Modern-day oracles are increasingly describing this moment in human history as a “battle of imaginations”—in which oppression is what happens when an individual or a whole group of people are living in someone else’s dream, instead of being free to dream their own.
It’s in that spirit that the first episode of Off-Kilter’s fall season kicks off with the words of poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor:
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
To that end, as Off-Kilter steps out of the news cycle this fall to reflect on the broader context of the moment in human history we find ourselves in—and the roles we can all play in shaping our collective future—the pod will be diving deep into the key limiting beliefs we as a society must release and replace in order to realize true economic liberation for us all, which feels in many ways to be the medicine our policy, advocacy, and movement spaces need most right now, as a much-needed antidote to the short-termism that dominates so much inside-the-beltway strategy and thinking today.
So, to kick off this series of conversations, Rebecca sat down with two of her favorite advocates, visionaries, and storytellers—Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice. They’re the cofounders of Liberation in a Generation, which works to build a liberation economy where people of color belong. They’re also the cohosts of the podcast Racism Is Profitable. A core through-line of their work is calling out and tearing down the limiting beliefs upholding what they call the “oppression economy” that defines life in America today.
For more from this week’s guests:
- Learn more about Liberation in a Generation and connect with them at liberationinageneration.org
- Subscribe to “Racism Is Profitable”
- Follow Solana and Jeremie on Twitter @solanarice and @jeremiegreer
[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 I’m a former legal aid lawyer turned policy advocate who works with public policy and law, as well as organizing, coalition building, and narrative as tools for building a more just society, one premised on collective consciousness of our common humanity and the inherent dignity and rights that come with being human. Every week I talk with visionary leaders working to reinvigorate our shared imagination and 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 for our Fall season opener, which we’re releasing on October 7th, 2022, I wanted to share a little bit about where we’re gonna be taking the pod this season, particularly for our listeners who have been with us as the show has evolved over the years. After getting to do some soul searching about the various projects in my work life over Off-Kilter’s August/September break, I felt deeply it was time to update how the show defines itself, as a living, growing entity I’ve had the privilege of being on this journey with for about seven years now. As our longest time listeners will remember at its birth, the show was called TalkPoverty, and it was a project of the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, or CAP, and Sirius XM. It evolved into a podcast that was called Off-Kilter, in part because I was uncomfortable keeping the show behind a paywall that blocked would-be listeners and lots of our guests from being able to listen based on ability to pay. Now, I’m not a radio or a podcast host by training, nor did I envision becoming one when I got into this work. I am a policy advocate who’s a believer in the power of storytelling and narrative as tools for shifting and expanding collective consciousness. So, the podcast has evolved to serve different purposes at different junctures.
It started as an interview show about poverty, inequality, and everything they intersect with, uplifting academic research, advocacy, journalism, and most importantly, the voices of people with lived experience of poverty and inequality, with the goal of educating a national audience about the drivers of and solutions to poverty in America. During the Trump era, it evolved into an information hub of sorts for the resistance, including all-hands-on-deck efforts to protect key social insurance and basic needs programs like nutrition assistance and Social Security Disability benefits, and the Affordable Care Act, and Medicaid. And since 2021, when the pod moved with me to The Century Foundation, it served as a platform for breaking down historic debates on economic and social policy ideas like a guaranteed minimum income for families with kids, paid leave, and Home and Community-Based Services for people with disabilities and older adults: issues that have seen greater momentum and attention in the past couple of years than in generations.
Through these conversations over the years, there’s been a not-so-subtle throughline that for public policy to be aligned with its highest potential—laws and public policies being at their best, tools to help our society evolve and grow into a container that allows us all to live up to our highest potential—we have to start by putting people back at the center of policy as we interrogate and re-envision America’s social contract. Now, as we sprint toward the November midterm elections in the United States, in my opinion, it’s a critical moment to do two things. Number one, to get educated and vote because a tremendous amount is at stake when it comes to basic human rights and freedoms. But number two, and more to the point for purposes of this podcast, it’s also a critical moment to zoom out and keep perspective on the broader context of the moment in human history we find ourselves in and the roles we can all play in shaping our collective future.
So, to that end, as we round out year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, which I will note is not over [chuckles], I want to share some words that my dear friend Rebecca Cokley shared with me and others on a panel recently, because they’ve really stuck with me as, in my opinion, the call to action that we all need in this moment. They come from poet Sonya Renee Taylor. “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than that we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”
We often talk in the advocacy world about paradigm shifts, but what really is a paradigm shift, and how does one come about? Well, the word “paradigm” comes from the Greek for pattern. So, one way of understanding paradigms is as a set of patterns or scripts or life statements that invisibly set the parameters for what we all experience. Individually, paradigms can show up as the conceptual frameworks through which we experience life, and collectively they can show up as a set of invisible beliefs and agreements on which our society and cultural norms are based. Like the notion that poverty is inevitable or that one person can’t make a difference, so why even try? Brutal and lethal as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been, as Sonya Renee Taylor beautifully notes, the pandemic has offered us an invitation for myriad paradigm shifts in this society, should we accept the invitation not to go back to a normal that never was, apart from the parade of social ills that it normalized.
So, in service of that goal, in the weeks and months ahead, Off-Kilter is going to be diving deep into many of the key limiting beliefs that we as a society must release and replace in order to have a shot at realizing true economic liberation for all of us. In my opinion, this feels in many ways to be the medicine our policy, advocacy, and movement spaces need most right now as a much-needed antidote to the short-termism that dominates so much inside-the-Beltway strategy and thinking today. For example, it’s long past time that we moved beyond “cutting poverty” as our North Star goal. America’s poverty measure itself is so broken [laughs] that by starting at that frame, we’re already limiting ourselves to just tinkering at the margins, the antithesis of the poverty and economic oppression that we’d normalized as a society prior to COVID isn’t how many people are moved above some arbitrary line that doesn’t bear any resemblance to what it costs to afford the basics in America today. Similarly, our measure of economic well-being can’t be the stock market, which, as my friend Michael Linden likes to call “a mood ring for rich people.” It also can’t be the unemployment rate. Measuring our progress based solely on these kinds of metrics, helpful though they can be for certain limited purposes, will never get us to basic human dignity and liberation for all.
Modern day oracles are increasingly describing this moment in human history as a battle of imaginations with oppression, as what happens when an individual or a whole group of people are living in someone else’s dream instead of being free to dream their own dream. But we can’t just tear down systems of oppression, nor is talking only about what we want to tear down ever going to get us there. It’s on us as peaceful warriors to proactively vision forward to the dreams of what we want to build in those systems’ place. So, with Libra season the perfect time for starting a series of conversations about justice, about bringing that which is out of balance or dare I say, off-kilter back into balance and revisiting the social contract with Libra, of course, governing justice and balance and contracts and laws, among other things—shout out to all y’all stealth astrologers out there among our listeners! I know you’re out there—it is my pleasure and honor to welcome you to your Economic Liberation Imagination curriculum for the Fall, courtesy of Off-Kilter. We’ve got a great lineup coming together, but please feel free to nominate the visionary changemakers that you most wanna hear from this season and beyond by emailing us at [email protected].
Now, without further ado, for our first installment of this season, I had a really, really lovely time sitting down with two of my favorite advocates, visionaries, and storytellers who are also dear friends, Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice. They are the co-founders of Liberation in a Generation, which works to build a liberation economy where people of color belong. They’re also the co-hosts of the podcast Racism Is Profitable, and a core throughline of their work is calling out and tearing down the limiting beliefs upholding what they call the “oppression economy” that defines life in America today. So, they are the best people I could possibly think of to start this season off with. Let’s take a listen. [upbeat music break]
Jeremie, Solana, thank you so much for taking the time to come back on the show. And I have to say, it’s really, really great to be back in conversation with y’all. It’s been a minute.
JEREMIE GREER: Yeah, it’s been a minute. Glad to be back. Thanks for having us.
SOLANA RICE: Wonderful to be back. Thank you.
VALLAS: Well, you’ve both been on this show before and actually multiple times, I think, Jeremie, in your case, and you’ve both talked at different points about the story behind Liberation in a Generation and also your new affiliate organization, Liberation in a Generation Action. But for folks who might be new to your work, and I feel like this is probably the right place to start, especially for a conversation about the limiting beliefs that are keeping us from ever being in a place where we as a society will have a shot at actually reaching economic liberation, you both actually left think tank jobs, kind of traditional think tank jobs—
VALLAS: —a few years back, very intentionally, with great intentionality to zoom out and to start what became Liberation in a Generation. And that also coincided with you both and together really anchoring the work that you had been doing with kind of a wholesale different theory of change. I’d really love to open up by giving you both some space to tell that story, to talk a little bit about why you made that shift, and actually—and this is part of why I thought you guys would be some of the best people to start these conversations with—how it was really kind of voting with your feet, right, in response to some of the key limitations that we’re gonna get into that really describe our society’s policymaking sector, at least the way it operates today. So, I don’t know, Solana, if you wanna kick off?
RICE: Yeah, sure. Yeah. Thanks, Rebecca. We started Liberation in a Generation in 2019, officially but had been thinking about it way before that. We sat down over breakfast. We had been working together for many years, and we said, “You know what? There are just a few things that are pretty big [delighted laughs] that we need to do differently and that we’re called to do differently.” We were working on issues of the racial wealth divide, which was really fulfilling, but we had a lot of data. We had a lot of data about what the racial wealth divide was, but we didn’t have a ton of tools. And we didn’t have a community of people that was really building power. And so, we decided to venture out to expand the folks that we work with who are building power. We decided to expand the folks that we are working with to expand our own thinking about what was possible in this economy and even to challenge our own limiting beliefs, right? [chuckles]
RICE: One of the limiting believes was we could start an organization!
RICE and GREER: [laugh]
RICE: And believe me, we asked around. We were like, “Do we really need to start a organization?” There are a lot of organizations out here doing economic justice, doing racial justice. We probably had 100 conversations, and at the end we said that we had enough confirmation from folks that we trust and folks that would tell us otherwise, that yes, there is room for an organization that is we call ourselves a movement support organization. And we’re here to work in partnership with grassroots organizations that are mostly led by color, people that are building power in their communities, that are organizing in their communities, that are every day seeding a new vision of what this nation can be or what their communities can be or what their cities can be or what their states can be. And those are the folks that we partner day in and day out with to create a new vision of what we call liberation economy, and they call it many different things. We all are autonomous, but we are thinking about what it means to be an economy where all people have economic citizenship, where we have what we need, where we have safety and security without policing and a carceral system, where we have access to jobs, and we are valued and compensated for what we bring to our communities and our economy. So, we ventured out. Yeah, we ventured out to see who we could partner with and what kind of policy ideas we could seed in the world. And we’ve been having fun. I think we’ve been having fun, Jeremie.
GREER: Yeah, no, it’s been fun. It’s been great, and we’ve grown fast. We started with just Solana and I. We’ve grown on the (c)(3) side to about 15 staff. We launched the (c)(4) last year, Liberation in a Generation—actually this year, sorry, early this year. Feels like whole year ago—LibGen Action too. Because we see that you have to get involved, so yeah, it’s been a wild ride, but we think we’re doing the right work. So, it’s invigorating. It’s what gives us breath; it’s what gives us life in these really, really, really, really hard times.
VALLAS: And it’s been really fun to be in conversation with you both, including on this show at different points along the way and along the journey. It seems like you guys have been around for a lot longer than 2019 at this point, but also time has lost all meaning as we all feel very deeply COVID era being time is a flat circle. But Jeremie, stay there for just a second and talk a little bit more about why y’all felt called to make that shift. How is the work that you’re doing now not something that could really be possible? How did you find that it wasn’t really possible within the traditional policymaking sector and the think tank world as it’s been operating?
GREER: Yeah, I mean, I’ll start. There’s three ways that I think really drove us to say that we’ve got to do this differently than how it’s been done. We gotta work with different people than the type of people that we’ve been working with, and we gotta have different expectations for what it is that is possible and having more sharp analysis of where we are. So, first, we felt like the policies were weak, just to be frank, and it was more just keeping status quo. We worked on the racial wealth gap, and the solutions that people were putting forth to close the racial wealth gap were things like down payment assistance to Black people on how to buy houses, which we know the down payment is only one barrier to homeownership. There’s a whole racist system that’s set up to keep Black people out of homeownership. So, the solutions were just not gonna solve the problem. The other thing is the narrative that we tell ourselves about the economy is one that is driven by things like hard work, things that are driven by profits, like profits have to be the goal of the economy. And then if that’s the narrative, if that’s how we understand the way the economy’s supposed to work, we could never get to a place of liberation. So, what we need is a different narrative that centers a different set of folks and a different set of outcomes.
And then finally, just briefly [laughs] Vallas, I think you’ve experienced this. We got sick of sitting in the same rooms with the same damn folks having the same conversations and thinking and expecting something different. And Solana and I looked at each other. It was like, if the power is in community and if the power that we have is with people and that’s what we need to move this democracy, that’s where our conversation should be happening. And we should be spending our time in conversation with those folks that are building power and community, particularly power for communities of color. ‘Cause the other way is you have to have wealth, and there is no wealth in those communities, no financial wealth in those communities. So, we have to be there in conversation with them and following their lead around what needs to be done. So, I’d say that’s the real calling that brought us to launch and shift to the approach that we’re taking, and really, I think leaving a lot of the approaches that we’ve been used to aside.
VALLAS: Well, and you both referenced your prior work in the sort of conventional think tank spaces around the racial wealth gap or the racial wealth divide. And I know a conversation I’ve had with both of you at different points, and I feel like there’s a lot of examples of this, is just how problematic it is to start with a frame or a North Star of just saying something like, “shrinking the racial wealth gap,” or even something like “cutting poverty,” right? I mean, these are all really, really artificially narrow frames in kind of invisibly constrained ways that are never, as you’re both describing, going to get us to economic liberation or to a liberation economy. Solana, what does a liberation economy look like? How do we know when we get there? I ask that question, before we get any farther into this conversation, ‘cause I just think it’s so incredibly important what you just said, Jeremie, about how the way that we measure our progress being so important to then how we’re actually doing the visioning.
RICE: Yeah, and I think we should be very clear. A liberation economy is not one that we’ve ever seen in this nation. It’s an uphill battle. It’s imagination. It is science fiction at this point, right? It is a test. It is one where my prosperity does not depend on someone else’s oppression, right? It is where I can find in community, and my community of people can find, and all people of color—all Black, brown, Latine, Asian, Indigenous, Pacific Islander, Arab people—can find their basic needs being met: food, clean air, clean water. It is one where we are all compensated for the contributions that we bring to our communities, the care that we give to one another, like the literal, the healthcare, the childcare, the adult care that we give to one another. All the contributions are valued. And it’s one where we’re finding safety and security.
Now, I think what I hope folks would feel and I hope that we all feel in a liberation economy is a place where we all…a feeling like we have real belonging, like we actually are supposed to be here, that we are contributing, that our fates are tied to one another in a positive way, that we can live with dignity and respect, that we are living in a place of abundance where we’re not concerned and making terrible trade-offs at every turn. I’m a new parent, new-ish parent—my kid’s almost two now—and I am astounded at the choices that we have to make around childcare. We are not paying childcare providers enough, yet childcare is still unaffordable. That is unacceptable in a nation as wealthy as ours. So, we can absolutely afford for these aspirations to be reality: that everyone has a place to live, that everyone has food, that everyone has these very, very basic needs met.
VALLAS: And I feel like we could spend an entire episode and still not get through a robust enough discussion to do justice to the concept that is the liberation economy that you two have been such leaders in envisioning, in weaving into the stories and the narratives that you tell, that folks are sharing with the movement, that folks are learning from the movement, that folks are hearing from the movement. It goes in both directions. With that as some of the vision, though, as just sort of a starting point for folks who maybe aren’t familiar with your work and with LibGen, as it’s lovingly called, with LibGen’s work, I’d really love to get into then the meat of some of what we wanted to get into today and some of what we’re really gonna be talking about throughout this season on the pod, which is then the limiting beliefs that we as a collective, and in particular, I’m just gonna call out Washington DC and inside-the-Beltway folks ‘cause that’s, I know a lot of these limiting beliefs, if they don’t come from here, they certainly concentrate here, become most constraining here, where policymaking disproportionately happens. I wanna get into some of those limiting beliefs, and in particular, the most toxic ones that we are most in a place of needing to release and replace as a collective in order to build that liberation economy that you’re both speaking about.
And I wanna back up where we get into this. Folks might be like, “Limiting beliefs, how does this connect to public policy,” right? Well, so just like low level setting: Everybody probably sets New Year’s resolutions, right? It’s a thing people generally do. It’s actually a thing that a lot of folks who observe the Jewish faith have been doing very recently because of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, starting just a couple of weeks ago in September. But you set resolutions. You’re saying, “Oh, I’m gonna go to the gym” or, “oh, I’m not gonna spend as much screen time,” or whatever the things are that people are trying to change in their lives. But what is it that then stands in the way of actually living up to that resolution and actually being able to get to it? Well, generally, and this is a thing I think people have started to understand a little bit more within pop psychology, it’s because of limiting beliefs that end up cropping up in a way that we don’t see necessarily in our conscious minds, but that stand in our own ways, that cause us to get in our own ways.
So, back to the collective place, it follows that a really important conversation for us to have that I feel like we so rarely have in public policy spaces, is calling out what are those obstacles that we as a collective are allowing to stand in our way because we allow them to stay invisible? And so, back to you guys—and Jeremie, I might kick this over to you first, but I really wanna give both of you some time to dig into this—what are some of the most toxic limiting beliefs that we most need to be calling out right now so that we can get conscious about them as a society and then do the hard work of replacing them so that we can actually get to building and making a reality out of that vision that both of you have been speaking about? How do we do that?
GREER: Yeah, and I’m glad that you did that level setting, because I think it’s important to, before we start identifying the limiting beliefs, just describe how toxic the limitations are themselves. Because if you’re saying that you’re cutting poverty or you’re shrinking hunger or if you’re shrinking the racial wealth gap, which they’re tacitly acknowledging is that it is okay for some people to be hungry, that it’s okay for some people to be in poverty, and that it’s okay for this gap of wealth to exist. You’re acknowledging that by saying, “We’re not gonna end it,” ‘cause to not be limited is, “We’re gonna end poverty. We’re gonna end hunger. We’re gonna do those things.” That’s not limiting. But by limiting it, you’re tacitly acknowledging that it’s acceptable. And why that matters to us at LibGen is because the acceptability has been passed on to Black and brown folks. That society has allowed itself to say it’s okay for Black folks, Latine folks, Indigenous folks, Asian folks, certain groups of people by race, to be in poverty, to be hungry, to have this gap in wealth.
And so, you asked about the toxicity, the limits themselves are toxic. Then when you get into why, and one of the ones that I think I’d like to highlight that I think is the most toxic is the fact that white supremacy as a structural system is what is guiding the decisions around who gets what in our economy. And people don’t like to talk about it. People like to say, “Well, you know,” like the focus on the white supremacy that they saw with the people that stormed the Capitol or the people that acted out violently with tiki torches in Charlottesville, they like to focus on that white supremacy. But what they don’t wanna talk about is the white supremacy that determines who gets to benefit within our economic systems, and that a lot of the justifications for higher Black poverty, higher Indigenous poverty, the racial wealth gap are layered with racial signals that justify why it’s okay. So, we saw this, and I think we talked about it on the pod before, Rebecca, when we talked about the welfare queen and the racialization of Black motherhood in determining whether Black mothers were deserving of federal benefits. And all of that is driven by a system that is set up to prefer whiteness over people of color. And I’d say if you talk about the most toxic limiting belief, I would call that one up. Because I think a lot of the other ones—
VALLAS: I sort of feel like as this conversation—
GREER: —flow from there.
VALLAS: Yeah. And Jeremie, I was gonna say the image coming through for me as you’re saying that is like what’s sort of gonna be happening as we have this conversation is it’s kind of like we’re gonna be opening up a set of Russian dolls where it’s like we have like a big Russian doll, and then there’s, “Oh, wait! There’s another doll in there!”
VALLAS: And, “Oh! We’re gonna keep going,” and there’s just like they all layer. But that’s kind of like the first of doll we have to call out and name so we can get into the other ones. Solana, where do you wanna pick up from there?
GREER: That could be some interesting merch that you just brought up there.
VALLAS: I’ll let y’all work that out. [laughs]
GREER: The Russian doll of white supremacy, yes.
RICE and GREER: [laugh]
VALLAS: Amazing! That’s a lot of work!
RICE: The nesting of it.
GREER: [laughs] Yeah.
RICE: It’s a new nesting toy. Yeah, that is why we called our podcast Racism Is Profitable because we are assuming too, that, just to pick up where Jeremie left off, is that we are assuming that this economy has to run how it’s always run, which is putting profit first. And profit is generated from the stratification of class, of race, of ethnicity, right? And mostly because of using race as a tool and racism as a tool, of an engine of oppression. And so, if we are just saying, “Yeah, this economy is how it’s going to run,” then we are just saying, “Yep, we’ve gotta accept that some racism is going to divide us. Some racism is just going to be here and make winners and losers.”
I think another big limiting belief [chuckles] is that all of this, when we get to the center of those nesting dolls, right, that it’s just too much. Like, it’s just too big to take on. And what I like about the idea of worldview, which is what we call sort of a belief system, is that actually, worldviews sit within us, and we all individually perpetuate them. And we make decisions, big and small, based on them. So, even that limiting, to me, a big limiting belief for everyday folks is, “Well, I’m not gonna take on racism in the economy. [laughing] How am I gonna take on in the economy?”
RICE: But it actually is something that we do day in and day out. We are making decisions about where we work, how we work, if we work. We are making decisions about, every economic transaction is a decision, right? Where we go to school, where we don’t go to school, where we donate, where we don’t donate, where we shop, all of these things are economic transactions, and they can absolutely reinforce a worldview, a perspective, what we think is right. I will give an example. My father often would say, my Black father, who is in northeast Ohio would say, like, “I’m not shopping on this side of town.” [laughs] “‘Cause I know that if I shop on this side of town, I’m gonna get worse goods. I’m gonna get higher goods.” And this is all absolutely true. But it’s also reinforcing this idea that we have to accept this condition, and we don’t. So, often folks say like, “Oh my gosh, liberation in a generation. That sounds like a really big task.” But if we think about it as something that we do every day, and it’s also something that we are on a long arc of doing, it’s not something that’s gonna happen in this election cycle. It’s not something that’s even gonna happen before the end of our lifetime, probably, before me and Jeremie’s lifetime, but it is something we have to work towards every day.
GREER: Yeah. What I’d add is that I think one of the things that is also limiting in these discussions and why we honestly, one of the reasons that I was hell bent on leaving the think tank space is that the people with power to do something about this—and I’m not just talking about politicians, I’m talking about the people that are in the think tanks in Washington, the people that are at research institutions, people that are doing lobbying on the Hill—even if they have the right intentions, they will put the comfort of white people over the conversation that needs to happen to get us to where we need to go, so where we lay out what we’re talking about. We’re saying things like racism is profitable, that white supremacy is what drives economic outcomes in our economy, because that’s the conversation that we need to have, and that we as LibGen, and Solana and I said, we can no longer be in these spaces where people are placing people’s individual comfort or discomfort with having the conversation over the goal that we should have. So, if you’re talking about ending poverty, if that’s in your mission, you should be having this conversation and not shying away from it, not running away from it. So, yeah, that’s what I’d add.
VALLAS: Are there any other limiting beliefs that you guys wanna put on the table before we start talking a little bit more about some of the work you guys have been doing to call them out? And the podcast is part of that, but there’s also a lot of other pieces to narrative shift and organizing and all the rest. Any others you wanna get on the table?
GREER: Yeah. I mean, there’s a couple. I mean, one of the things that we’re working on—and this isn’t an idea of ours. We’re following the work of many others, people like Derek Hamilton, people like Franklin Roosevelt, the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King—is we have been calling for a slate of guarantees, what we call guarantees for liberation, that will deliver a basic set of good economic outcomes to all people. And if we’re talking about all people, and we’re really serious about that, we’re talking about making sure that it reaches and does that for people of color. And what the assumption and the limiting idea that challenges this is the idea that the government can’t be the one to deliver prosperity to people. This idea that only the private sector can do that and only corporations can do that and that the government cannot is something that we’re challenging head on because we actually see it the other way, is that the government is responsible for delivering that for people. It’s doing that for corporations today. And what we’re saying is it needs to roll back on that and deliver that prosperity to people. So, that is one limiting challenge that we’re absolutely facing head on. And then I’d say the smaller ones that we have to deal with but I think flow out of that is these things like deservedness, who deserves government benefits, the practicability of delivering benefits where we’re trying to hit that head on. But I think a lot of that comes out of this kind of core belief that the government, it’s not the government’s role to deliver prosperity for people of color.
RICE: And even more than that, it’s not even the government’s responsibility, but that the private sector corporations could do it better, more efficiently, more fairly. And while, yes, we have seen the government actually uphold oppressive systems, it actually is the way in which we deliver public good to one another. It is the most democratic form that we have right now. It is not democratic. [laughing] It is the most democratic form we have right now. And so, I think some of the limiting beliefs are all the tools that we have put in place to reinforce this idea that corporations know best, the private sector knows best, that the market is the best place to deliver my basic needs. So, let’s get government out of the way. Let’s deregulate. And so, let’s let the corporations have free reign and do what they need. Let’s make sure that if we have things in the public good that they are actually stewarded by corporations. Oh, and…we actually don’t have enough money in the government at all to do any of this. Which is all not true, [laughs] all of those things.
GREER: Yeah, none of it’s true. Yeah.
VALLAS: Solana, that’s exactly where I was about to go too, ‘cause I feel like even just, I don’t even know where in the Russian doll hierarchy we put this one, but just to put it also in the nest is the idea that it even all has to be this way, right? Like that the status quo is the way it has to be. I mean, I feel like that’s a limiting belief we almost never really talk about in those terms, but boy, has that been the takeaway for so many people and should be the takeaway for so many people given the kind of legislating we saw in the immediate wake of the onslaught of the pandemic. A lot of folks went, “Oh, my god! Wait, you mean the government can do things that actually really help me and my family economically overnight, right?! Wait! Oh, my gosh. We are able to take action in broad ways that help people who aren’t just the wealthy donors, right, who are calling in the favors?” And even just that realization that government can work for the people, right, and that anything that we’re talking about is possible through public policy and laws, as tools for not just reality creation, but actually for justice that is broadly shared, for abundance that is broadly shared. I mean, even that feels like it’s worth getting on the table as just sort of a meta limiting belief.
But I wanna switch gears a little bit because you guys are, you’re both incredibly thoughtful and intentional advocates and visionaries. And I think that is an appropriate word to use for both of you, so I’m just gonna call you that. I hope I’m not making either of you blush. But I wanna ask, because so much of what informs your work and Liberation in a Generation’s work is actually the past: past movements, past movement leaders that you both very intentionally have learned from and look to, to bring forward in this moment. And so, I’d love to give you both a chance to speak about what lessons you find that the past might hold for us about what to do or what not to do in a moment that I think we all feel very much is a significant moment in human history, whether we see it as an affliction or an assignment, as a mentor recently described it to me recently. So, talk a little bit about, if you would, and I’ll give this to both of you, whoever wants to start, what you’ve learned from the past. That might be your ancestors, that might be your lineage. How does the past shape the work you do and how you understand and show up for liberation? And I don’t know who wants to take that one first.
GREER: I wanna hear what Solana has to say.
RICE and GREER: [laugh]
RICE: I think about this a lot, and I don’t think of, and I often feel—I’ll be very honest and candid—that I often feel like a little bit of an imposter ‘cause I’m like, oh, I haven’t read all of the history that there is in the world to know about all of the ancestors that have informed my past. But then I think about all of the ancestors that are just literally that I do know and that I knew when they were alive, and they have shown me so much. I mean, what I understand about the world is that it is not a fair place, and I was told that as a very, very young person. And it wasn’t like, “This isn’t a fair place, so you need to be a victim all the time.” It was just a matter of fact. It wasn’t a prescription. It was just this is what it is. And my ancestors told me to stick with the course, to be strategic, but keep showing up. That we’re not doing this work for ourselves today, right? We’re planting the seeds for tomorrow, and we may not see the fruits of our labor. And that is honestly what keeps me grounded every day is that seeing my grandparents, you know, my grandfather was a baker in a Jewish bakery for 60 years, day in and day out. He held all of the recipes, right? That in and of itself reminds me that we are so important. Black people are so important to this nation. [laughs] That small, that one person working for 60 years that holds the key to their entire recipe drawer, it’s like, yeah. That’s what Black people have been to this nation and will continue to be.
I take a lot of inspiration from the teachings of ancestors, specifically Norma Wong, who is with us now—she’s a policymaker but also a Zen master—about the long arc. I mentioned this before, but I have come to great peace that we are continuing a tradition of principled struggle, and what I hope our next phase is, is passing that ethic on and sharing all of the things that we have learned about how this economy works and does not work to future generations. I was telling somebody the other day that what I hope we learn, and Norma Wong speaks about this, is the sort of collective acceleration. I was pretty far along in my career before I felt free to say that racism is profitable. Before I felt free to say with confidence that white supremacy is why we have the economy that we do, is why literally any outcome for Black people is determined by white supremacy. It took me a long time. And what I hope for this next generation is that it doesn’t take them that long, right? I feel like it’s my responsibility [laughs] to accelerate that knowledge and that understanding and also provide realistic tools ‘cause it can also just be really overwhelming every day. And so, helping young folks find their people in this work, and I think that’s a lot of what it is about. The long arc is gonna take a lot of folks being together, sort of, I think of sort of like a string, you know, the paper doll. That’s what I think about. We don’t all have to be connected to everybody, but we all have to be connected. [laughs]
RICE: And that’s what I take from my ancestors, is to find the people who wanna be in this struggle that will help find joy, that will continue to be strategic, and to take care and solace in the long arc.
VALLAS: That’s beautiful. Jeremie, what do you wanna add to that?
GREER: Yeah, I mean, I’ve always wanted to take the wisdom of people who have been in the struggle to help shape how I fit into the struggle. So, recently I went on a pilgrimage to Alabama with a great brother we’re working with, Ben McBride, from the Empowerment Initiative. And why this was so spiritual for me was because the way he shaped the conversation with us is, while you’re here, think about what you wanna become. And so, all the times we went through, whether we were in Selma, thinking about the folks that crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday or whether we were in Birmingham and the bus boycotts and the things, or Montgomery, where the bus boycotts happened, but in Birmingham, where the sit-ins happened and things like that, it was this: What were these people thinking, and what were they trying to become? Because these people were like tailors, bus drivers. They were like, they were just people living and working in the South, but they had to become something else in order to achieve their vision for the world that they wanted to see. And I’m constantly now at a place where I’m wanting to think about what is it that I need to become? What is it that we need to become in order to get to the place that we wanna go to?
And so, it’s a constant point of evolution and that we continuously have to evolve to get to where we’re going. ‘Cause as Solana says, we don’t know how to get there. We’ve never been there. It’s a road that we have not traveled. So, you have to have the ability to evolve and to become something different to see your calling differently in order to get there. And Malcolm X is kind of my intellectual hero, and I always took kind of my favorite parts of his journey and when I read his autobiography, which was really the thing that hoisted him on this pedestal for me, is those reflections on Mecca. Because it was him going to Mecca and seeing new things and understanding his role differently that brought him to a place of wanting to become something different. So, that’s the biggest thing that I take from my ancestors is when I look at people and I look at the work that they’ve done, how were they struggling with that kind of question about what it is that we need to become or what they needed to become.
VALLAS: I love that. And I wanna pull on one of the threads as we move into the next piece of this conversation that, Solana, you were offering around helping people find their people, right? Which I love so much and which is obviously so important to especially newer advocates, or frankly, advocates that are looking to find their way over time, right? ‘Cause you can be doing the work, and you can also still not have found your people and maybe not even realize that your people are out there.
VALLAS: I think all of us have had those experiences in various ways. But I mentioned just glancingly, and I wanna say it again, ‘cause these words have been in my ears quite a lot lately, but a mentor of mine said to me recently that living in this time in human history is either an affliction or an assignment. And those words continue to ring for me, thinking about what time it is on the clock of the world right now, as Grace Boggs would say. And I’d love to give both of you a chance to talk about and maybe share a little bit of advice if you have it, but how you’re thinking about working in this moment, and particularly advice you might have for other advocates who are working in this moment since a lot of the folks who listen to this show are policy advocates. What advice do you have, and how are you thinking about what it looks like to accept that assignment, right? Instead of seeing this moment as an affliction, saying, “All right, this is a challenge and one I see I have a role to play in.” And pulling on Solana’s thread, what advice do you have for maybe newer advocates who are just starting out in this moment in human history and trying to figure out how to find their place in the work?
RICE: Yeah. I think this is such an important question, and the distinction between affliction and assignment is so important. There’s the basic Buddhist philosophy of there will be suffering. And I think once we acknowledge that there will be suffering, it’s sort of like that this could be an affliction, taking the perspective of this is an assignment for me is so helpful because then I don’t have to suffer with it, right? It’s something that I do, that I take as fact, but I don’t have to take it as personally. It’s what I do, it’s not who I am, though. So, I think in this work sometimes because the economy reinforces a lot of these limiting beliefs about Black people aren’t worthy, they aren’t deserving, they aren’t this, they aren’t that, it can be easy to, I mean, we all internalize that, absolutely. And so, taking all of this work, especially on economic and racial justice, as an assignment is in of itself sort of a revolution. It’s a rejection of the assumption that I am not deserving, that I have to work till I’m numb, all of those things. I really, like, that’s just such a good reminder to find our people over and over and over again, ‘cause that is what helps us remember that even in the assignment, that we’re working together.
VALLAS: I love that. Jeremie, where else do you wanna take that?
GREER: Yeah, I love this question. I think often about the quote, the Frederick Douglass, famous Frederick Douglass quote, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” And I think sometimes people think of that as struggle being, to your point around the affliction, like struggle is just something we have to endure. It’s just something we have to just kind of understand as a part of the process, something we have to tolerate. And I actually, and what I believe he meant if you read more the quote, the speech, what he meant was, you have to seek out the struggle. The struggle is the point, and the progress is what comes through the struggle. So, if you’re doing something and it’s making you, and you feel that discomfort in your gut, if you feel that doubt in the back of your head, if you’re having that imposter feeling like, why should I do this, when you’re feeling all of those things, that’s the struggle. And it probably means you’re doing what you should be doing, that you are doing what is right. So, as far as advice, I’d say find the struggle. ‘Cause if you find the struggle, you are progressing; you are doing something that is right. And if you’re doing something that is easy, that there isn’t a struggle, that you don’t have those feelings, I’d say you probably should be doing something else ‘cause it’s probably not gonna lead you there. Yeah.
RICE and GREER: [laugh]
RICE: Exactly. Yeah, and I think that is so right. And I was thinking about all of the times where, Jeremie, you and I have had to, in our think tank spaces, had to put aside what we really knew to be true. And my advice is like, don’t put aside what you know to be true because of whatever challenges or struggle you think that might bring onto you. What I love about working at Liberation in a Generation is that we are literally bringing the wisdom, the advice, the guidance of our ancestors to conversations about neoliberalism and corporate power and the tax code. It’s like we literally do not put any parts of ourselves on the sidelines in these traditionally white, heady spaces. Like, that is just, we don’t have the luxury of doing that, and so we do not. And so, we are very explicit about seeking out the places where we could easily, you know, I think every day I have some kind of crisis of imagination where I’m like, do I really know what corporations should be in a liberation economy? No, I don’t. But you know what? I am going to keep on finding the people that are willing to imagine with us. And that is the point. And that we have to take on these really structural conversations with the heart and the guidance that our ancestors have planted about who we’re becoming.
VALLAS: The last question I’m gonna throw to both of you, which hurts my heart, because I would love to spend more time in this space. There’s so much more that we could get to and should, but we’re also heading into a moment that is the midterm elections in the United States. And it feels important to acknowledge that, even if we’re not having a conversation that is deeply embedded in this current news cycle. And intentionally, we’re kind of trying not to, right? We’re trying to have a bigger-picture conversation. But it feels really important in this moment to also ask the question, how do we keep visioning forward while we also wholesale and full court press protect the gains that we have already made? Jeremie, you’ve mentioned, and I think it always bears repeating, right, life is a constant state of change. That is what life on earth is, right? So, how do we do both? How do we both do the big vision work while also being present in the day-to-day battles to protect our communities, and in particular, marginalized communities? You both are very thoughtful about threading that needle. So, curious if you’d both wanna maybe offer a little bit of wisdom in this moment about how you’re threading the needle now as we sprint towards what look like potentially challenging midterms for the party that has traditionally, in recent times, been more aligned with the economic justice principles we’ve been talking about.
GREER: Yeah. I’ll respond to that a couple ways. One, I think the idea of scarcity, which is one of those limiting beliefs, right, for when we talk about it in the economic context, that there isn’t enough resources to go around, so therefore, poverty exists, people are hungry, that’s okay. I think it also creeps into our movement spaces, and we believe that there are scarce resources. So therefore, we have to choose between visioning and the material needs that people have right now. And for us, we wanna reject that false choice because we believe that in order for us to get to liberation, we have to deal with the material needs that people are struggling with today. So, there has to be, and we talked about it earlier, I think, Rebecca, where there has to be a child tax credit that reaches all families and provides a basic income floor today while we think about the need for a guaranteed income in the future. And so, one is to reject the false choice.
And then the two, the thing that we do a Liberation in a Generation and what we try to do, because a lot of the grassroots organizations that we working with right now are dealing with those material needs. So, for us to say that we can’t get in with you on those material needs means that we can’t help them; we can’t be of service to them. We can’t support them and help them build the power that they have to build. So, we have to get in there. But the way that we reconcile it and make sure that we understand LibGen as being a part of that journey, is that dealing with those material needs today is on the pathway to the liberation that we wanna see.
GREER: So, $15 an hour minimum wage fights are a part of what would be fighting for a true livable wage down the road. Fighting for basic tenant protections for people today is on the road to a federal housing guarantee, so that everyone can have quality housing as a human right. So, we try to reconcile it that way because we believe that these are false choices that are driven by the limits of the scarcity mindset.
VALLAS: And Solana, in 30 seconds, you’re gonna get the last word.
RICE: [chuckles] I think this is a call to philanthropy in part, so that organizers can continue to build a base that allows for both this visioning and bringing material gains to our communities and making sure that those material gains are then translated into political wins.
VALLAS: Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice are the co-founders of Liberation in a Generation, which works to build a liberation economy where people of color belong. They’re also the co-hosts, as they’ve mentioned, of the podcast Racism is Profitable. And as you’ve been hearing, a core throughline of their work is calling out and tearing down the limiting beliefs upholding what they call an oppression economy that defines life in America today. Solana, Jeremie, thank you so much to both of you for coming back on the show, for taking the time, for wanting to get into this conversation with me, and for all that you do every single day. Folks can find more about Liberation in a Generation’s work in our show notes and on our show page at TCF.org/Off-Kilter. Thanks to you both, and I look forward to seeing you both in the flesh at some point soon. I hope we get a chance to do that someday soon. [theme music returns]
GREER: Yeah, that’d be fun, Rebecca.
RICE: My pleasure.
VALLAS: We’ll make it happen. 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 Abbie 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.