Our Body Politic

Engaging the Latino Electorate, the Challenges of Immigration Reform, and Women of Color Building Their Own Institutions

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya talks with Representative Nydia Velázquez about recovery and self-determination for Puerto Rico, and how she paved the way for other Latinas in Congress. Cecilia Muñoz, longtime policy expert and former Obama administration official, explains how Democrats and Republicans just aren’t having the same conversation when it comes to immigration reform. Our Body Politic producer Priscilla Alabi looks into ways of forming a susu, and the scams that are taking advantage of this age-old savings practice. And political contributor Errin Haines leads a conversation about women of color creating their own career paths on the roundtable, Sippin’ the Political Tea, with Farai and Jess Morales Rocketto.


00:31 Representative Nydia Velázquez on Puerto Rican voters

13:12 Policy expert Cecilia Muñoz on how to frame immigration reform

23:17 A look at the age-old practice of the susu and how it's faring today

32:04 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Errin Haines, Jess Morales Rocketto, and Farai Chideya talk about the week’s news

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. As we grow and evolve our show, we need lots of input from listeners like you. So I want to ask you a small favor. After you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen and leave us a review. You can also participate in our listener survey. We want to know more about you. Find our survey when you follow us on Instagram and Twitter @ourbodypolitic or on our website at ourbodypolitic.com. And thank you. This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host Farai Chideya. Here on the show, we talk with women of color across the political spectrum and from diverse backgrounds.

Chideya: My next guest has been in Congress for almost three decades. Nydia Velázquez represents New York's 7th congressional district in the House. She is the chairwoman of the House, Small Business Committee and senior member of the Financial Services Committee. As a member of the House committee on natural resources, she's working on accountability for energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico, where she's originally from. She and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are also co-sponsors of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, which she says would let Puerto Ricans determine their own political future. Representative Velázquez, welcome.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez:

Thank you for having me.

Chideya: I want to go through a little information that came out in a recent report. It was the Small Business Trends Alliance, and it found that fewer small business owners of color felt supported by the government's COVID relief plans. And that even though a majority of small business owners of color voted for president Biden, 45% said they didn't belong to, or didn't feel represented by any existing us political party. Now, women of color are more likely to be small business owners than white women or compared to white men. You're the chair of the House Small Business Committee. What are you doing to support women of color entrepreneurs?

Velázquez: Well, I have been working to address issues of systemic inequities when it comes to federal policies. If there is anything that we saw throughout the pandemic was the fact that the most impacted were those in underserved communities, women, and minority businesses. Those who didn't have pre existing relationship with banks were left behind. Under the Biden administration, we immediately moved to change that. So what we need to continue to do is to use every tool that we have within the federal government, whether it's an infrastructure bill, whether it is inactive policies or legislation that will allow for the treasury department where we have CDFIs, MDIs. Those are that are mission based lenders that are rooted in our communities to have an opportunity to work with the small business administration and look at ways where we can empower those mission-based lenders to have an impact in women owned businesses, especially women of color.

Chideya: This is a very tense time in the US Congress in terms of bipartisanship or the lack thereof. After nearly three decades in Congress, what, if anything, are you doing differently now that the Congress is very divided, including over the legacy of January 6th and many other issues.

Velázquez: In terms of my committee, for example, my committee always been bipartisan. I always say that there is no Republican or Democratic approach to small businesses. So let's see what happens with this infrastructure bill, but we need to use everything we have in order to address the issues that are important to us, to working families in this country. One issue that should be important to everyone is defending and protecting our democracy. And that includes HR1. We should be in the business of expanding voting rights. We should be in the business of encouraging more electoral participation. And so look, we are going to try our very best to bring people to the table, but we have a responsibility to address some of those important issues one way or the other.

Chideya: I want to switch to talking about Puerto Rican voters on the mainland and people on the island. Florida is home to the largest Puerto Rican diaspora in the US and Donald Trump made inroads with some of the voters in the last election. What lies ahead in terms of the two parties courting Puerto Rican voters.

Velázquez: We need to understand that Puerto Ricans in Florida, like any other people or voter care about bread on border issues. They just want to know how the federal government will enact legislation and provide programs that will help them. For the most part, almost 400,000 people left the island as a result of hurricane Maria and the bankruptcy that they are facing.

Chideya: There was a report by EquisLabs that did some research and found that some Latino voters voted for president Trump because they assumed that candidate Biden, he was candidate and not president Biden would shut down the economy and they would lose jobs. There are many different reasons that people voted for any of the number of presidential candidates, but considering that the Latino vote did go more for president Trump in the 2020 election than 2016. What do you see as things that the Democratic Party can improve about its messaging or what's missing?

Velázquez: I think that we need to be more bold in talking about everything that Democrats have done and what president Biden has done on behalf of Latinos. We are good at public policy. We are really bad at the PR and the other part of the equation is if you want people to really come out to vote, they need to feel invested. And so one area where we are falling short is on the area of immigration. I am one of seven female members of Congress who are working in rallying, the volts that are needed in order to bring the American American citizenship act at the Biden administration to introduce to the floor.

Chideya: All Puerto Ricans are American citizens only those living on the mainland can vote in the presidential elections. Some people support independence, some people support leaving the governance structure as it is. Some people support statehood. What do you support?

Velázquez: I will say that this is 2021, that the United States will lack moral authority if we do not have the will to end the colonization that has taken place for over almost 120 years. And that the best way to proceed is to recognize the inherent right of the people of Puerto Rico to determine their own political future. And that is exactly why the legislation that we introduce a Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and myself will do. It will provide a vehicle that is going to be inclusive, democratic, transpiring, to give a voice to everyone in Puerto Rico to express themselves as to what type of political relationship they want to have with the United States of America, whether it's statehood, whether it's independent, whether it's any other form of association, but it must come from the people of Puerto Rico. I believe that we colonization by empowering the people of Puerto Rico to make that final decision.

Chideya: Let's turn to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and infrastructure questions on the island. I understand that you were born in Yabucoa. I went there a few months after the hurricane and it was hit square on devastated. How are things now? Do you know, nearly four years later?

Velázquez: If I say to you that there are close to 30,000 homes that were impacted and that needed to be rebuilt. And to this day only hundreds of homes has been rebuilt because then prescient, Trump did everything within his power to prevent the government of Puerto Rico from getting the money, the billions of dollars that were appropriated by Congress. So yeah, Puerto Rico has a long way to go.

Chideya: Well, let's zoom out. Let's wrap up by zooming out on your career and how you've influenced others. So in 1992, you became the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House of Representatives. And you later became the first Latina to serve as a ranking member of a full House committee. Do you feel that you have paved the way for the powerful Latinas, like your bill co-sponsor Representative Ocasio-Cortez that followed in your path and what have you tried to transmit?

Velázquez: Well, look I too defeated a powerful member of Congress, a chairman of the foreign relations committee, a Congressman that had a $4 million war chest. When I ran, we were five Latinos in the race. No one gave me a chance or any of the Latinos who were running. And yet, while people were discussing that the chairman, his experience was needed and this was some of the papers in New York trying to convince that it was not the time for a Latino to be in Congress. I proved them wrong because while they were discussing all the benefits of having a chairman in office, I was organizing and building a strong coalition that proves to be a winning coalition. And so what I always said is, look, I didn't ask anyone permission to run. I felt that I had a contribution to make, but I also knew that in order for me to be taken seriously, I needed to do my homework. I hope that AOC and others and especially Latinas saw in me a living proof that all it takes is don't take no for an answer. Just go out there and do the work. Just go out there and talk to the people in your district. And look, my district today, electorally speaking is a white electoral district. We have more white voters than Latinos, but yet I continue even when I faced tough primaries, I continue to rely on that coalition. And when I talk to everyone, I talk to everyone. I am talking to the issues that are important to everyone in my community

Chideya: Representative Velázquez, thank you so much for joining us.

Velázquez: Thank you for having me.

Chideya: That was representative Nydia Velázquez of New York. Immigration reform is one of the most heated issues in American political life. And our next guest has contributed to immigration policy in many roles over many years. Cecilia Muñoz is a Senior Advisor at New America, a public policy think tank. She recently led the domestic and economic policy team for the Biden-Harris transition. And she served in the Obama administration first as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, then for five years, as Director of the Domestic Policy Council. Before that, she worked for two decades as a policy expert at the National Council of La Raza. Now UnidosUS, a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization. Cecilia, welcome to Our Body Politic.

Cecilia Muñoz: Thank you so much for having me.

Chideya: There seems to be some tension, even within the Biden-Harris administration, over what direction to take with immigration. The administration didn't raise the cap on receiving refugees until it was pushed and then there's Title 42, the Trump era order that allows immediate expulsion of migrants who crossed the border. Some recent news reports say that the administration is considering phasing out Title 42 by the end of July. Do you know what the state of play is on that? And more broadly, how do you think the administration is dealing with the pressures from both the left and the right?

Muñoz: The biggest challenge here with respect to the border and managing the situation at the border, which is what connects to Title 42 is that there are enormous pressures coming from people fleeing central America, as well as other countries, by the way, seeking to enter at the US Mexico border. And the tools available to government are terrible. They're just not up to the task. Our laws need to be reformed. Our infrastructure needs to be reformed. Like every piece of the infrastructure at the border, from the laws, to the policies, to the physical buildings that we use, to the personnel and the training for that personnel, all of that was built for the border we had 20, 30 years when the challenge we were facing was single adults coming from Mexico. That's not the challenge that we're facing anymore. We saw what happens when a malevolent administration wields those tools. This is not a malevolent administration, but the tools are still the same.

Chideya: I remember in the '90s going out with a border patrol agent who was a young Latina, and being on a ride along as she picked up day laborers, they had their tools and she was very gracious to them. And she was like, "Yeah, we'll detain them. We'll release them. They'll be back because they have clients on this side of the border who employ them on a regular basis." And as the US began to crack down on the border, you began to see more people saying, "I can't leave my family behind and I can't go back and forth." How do you think border dynamics should work in an era of climate crisis, in an era where also the US has at various times in history, destabilized central and Latin American governments, which has had a cascade effect on whether or not people can stay in their home countries. What's the big picture here?

Muñoz: The big picture really for a long time has been really since the '80s, since the 1986 immigration law, is that we are living with the myth that we don't need or rely on the people who ultimately cross the US-Mexico border and end up in the United States. So we have a set of laws that says nobody should come and we have an economy that actually relies on their labor. And so we have for decades, we in the Immigration Reform Movement have been fighting for a law, which actually reflects the realities, right? That allows some room for people to come legally instead of illegally and do the work that we rely on them to do and do it in a way that is much better protected for them. The big irony here is most of the country supports what's been in the laws that have been proposed. There's one that passed the Senate in 2006, another one very similar passed the Senate in 2013. You get 80, 85% of the US public in support of what's in those immigration bills if you have an opportunity to explain it. So the issue is not that we have a problem with support in the country. The issue is that we ever problem with support in the Congress, most particularly on the Republican side.

Chideya: Is the Democratic Party risking losing more voters, even by doing fairly modest immigration reforms. I mean, I'm thinking about, of course president Donald Trump gaining votes from Latinos in 2020 compared to 2016.

Muñoz: Yeah. This is all about the framework on which we have the immigration debate. The framework that works really well for Donald Trump and the Republicans is to have a debate about who's tough versus who is wimpy, right? If you have the debate along those lines, the tough side always wins. Where Democrats thrive is when the debate is about something else. When the debate is about fixing a problem versus letting it fester. That's the conversation that Democrats need to lead. That Democrats know how to fix it and Republicans prefer to keep it broken because it accrues to their political advantage.

Chideya: Let's talk a little bit more about Latino voters. When Stephanie Valencia of EquisLabs came on our show, one of the things she said about her analysis of the 2020 election and the Latino electorate was that both parties should think of Latinos, more like white suburban swing voters. Certainly more than being devoted permanently to any one party. Does that resonate with you?

Muñoz: Yes. I think that's been true for a long time and Stephanie's work at Equis is groundbreaking work to help the political class understand that Latinos are swing voters and that you can't just assume that you say the right thing on immigration and then you don't have to have this conversation with Latino voters. This is a sophisticated analysis to a political class who has had a simplistic view of our community for much, much too long.

Chideya: Now you wrote a book more than ready about power and women of color, which is one of our favorite topics on this show. And as you're talking about border and migration, I can't help, but think of a recent New York times op-ed that political scientist, Christina Greer wrote saying, "It's a trap." Speaking about vice-president Harris and her trips to Central America and the border. She basically was arguing that there is no way that vice-president Harris can set herself up well for an eventual run to president tackling this issue. What is your understanding of that and what advice would you give her?

Muñoz: I have a lot of sympathy for that argument because she is obviously the first woman and the first woman of color in this role. And the first person of color in this role, right? That's a lot. At the same time when Joe Biden was vice president, he had this same role and president Obama asked him to play this role as a signal that the president was sending the senior most possible official to work with the countries in question that the vice president was speaking for the president addressing this high priority set of issues. And so it's the same play as in the Obama administration. I think of that as a good thing, right? That it is a really hard challenge, but the fact that the president has demonstrated that he has confidence, that his vice president can meet that challenge and she is a very talented woman and leader. I think of all of that as a good thing, but at the same time, the standards being applied to her are different than the standards that were applied to then vice president Biden. But that does not mean that the president should not ask his vice president to do the same job. It means that those of us who understand these issues, who understand these dynamics, who can speak about the double standard that gets applied to women of color in leadership need to be out there. We need to be loud. We need to be explaining. We need to be helping others understand what those dynamics are like.

Chideya: A lot of different women of color right now, as well as many other types of people are just exhausted. To claim your power takes a certain amount of energy. What do you say to people who want to step into leadership, but who were also exhausted about how you deal with self care while you're trying to do ambitious things?

Muñoz: It requires acknowledging that we get to be on our own to-do list, right? That we have to recognize when we're tired, build into our days, our weeks, our years taking care of ourselves, saying no to things. No is sometimes the most powerful tool you have in order to create the space to do the work that only you can do. What's vital is to understand the contribution that you can make and understand that there's times when you need to be not making that contribution and refueling.

Chideya: Cecilia, thank you so much for spending some time with us.

Muñoz: I sure appreciate it. Thank you for what you do.

Chideya: That was Cecilia Muñoz. She's author of More Than Ready: Be Strong and Be You . . . and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise.

Chideya: So last year for the first time ever, I participated in a susu, which is a cash based savings group made up of friends, family members, neighbors, even coworkers. It's been around for generations among African, Caribbean, and Latino immigrant communities and there's versions of it in many different cultures, including Korean culture. Recently because of the pandemic and the economic crash, fake versions of the susu that are more akin to a pyramid scheme, have sprung up around the country. Our Body Politic producer, Priscilla Alabi looked into the pyramid schemes and she'll tell us how not to fall prey and how to tell them apart from a real susu. Welcome to the air Priscilla.

Priscilla Alabi: Thanks, Farai.

Chideya: So times like these make people especially vulnerable to get rich quick scheme. So explain to us what the susu like scams are. They're not real susus and how they mimic the actual thing.

Alabi: Right. So they mimic the susu by using very similar language, like helping out the community or creating capital, which is what the susu is all about. And they have names like modern day susu, friends and family savings plan or blossom loom. With the scams you're promise a significant return on your investment in a short period of time and it's interest free. But with the susu you get back only what you put in, nothing less and nothing more. This is also why it is interest free, which the scams also mimic.

Chideya: So how does a real susu work?

Alabi: So I found two types. Type one is one where people pull together a specific equal amount of money over a predetermined cycle of time. Each person takes a turn collecting the whole sum over the cycle. An example of that is one that my mom did a few years ago, where there were 16 of them and they each contributed $200 every two weeks for eight months. And each person took a turn collecting $3,200 rotating from person to person every two weeks over those eight months. Another type that I found is the accountability savings. It's very similar to one that I did when I was a child. Every Friday during the school year, we saved five bucks and got back and we're supposed to get back to a hundred bucks at the end of the year, which is a sum of what we contributed weekly over the year. In both cases, you get back only what you put in. In my case, I only got back 20 bucks because I was very bad at saving. It's a very powerful thing to do with people that but it's also very risky because if you think about it, imagine that at one point during that eight months cycle that my mom did someone who had already collected their savings decided to stop participating. That means that somebody, maybe if I were part of it, I could collect the money on my turn and just not come back to complete the cycle and this whole system will fall apart. Hinges on trust.

Chideya: Yeah. I mean, the woman who brought me into the susu, who is my hairdresser told me that if someone defaults the person who brought them in is supposed to pay for them. So if I had defaulted, which I didn't, she would have had to pay for me. So I'm not sure if that's true in all the cases. So given the risks, why would people do this? Why not just use a bank or a savings account?

Alabi: Yeah, that's a very valid question and I posed that same question to a woman her name is Morgan Britton and she had a very simple answer.

Morgan Britton: So I have the tendency, like if my checking account is running low, I have the tendency to take out money from my savings because I need it. I have nowhere else to go. So I would usually transfer money from my savings. And to avoid that problem, that's how I ended up in the susu to just start saving money from outside.

Alabi: Yeah. So that's very relatable. In addition to that, there are significant number of people in immigrant communities that are unbanked. 13% of immigrant households in the United States are unbanked. That's according to a research paper that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation did back in 2016. That's two and a half times the number of unbanked people in the general population. There have been some significant improvements in recent years, but the unbanked rate in 2019 from black and Hispanic families is still substantially above the unbank rate for White Households in the US. The FDIC also says that an additional 33% of immigrant household get financial services from institutions that are not banks like payday lenders or pawn shops and things like that. Also, for recent immigrants who don't have credit history, the susu is a way to have access to large sums of money that a bank is on likely to lend to them.

Chideya: So that makes a lot of sense. In the end, how can folks tell the difference between a susu and a scam version?

Alabi: Right. So this is a very important question and here is an example of what a scam looks like. So an acquaintance of mine is part of what he calls a Lotus flower family balm in which you need $500 to join and then you have to bring two additional people with you. And he describes it as an org chart and in the middle of it, those $500 would then be re-gifted to you but from eight different people and turn into $4,000 a month later. That's a big return on investment and is a major red flag and is very illegal because if you think about it, if you do the math, you bring in two people, they bring in four people and they've made an eight people and so on and so forth. It looks like a circle when it's laid out the way that they lay it out, but when you pull up the flower from the middle, it's a pyramid. With a real susu, you're not required to bring anyone in order for it to work.

Chideya: Interesting. So are susus regulated at all and who gets to prevent scams or is it just up to you?

Alabi: Right. So, like I said earlier, it's a very risky financial activity because it is informal and it's definitely non-regulated by any financial bodies. I spoke with a woman who coordinates susus and she said, she collects a lot of personal information from folks who participate in her susus. She's also known other coordinators who require a copy of people's social security cards and she's also known people who have gone to petty claims court over the susu falling apart. So every susu coordinator makes their own rules about what happens if someone defaults. You gave that example earlier that there are groups where the rule is that the person who brought the defaulter into the susu has to pay the share. Obviously, that can put serious strain on relationships and cause problems socially. There are groups where the money is recalculated so that people can still get some part of their money back. So, like I said, this really hinges on trust and the possible blow-black socially, if things go south. Also, various states provide guidance on how to identify a multi-level marketing scheme. California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, New York, these are all states that make very clear that this lotus bloom gifting circle, new age fake susu is illegal. Do a quick search, and you will likely find some guidance from your state's Attorney General about it. If you are approached by someone to join a gifting circle in the name of community or anything like that, ask them a lot of questions. Put pen to paper and do the math to see if it makes sense. If you've been promised you get more money than you put in, it's illegal and it is not a susu.

Chideya: So what are some ways that people can save up during this tough time that won't put them at risk?

Alabi: Yeah. I spoke with a woman who was a financial planner. Her name is Dominique Broadway, and here are her words of advice.

Dominique Broadway:

I know people don't like to talk about budgets because budgets aren't sexy, but you need to actually sit down and see how much money you have coming in and see what your bills are. If there are not any ways that you can cut, then my favorite thing to do is figure out how I'm going to make more money.

Alabi: There are apps out there that help you keep track of your budget. You can spend the 99 cents in the Apple Store or the Google Store and just get back to the basics of budgeting.

Chideya: All right. I am so grateful for your time reporting this out, Priscilla. Thank you so much.

Alabi: My pleasure.

Chideya: That was Our Body Politic producer, Priscilla Alabi. Each week on the show, we bring you a round table called Sippin' the Political Tea. Joining me this week is Our Body Politic contributor, Jess Morales Rocketto, Civic Engagement Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Welcome back Jess.

Jess Morales Rocketto:

Oh, hi.

Chideya: And we've got Errin Haines Editor at Large at The 19th. Hey Errin.

Errin Haines: Hi, Farai.

Chideya: So Errin, there is no lack of news this week. What is brewing in our tea pot today?

Haines: We're just sipping the tea all summer Farai. I'm telling you. So let's just start with this week when we marked six months since the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol. House speaker Pelosi's introduction of a select committee to investigate the January 6th insurrection is still languishing and now there's an increased concern about a possible wave of pro-Trump violence in August as the former president and his allies believe that he's going to be reinstated to office next month. So Jess you walk the halls of the Capitol often. What do you think can or should be done fix the gaps and bolster security in that building?

Morales Rocketto:

If you've never been to Washington, D.C., you might not know that the complex of the Capitol, which is near the Supreme Court and just a few blocks away from the White House is actually extremely accessible to the public. But over the last year, it has been actually astonishing, the change. It is extremely militarized in those areas and it's actually a little bit scary when, before I would say the atmosphere was incredibly welcoming. Lots of tourists, lots of green spaces. It's already pretty high security there. We're seeing now in Washington, D.C. some restrictions being lifted. For instance, just this week at the White House, a lot of the fencing that had kept you very far away from the fence that puts you pretty close to the White House has now been removed. I actually think the real issue here is frankly, the members of Congress and some of their staff who we know were actually helpful in getting some of the insurrectionists inside of the Capitol. So to me, this is really about making sure that the Republican side and particularly some of the extremely conservative Republicans are actually really aware of how important it is for them to see everyone's safety as part of their job.

Haines: All the more reason to really have an accounting of what happened and who was involved and who should be held accountable. There's another concern. Reporters who cover Capitol hill are observing and experiencing that things are really not normal, right? They're saying they themselves are so angry because of what they witnessed on January 6th and many reporters are saying that they need therapy to cope with the trauma. Farai, the fallout for people working at the Capitol is ongoing. There's no solution insight. What are the potential repercussions of this politically?

Chideya: I think even more than political repercussions, it's a chance to remember how much this trauma will affect people of all walks of life. So this is all backdrop to what's going on, on Capitol hill between the Democrats and the Republicans. And now you have house minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, looking at adding GOP members to this Democratic led investigation of January 6th. At first, he said that he wasn't going to put people on, but Representative Pelosi of course tapped Liz Cheney as one of the selectors for this inquiry and that prompted a change. So there's a lot going on where people, including members of the D.C. police and the Capitol police have been going to house minority leader McCarthy saying, "Don't forget us. Don't forget our service. Don't forget what we did to protect this country and to protect lawmakers, including Republican lawmakers." So I'm going to be interested to see who gets selected by the Republican Party to be on this commission because their lives were in danger, too. Whatever happens, we know that vice-president Mike Pence's life was in danger and the lives of other Republicans were in danger as well on January 6th.

Haines: So many layers indeed Farai. I mean, look, the reality is that six months out there is a concern that this is fading from the country's memory, and that is a bad thing for our democracy. And so I definitely will stay tuned to see what happens with this insurrection selection committee and where things go from here. But this is something that we absolutely are not done with as a country and that we need to confront fully and finally, before we just move on. So let's talk about the role that corporations play or could play in all of this. Google for example, according to Popular Information, Google's pack money is supporting members of Congress who voted not certify the results of the 2020 election. Back in January, Google pledged that it wouldn't fund members of Congress who voted against election rules. It was the same with Dow, AT&T, Comcast, Walgreens and others. So Jess, six months later, it looks like corporations are back to business as usual. Who could hold these companies accountable to the promises that they made immediately after the insurrection?

Morales Rocketto:

These companies' shareholders are the only people who can really hold them accountable here. This is why you often see organizers as a tactic buy shares and do actions at shareholder meetings. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens to a number of these companies. I'm really thinking of, especially like a Coca-Cola in Georgia. Google, for sure but they've tried to talk about themselves as a kinder, gentler corporations, but actually they're the same as every other business incorporation. They care about the bottom line. They don't really care about anything but that. I think you see that in these really empty promises. That's why we also have to do more to regulate these companies, not only their political giving, but also the ways in which companies like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, many of whom are owned by all the same people are able to actually hurt our democracy in more ways than just their political giving.

Haines: Okay. So let's switch gears a little and check in on voting rights. Last week we touched in on the Supreme Court 6-3 decision to uphold Arizona's voting restrictions. Jess, I really want to get your perspective, given the organizing work that you are engaged in. What options do Democrats have on voting rights?

Morales Rocketto:

This is not a little problem to solve here. There is an all out assault on voting rights. You might hear about it in a state like Texas or in a state like Arizona or in a state like Georgia, but it's clear that there is a conservative right-wing overall campaign. That means have to really bring out the big solutions here and that means we have to take on the Supreme Court directly. There's three things that we got to do to fix this problem. The first most important thing is we have to set some term limits for the Supreme court. There's no reason that people should be on the Supreme court for 50 years, 95 years old, barely able to keep themselves up, making decisions on our most important problems. The other is we need actually these folks to have a code of ethics. It turns out that that's actually not a criteria that gets you appointed to the Supreme Court and it's really important because we have so much partisanship in our judges now that should absolutely not be present in the Supreme Court. And there should be some kind of actually code or contract, anything like that but really is something that's part of their job. And then the last thing is we got to add some seats to the Supreme Court. President Biden right now could add multiple seats in Supreme Court to swing the majority and that would actually really help all those things together. We would see a radical shift in the way that the Supreme Court interacts with some of these extremely heated choices. We're going to see even more of these coming up. We're going to see this in Texas. We're probably gonna see this in Georgia. There's some big immigration cases coming up. There's big Roe V. Wade cases. So this is about voting rights, but it's also about basically everything else we care about.

Haines: Yeah. I thought you might have some thoughts on that, Jess. Okay I want to swing over to Texas where voting rights are on Governor Greg Abbott, special session legislative agenda. All right. So Farai I'm going to come to you on this. How do you view the continued interplay at the state and federal level on voting rights? Will states continue to kind of push the envelope while Congress lags on these federal voter protections?

Chideya: I think that the issue is even bigger than voting rights. When you really take a look at what Governor Abbott is suggesting in Texas, you've got everything on this compressed legislative agenda from prohibiting transgender Texans from competing on school sports teams to critical race theory. This is essentially a very concise encapsulation of the culture war right now. It all is part of a culture war agenda to make people feel and sometimes quite successfully that they are under attack from every corner, from people who are immoral and not like them. It's a divide and conquer theory of American political life and unfortunately, it works. Right now a lot of people don't really think that the voting rights issue affects them. Like, "Oh, I'm not in that precinct or that doesn't matter to me," but yet if we don't have the full participation, we don't really live in a democracy. I think a lot of people are playing a short game, but in the short game being anti voting rights is winning and that's painful and just a reality.

Haines: Yeah. Jess, I'm going to come to you on this. What is the likelihood that the restrictive voting rights bill Texas Democrats defeated will be back on the floor. I mean, what movement are you seeing on the ground in Texas in response to what Republicans are continuing to attempt to do?

Morales Rocketto:

There is clearly a coordinated right-wing effort here and Abbott is certainly one of the most powerful and vocal right-wing governors. He's using that position to bring forward as Farai says, an entire agenda but voting rights is definitely at the top of the list. And for them it's really not rights but suppression. So I think it's very possible it comes back on the floor. I think it's possible it gets defeated again, even narrowly. One of the things I've been most impressed by, and honestly, I rarely say things like this, but the Texas Democratic legislators have really come together as a block and done a lot of work here. I think that's really, really important because there are some bright spots in Texas that are important for future elections and for potential voter protection. So one example of this is Judge Lina Hidalgo in Texas. In Houston, where she sits, she is in charge of one of the largest counties in the country and also one of the most important counties to winning elections in Texas. Her work in the 2020 cycle, helping support, making sure that people could vote is certainly part of this Abbott backlash and his agenda, and then you now see Texas legislators rising up to meet her by saying, "We're going to work very hard to protect voting rights and among other things, doing a walkout and others around a lot of the restrictive measures that Abbott is trying to put forward." So I think that there is a little pep in the Democrats' step there. That's not always the case, particularly in these kinds of do or die moments with Democratic legislators. There is precedent in Texas for Democratic legislators to really do everything they can to stop some of these restrictive things, even in a red state.

Haines: Elections do have consequences and to the extent that people are single issue voters, that single issue right now should be voting rights, because if you do not have the right to vote, none of the other things that you want to see happen in your democracy, regardless of party are going to happen. This week you saw former President Trump filing lawsuits against Facebook, Google, and Twitter over what he says as a censorship of conservatives. Farai, what's your big takeaway from that?

Chideya: Well, again, this goes back to the culture war playbook. And so this lawsuit as filed really... it makes no sense on many different levels. First of all, it was filed in a federal district court in Miami. If the former president and his advisors were serious about filing, they would've filed in California, but former president Trump has proven that he continuously fundraises, even when there's not really anything to fundraise for, like for example, there were people who entered into what they didn't realize were repeating contributions that were continuing even after he was ruled to have lost the 2020 election. And so part of this may be a financial play to bolster the wallet, but I do think that the case itself, the legal case itself is spurious. But the question of what to do with private entities that produce government style infrastructure around information is an interesting and complicated one. This suit appears to lack merit on its face. The whole thing is a legal jumble, but it is a tactical winner. It is a tactical winner for fundraising, and it's a tactical winner for shoring up the former president supporters.

Haines: So we've been following Nikole Hannah-Jones and her battle for tenure, which he recently won against the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC. But instead of taking that tenured professorship, she has decided to take a new tenured offer, which she has created at Howard University instead. So here she is talking to Gayle King about that decision on CBS this morning.

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

I fought the battle that I wanted to fight, which is I deserve to be treated equally and have a vote on my tenure. I won that battle, but it's not my job to heal the University of North Carolina. That's the job of the people in power who created this situation in the first place.

Haines: So Farai, do you see parallels between Hannah Jones's decision to go where she is wanted, right? Where she celebrated instead of tolerated, instead of taking up the mantle to be kind of healer in chief, and maybe just the larger question of black women finding a way to put themselves first in the political arena.

Chideya: Yes. I'd like to raise my hand to answer this question, please Errin! Because I have a whole dissertation on this, but I'm going to boil it down to the cliff notes. This whole show exists because I wanted to do something with people I trust and people I love in the service of journalism. And after many years of having inconsistent experiences in newsrooms, some good, some bad and some just plain ugly, I just wanted to do my own thing. I have faced both race and gender based harassment and discrimination. I have had a real crisis of faith at times over whether newsrooms can ever be desegregated. Major newsrooms have persistently not integrated after years and years and years of fighting. There's been lots of great articles about it. And when I did a research study at Harvard Shorenstein Center, many of the top newsrooms, the majority of the ones that I queried would not give me their racial data. So that means it's not just a "oops," it's more of a coverup. And so we have to just be realistic. I support people doing whatever they want to do wherever they want to do it. I know that I'm unlikely to work in a major newsroom again, by choice. I have lots of chances to collaborate with major newsrooms and that's great for me, but I think that we need to start building our own institutions. We can't always be beggars at the table or even honored guests at the table. We should build the table and set it.

Haines: Shout out to building your own table, a shout out to you and to everybody who is committed to that ongoing work, because this is hard y'all. Starting over sometimes is the best and most effective way to really bring about the change we want to see. Jess, what about you? You got any final thoughts on this?

Morales Rocketto:

I feel like part of the reason why people are so excited for her is it feels like everyone won when she won, because she made an invitation both in The 1619 Project and in this, to all of us, to say, "Stand with me and stand up for us." And that's just so beautiful and important. I'm going to cry. I'm so emotional about this. She is saying to herself, she knows her worth, and she's making that clear to other people. She's offering a masterclass, frankly, in how to do this in a way that is just full of principles and integrity. And then she's also, I think, inviting all of us to say, do this in your own life. I spent so many years in white spaces trying to make it in those spaces and they're not for us. They never were, and when I left those spaces and started making my own tables, but also going to the institutions and people who really are about that life, that is when I found happiness and fulfillment and, not for nothing, more success. So I can only imagine what she's going to do at Howard. Don't go to places that don't want you and just know what you're offering and don't minimize it in any way, shape or form.

Haines: Oh, Jess.

Chideya: This little light of ours, we're going to let it shine.

Haines: We got to. We got to. Jess, you got me crying in my tea today. I'm just sipping the political bourbon, officially. I don't even know. Like, this feels a lot stronger than the tea this week, but I think the teapot is all sipped up today. So on that note, we got to end it, but it was so nice talking with you, Jess and Farai.

Chideya: Thank you so much, Errin.

Morales Rocketto:

A pleasure as always.

Chideya: That was Errin Haines Editor at Large at The 19th and Jess Morales Rocketto Civic Engagement Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Lantigua Williams & Co. I'm the creator and host Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode.

Chideya: Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer Cogent Doshiro, production assistants were Mark Betancourt, Elizabeth Nicano and Vita Chand. This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, The Heising Simons Foundation, Katie Mcgrath & J J Abrams Family Foundation, the BME community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.

Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by Lantigua Williams and Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Original music by associate sound designer Kojin Tashiro. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt, Elizabeth Nakano, and Veda Chand.

This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the BMe Community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “Engaging the Latino Electorate, the Challenges of Immigration Reform, and Women of Color Building Their Own Institutions.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. July 9, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/