that gets asked in defining who’s part of the “us” and who’s part of the “them.”
GREER: That’s right. That’s right.
VALLAS: So, I really appreciated it as well. So, I wanna close out. We’re gonna run out of time in just a few minutes. Gosh, it always goes so fast when I’m talking with you guys. But I wanna give you guys a chance to talk a little bit about the (c)(4), Liberation in a Generation Action, which is another really new, exciting development. And so, talk a little bit about why that was important to start and what you guys are doing with it. And I understand you guys have a lot of work going on through that action fund that is connected to the midterms that we have coming up later this year! Yes, that is indeed this year, folks. It is actually coming up soon.
GREER: Yeah, I know.
RICE: I think before we talk about this, before, I just wanted to plug that there are three more episodes of the pod to drop quite soon. We’re talking with Taifa Butler of Demos about governance and what that means. We’re talking to Maurice BP-Weeks about credit and how that works in our economy, or doesn’t work, for people of color. And we’re talking to Bob Reich, former U.S. Labor Secretary, about just generally how racism is profitable. So, stay tuned.
VALLAS: Oh, I love it. All great folks.
RICE: Yeah, stay tuned for those.
GREER: Yeah, yeah, it’s dope. And so, I’ll talk a bit about the (c)(4). Like I said earlier, we’re launched (c)(4) because these conversations, our pathway to liberation is not, we’re not gonna win by just having the best ideas. And we’re not gonna win just by mobilizing power. But we are also, a key, important piece of getting to liberation is being able to wield that power and wield that power in election cycles, wield that power in lobbying sitting officials. This means we have to direct our advocacy at public officials who are elected and who are sitting in government offices. So, what we’re really doing, LibGen, Liberation in a Generation Action, is really taking, you know, we had a great conversation with a colleague who said to us, when you think about (c)(3), (c)(4), it’s all the same work, just different money, right? So, we’re really taking the work and the things that we’ve learned in Liberation in a Generation, taking that over to our sister organization, Liberation in a Generation Action, and deploying it there.
So, we hope to, want the (c)(4), the podcast is the first kind of piece of that and really gonna have those political discussions. What we hope to do moving forward is highlight more organizers that are organizing in political spaces, highlight more candidates that are advocating for policies that are liberatory, and really getting into those political discussions about what it really is gonna take to wield power in state legislatures, in the halls of Congress, so on and so forth, with candidates, and with advocates who are in the middle of those fights. But then also, doing what we’ve been doing, which is raising open like, here are these issues that demonstrate that this racism is profitable.
The other thing that we wanna do is really take the good kind of work that we’ve been doing on the (c)(3) side with organizing groups that are base building and take that into groups that are doing base building but doing it in election cycles. And we’re really wanting to focus on these midterms. And one, again, highlighting candidates that are carrying these liberatory policies in key races across the country, up and down the board from local races all the way to federal races. But then also provide some of our policy support and expertise to candidates and to folks who are doing that organizing in political spaces.
Because what we know is in a lot of these races, you gotta pick a side, and the (c)(3) won’t let you pick a side. But in the (c)(4) space, you can pick a side. You gotta pick a side because some of these, a lot of these folks ain’t about liberation. They’re about oppression. They’re double and triple and ten times down on oppression. And we have to confront them in those political spaces in order to really move things towards liberation. So, that’s what we’re wanting to do through that action side.
VALLAS: And Solana, you’re gonna get the last word with anything else you wanna plug about what’s coming down the pike in the weeks and months ahead.
RICE: Oh, wow. Please stay tuned for the podcast. Please check out LiberationInAGenerationAction.org to learn more about what we’re up to on the (c)(4) side. LiberationInAGeneration.org on the (c)(3) side. We are dropping a lot of policy briefs. And when I say we’re dropping policy briefs, these are fire, y’all. They aren’t like your typical policy briefs.
GREER: [laughing] Yeah.
RICE: And they’re going to change over time as we continue to hear from, engage, build relationship with our good people out in the world. So, look for, we just released a debt-free college brief that really walks through policy options that are both reparative, some are reformist, some are just somewhere in between, right? So, we recognize that we have this spectrum and that we have some choices to make, and those are the ones that we wanna be in conversation with people about. So, yeah, look for more things on the horizon. Also, we have a pretty big announcement that I can’t even talk about [laughs] that will be coming quite soon. So, just, it’s a bomb report that we worked on with some folks. So, everybody should just stay tuned, follow us on Twitter, and keep a note on our website.
VALLAS: I feel like that’s a hell of a mic drop, “And something we can’t tell you about!”
VALLAS: You’re just gonna leave everybody on tenterhooks.
RICE: OK, OK!
GREER: You’ll have to bring us back, Rebecca. Then we can we talk about it. [laughs]
VALLAS: Well, if that’s the spin, then I’m excited ‘cause I would love to have you guys back super, super soon. This was such a fun conversation.
Solana Rice and Jeremie Greer are the co-founders of Liberation in a Generation, and as you’ve been hearing, Liberation in a Generation Action. They’re also the co-hosts of Racism is Profitable, a podcast that you can find wherever podcasts are found. Check out our show notes and our syllabus page at TCF.org/Off-Kilter for a whole bunch of the stuff they’ve been plugging and easy click-throughs so that you can subscribe to their podcast and get involved with all of what they’ve been talking about with LibGen’s amazing work.
But just a huge thanks to you guys for taking the time, but for just everything that you guys are doing right now to really turn how policymaking happens on its head and to put people of color at the center in the process. I’m really honored to get to know you both, and I look forward to getting to talk with you guys as soon as we can possibly make it happen. [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.