This week, Off-Kilter returns to our ongoing series of conversations with social justice leaders digging into why, in the famous words of Audre Lorde, self-care is political warfare—and the role radical self-care plays in their own lives to sustain them in this work. As a lawyer and policy advocate who’s also a lifelong student of the magical and mystical, Rebecca thinks a lot about social justice advocacy and activism as their own forms of magic—magic that starts with a vision of a new reality and works backwards to manifest it through intentional individual and collective action. So for this week’s episode, Rebecca decided to take a deep dive into a particular magical practice that’s often relegated to the realm of fantasy and science fiction—and that’s time travel.
And to do just that, she sat down with two expert time travelers who are also no strangers to Off-Kilter’s listeners—Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice. They are the cofounders and co-executive directors of a movement support organization called Liberation in a Generation, whose theory of change focuses on dismantling what they call the “oppression economy” to make way for a liberation economy where people of color belong—a vision that Jeremie and Solana describe as itself science fiction.
They had a far-ranging conversation about time travel as a strategy for social change as well as self-care; what it looks like to think across generations in the midst of a global paradigm shift, by connecting with one’s ancestors as well as future leaders, in recognition that the work of social liberation will never be completed in a single lifetime; and how they fuse urgency with sustainability to stay in right relationship to the work.
[bright theme music]
REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off-Kilter, a podcast about the fight for economic liberation and what it will take to set us all free, powered by The Century Foundation. I’m Rebecca Vallas, and every week I talk with visionary leaders working to disrupt the off-kilter imbalance of power in the U.S. to build a society where everyone can thrive and experience the shared abundance we all deserve. And this week, Off-Kilter continues our ongoing series of conversations with social justice leaders, digging into why, in the famous words of Audre Lorde, self-care is political warfare, and the role radical self-care plays in their own lives to sustain them in this work.
As a lawyer and policy advocate who’s also a lifelong student of the magical and mystical—a side of myself that I’ve come to bring into this podcast and to my professional life more broadly in recent years—I think a lot about social justice advocacy and activism as their own forms of magic. Magic that starts with a vision of a new reality and works backwards to manifest it through intentional individual and collective action. So, for this week’s episode of the podcast, I decided to take a deep dive into a particular magical practice that’s often relegated to the realm of fantasy and science fiction, and that’s time travel.
And to help me do just that, I sat down with two expert time travelers who are also no strangers to Off-Kilter’s listeners: Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice. They’re the co-founders and co-executive directors of a movement support organization called Liberation in a Generation whose theory of change focuses on dismantling what they call the “oppression economy” to make way for a liberation economy where people of color belong, a vision that Jeremie and Solana describe as itself science fiction. We had a far-ranging conversation about time travel as a strategy for social change as well as self-care; what it looks like to think across generations in the midst of a global paradigm shift by connecting with one’s ancestors, as well as future leaders, in recognition that the work of social liberation will never be completed in a single lifetime; and how they fuse urgency with sustainability to stay in right relationship to the work. Let’s take a listen. [upbeat music break]
Jeremie and Solana, it is so awesome to hear both of your voices again. It’s really, really, really exciting to be back in conversation. Thank you for coming back on the show.
JEREMIE GREER: Glad to be back!
SOLANA RICE: Thank you. Yeah, glad to be back.
VALLAS: I always love chatting with y’all, but I have to say—and we were saying a little bit of this before we got rolling. I feel like Troy always gets annoyed when we start with small talk, and he says, “You should be recording this!”—So, I was saying a little bit before we got rolling, I have really, really, really been looking forward to this conversation with both of you. We’ve been doing these weekly conversations on Off-Kilter about self-care as political warfare. We’ve been trying to bridge the individual and the systemic components of that conversation. And so, it’s been weeks in the planning having both of you back on to be part of this series. And I’m just, I’m really grateful to you in advance for the conversation that we’re gonna have. But I’m also really genuinely excited to hear from both of you on the topics that we’re gonna be getting into, because you are two of the most intentional and thoughtful and strategic people I know in movement-led work around these issues. And a lot of what we’re gonna be getting into, I know, is terrain that I think folks are all gonna be in a position to really learn a lot from, no matter what issues they work on, no matter how they’re engaged with social justice and movement work.
So, before we get into talking about what does it look like to think across multiple generations, which is really core to Liberation in a Generation’s work, I’d love to give both of you the chance to just reintroduce yourselves to Off-Kilter’s listeners. You’ve both been on the show multiple times, so longtime listeners definitely know who both of you are and are very familiar with LibGen. But for anyone who’s new to the show or who’s new to your work, you both left think tank jobs a few years back to sort of zoom out and to start this new organization, this new enterprise: Liberation in a Generation. And that really, that signaled a moment, it symbolized a moment when each of you really moved to a different theory of change with how you’re approaching economic justice and economic liberation work. So, I wanna kick it to both of you, to just for anyone who’s new to Liberation in a Generation, would love to give you both the chance to tell a little bit of the story behind LibGen and how each of you come to your current roles, and then we can get into it.
RICE: Great. Thank you, Rebecca. That was so lovely! What a lovely introduction. I’m Solana Rice. I use she/her pronouns. I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio, a small suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio. And I live in Oakland, California, and I am co-founder and co-executive director of Liberation in a Generation, and we are a movement support organization. We work with organizers, advocates, activists, researchers from across the country to advance economic liberation, ideally within this generation. [chuckles] And we do that in several ways. We try to tell the truth about the role of racism in our economy; we support movement organizations, organizers in saying it plain and doing economic analysis; and we do policy and research analysis ourselves as well. So, the theme for me is always staying in relationship and knowing why I’m here and how to stay, how to stay right. [delighted laugh] How to stay right. Jeremie.
GREER: Yeah. And I’m Jeremie Greer, he/him pronouns. I’m originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, so also a Midwesterner, but now live in the D.C. area, Virginia, the V in the DMV. And one of my major self-care strategies is knowing when your co-director scores a perfect 10, which she just did in describing LibGen. So, I’m gonna shut up.
VALLAS: I love it. I love it. Solana does make it easy to follow her, right, if you don’t have anything else to say! So, I love it. So, with that as just a little bit—and I know a lot more is gonna come into this conversation as it progresses of how Liberation in a Generation approaches this work, and I’m really excited to hear both of you talk more about that—but to set this conversation up a little bit, and I did a little bit of this up top, but a big part of the inspiration for having you both back on the show as part of this series where we’re a little bit less in the policy weeds and a little bit more talking about how do folks show up for themselves—self-care as political warfare, in the words of Audre Lorde—a big part of the inspiration really stems from the last time that I spoke with both of you for this podcast, and that was last fall. You guys were graciously the season openers for our fall season last year. And we were talking about a lot of things, but you each spoke really beautifully, really eloquently about what it looks like to think across multiple generations, to think backwards to your ancestors from whom you’ve picked up the baton, but also what it looks like to think forwards. What does it look like to connect with future generations of peaceful warriors, some might call them, who are not yet doing the work today, but who are gonna be picking up the baton from you?
And you both spoke just a little bit and scratched the surface. And so, that’s where I was like, “Oh, we gotta dig in more on this as part of this series.” You both spoke just briefly about how that recognition, that multigenerational awareness, is actually a really big part of how you both stay in right relationship to the work, and to be really concrete, how you both avoid burning out. And that’s really where I would love to pick up for this conversation. So, I think, Solana, I may kick it to you first because I think you were the one who brought this theme in the last time we were all talking. So, I’m gonna put you on the spot to pick that thread back up. But one of the lines from the last conversation that has really been ringing in my ears since we talked last fall was Solana, you described how you’re very aware that no one ever finishes this kind of work, social justice work, in a single lifetime. And so, as we pick this thread back up, I’d love to bring you in first to kick off with a little bit of like, what does it look like to think and to vision and to strategize in a cross-generational way when it comes to liberation work, when it comes to social justice work? And of course, the contrast to that is like, okay, what can we get done in this Congress?
VALLAS: What’s possible to get done right now?! What are the short-term low-hanging fruit wins, right? There’s all the metaphors. So, pick up there and help us get back into this conversation that we just started to scratch the surface on last fall.
RICE: I’ll start with one of my ancestors. My grandfather, Durham Reeves, grew up in Alabama, and they called them Bo for short. My mom says it was because they were boll weevils around, and maybe he looked like a, I don’t know. I don’t really understand why, but I’ll just say his nickname was Bo. And growing up, he was the only one that I allowed to ask me, “Nana, you gonna have little bambinos? Where are your little bambinos?!” And I said, “What?! I’m not having babies, Grandpa! Like, that is not…. I am not here [laughing] to make babies! And I’m gonna entertain that question from you and only you.” No one else in my family was allowed to ask that question.
I started doing research about my story, my family’s story, his migration from Alabama up to Ohio, and the idea, you know, I sat at his feet. He was a diabetic. So actually, I don’t think he had both feet, as many of you might know about. And I sat at his feet, and I said, “I really wanna hear what it was like to go from Alabama to Ohio, leave everything you know, leave your mother, all your siblings, the country,” right? He grew up on a farm and got on a train and went up North, not unlike my other ancestors. And I started doing the research. I looked at census records. I don’t know if y’all ever looked at the census record from the 1930s, but it is amazing. It’s so detailed with where people worked, their age, who was in their family, who was living near them. And I showed him these records, and he said, “Oh, yeah! That was So-and-So. And that was So-and-So. And I used to have to go fetch water without shoes to get water for So-and-So.” And I was…I was really stunned. I was just stunned because there it was in real life, his story, in a way. It was in numbers and letters, but I was there with him in a way that I hadn’t been my entire life. I was in my 30s when this happened. And I said, “Well, is there anything else you wanna know? I have this ancestry. I can do all this research. What do you want me to find out?” And he said, “Nana, I just wanna know why life had to be so hard.”
RICE: And it broke my heart. I will just be clear. It just broke my heart. It rattled in my head. It rattled in my heart. And my head said, “We gotta do something about this!” And my heart said, “But what? I’m heartbroken. I can’t do anything!” And my head said, “We gotta go! We got to do something.”
So, I say all that to say that my grandfather both in those questions about raising children and about telling his story, over the course of his lifetime, in a very subtle way, told me and conveyed to me that my lifetime was not enough, but that was okay.
RICE: That was okay. That he was gonna hold his place 60 years as a baker. He’s gonna hold his place, but he was holding his place in order to hold my place. And I’m holding my place in order to hold my child’s place who’s named Bo! And I can’t even really describe the feeling that I have now about being so sure, in every marrow. In the marrow of my bones, I know that this work is generational, and I have complete trust in the people that came before me and the people that come after me in holding a better world. And my job is to hold my place, to take care of myself, to take care of my ancestors, to take care of my descendants. And that has to sit within me, deep within my heart, deep within my bones. My mom likes to say, “It sits in the liver.” It’s so real! Like, it sits in my liver! And that’s what we deserve, and we wouldn’t be here unless people before us believed that to their very core as well.
VALLAS: I love you sharing that story. I love you bringing in your grandfather. I love also just that you brought us to a personal place before bringing in okay, well, what does that look like in terms of organizational strategy, right? Because it has to start with the heart. Jeremie, is there a personal story or anything else that that brings in for you as you think about how this kind of thinking and knowing what place you’re here to hold, like, how did that come onto your radar? How did that come in to how you approach this work?
GREER: Yeah, I’ve heard that. Solana’s told me that story, and I get chills every time I hear it. Yeah, I have another, you know, I have a similar story. So, my great grandmother, Malina Robinson, we called her Linny, moved from Mississippi to Milwaukee, where my dad grew up. And it was your great migration story. Like, they packed everybody up. My dad was a baby, and they moved up the Mississippi, traveled up the Mississippi to Milwaukee. And what that holds for me is that people made incredible decisions at points in time in their lives that set the course of history and the life that I’m now living today. That decision is why I’m speaking on—and in subsequent decisions after that from my other relatives and folks—is why I’m on this podcast with you today. I wouldn’t be— That decision brought the family to Milwaukee, which my dad went to Minnesota. That created more opportunities for me to be in the place that I am.
And I think why I tell that story, and why that story’s meaningful, is that those decisions that people make, I feel a real responsibility to look back. Because they were just making decisions with the information they had at the time. But what they did was they left us breadcrumbs to help inform the decisions that we’re making now. And the decisions that I make now are informed by those breadcrumbs. And not just my great grandma Lina, but many other people who have been influential in my life. And I feel a real responsibility to carrying this work forward. And to me, that’s part of the self-care is to really, really come to a place where you understand that responsibility. Because if you don’t fully embrace that responsibility, this work’s so really frickin’ hard, and it takes some resignation into that responsibility to do this work. Because it is once you’ve done that, you can better, for me, I can better cope with the difficulties, the struggles, the not knowing, the not having certainty on what direction to go, the trusting in others that are along with you in the journey. Like, all of that, I think, comes with a resignation into the responsibility that we hold by doing this work.
VALLAS: Yeah, I love that. Yeah. Oh, go ahead, Solana. You’re gonna get in there too.
RICE: Well, I’ll just pick up on the strategy piece and the visioning piece because what Jeremie said is absolutely true. The people that’ve come before us made decisions in order for us to have the freedom to dream.
RICE: The time to dream.
RICE: The space, the literacy, the access to books, the access to museums, the access to other people, other thinkers. That’s, like, we have a lot of resources now at our disposal—not all of them, not all the things that we should have—but we have a great a number of resources to be able to dream and vision and then strategize. My grandparents could never imagine the relationships and the types of relationships that we have, that Jeremie and I have, that allow us to even create an organization called Liberation in a Generation, right? And it is because of those relationships that we are able to dream, that we are able to trust. It’s not because we have some ideas. Yes, we have some good ideas. But it’s not because we have a ton of money. And it’s not because [laughs] we have all of the time in the world that we can have Liberation in a Generation. But it’s because of the relationships that we’ve built over time. And that is what, for me, is our strategy around visioning long term.
VALLAS: Yeah, I love that. And part of what was coming through for me, Jeremie—and for the record, I got chills when you were telling that story as well, Solana. I love that this is where we grounded this conversation—but part of what was coming through for me, Jeremie, when you were talking about that resignation, that was the word you used, of the awareness of it being bigger than any one person. It being bigger than even just any one generation engaging in this type of work. It’s like, what I heard when you were speaking just a moment ago, Jeremie, was the notion of transcendence, right? That what it takes is transcending the me or the I, right?
VALLAS: Of like who, but, and realizing that actually, what you are is a vehicle for that stream of work to continue, right? Because it happens through us as people, right? We’re all vehicles for consciousness, if you wanna get a little woo about it. But it’s not about any one person. It’s not about you and did you get a promotion, and do you have a fancy job title, and what do people think about what you did today? It’s about you as the vehicle for that thing that’s larger than you. And that’s some of what I hear coming through both of what each of you are saying.
I also just wanna bring in, as this conversation continues to emerge, that theme of breadcrumbs. Jeremie, I loved that. And for what it’s worth, I also think a lot of it in terms of breadcrumbs and that you never really get the whole map.
VALLAS: It’s not like, “All right! Here’s what the next 100 years looks like,” right? It’s like you get little snippets here and there of like, and you feel it. You feel it, Solana, in your bone marrow, right? When it’s like, “Oh, this is significant. This is a thing. This is a message for me,” that might be a message from someone who came before, from one of the forebearers. It might be in the form of a story. It might be in the form of a writing. But here we are now in this moment trying to figure out, “Okay, so what do I do with all these breadcrumbs, right? What do I do? What’s my best use in this moment?”
And so, I’m curious, as we kind of get into this next to chunk of the conversation and start to think about not just what it looks like to look back and to learn from our ancestors and to pick up those breadcrumbs where we can, but the two of you also are really smart about thinking forward. And so, Liberation in a Generation. I mentioned this, but I’m gonna bring it back in here explicitly. I mean, the notion of this work, the notion of liberation work taking place across multiple generations is quite literally baked into the organization’s name. And I’m curious if there’s more that you each wanna share about sort of the, not just the story of how did the organization get off the ground, but the thinking the two of you were doing together, that thought partnership that you were engaged in before Liberation in a Generation became an organization that people can see and hear from and get emails from, etc. How did that kind of thinking forward and that visioning forward to where the work is gonna be after your respective lifetimes, how did that fit in to thinking about how Liberation in a Generation works and how you both approach the work through that new lens?
GREER: Yeah, I can start. I mean, one place it started was actually in looking back and looking at some of the things that our predecessors dealt with. So, for an example of this is, I’m sure most of your listeners know Angela Glover Blackwell who founded PolicyLink. And Solana and I had, man, regular conversations with Angela, who was so generous with her time to share with us how she took a vision to being something that was living and breathing and actually operating in the world. And there was so much about the early years of LibGen that was informed by her experience, and that was a gift to us that we were able to take it and turn it into what is LibGen. So, that kind of first step was like, and Solana mentioned it, and Angela was one of many people that we talked to. And it’s getting the perspectives of people who you wanna be in relationship with. And I intentionally say “relationship” instead of partnership because partnership sounds like a transaction, and we’re talking about relationship: people that we are wedded to, people who we are connected to in this movement. And those are the people that really helped lay the way for us to move forward.
Another thing that we really grappled with early on in this question around the name was that this work, though it is long-term work building towards liberation, something that we’ve never actually had as people of color in this country, but that it’s also urgent work. And we were really informed by Martin Luther King’s The Fierce Urgency of Now and really thought deeply about how is it, how can we think about the actions that we are taking today that are moving us down the road to where we want to be? And that those are incremental steps, but those incremental steps do not have to be slow walked. We can take the same steps, but with a little more briskness, a little more urgency, a little more intentionality. And that’s something, which is why we landed on the generation, and we said this should be done by the time Bo, Solana’s son, is moving into adulthood, right? Like, that is, that’s the timeline that we should be thinking on and that every step we take should be done with intention and with urgency in order to get to that destination. And we can’t get there if we do it without urgency or we do it without intentionality, we do it kind of like slow or hope that it’s just gonna happen. It has to be done thoughtfully.
Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t always, we won’t make mistakes. We will. We will make mistakes. We will fail. All of the things that we try to do are not gonna materialize. But what we know is that we’re gonna learn from that and we’re gonna keep moving forward. And that’s really how we thought about the way that we want LibGen to show up in the world and can be a…. And I’ll say, you mentioned we’re a think tank. Something that really frustrated us about think tank world, that we didn’t feel that urgency. We didn’t feel that intentionality around the things that they’re doing today, moving towards a grander vision.
VALLAS: Yeah. And I’ll say, as someone who’s still attached to a think tank, and I have to say one that I appreciate very much and that powers this podcast—and think tanks are all different and they all approach work differently—but I will say on the flip side of what you just said, which really resonates with me, there can also be sometimes a false or a misplaced urgency around the things that actually don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things.
VALLAS: And that is the urgency I sometimes feel in those types of workspaces where it’s like, “Well, wait a second. How have we lost the bigger picture of what world we’re trying to build and create? Why are we all running ourselves ragged for these little minuscule deadlines that are about tinkering around the edges?” And so, it’s that collision, in some ways, of like the false urgency on the stuff that doesn’t matter while missing the urgency around that bigger vision. Solana, what do you wanna add?
GREER: Oh, wait. Can I touch on the false—
VALLAS: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
GREER: You mentioned the false urgency.
GREER: And I think the false urgency comes from one, people actually don’t believe in the vision that they’re acting on. I think a lot of people that work for organizations that are going to—and I’m using air quotes—“end poverty” don’t actually believe they can end poverty. So, what happens then is there’s a lot of creation of busy work to demonstrate, “Well, we’re working hard!” But they’re really, it’s like being on the treadmill. And I feel like if you believe in where you’re going, truly, to your marrow, as Solana said, believe in where you’re going, the intentionality comes out of that. Because if you believe in where you’re going, you’re not gonna purposely take false steps. You’re gonna take steps that you believe. So, I think if you believe in what you’re doing and you attach the urgency to it, it can’t be false. Yeah.
VALLAS: I love that. I love that. Yep. And which also connects to some of what you were saying before, Solana, right? It’s like thinking about what is the world that we’re trying to create, and then thinking backwards from there about what are the conditions that need to exist for that to be possible? And then how do we move the ball towards those conditions in that multi-generational way? What do you wanna add, Solana, to what Jeremie just offered in terms of how Liberation in a Generation is approaching this kind of not just looking back, but looking forward with the right kind of urgency?
RICE: Structural and systemic oppression is the status quo. We have to move urgently [chuckles] to undo it. It’s a machine. There are people that drive the machine. It’s not an amorphous thing that just has to exist. And with that, there is urgency. That’s just it. Now, how we approach that overwhelming reality, for me, is where self-care comes in.
RICE: I have the option to be absolutely underwater, overwhelmed, feeling like I’m under-resourced to take this on. I can do that. I can absolutely do that. And honest to God, some days it does feel like that, right? I’m not gonna, I’m not saying I wake up every morning like, “Hidey ho! Let’s go.” And that’s why I have self-, that’s why I have self-care practices, because I know that over the long term I have to be around and in relationship and in community with other folks that care about pushing out systemic and structural oppression. Period.
So, how we think about that going forward? It is on several levels. It’s about maintaining our disposition to the work, our positionality, and preserving our energy, which does mean being strategic, choosing. And I’ll say, people say being strategic, choosing our fights… [laughs] choosing our people, choosing our sphere of influence, knowing what is inside and outside, that’s what I mean by strategic. What’s gonna set up something that I might not know the end result of but have enough breadcrumbs to guess? [laughs] Those are the types of things when we say be strategic. So, I have to work on the personal level in that regard.
I have to work on the interpersonal level, too, across my organization, across other organizations. And all of our organizations have to be able to move and work with folks across our movement. Doesn’t mean we always have to agree. I wanna emphasize that. Doesn’t mean we always have to agree for this cross-generational type of thinking. But that is why at LibGen, we try to be so clear about where we’re going. We don’t have to necessarily agree on all the tactics, but we gotta agree that we are trying to make sure that all Black, Latiné, Asian, Pacific Island, Asian people, Muslim folks, Indigenous folks, we are all in a place where we have our basic needs met, where we are validated and compensated, where we have safety and security, and where we all belong. And if we have those things in agreement and we’re in alignment on that, that that is what is, that’s where we’re headed, that all people of color have those things, then let’s talk. Then let’s talk. And let’s talk across the organizations, and let’s talk across our movement. And again, we don’t always have to sing this— We don’t actually, you know, folks say, “We should be singing the same song. We’re in the same choir.” I actually don’t think we have to sing the same song. [laughs] I think we have to have the same intention in our heart, which is to move whoever is listening. And that comes in different songs.
VALLAS: I love that. And also, part of what you’re bringing in also harks back to a little bit of what Jeremie was saying. And so, it makes me wanna do a quick shameless plug for the last time you guys were on the show because a lot of that conversation we got into last October—so folks can find it in our show archive. We’ll have a link to it on show notes as well, so it’s easy to find—but we were talking about that North Star, right? Like, what is…. You’re saying we don’t all have to be singing the same song or using the same tactics, but at the same time, if we don’t all share the same, at least big picture North Star of where we’re trying to get in a generation or beyond, we are at risk of having the kind of the make work tame us from the larger goals that we’re actually looking to vision forward to. And so, that last conversation that we had, I really enjoyed, and you each both spoke about what does it look like to have cutting poverty no longer be the North Star? That’s the way it often gets talked about in D.C.-based organizations. It’s like, “Oh! Our goal is cutting poverty.” Well, okay, but if you cut poverty, we still have poverty, right?
VALLAS: We just shrunk it a little bit. That’s a tacit admission that then we’re okay with some level of poverty. We just don’t have the right amount, right, or maybe the wrong people? I mean, there’s a lot kind of baked into that in terms of the unconscious limiting beliefs that we’re then holding onto and not holding up to reexamine or to interrogate a part of our social contract. And so, I really enjoyed that conversation with both of you talking about how Liberation in a Generation, y’all don’t have as your North Star, “Oh, we’re cutting poverty,” right? What you have as your North Star is it’s something much bigger, which is liberation, and which is a different, it’s a different place to be pointing your baseball bat as you look into the sky and say, “This is where I’m swinging for.”
So, Solana, you started to take us a little more explicitly into the self-care place, and I would love to stay there for just a little bit and also to gives Jeremie the opportunity to get in on that as well. Obviously, the subtext for this whole conversation is that situating oneself and one’s organization’s work in that broader arc of understanding who came before you in this work and understanding that someday there will be the passing of the baton to future leaders, that all of that is actually really important for self-care so that no one is laboring under the misapprehension that somehow, they’re gonna achieve all those big-picture goals in one single lifetime. Because as your grandfather taught you, Solana, early on that that isn’t how this works. It’s about holding your place and knowing your place in that that larger arc. But I’d love to dig a little bit more deeply into how that actually shows up for both of you and then any other dimensions of self-care that you wanna bring in. And so, Jeremie, I’ll take that to you next in case there’s anything you wanna add to where Solana was starting to take that just now.
GREER: Yeah. So, there’s a couple things that work for me, may not work for everyone, but work for me. But I do think some of them can be systematized. The one that can’t is very personal and it’s for me is, I have come to, again, it’s I’ll say resignation, but I think it’s a reality, and I often speak in sports metaphors ‘cause it’s what I, you know, I was an athlete before I was an advocate.
VALLAS: Well then, you’re gonna do a better job with the sports metaphors than I just did ‘cause there I am saying something about baseball bats!
GREER: [laughs] No, I like the Babe Ruth vision of the pointing up to the—
RICE: No, no. Babe Ruth is right on!
GREER: No, you’re calling your shot.
RICE: You got it! You got your shot! We got you.
GREER: No, I got that!
VALLAS: I got that one?!
GREER: I got that.
VALLAS: You got that one right. Thank you. Thank you!
GREER: No, I did.
VALLAS: All right. Okay.
GREER: And I was a football player. And one thing that you learn early when you play football is that it’s a painful game. That there’s, you play through injury. You play with a lot of pain. It’s just it’s endemic in the game. And this is painful work ‘cause it is about…it is about all of the pain that people have suffered over the years from racial capitalism and the oppression economy, as we call it. And we are still in it today, so it’s going to be painful. And one thing I learned in playing football was once I resigned myself to the fact that it was a painful game, I was better able to manage the pain. And I love the game even more. And I do think that there’s analogy here that once you accept that the pain is going to be there, it helps you cope with it and manage it and allows you to love the work more than you do if you’re constantly fighting against the pain. Because a lot of the pain inflicted is out of our control. Capitalism is designed to inflict pain on people, and that’s just the reality in it. So, there’s something there to resigning to that there’s going to be pain.
Now, what that means, though, is that we have to create strategies to manage the pain. And the thing, the reason why there’s “self” in self-care is because it is really individualized to the person. So, things that I do, for example, is I am always thoughtful about not, my deepest relationships that I have, that fill my soul often are ones that have nothing to do with the work that I do on a day-to-day basis. It’s with people who I can go to and have conversations about things that have nothing to do with work. And no matter what happens to me here at this workplace, I know that those people will love and care for me. And it’s important for me to have people like that in my life and around me and to set aside time, intentional space, to be in relationship with those people. It’s people that I’m friends with that do completely different lines of work. It’s people in my family that I can’t explain exactly what I do, and the reason why is because we can talk, and we’ll never talk about what we do during the day. We’ll talk about everything else in the world. And that intentionality, for me, is what really keeps me grounded so that I can lean into the work.
The other thing that I think about, and I know that you’ve had a lot of people talk about this, is, to use another sports analogy, I actually think this work is a lot like the work of an Olympic athlete. So, athletes, they work themselves to the limit while they’re working out, while they’re on the track, while they’re in the gym, while they’re in the ring. And they work their bodies and push their bodies to the limit with a lot of urgency and a lot of attention. But what happens is in between workouts, there’s rest, and they rest their bodies, they nourish their bodies, to make, to bring their bodies back to a level where they can hit that gym again with that intensity and that urgency. And we, or I, try to operate in that way. So, I shut things off in the evening. I shut things off on the weekend. We encourage our staff—they don’t always listen ‘cause people are intense about the work and care about the work a lot—but we encourage staff to do the same. And we have unlimited leave where people can take off for as long as they want with approval of their supervisor and to do whatever they wanna do to kind of nourish and rest themselves so that when they’re on the track, in the field, in the work, they can be real intense and urgent about the work that we’re doing.
Yeah, and that, so, what I think is important is again, to recap, it’s important that we have people around us that love us no matter what happens at work or through the movement. That we accept that there is going to be pain in this work. Because if you don’t accept the pain, you can’t find mechanisms to cope with it. And then lastly, that we find that rest and nourishment in between the moments when we’re being really intense about the work.
VALLAS: Jeremie, I mean, I love that. And I have to say this is like, it’s like a perfect shot chaser with the conversation I had with Vilissa Thompson for the podcast last week about boundaries, right? And that’s a lot of what you’re describing. It’s not perfectly overlapping, but there’s a lot of continuity between the two themes because that being able to hold the urgency at the same time as holding the urgency of the rest that allows you to continue to be engaged in the work in a way that holds the urgency that it calls for. I mean, the two, you’re holding a paradox there at the same time, but both pieces are necessary for the other.
And I just wanna say, I wanna say how much I appreciate the two of you as organizational leaders who model a lot of this. And you’re actually quite public about the choices that you make in what types of practices you’re not just engaged in, but the choices you make for the organization and for your staff as the organization continues to grow. So, for example, I love when I get out-of-office emails from one of you or one of the people on your team that say like, “Hello! Liberation in a Generation is closed this week because we all need rest.” [laughs]
VALLAS: “We’ll get back with you next week.” And I’m just like, yes! Please send this email everywhere so people can see that this is not just a thing that’s okay to do, but that it’s actually a thing that’s in service of the work, right? And it’s in service of all of our sustainability in being able to continue to show up for the work.
So, we’ve got a little bit left in terms of time for this conversation, and far more, as always, that I would like to get into than we’re gonna end up having time for. But I’d love to spend the balance of our time, I think, really continuing to uplift this, how this fits in with self-care theme, but also giving you each a chance to kind of get really concrete about how this has informed some of the strategic choices that you’ve made as an organization.
And so, one of the thinkers today who I find incredibly influential and who I think is influential for a lot of folks at this point is adrienne maree brown. She’s written several books. If that’s a name that is new for any listeners, go check her out. One of her books that I recommend to everyone is called Emergent Strategy, and she beautifully weaves together her science fiction influences like Octavia Butler together with her time as a facilitator and someone working as part of movement work. And part of why I wanna bring that into this conversation is that one of the comparisons that she often makes that I just love, and as somebody who, similar to her, I am also a scholar of magic. And I weave a lot of that into the way that I think about social change work, because what we’re all doing is trying to create a shared reality, right? We’re trying to imagine and create a shared reality. You can use whatever language you want around that, but that’s what some people call doing magic or manifestation, just at a larger scale. And one of the comparisons that adrienne maree brown makes is she compares organizing to time travel. And I love that so much, right? Because here we are thinking about what it looks like to create a future or travel to a future that doesn’t already exist or that maybe exists in some alternate dimension, as it might in a science fiction novel. But that’s quite literally what we are all trying to do if we’re engaged in social justice work that isn’t just tinkering around the edges of the current status quo.
And so, I’d love to give each of you a chance to talk a little bit about some of how Liberation in a Generation, by working with movement, by working with organizers, is really engaged in time travel and how that kind of future-oriented thinking is showing up in the concrete strategic decisions that you guys are making about the work that you’re taking on, and as you were putting it before, Solana, the fights that you’re choosing to be in and the ones that you’re choosing are not for you.
RICE: Sometimes when we talk about the future, it can be difficult for any one of us to really imagine something that’s radically different. I was in Montgomery, Alabama not too long ago visiting the Legacy Museum. And when the state capitol is on one end of the road, you look up the hill, there’s the dome, and on the other end of the road where the road ends is a former slave auction site. I immediately felt like, wow, how did the people who worked on abolition, who worked on ending slavery ever imagine, given the reality that they were looking around, ever imagine that that was possible, right? That these two forces were inextricably connected. And we work with organizers, in large part, because they are doing that visioning work every day. Every single day they deal in science fiction, [laughs] what some folks call organizing, which is science fiction: imagining, world building, visioning, whatever you wanna call it. It’s imagining a world that doesn’t not exist.
And what I’m often reminded of and remind myself of is that we can find reminders of the future, like, reminders of the future, [laughs] in the real world already. We have little people, for example, that are new to this place and time that tell us things all the time that are like, that are just mind blowing. And they are living in a new reality that we couldn’t have, that we didn’t imagine. I can’t imagine what my son is experiencing. When I was that age, I couldn’t imagine what he is experiencing today. We are living in a time where we can sit quietly for a bit and feel and think and breathe. I often sit with trees. I listen to birds. I find myself where I do belong. I just sat with the folks at United We Dream, and they had a session about, a short exercise, talking about filling in the blank: “I belong to the Earth because. Why does the Earth hold me? How does the Earth hold me,” right? Those things can feel really, really far away when we are working day and night, when we have folks to take care of, when we have bills to pay, when we have relationships that may not be healthy, maybe even borderline abusive. Those things can feel far away, those questions about how does the Earth hold me? But we have to find those. We have to find those reminders of the future all the time. And that is the work that organizers do. They sit with folks every day and help them connect to that reminder.
I will say strategically for an organization, I can’t…I cannot tell you how important it is for Liberation in a Generation to be a co-director model. We have a lot. Jeremie and I hold a lot. I am always so impressed with folks that have started a new organization by themselves.
RICE: It is so, so much emotional work, financial work, social, [laughs] and capital. It is. It is so much, so I can’t underscore enough, at least for us, me and Jeremie, how important co-directorship—
RICE: —as, believe it or not, two introverts taking on this, taking on this work! I can’t say that it’s for everybody, but for us. And that’s the other thing. I think sitting with who you are, for real, for real, like who you are at your core and finding what your joy is and where that intersects with how you can best advance liberation in your lifetime, where those two intersect, where your joy is. And that’s a boundary in itself as well, I think. My friend the other day listens to podcasts, so we went on a walk. I walk a lot. That’s another self-care practice! Went on a walk. And she said, “You know, I was listening to this podcast about how boundaries aren’t just about saying what you won’t do it, it’s saying what you will do.”
RICE: It’s not just about like, “I’m not gonna answer phone calls after 5:00. I’m not gonna do this. I’m not gonna let this happen.” Yep! And what are you letting in? What are you going to let in? ‘Cause guess what? Throwing up our defenses all day is exhausting. [chuckles]
RICE: And what we do have to do is call in love, care, abundance. And yes, there are times when we just have to say, “No, I’m not doing that.” But we also have to say, “Yes, I’m gonna protect my joy. I’m gonna protect my peace. I’m gonna let in love.” And that intersection of finding your joy, setting that boundary of being like, “I’m gonna find my joy, and I’m gonna find where I am the best positioned in this ecosystem of the work” is important.
So, Jeremie and I sat with our, we also have a council. We have folks that we go to on a regular basis. That is also part of the strategy. We are never, we never do any of our work by ourselves that is— You will rarely see, “This is brought to you by Liberation in a Generation!” No, it’s gonna be like, “Brought to you by Liberation in a Generation and Dream Defenders and Community Change or Center for Communities for a New California.” You know, it’s, this is how we operate. That is also a politic. We don’t, it’s not about us as an organization. So, we have a series of folks that talk to us, a trusted circle of advisors that hold us to that collaboration that is so necessary. And we’re just, we came to the— You know, Jeremie and I are two people that know we are not the center of the miracle, as our colleague Ana Maria always likes to remind us. And we position the organization as not the center of the miracle. We don’t, we just don’t operate in a way where we need all the shine, where we…. And actually, sometimes the shine cannot move the movement forward. And that’s not what we’re about. So, the positionality of our organization overall is also very intentional, and communicating that to funders, quite frankly.
VALLAS: Yeah. Yeah. Because of the dominant culture being one of needing to prove why you exist and need the money, right? And constantly marketing one organization and saying it’s, “We’re the best!”, right, as opposed to well, wait a second. Actually, we work in alliance, and we work in community. And we find our allies, and we figure out how we can be of best use without trying to say me, me, me, me. Jeremie, you were about to say something as well.
GREER: Yeah. And I wanna say this because I think we’d be remiss if we don’t say this ‘cause it’s something I’ve learned from organizers, and it’s something that was articulated to me really well by an organizer just the other day. A really, really incredible organizer reminded me of this. And that’s we are in an incredible position of privilege. We’re getting paid to do racial justice work, and that is not to be taken lightly. There are people doing the same work that we’re doing that are not getting paid and actually paying an incredible cost, personal, financial, physical cost, for that. And when you’re out with, when you’re working with folks that are closer to grassroots, you’re reminded of that. And this conversation about self-care, in many ways, unfortunately, is a luxury that we have sitting where we sit.
Now, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be mindful of it. But we have to be aware of that because not all people who we’re in fellowship have that luxury and have that privilege, which means, and when you have privilege, you have to be very responsible in how you use it and how you show up when you’re in spaces with those folks. So, I just, I feel, you know, I feel without having the self-care…in having the self-care conversation, it is leaving something out to not acknowledge that this conversation in and of itself is one that some of us are privileged to have and is something that others in the movement don’t have, unfortunately. I would love everyone to have this conversation, but others don’t materially have opportunity to have it. And for us that are able to have that conversation, we carry a responsibility that we have to bring in to how we do the work. I just, I feel like I had to say that.
VALLAS: No, it’s really, really important to bring that into really, every single one of these episodes. And I’ll send folks back to our season opener with Aisha Nyandoro for folks who are looking for a little more of that basic 101 around what is it that Audre Lorde was getting at when she wrote those famous words about self-care being an act of political warfare and its connection to self-preservation. And there’s a lot in that conversation as well about what it looks like for self-care to be accessed at every level of privilege because it is something that everyone can access in some form, at every level of means. But it is something that is, it is not equitably distributed or equitably accessible in all of its various forms for a variety of the reasons that you both have been speaking about in the context of the oppression economy itself, right? It connects back to the work that we’re doing. So, as you say that, Jeremie, I feel like part of what also probably needs to be said is that a lot of this work is self-care work, thinking about the broader self that we’re all connected to. Because we are a broader, interconnected whole, and we are all in community. And so, it’s self-care work at a different level, especially and particularly intended to benefit and make material difference for folks who are not in a position right now, structurally, to be able to access self-care in the same ways.
So, we’re gonna run out of time, guys! This happens every time.
VALLAS: I always get really sad, and I’m like, “Oh, no! We need more time.” But I guess that just means you’re gonna have to come back, which does not make me sad at all. I wanna just send folks to show notes if they’re looking to learn more about either of you and Liberation in a Generation or to connect with the organization and to get into relationship with the two of you. So, we’ve got all of that in show notes. And just a ton of gratitude to both of you for all the wisdom you’ve shared, for always taking the time to come on the show, and for all of the amazing work that Liberation in a Generation has done, even in just its first few years. I continue to be in awe and admiration and in gratitude of all that you both are holding and all that you’ve been able to build. So, I hope that the next time we talk is soon. [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 phenomenal Kings Floyd, who keeps us all in line week to week. Transcripts, which help us make the show accessible, are courtesy of Cheryl Green and her fabulous feline coworker RouRou. Find us every week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods. And if you like what we do with the podcast, send us some love by hitting the subscribe button and rating and reviewing the show on Apple Podcasts to help other folks find the pod. It really does help. Thanks again for listening and see you next week.