Baratunde Reflects on Season Two

Show Description

“It’s hard to citizen when you can’t pay the bills.” This season’s theme has revealed economic causes of our deep division, and has opened our eyes to how our democracy and economic well-being are incredibly interconnected. This week, Baratunde weaves together lessons from across this season, discovers surprising takeaways, and revisits stories that have more in common than we expected when we set out to make this season. Listen to a virtual conversation among our guests that will reveal new insights.

Show Notes & Actions

Show Transcript

Baratunde Thurston  0:00  

Hey, I'm Baratunde Thurston and this is How to Citizen with Baratunde. In season two, we're talking about the money, because to be real, is hard to citizen when we can barely pay the bills.

Many years after I graduated from college, like maybe 10, I started noticing types of mail showing up. And it was about how to fix your credit, we can help you consolidate your debt. And I was like, What is a very particular type of spam? What? What are you trying to tell me world? And I decided to like look up my credit score. Oh, dear Lord, the amount of red that I saw, it was there was this one card that I kind of forgot about? Because it was after my mom died, and I got very distracted. And I was like, I don't pay bills anymore. I cry. That's what I do. And then when I stopped crying, I didn't remember to go pay the bills. I just, I was like, I move forward as well. I don't look back. And I was ashamed. Because I was like, I got this college degree. I'm 20 something years old. I am a full grown up. You know, I signed a lease. I owned a car for a minute, I'm doing this adulting thing. And I felt really alone, because I thought I was supposed to know, I thought I supposed to be better and have done better. Until I met a good friend of mine, who also had a college degree. And he had a terrible credit score, too. Oh, that was that was an interesting reunion for like, yo, you have terrible credit. Now. Who's embarrassed in their family, this guy who's shaming black people know this guy. That's me, that's me, should have been better, but isn't doing better. Oh, that's you to wait. So we're not so alone in all these feelings? Well, that's actually pretty cool. We shared that shame, which made it feel less like shame. And we made some fun of it. And then we got to working together. My point is, the economy we're living in makes us all feel alone the same way my credit score made me feel alone. So many of us feel ashamed and embarrassed. And sometimes we even feel like it's our neighbors fault that things are so bad. In other words, isolation and shame, lead to division. But the truth is, we're not alone. That's what we made this season for. How do we bring a different story of this economy to life, I wanted to understand the forces that stop us from being able to show up as citizens, this wealth inequality built on racial exclusion, fueled by a corporate consolidation of power, resulting in growing numbers of people who are overworked, underpaid, and under supported, I wanted to understand all that, and talk to the people who are moving us forward into a more united, equitable future, where we can all pay the bills, where we can all fit in.

And I think we did that. I know, we missed many things. We couldn't cover everything. We didn't talk about overseas tax shelters, we didn't talk about the massive economic impact of the climate crisis. But the point wasn't to gather every piece of the puzzle. The point was to paint a bigger picture to tell a bigger story of an economy that could work to benefit us all.

Heather McGhee  3:45  

And by pursuing this bigger story, I learned that this wealth inequality that's ever written has its roots run deep into our past, our original economic model was stolen people stolen land and stolen labor. And in order to justify that within a Christian society, they had to make those people who were being stolen

Baratunde Thurston  4:09  

less than human back to what Heather McGee calls this zero sum worldview. This us versus them mentality that for one to win, another has got to lose. And it's designed to keep everybody in their place.

Heather McGhee  4:25  

And the model was I profit you lose, you don't get to share any of the gains of your land, your effort, your labor, nothing. But even then, this was the real like, aha for me, even then, that worst possible economic model only truly maximally benefited a narrow elite back then, of white people,

Baratunde Thurston  4:49  

wealthy white folks created a story, a story designed to exclude people of color and to distract the poor white folks and what was really going on. And so That white

Heather McGhee  5:00  

slave owning landowning elite had to convince the far more numerous landless indentured white folks who were sitting there in the, you know, Rocky fields alongside the black folks that they were better than the person down the row. And that, in fact, justice or freedom for black folks would be a threat to white folks period.

Baratunde Thurston  5:30  

The I, of course, always knew our country is built on racism. I'm very much on the record saying that. But I've got to say, I was surprised to hear from just about everybody that a major point in our country's history of racist economics was also this era that history books tend to paint as a time of tremendous growth and prosperity for Americans.

Ai-jen Poo  5:50  

The new deal, the New Deal, the New Deal, those new deal policies, the New Deal, labor laws are the party of the New Deal

Baratunde Thurston  5:57  

for white Americans.

Ai-jen Poo  6:01  

The new deal was the Democratic Party's response to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Or we put these foundational sweeping policies in place to try to reset and adjust our economy and our democracy for the next phase

Heather McGhee  6:18  

10s of millions of people made of working class into the middle class through this massive economic expansion. It

Stacy Mitchell  6:26  

included protections for the right to organize a union, social security and other assistance for people in hard times, strong anti monopoly policies,

Heather McGhee  6:34  

subsidization of housing, have these state funded colleges in every state, it was just sort of this period of time where everything kind of aligned

Ai-jen Poo  6:44  

to make the greatest middle class of world ever seen. And it was social movements that created the context for that workers, everyday people organizing,

Baratunde Thurston  6:52  

it sounds like the American dream.

Heather McGhee  6:55  

It sounds like the American dream. Ding, ding, ding, you got that's it. That was it. That was when we had it, you know. But the question is, who was the week. And so much of what I just described, was done from a federal policy level in an explicitly racially exclusive way.

Baratunde Thurston  7:15  

This thing we celebrate should probably be called the New Deal for white Americans, because a lot of us were deliberately excluded, which reinforced that us versus them worldview that started with the slave owning elite in the first place. So why people got to move up while people of color Well, we remain stuck. But as we always have, we fought to be included.

Unknown Speaker  7:39  

We see America through the eyes of someone who has been the victim of Americanism. We don't see any American dream, we've experienced only the American nightmare.

Unknown Speaker  7:54  

We do not want our freedom gradually. But we want to be free now. takes all the motivation. It takes dedication, it takes the willingness to stand by and do what has to be done, when it has to be done.

Baratunde Thurston  8:13  

We had the civil rights movement pushing for everyone to get in on that American Dream on that liberty and justice for all. But there have always been those resisting that progress. And you think that that push back that that racism would only hurt the intended targets, aka black people. But the crazy truth is, white folks were so determined to exclude black Americans, that they actually sabotage themselves. There's one wild example I can't stop thinking about.

Heather McGhee  8:48  

The town's drained the public pools rather than integrate them, took the water out, backed up trucks of dirt, dumped it in, paved it over, seeded it with grass. In Montgomery, Alabama, they closed the entire Parks and Recreation Department, they sold off the animals in the zoo, all to avoid sharing it with black folks.

Baratunde Thurston  9:09  

And then this guy shows up by Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. He was a republican heavy hitter, the former governor of California. And he basically came in with a big business mentality, rolling back the social programs at the New Deal. And he was very, very successful at doing it.

Unknown Speaker  9:38  

The idea is essentially we're bigger and bigger industries that are ever more efficient, and can put out more stuff for less money

Astra Taylor  9:46  

at the University of California College was free for everyone. Why did that get rolled back? Ronald Reagan was governor he didn't like that. There were all these protesters at Berkeley. He didn't like the beginning of the Black Power movement at Merritt college campus and he said the state Shouldn't be subsidizing curiosity. 

Heather McGhee  10:02  

I remember seeing evictions and plant closures and members of my family losing jobs and

Noni Session  10:08  

benign neglect. That was when you started to see a lot of money and resources pulled out of urban cities, urban programs. And that is really what accelerated urban decline and the loss of value in urban communities.

Baratunde Thurston  10:24  

The cut all kinds of things he cut policies that were designed to better resolve he cut urban programs, greatness, benign neglect, cut publicly funded higher education out of spite, and changed our anti monopoly policies selling us this story, which is fitting for a man who never quite fully left Hollywood, selling us this bootstrap narrative that if you just try hard enough, if, if you alone, want it bad enough, you alone can make it on your own, that you already have everything you need to succeed. If you just want to succeed badly enough, and your failure to succeed. That's yours alone. You shouldn't need anybody else's help.

Unknown Speaker  11:10  

There is this moralism associated with poverty, where we believe that individuals who are poor are bad people, or they're not capable people, they're not as smart as we have not looked at or examined the systems that make it virtually impossible for individuals to move up the economic ladder.

Baratunde Thurston  11:31  

So much of what we know today is tied up in what we've been taught for so long with somebody else told us when I first spoke with jameelah medley, she told me, we have to heal from individualism. Hmm, what a scrumptious and true statement individualism as an illness really stuck with me. We're told all our lives, get an education, find a well paying job, buy your house, start a family do this, do that. And all I'm hearing is me, me, me, me, me. Figure it out. Do it all by yourself. And then I remember what Heather said to people in a cold room,

Heather McGhee  12:12  

one's got a coat one doesn't. But if they just sort of joined together and like shouldered open the door, then walked out into the sun, where it's 70 degrees, they both be good, you know, but it's the boss that keeps them in the cold room.

Baratunde Thurston  12:25  

Imagine if we drop the individualism and work together, things could get a whole lot better for all of us. When some of us lose, we all lose. When we work together, we can all win. And you could say that this idea goes back way earlier than Reagan way earlier than the New Deal. We can take it all the way back to something Astra Taylor told me about

Astra Taylor  12:48  

the ancient Greeks, the word idiot, actually comes from the ancient Greek as well, it notice. And it didn't mean that you were dumb, or an educated. What it actually meant was that you were a private person, you're only concerned with yourself. So in ancient Athens, the worst thing could be was an idiot.

Baratunde Thurston  13:06  

And once we change our mindset, and stop looking just at this separate world of us, and them seeing ourselves as individuals instead see ourselves as part of a week that we benefit when everybody does, by definition, that's when we can start to do some real cool stuff. We can have new models of business that serve the many, the we not just the few.

Noni Session  13:32  

So this is a model for how to submit ourselves as citizens.

Baratunde Thurston  13:38  

After the break, we talk solutions.

So clearly, our economy has some issues, racism, division, all the money flowing right into the pockets of Mr. Bezos, and this extreme wealth inequality that's been plaguing our nation for decades. But if there's one thing I learned this season, it's that people are coming out swinging. There are people working hard to citizen and to create new models that make it possible for all of us to thrive. And as I started looking at some of these incredible new models, I noticed that they were accounting for something that feels very far away from capital E economics. They were focusing on human needs, on the fact that in order for the economy to thrive, people need to thrive to First, you need space, like a space of your own physical space, a mental space to feel like you belong. Like you've got room to grow. When you're tied down to debt, trust me, it's impossible to feel that sense of space. It's impossible to pay the rent or educational app. Opportunities are health expenses when you are burdened by that lack of space. You don't have time to ground yourself to plant yourself to think about growing into something more, you're too busy surviving Noni session saw firsthand what happens when people lose that sense of physical space called home

Noni Session  15:21  

without land without permanence. The past and the future go up and smoke, they disappear. There's nothing to connect you to before. There's very little the ground up to after

Baratunde Thurston  15:35  

Noni is a third generation West oaklander, a community that's been assaulted by gentrification or what she calls accelerated racialized displacement. As she's watched countless evictions. The encampments of houseless oaklanders get larger and larger, and big developers swarm their way in, she realized that the solution was ownership, and that her community was vulnerable, because our community didn't own their land. So she created Eb preK, the East Bay permanent real estate cooperative. This fights gentrification in West Oakland, by buying up real estate in historically black and brown communities, and then collectively owning and managing those properties, democratically.

Noni Session  16:18  

So this is a model for how to cement ourselves as citizens structurally. So ownership permanence is critical for culture, building identity, building the building a futures,

Baratunde Thurston  16:33  

ownership, gives us room to breathe. And there's this thing that I felt through all of these conversations about the power of place and community about being grounded somewhere and having a platform from which to launch, to become more to become citizens to citizen, not just legally but in a community sense. To feel connected to other people to feel valued with and by other people in a way that isn't captured by dollars, is captured by something else something richer. small business owner and distiller Maria Estrada remembers that feeling so clearly when the pandemic hit her community in Bushwick.

Marie Estrada  17:18  

I started realizing that people didn't love us in a way, which is something I didn't really recognize.

Baratunde Thurston  17:27  

When COVID hit Marie's distillery Mojo spirits turned around and started making hand sanitizer to supply hospitals and to keep our community safe. And when Maria needed her neighbors to show up. They did.

Marie Estrada  17:39  

Everyone was reaching back out to us the relationships that we had initially fostered with random things like motorcycles and dogs, and they just came, you know, everyone just said, Okay, well, we're gonna do this, or bartenders came, and we did this bartending event once this competition, and they they reached out and they said, Hey, how about if we do you know, a special cocktail thing for you online, and then we can, you know, give that money to a certain organization. So that's, that's how we've been doing things now.

Baratunde Thurston  18:12  

I gotta say, hearing how Marie showed up for her community in its time of need, challenged the way I often think about businesses, like R Us concept of how a business works, tends to involve the image of cost cutting and operating opportunistically competitively. And above all, capitalistic Lee to maximize profits. I think about CEOs, those who make piles of money while workers fight for a livable minimum wage. But so many guests really elevated my idea of what a successful community centered business should and can look like. jameelah madly has seen the cooperative ownership model working for hundreds of yours. But what exactly is a cooperative? Like, what's a co op? I thought I knew, but I really didn't.

Jamila Medley  19:01  

So a co op has two components. One is the Association of People who come together, they identify that they have a shared need economic, social, cultural, and they determined that they want to democratically own an enterprise together. And so they create that business to fulfill the need that they have.

Baratunde Thurston  19:24  

So Co Op sounds New Agey, but really certain communities have been practicing cooperative economics on the DL for a long time

Jamila Medley  19:32  

for black folks in Philadelphia. Cooperative economic and mutual aid practices have been essential to survival. So we can think back to periods when black folks were enslaved. And there were people who were running away from slavery who came to Philadelphia, and created a rich and robust community of black folks here, but they survived in many ways through cooperative economic practices.

Baratunde Thurston  20:00  

Here's the thing that resonates most with me about the cooperative model. It gives people a chance to make their voices heard. It gives people a choice. It's like this little place where democracy plays out. And as I started to explore these new models of business became clear that that sense of agency is key. well beyond voting well beyond business just in life, it's a lot easier to thrive, when you have the space to make your own decisions, rather than someone prescribing those decisions for you, giving you the feeling of choice, while having pre selected a certain set of options that you're limited by. Bruce Patterson saw that when he set out to bring a public option, a choice for broadband to the small town of Amman, Idaho,

Bruce Patterson  20:51  

there's no way for you to invest in a different outcome unless you own it. That's the only way you can invest in a different outcome. So as a community, people that decide to join and fiber, they're invested in that. So when they call and we've got an issue, they know, they're talking to somebody that lives in the same community.

Baratunde Thurston  21:09  

After the break, public broadband, and free money. I gotta say, I am a total nerd. I've said it before. And I'll say it again, that the internet is a subject close to my heart. And I feel like something that doesn't get talked about enough is this connection that broadband has to our economy, our society, and our ability to show up as citizens. Without equal internet access, we don't have equal access to information. And in the pandemic, it means we don't have equal access to work, to school, even to vaccines, which is why I was so excited to talk to Bruce,

Bruce Patterson  21:50  

how would we as a small town in Idaho be competitive in attracting businesses and residents with broadband? So the hardest part about this isn't the technology. But the absolute hardest thing is consensus. Bruce found that locals were

Baratunde Thurston  22:05  

paying for this essential need access to the internet, which is like access to electricity, or water or even air. But their needs were not getting met, not getting met by the private option.

Bruce Patterson  22:19  

There are people in neighborhoods that want fiber, they want better connectivity, they want another choice.

Baratunde Thurston  22:25  

And here's the brilliant thing to me. Bruce didn't just jam the option down people's throat, he knew that wouldn't go over well and conservative, rural Idaho. No, he found those people where they were in their neighborhoods, and gave them a space and opportunity to discover and voice their needs.

Bruce Patterson  22:45  

And these people came out of the woodwork and found us and said, If I talk to my neighbors, if I go knock on doors, can you give me anything to say? So we started to call these folks fiber champions.

Baratunde Thurston  23:00  

And they did it. Amman, Idaho now has the choice to opt in to some of the cheapest, fastest, most public internet in the country.

Bruce Patterson  23:10  

The open Technology Institute did a cost of connectivity research program, and found amande to have the cheapest gig internet in the world.

Baratunde Thurston  23:21  

I gene pools fight for domestic workers is about giving those workers more choices. The choice to have health benefits comes to mind. But it's also about lending the care and support our society needs to open up choices. For the rest of us.

Ai-jen Poo  23:34  

We think about infrastructure as bridges and tunnels and broadband. But what could be more fundamental infrastructure than the ability to make sure that our families our loved ones are cared for so that we can work. I call these jobs job enabling jobs, because they make it possible for everything else to work and everyone else to

Baratunde Thurston  23:56  

work, space to live access to internet, access to healthcare and job options. All of that equates to choice. But at the end of the day, so much choice in this economy comes right down to money and giving poor black mothers choices is why I Isha endora started the Magnolia mothers trust

Aisha Nyandoro  24:16  

Magnolia mothers trust is the first and only guaranteed income project in this country that takes a racial and gender equity approach to our conversations about wealth and equities within this country. It provides $1,000 a month 12 months and no strings attached extremely low income black mothers.

Baratunde Thurston  24:35  

Yeah, that's right. $1,000 a month. No strings attached for a full year. Because you can't citizen when you can barely pay the bills.

Aisha Nyandoro  24:45  

When you live in poverty and don't have savings. How bad customly holding your breath. how stressful that is and how that takes away your ability to plan and dream and hope one of our moms will do it. In the pandemic, and became a paramedic, she's like, Well, I was wanting to be a paramedic, they need paramedics now. I'm like, Yes, they do need paramedics now.

Baratunde Thurston  25:09  

And by giving people money, Magnolia mother's trust is giving people options, giving them a chance to decide on their future a chance to citizen. And that's exactly what Astra Taylor told me about ancient Greek society. Greece is this mythic birthplace of democracy in the US. And there's some parts of their society that definitely needed work. Women were excluded, and you know, they own slaves. But there's one thing they really did get right. They paid those who counted as citizens to participate in self government. And when it was your turn, you'd actually get called up to serve. It was like jury duty. But for Congress,

Astra Taylor  25:47  

they were thinking about these problems we're not thinking about, which is how do you create systems of equality? How do you compensate people so they can truly participate? Right. And this is why in saying that, we are stuck. We just aren't being very creative when you think about all the tools at our disposal. And when we think democracy equals elections, I think we have to be honest, that might be a contradiction in terms.

Baratunde Thurston  26:09  

When we give ourselves room to citizen, to really show up and invest in relationships, and understand our power and benefit the many, not the few, we give ourselves room to pursue things that some of us have deemed radical. I'm talking public broadband, and giving people money just to do with what they say they need. So many of these things were a pipe dream to so many of us until the pandemic

Ai-jen Poo  26:39  

right now, in particular, I think we are in this a new New Deal moment. Honestly, where more deeper, impactful change is possible than my entire 25 years of organizing. Yeah, that's

Baratunde Thurston  26:57  

right. I'm bringing up the Rona, there. Look, I'm not gonna sit here and tell you how great COVID-19 has been for everybody how good it was for society, because it's not and it hasn't been. It's caused us a lot of pain, a lot of distraction, a lot of agony. But it's also shown us how dire things have been, and how much better they can be. And has shown us that when pressed, we can rise to that opportunity. You know, we've kind of been here before this happened with the Great Depression, our entire nation's economy crashed, and we responded, we were forced to respond with the New Deal. So

what's gonna happen now, 

Aisha Nyandoro  27:50  

adoption of a widespread guaranteed income on a national scale. I think that that will look like a spiral of eradicating poverty. I think that will look like us having healthier families, I think that will look like as having healthier kids. I think that will look like us Finally, looking like the greatest nation in the world. I think that would change the trajectory of our future, not just for some before an entire country,

Baratunde Thurston  28:19  

before the pandemic universal basic income was this radical, relatively fringe idea. Now, everyday Americans are cashing stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits. And we're starting to expect it, maybe now we can create that new new deal that doesn't leave out people of color and explicitly exclude so many who we need to all move forward. Maybe we'll get to be just going on limb here. Free.

Astra Taylor  28:52  

Jubilee is, you know, a biblical term right? It's an ancient term. For the moment the debts are canceled in the land is given back the economy we get so out of whack people would be selling themselves into debt servitude, and you know, ancient Babylonia and so periodically, the king would say, Jubilee wiping of the slate. So that's been cancelled, and now you're free, you can go back home.

Baratunde Thurston  29:17  

What would it mean to be free of crushing debt? Free a small mindedness free of being pinned in and not being able to show up as citizens? that excites me, can you hear it in my voice? All right, guys, I'm getting a little excited. Okay, calm down here today. I am cautiously optimistic about this future. But I've also lived and I know this is not going to be easy. It's never been easy. Literally. It's always hard. Doing good stuff is almost always hard to do because there's going to be pushback. People will get impatient with the pace of change. Some of us will remain stuck in the zero sum us versus them mentality. And we're still struggling with how to grow through the systemic racism that held us back so long. We're still struggling to accept all people as people, regardless of how they identify themselves versus our limited expectations of who they're supposed to be. We're still struggling with just really starting to face the size of the climate crisis. Yeah, climates hanging out there, like I see your plans, what. And still, with all that, with all those real challenges that I've named, and some that I haven't, I feel like something big, could happen. I know something big could happen. And I know what's more likely to happen. If we all do our part, if we show up, right, if we participate if we, if we sit as in, even in small ways, to help make those possible. Big changes, real big realities.

That's the story we put together. But there is one more story to tell in this season. Next week, we have a very special guest and a very special

Hari Kondabolu  31:20  

episode. I get called, like a professor doing comedy, which you know, feels good in some way because it makes my parents feel good to hear the word Professor next My name at the same time. It's I don't want to be teaching people. I want to be making them laugh, and I want to be able to make anybody laugh.

Baratunde Thurston  31:39  

Next week, Hari Kondabolu. And now, time for some action. Ask yourself, how did this season make you feel? How was it challenged you and what have you learned. And if you're comfortable sharing any of those reflections, please share them with us send an email to comments at or leave a voice memo with feedback in general,, we know there's always more to learn, which is why we set up a special bookshop just for you. Head over to, we've got shelves with titles written by our guests, those recommended by our guests, and those we have learned to love as well. I'm sure there's something on those shelves, that will help you keep learning. I know we've asked you to do a lot this season. And if you've missed any of it, we got you head over to for all those actions, plus more, there's some bonus thing happening over there where we've got personalized ways to get you going on your citizen journey. We know it's not always easy to know where to start. So we built something a little Customized just for you. And lastly, just tell somebody about the show. If you've been with us this long, you know what we're up to was dope. We need you to tell the algorithms how dope we are with those five stars and those reviews. We need you to tell your friends, your family members, and your colleagues. And if you go loud on social media, our hashtag is #howtocitizen. Now I've got to thank some people for helping make this show possible. I want to thank all of our guests, it's pretty obvious I couldn't have done this without them. It would just be me talking to myself, which trust me has its limits. I want to thank the economic security project who helped us find so many of these guests. To my producing team Stephanie Cohn, Allie Killt, Sam Paulson, Kelly Prime. Thank you for your patience with me for your creativity and for your dedication. And a special thanks to Misha Yousef to meet the atoms are when Nick's and Rachel Garcia, all at Dustlive. super dope special extra thanks to this show's executive producer and my wife, Elizabeth Stewart. I used the term we a lot when I'm describing this show. And sometimes I mean that generically like we're all part of a collective find the weak, but often I mean that very specifically like me and Elizabeth, you hear my voice, which are often experiencing her thinking, her brain and her big picture vision. She's been a key to the architecture of this season, helping us all connect these dots. So thank you bow. Finally, thank you for listening for emailing and social media in and sharing your literal voice with us. Thank you for citizening we're in this together. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of IHeartRadio podcasts and Dustlike productions. Our executive producers are me. Baratunde Thurston, Elizabeth Stewart and Misha Yusef. Our producers are Stephanie Cohn and Allie Kilt. Kelly Prime is our editor. Valentino Rivera is our engineer and Sam Paulson is our apprentice. Original music by Andrew Eapen. This episode was produced and sound designed by Stephanie Cohen. Special thanks to Joelle Smith from IHeartRadio


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