4. How We Save Ourselves

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Description

Listen back as Gloria chats with Elizabeth Warren about how we transform our country’s broken childcare system into one that’s accessible for all. “This is the moment to raise your voice. We have this opportunity to do it, but it’s going to take all of us to push until it gets done.” Then, we meet a ragtag group of activists in Portland, Oregon fighting for a free, high-quality, universal preschool program in their community. And “Call It Like It Is” correspondent Kristen Bell joins once more to talk to you – yes you – about how to get involved in the childcare revolution. With Senator Elizabeth Warren, Theresa Ramos from Illinois Action for Children, and parents, educators, and activists from Portland’s Universal Preschool NOW! and Preschool for All movements.

This podcast is presented by Neighborhood Villages, and is brought to you with generous support from Imaginable FuturesCare For All Children by the David and Laura Merage Foundation, and Spring Point Partners.

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Are you ready to join the childcare revolution? Call or write to your elected officials! Here are some talking points to get you started:

  1. Let’s talk about dollars and cents. There’s a 13:1 return on investment for every dollar we spend on early education. That’s a better return than anything else we do as a nation. Kids who attend early learning programs do better in school, are more likely to graduate from high school, have better overall health, and go on to earn more money over their lifetime.
  2. We can’t have true gender equity without universal childcare. It’s critical to getting the millions of women we lost from the labor-force during the pandemic back to work. And, it ensures that women are in all of the places where decisions are made, from the C-Suite to the halls of Congress.
  3. High quality early education prevents racial achievement gaps before they even happen. And good childcare reform should mean that early education and care workers – who are largely women of color – are given the salaries and benefits that they deserve.
  4. Universal childcare is good business. Employers need employees; employees need childcare. The pandemic has shown us that it’s pretty much as simple as that. Plus, saving families $30,000/year also puts more money in their pockets – money that can go to supporting local businesses and boosting local economies.

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For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit lemonadamedia.com.

Transcript

SPEAKERS

Emily Von W. Gilbert, Speaker 8, Kristen Bell, Gloria Riviera, Theresa Ramos, Miss Kaia, Elizabeth Warren, Jenn Pereau, Mark Holloway, Olivia Pace, Mary, Gloria’s Kid, Lydia Kiesling

Elizabeth Warren  00:01

This is what I went through 40 years ago. This is what I went through when I wanted to go back to school and had a child who was not yet two years old. It’s like every place you went, you smacked into a brick wall.

Gloria Riviera 

Before Elizabeth Warren was a senator or a presidential candidate or a guest on SNL. She was a mom trying to figure out how to advance her career while taking care of her kids.

Elizabeth Warren 

I could find a place that had spaces. But it was like a 40-mile drive. I could find a place that was nearby. But they had a waiting list that was seven months long.

Gloria Riviera

Her […] stepped in to help her take care of the kids. And she was able to become a professor and then the congressional superstar we all know today. But she hasn’t forgotten how differently it could have turned out for her.

Elizabeth Warren 

I knew how close I had come to not being able to finish my own education. Because I had a baby and couldn’t get childcare. I knew how close I had come to having to quit my first big full time teaching job because I couldn’t get childcare. And I thought about how many women from my generation got knocked off the track, because they couldn’t find childcare. How many women from my daughter’s generation got knocked off the track, because they couldn’t find childcare. And if we don’t change this, how many women from my granddaughter’s generation are going to get knocked off the track? Because we don’t have affordable, high quality available childcare around this country.

Gloria Riviera 

This is NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US. I’m your host, Gloria Riviera.

Gloria Riviera  02:09

You know, when I was chatting with Senator Warren, and don’t worry, we will get back to her later in the episode. But when I heard her tell me that story about how she almost had to quit school and quit working because she couldn’t find childcare. I understand 1,000% why she is so passionate about the issue. Where would this country be right now if Elizabeth Warren had to quit becoming Elizabeth Warren to stay home with her kids. And I start to think about the potential leaders of the future who may be right now at this very moment, getting knocked off their tracks because childcare is so out of reach for them. And that makes me mad. That makes me really mad. That’s why in this episode, we are focusing on you, what you can do and exactly how you can do it every step of the way. So get your pencils and post it notes ready. We want you to know that you don’t have to wait for things to improve. Your story, the one you know so well. It can impact and influence a movement.

Theresa Ramos 

I’m Theresa Ramos, I am the Vice President Public Policy and Advocacy at Illinois Action For children. We really were founded to advocate for childcare as an economic imperative for women.

Gloria Riviera

We reached out to Theresa because she has some really good insights into how to make policy changes around child care take. she says it starts with changing the culture.

Theresa Ramos 

Culture eats strategy for lunch. And so it’s really thinking about how you have a cultural strategy here. Like we still culturally think about childcare as like daycare, as just babysitting and not as a highly valued, sophisticated profession with technical expertise as well as love and care. Some of the cultural shift is reframing the industry in the work as racial and gender and economic justice.

Gloria Riviera  04:04

Teresa is working on shifting all of that culture in her home state in 2018, Illinois elected democratic governor JB Pritzker, and he made it a campaign pledge for Illinois to become the best state in the nation to raise children. So between governor Pritzker’s commitments and President Biden’s support in the White House, Teresa says it is time to strike while the iron is hot.

Theresa Ramos 

Now is the time to get involved in supporting childcare education. Now’s the time where we can be able to actually think big and bold.

Gloria Riviera 

Theresa says stories are powerful tools for change. Because a good story can take a problem out of the vague and abstract and make it really concrete and yes, urgent. So when legislators in the state house are making decisions, they’re not just thinking about demographic trends and whatnot. They’re thinking about people.

Theresa Ramos 

They will think, oh yes, I need to solve for of the challenge that Marie, who had a three-year-old who didn’t have affordable care, because she just was over the 200% of the federal poverty level. And that meant that she went from paying, you know, a couple $100 a month to now looking at between $20,000 and $30,000 a year for childcare, I have to figure out how to solve for Marie’s case.

Gloria Riviera 

And then there is the story of Sandra, a city bus driver.

Theresa Ramos 

She has to report to work at 5am to start her bus route. But childcare centers typically don’t open up until much later. And when she works on weekends, she has to like, bring her children on the bus with her as she goes to her route.

Gloria Riviera 

Parents with nontraditional working hours, that is a head scratcher. It is so much more meaningful to ask. How do you solve for Sandra?

Theresa Ramos 

Because I know Sandra story as a bus driver is actually called the story of many bus drivers and those stories, stick with folks, with governors with legislators. And as we think about recommendations the legislators are making say, does this actually change how care is offered in the mornings or in the evenings?

Gloria Riviera  06:16

Yeah, the power of stories is real. Do you really think I’d be sitting here in like a Jerry-rigged makeshift like home bedroom studio? Literally, it’s like, unpack boxes, find outlets, my microphones stand keeps falling, recording and re-recording my lines like six dozen times. Yeah, that’s how the sausage is made. If I didn’t believe that stories matter.

Theresa Ramos 

I mean stories just stick with folks right and carry the day.

Gloria Riviera 

Stories change the culture that eats political strategy for lunch. And that doesn’t just go for policymakers, but for potential advocates and activists like you, my friend. So that is why for the rest of this episode, we are taking a deep dive into one story, one narrative. It’s about a ragtag group of activists joining forces, navigating the remote halls of local power and trying to pass a high-quality universal preschool program accessible to every three- and four-year old’s in their local community for free. Can they do it? We will find out after this break.

Gloria Riviera 

Today, we’re headed to Multnomah County Oregon, a place known best for its county seat, Portland. Now if you only know the city from watching Portlandia, you might have an image of everybody just chilling out all day jamming in bands and riding bikes. But in reality, Portland is an expensive city where income disparity is severe. The top 1% of Oregon residents, on average make more than $1 million a year, while the median income for all Oregonians has hovered under $40,000 a year.

Emily Von W. Gilbert  08:18

If we just like raise taxes on the people who are wealthy who we have a lot of in this community we could pay for things that would be good for all of us.

Gloria Riviera 

That’s Emily Von W. Gilbert

Emily Von W. Gilbert 

I’m an organizer with DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America. So our chapter here in Portland kind of formed around the Trump election.

Gloria Riviera 

After Bernie Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016, a lot of the people he inspired were still looking for ways to effect tangible change. The Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, DSA for short, was ready for a new fight something that would have impact locally. So they went to the people.

Emily Von W. Gilbert

If you ask them the question, like what’s the biggest need in the community is housing. We’ve had a declared housing emergency for years here. So that’s like a known huge problem. But what people would often say is the second thing was childcare. People are paying as much for childcare as they are for their rent or their mortgage. So when people say that housing is a big issue, and then they say childcare like they’re the same costs for people.

Gloria Riviera 

And listener, this brings us to step one in how to start changing our childcare system in your local community. Gather allies, look around you and see who has a big reason to get on board with the change you’re trying to make.

Jenn Pereau 

I employ three moms. I was a single mom coming up in the restaurant industry and then I employ several mothers with young kids like in this at that exact age.

Gloria Riviera 

Jenn Pereau is one of several DSA members who found a childcare campaign inspiring. She owns a vegan dessert company in northeast Portland. It’s called Rawdacious desserts. Okay, maybe parts of Portlandia are kind of accurate. Anyway, when Jen’s own son was young, she took night gigs so she could provide for him.

Jenn Pereau  10:08

If universal preschool had been a thing, especially Yeah, free, universal preschool and everything, I would have taken like a really lovely job during the day and we would have had like a normal schedule. But because I couldn’t afford to live in Portland and pay for childcare, I had to work the nighttime, fancy serving gigs that would go from four till two in the morning. And so it was just gone every night, exhausted during the day.

Gloria Riviera 

So it was rough. Obviously, it was not just Jen, everywhere you turn the failures of our childcare system hurt someone, Lydia Kiesling, had to embrace a state of denial about her preschool bill,

Lydia Kiesling 

when I had my first daughter, and then knew that we wanted to have a second child. I like did the math, but I didn’t really like do the math. You know, you see the number and you’re like, well, they can’t actually like be real.

Gloria Riviera 

Preschool teachers like Olivia Pace. We’re not making enough at all.

Olivia Pace 

The pay was just absolutely important. support staff are under $15.

Lydia Kiesling 

$15 an hour does not go far with the rent and cost of living in Portland. And with this huge coalition of people who cared. The DSA felt like they could try to tackle all of these problems with one big sweeping policy. Emily, the DSA organizer says the more they asked around the idea of a universal free preschool program where the workers were well paid and the quality was high. It started to feel like the fight.

Emily Von W. Gilbert 

it solved so many different problems at once that it became this thing that everybody got really excited to do. And that’s what you have to do. If you want to do grassroots organizing, your demand has to be super popular. Like it can’t be like your own pet issue. Like it needs to be something that everybody is going to be able to see and like feel the truth of pretty immediately.

Gloria Riviera  12:05

Feel the truth of kind of powerful, huh? For those of you at home taking notes, step two in our getting it done lesson is put your allies to work. That’s what Emily did for the DSA campaign. To refine their policy, she enlisted the help of Mary King.

Emily Von W. Gilbert 

So Mary’s is a retired professor of economics. And she basically wrote a revenue mechanism because she knows how to do that.

Gloria Riviera 

Emily shared their plans with Mary.

Mary 

And I looked at it and I thought, this is really well thought through, they really got their data, right, all that kind of thing. It’s not the kind of tax that you would see proposed by an economist, only because it would be very difficult to pass. But I thought, wow, you know, this is great. And so at that point, I just thought, Oh, I am all in on this. It’s doable. It’s bold, it would make a huge difference. And I jumped right in.

Gloria Riviera 

So there was support in the community. And there were activists involved and willing to write ambitious policy to give the people what they want it. However, there were also conflicting agendas in Multnomah County.

Emily Von W. Gilbert 

We learned that there was already an effort inside the actual county. So we were like, well, that’s great. There’s already interest like institutional interest in this.

Gloria Riviera 

This county initiative taking shape around preschool reform was led by a group of venture philanthropists.

Mary 

I mean, the more pejorative term for it is tech bro philanthropy.

Gloria Riviera 

That’s Mary, the retired economy professor who’s working with DSA.

Mary 

And they are that they are, especially I think, men who are relatively young for having a fair bit of money, who are interested in bringing their skills as well as their money to help. That was a very different kind of campaign, much more dependent on money and elected officials and bringing in managerial stakeholders. Whereas DSA was a people powered campaign totally volunteer.

Gloria Riviera  14:22

The venture philanthropist organization was called Social Venture Partners. They’ve been trying to help support better childcare programs around Multnomah County since 2012. So Mark Holloway from that group, he’s been working on this for eight years.

Mark Holloway

I’ve often said I think I’ve got to be the I’ve got more knowledge of childcare. I know for a gay man with no kids than anybody else, like at least in the state of not the country. But so I got involved because when I was the CEO of Social Venture Partners, a group that really focuses on kind of early-stage growth of nonprofits. You know, it was really clear to us that like, we needed to have more investment in young children. You know, the science It was really clear that investing in young kids is our best return on investment and our community was really I would say sort of disorganized and sort of didn’t have focused strategy in that arena. So Social Venture Partners as a group stepped in and said, okay, what can we do to just you know, kind of hold space catalyze bring people together, convene folks to come up with some solutions.

Gloria Riviera

That meant years of meeting with parents, community organizations, preschool leaders, local businesses, and crucially county politicians. County Commissioner Jessica Vega Peterson had agreed to chair a preschool for all task force. And Mark was vice chair. The county campaign have a similar name, Preschool For All. But the strategy was way different Preschool For All was looking at a modest limited rollout to high need families. And they hadn’t settled yet on how they would pay for it or how much teachers would get paid.

Gloria Riviera 

The DSA universal preschool plan was far bolder, they wanted a free program for every three- and four-year-old in Multnomah County, they wanted significantly better pay and benefits for teachers. And they were going to pay for it all by taxing the wealthy. Mark says the preschool for all plan was less ambitious, largely because they were cautious about freaking out taxpayers.

Mark Holloway  16:14

And we’re already a very heavily taxed region and I think their tax mechanism was exorbitant in my mind.

Gloria Riviera 

So instead of going with a universal plan for everyone, the preschool for all campaign would start with people in most dire need of assistance.

Mark Holloway 

Our vision was always to get to Universal, the initial policy we were creating was steps. So it was going to be like let’s ask voters to approve a tax that will enable us to get to those who have the least access first. And then we’ll go back to voters in 2026. And ask for the bump up that we may need at that point.

Gloria Riviera 

According to Mark, this gradual rollout wasn’t just to keep taxes low. It was also a question of racial equity. Because as you build out this program, if you just make the new subsidized spots available to everybody, first come first serve, that might work out best for whiter, wealthier families.

Mark Holloway 

We’ve got to start with people who are furthest from access first, because we’ve got middle class and affluent parents who maybe aren’t working two jobs or who are around. And so if there’s an opening for an application, and they’re going to be on it right away, like they’re going to be online if they can, whereas you got working class parents, they’re really they’re doing our jobs, and it was always racial equity base.

Gloria Riviera 

The thinking was, yeah, this other stuff, universal, higher teacher pay sounds nice and all. But we can only do so much with this first law. So, shouldn’t we focus on the families that need it the most? But what about the teachers? Here’s Olivia, the preschool teacher we introduced you to earlier,

Olivia Pace 

I definitely felt like I was not taken seriously.

Gloria Riviera 

She was mad at what she was hearing from Preschool For All.

Olivia Pace 

They were acknowledging like what families were going through acknowledging what children are going through, but kind of just treating the workers like well, they’re just they’re just a part of the mechanism, which is very like dehumanizing. And they didn’t want to raise teachers wages across the board. And it’s just, it’s like 40% of the workforce is women of color. So if you are claiming to do this thing that is helping bipoc families, but then the women of color, who are working in this field, who also have families a lot of the time aren’t having their wages raised.

Olivia Pace  18:34

It feels like a farce to me, especially because like, when I am like hungry and sick, and broke, and anxious, I am a horrible teacher. And that has like, affects like I get like, at my worst and then the worst working conditions like I get mad at my kids. I don’t come up with good curriculum I’m like stressed out that has an actual effect on like, how those children develop, how much they went to school, how happy they are at school, how is their behavior.

Gloria Riviera 

So listener, now we are at step three, engage with what’s happening in your local government. At this point, the DSA knew it would have to collaborate and convince the preschool for all people that their plan was the plan. Remember, Mark was already a vice chair on the task force with the county commissioner. She had the power to add a preschool proposal to the ballot for the upcoming election. The question was, would that proposal actually include everything the DSA was fighting for? The two groups, universal preschool and preschool for all spent a year negotiating and collaborating. Here’s Mary.

Mary 

the things that we wanted were I think, also things that many of them wanted to, but didn’t think were possible. We were talking And we made some progress. They agreed to raise wages, they agreed to say, okay, there can be some year-round slots, there can be some weekend days, they made some changes, but they weren’t willing to go to Universal. And so talks sort of ground to a halt. And at that point, we just said, well, you know, if we want what we want, we need to keep going.

Gloria Riviera  20:27

And now we’re at step four, pick your battles. But if you’re going to fight, be prepared to hit the pavement, the DSA realize that it didn’t matter how many meetings the universal preschool campaign went to. There was nothing forcing the preschool for all team to meet their more radical demands. The preschool for all campaign could simply put whatever the county commissioner agreed to on the ballot for Portland voters to approve. But there was another way to get a measure on the ballot, a process called a citizens initiative.

Mary 

So we put our measure out there, we went out and gathered signatures.

Gloria Riviera 

In order to get their initiative on the ballot, they would need to gather more than 22,000 signatures in about five weeks. And this isn’t just some online change.org petition where people can type in their email and tweet it out to their friends. We’re talking scribbled ink on physical paper. Oh, and one more thing. This is summer 2020. So you have a global pandemic to worry about too.

Speaker 8 

Collecting signatures is difficult in a pandemic, you can’t knock doors, there were no big public events happening.

Gloria Riviera 

But one upside of having a big volunteer powered campaign is that all those people have their own unique ways of helping out, you know, while wearing masks and being as clean and socially distant as they could.

Mary 

Volunteers had to say, hey, I want to get a bunch of signatures like not just signed myself, but let me set something up in a park or in front of my house and like on my driveway and just like a cost people as they walk by then my kids, my youngest when people passed our port, she would be like, do you want to sign for universal preschool. I was like, I swear I did like teach her that she just was like overhearing.

Speaker 8  22:06

They would pick up their food. And I would be like, Hey, have you signed, one of our members owns a bagel shop. And on Saturdays and Sunday mornings, there’s a line around the corner. For instance, bagels, there’s sort of a captive audience there for campaign members to gather signatures and also like handout or sell t-shirts.

Gloria Riviera 

Teachers on summer break helped out people who are staying inside printed out signature sheets at home and tried to gather their roommates signatures before sending them into the county. And some volunteers took signature sheets out with them when they joined the Black Lives Matter protests against police violence.

Emily Von W. Gilbert 

If your signature gather, having everyone who has your politics, like stand outside for hours every night is like a very good situation.

Gloria Riviera 

Between all their combined efforts, they got 1000 signatures, then 5000, then 10,000. But they were also running out of time, two weeks left, one week left.

Jenn Pereau 

There was definitely a moment in the last few days before the deadline, that it felt like we might not so we were pushing pretty hard at the end.

Gloria Riviera 

But when the deadline hit, it turned out they had blown past the 22,000 required signatures, more than 32,000 people had signed their proposal.

Mary 

And once we had done that, it changed the conversation with the other campaign.

Mark Holloway 

You know, I’m a background in business, I understand building power. And I think had they decided not to go out and try to collect signatures, they would have had less power in that sort of, you know, negotiation.

Mary 

Your political consultants are saying, ooh, keep it small, you know, and make it temporary and do this and do that. And we’re going no, that’s no good. It has to pay for everybody. It has to do it now. And look, 32,000 people signed that. We’ve got legion of volunteers, more than 600 people gathered signatures.

Mark Holloway  24:00

I mean, I was of two minds about it. I was like, wow, awesome. People really want this, like what we’ve been driving for, for years. And so that was an awesome, yay. And you know, the other mine was oh, gosh, like we’re barreling ahead on having two initiatives on the ballot. And that’s just not good. You know, for either of us.

Mary 

Everyone we talked to about it said please do not lose this because you’re going head-to-head that will be such a tragedy, you know, and the other group was willing to say, alright, universal, we have a path we can go to Universal, okay, free for everybody, you know, and okay. We’ll come much further on the wages, then we had previously agreed.

Gloria Riviera 

Step five, compromise and join forces. There is power in numbers people. The universal preschool team agreed to do a rollout that prioritized families with higher need, as long as there was an established plan to build That out to a universal plan that was free for everyone. Once there was enough spots, the taxes would be higher than what the preschool for all team had in mind, but less than what the universal preschool team had initially proposed, and the two groups agreed to join forces,

Mary 

Let’s go. It’s worth it. It go have one measure on the ballot, and we’ve got the guts of what we wanted.

Gloria Riviera 

Now, all they needed to do was win an election, no big deal. So now, this is August 2020. And we are three months away from the general election. And they have to rise above the noise of the Trump-Biden presidential election. But everybody’s working together now. The DSA volunteers are doing all their volunteer get out the vote stuff. The preschool for all campaign has all that venture philanthropy money, and they can put it towards more traditional advertising. Here’s Jenn, the one who owns the vegan dessert company.

Jenn Pereau 

All of my cheesecake packages have a little sticker. I think it had just the date and the name of the initiative, the number of the initiative. And then it just said we support preschool for all. And so that went on to grocery stores all over Portland. And then the bagel shop had a sticker on every sandwich and all of their cream cheese tubs the coffee shop had it on every single Tico cup. For me it was a way to turn our trash into something important and meaningful.

Gloria Riviera  26:26

A local movie theater set up their marquee in support of the preschool campaign. And Lydia, the mom of two little ones did what she could on social media.

Lydia Kiesling 

They had been like, spending time on Facebook moms groups like trying to just be like, hey, have you sent in your ballot yet? Like just want to say like preschool for all, like, do it and then having people like, no, this isn’t for me, or like, I don’t like this. I want it to be different than that, like is defeating because you kind of expect like some people are just always going to be a no. But when you’re like you see the nose in places where you thought there would be like, more yes, I was like, well, like, this is gonna you know, it’s not gonna go our way. When I saw the result like it was early on election night and I just bawled and I was like so happy.  My husband, he was like, wow, like this is amazing. I felt a lot of relief.

Gloria Riviera 

They had one in a blowout 64% of Multnomah County voted in favor of establishing a universal high-quality tuition-free preschool program for three- and four-year old’s.

Mark Holloway 

mean, I was like a four-year-old, I was crying. I was yeah, I think a lot of us were just so overwhelmed with emotion, you know, after many of us had worked on it for eight years, and after so much work, so much effort. And I think all the negotiations, you know, and complications and headwinds and everything that we went through is obviously makes the victory that much sweeter.

Gloria Riviera  28:04

Mark had been working on passing preschool policy in Portland for eight years, the merge turned out to be a good idea. They made it happen. And Mary realized.

Mary 

People will work for this to see that, oh, people power, people power could pass this thing. It’s just a county. It’s not the whole country. I mean, if it weren’t COVID, we could have gone out and knocked on a bunch of doors as well as being all over the streets. So I think, you know, it was sort of a test of that. And then of course, it helped that we came together.

Gloria Riviera

Because of this measure within the next decade. Every child in Multnomah County will be able to attend a quality preschool for free, where their teachers are fairly paid. So this is a huge win, but it doesn’t mean that everyone’s problems were solved. Olivia the preschool teacher felt bittersweet about the victory. Why? Because health care benefits for teachers were not guaranteed in the final plan. Olivia has cystic fibrosis. So healthcare is not a fringe thing for her. It’s kind of make or break.

Olivia Pace 

Healthcare is the thing that stands in the way of me making teaching preschool like my career.

Gloria Riviera 

But she was still proud of what they were able to accomplish.

Olivia Pace 

Also, recently, what I’ve learned is like that’s kind of the nature of wins is like, they’re not black and white wins because all of this work is part of our larger like project of just like fundamentally changing the society that we’re in. And if it was a question of like these black and white wins, just making things better, one step at a time. We’ll be in a very different world and stuff kind of just like the winner opens up the door. See all the others that you have to take care of.

Gloria Riviera 

Bittersweet win after bittersweet win, Olivia says it’s still worth fighting for change.

Olivia Pace 

When you’re a kid people are like you like are like you can do with everyone and you’re so powerful and like anything you want to do just they put your mind to it. And I always knew that that was like a […]. But then when I like Sort of organizing. I was like, oh, that’s true. It’s just about like not doing it alone. And like coming together, like with your community. And if you can do that, then actually, that’s true. Like you do have the power to change things. And when I realized that I was like, oh, like I do have the power to change things. It actually is true. And I felt like very magical to me. The only thing that guarantees that you lose is if you just stop and give up. If you want the world to be better, like there’s still something that you can do, and you don’t actually have to lose hope yet. So there’s my pension.

Lydia Kiesling  30:37

This universal preschool reform in Portland was a great step forward. And no, it’s not just the radicals in Portlandia making changes. There are other places around the country that have done similar things. In New Mexico, a group has pushed for a decade to amp up the state’s investment in child care. Oklahoma has offered universal access to pre-kindergarten since 1998. Why can’t the rest of the country follow in their footsteps? This brings us to step six in how to make change.

Lydia Kiesling 

Do not stop fighting. Even in Portland, yes, there was progress made. However, it’s universal preschool plan only addresses ages three and four. What about our two-year old’s? What about babies? We need a solution for all kids at any age. We need politicians to prioritize the cost of childcare. We need them to say this is a major problem that should be fixed now. So yes, to this reform, but also, we’re not done yet. And that’s why after the break, we’ll hear from Senator Elizabeth Warren again, on how we’re going to make this happen.

Gloria Riviera  32:08

We’re back. So Multnomah County is one county, but what about the other 3000 plus counties across the US?

Elizabeth Warren 

We say as a country, we believe in equality. And more than anything else, we believe in equality of opportunity. And that’s true, regardless of your gender. It’s true, regardless of your race. It’s true, regardless of your background, how you were born.

Gloria Riviera 

Senator Elizabeth Warren is working in DC to push the country to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to early childhood education.

Elizabeth Warren 

We want to think big around childcare, not let’s put in a little bit of money, and we can help some families of few families in a few places, no, it is finally time to make the commitment that childcare will be available all across this nation, no more childcare deserts.

Gloria Riviera 

What are the bare minimums that you think we need to provide in order to have the functioning healthy childcare system and early education system, you talk about, just the bare minimum

Elizabeth Warren 

the bare minimum for me is a federal commitment. That is that this becomes an ask of right, for every baby in this country, that if you’ve got a little one, you can find a childcare center near you. That’s up to good standards, paying livable wages, and that you can get your baby in. That’s the minimum. And that’s how we have to think about this.

Gloria Riviera 

So if we don’t think about it that way, I asked Senator Warren about the stakes. She said what’s at stake is nothing less than our American values of equality and opportunity.

Elizabeth Warren 

Childcare put fly to every bit of them. Because childcare, or the lack of it is felt wildly disproportionately by women. Building a whole childcare infrastructure on top of poorly paid women, principally women of color is both a gender issue and a race issue.

Gloria Riviera  34:24

And of course, notorious wanke that she is, Senator Warren also makes a hardnosed economic case for federally funded childcare. She told me that as a country that refuses to address our crisis and childcare, we really end up cutting off that hard nose to spite our face. she points out that women entering the workforce on mass starting in the 1970s really juice the country’s productivity.

Elizabeth Warren 

We love productivity in America, because it means as a country, we’re getting richer, and there’s at least the opportunity when that happens for all families, all boats to be lifted, but women with children started going into the workforce, and America’s productivity keeps going up.

Gloria Riviera 

But by the turn of the 21st century, that productivity curve, it started to flatten. And you know what else happened around the same time, the proportion of mothers in the American workforce hits a turning point and starts to tick down.

Elizabeth Warren 

Women across this country have said, it’s just too damn hard. I just can’t do this. Or when we had the second baby, I said, are you kidding? It would be more money than I could make it a job. We are stalling out our own growth as a nation. Because we’re not making this investment in childcare.

Gloria Riviera 

Someone said to me, at the start of this childcare is infrastructure. How you get to work?

Elizabeth Warren 

Yes, yes. You know, and I think of it that way. I think of the analogies to the interstate highway system. We didn’t just say, you know, what is a nation? What could I have a few stretches here and there of good highways? No, we said all across this country. We want America to be able to connect up and get where they need to go. And it’s not going to be a bunch of dirt roads. It’s going to be the real deal. You know, four lanes, six lanes, big shoulders controlled, access. By golly, why aren’t we doing the same thing on child care?

Gloria Riviera  36:33

When you put it that way it’s like, well, yeah, we invest more in roads than actual human children who will inherit the world. That’s so messed up.

Elizabeth Warren 

We’ve got a lot of people who are good, who dedicate their lives to taking care of children who want to do this. The problem is that the economics don’t work. Currently, parents simply cannot afford to pay enough to produce the kind of high quality stable available childcare. This is a market failure. We want teachers who see this as a career. I talked to childcare workers who talk about being forced to quit, they love the work, they don’t want to quit, but they make more money working the cash register at McDonald’s.

Gloria Riviera  37:25

Yeah, this reminds me of Kaia. Remember from Episode One, who told us she very much wanted a career in early education. But she couldn’t afford the tuition for her daughter at the same preschool where she teaches

Miss Kaia 

Is where my heart is at. But it’s not something that is going to help me to help her.

Gloria Riviera 

So how do we make this work? Senator Warren’s plan at the federal level. Actually, it isn’t all that different from what the DSA crew in Portland did at the county level. She recently introduced her own universal childcare plan in the Senate. It calls for free federally subsidized childcare for zero-to-five-year old’s from the poorest families. For everyone else, the care would cost no more than 7% of their income and preschool teachers, preschool teachers would enjoy benefits and pay on par with public school teachers.

Gloria Riviera  38:19

The plan envisions working with existing local providers, just like our friends that neighborhood villages are doing in Boston. And if it all sounds familiar. Well, it is it’s based on the comprehensive Child Development Act. We heard about in Episode Two, the same one Nixon vetoed in 1971. The plan borrows standards from the incredible military childcare program we heard about in Episode Three. No need to reinvent the wheel. But what is so interesting to me at least, is when Senator Warren introduced her bill, it was just one day before President Biden revealed his own childcare plan in his speech to Congress. So I asked her about it. And guess what, it was very strategic. She wanted President Biden to hear from a woman in the Senate and she wanted him to feel that push to think big and then bigger.

Elizabeth Warren 

We have a president who addressed the nation, his first big address to the nation. And what words did he use? He said childcare. He said investment in childcare. And he said it in the same section when he was talking about infrastructure. He didn’t treat it as a frill. He treated as something we need as a nation. He’s already said, a $425 billion commitment over the next 10 years needs to be a little bigger, but you’re headed in the right direction. This is the moment, this is the moment to raise your voice and that means yes, send letters, cards, email, text, Tiktok’s, whatever you do to, to both of your senators to your representative, but also just raise it, raise it on social media forwarded to your mother’s group forward it to everyone you know, because this is a case of, we need to put wind in our own sails, we have a chance as a nation to live our values. And that means taking care of our children, putting our families first. We have this opportunity to do it, but it’s gonna take all of us to push until it gets done.

Gloria Riviera  40:43

Senator Warren, thank you so much for sitting down with us digitally we appreciate it to no end.

Elizabeth Warren 

I am delighted to do it. We need people in the fight.

Gloria Riviera

I’m in DC two so if I run into I will chew your ear off about this issue. Well, have a good time. Okay, so is that a wrap because I really need to go take care of my kids. Oh wait hold on, this just in. We have one more dispatch from our Call It Like It Is Correspondent, Kristen Bell

Kristen Bell 

Hi, Kristen Bell here, your Call It Like It Is correspondent back in your earholes one last time to call it like it is but this time to you. Yes, you, the person listening to this podcast. Now look, I know you’re exhausted. You’re listening while trying to make a dent in the endless piles of dishes and your six-year-old just barged in to show you the oopsie your toddler made on the carpet while your infant is latched on to your boob for the 10th time today. You’ll get to that oopsy Mama, you will, I know you will because you do it all 24 hours a day. But first, just hear me out.

Kristen Bell

You’ve been conditioned to believe that this exhausting, expensive grind is just how it has to be and that your job is to just grit your teeth and white knuckle it for five years until you get to the magical world of kindergarten. But guess what? It doesn’t have to be this way. So I want you to take a big deep breath. Okay, like an actual satisfying gulp of air. I’ll wait. There we go. And now listen to me. We need you out there. This childcare system is not going to fix itself. It’s lovely that people are trying to build a better, more equitable childcare system in America.

Kristen Bell 

But the only way that that system is going to meet the specific and unique needs of your community is if you make some time to show up and demand change. Here’s the thing. When politicians dismiss early childcare as too expensive or fiscally irresponsible, they’re saying that because they’re assuming there’s no political will. That’s your cue. Because political will is not some abstract thing floating around in the ether. It’s your will. It’s our will. Those politicians they might seem out of touch, intimidating and unreachable and their power suits. But let me remind you, they work for us. And if you can’t create a nationwide movement, because you don’t even have time to take a shower, then try getting involved in your hometown.

Kristen Bell 

Join forces with a local childcare advocacy, nonprofit, I assure you there is one. I mean, maybe just one, but they definitely need your help. If there’s a campaign in your area for better childcare, I promise you, they’re looking for phone bankers and door knockers and if you don’t have time, I’m sure they will gladly take your money. You can also start a group thread with other parents at your office to demand better child care benefits from your boss. And if you need some help inspiring people, try sharing this podcast with anyone you think might give a flying flip. You can rally like-minded tired parents at the park to call your local representatives.

Kristen Bell  44:17

And if you don’t know what to say, don’t sweat it. We’ve prepped some talking points for you to nicely but directly communicate with your elected officials. Number one, let’s talk dollars and cents. There’s a 13 to 1 return on investment on every dollar we spend on early education. That’s a better return than anything else we do as a nation. Kids who get to go to early learning programs do better in school, they’re more likely to graduate high school, they have better overall health and they go on to earn more money over time. Number two, we can’t have true gender equity without universal childcare. It’s critical to getting the Millions. And that’s a real number of women we lost from the labor force during the pandemic back to work. And it ensures that women are in all of the places decisions are made, from the C-suite to the halls of Congress. Number three, high quality early education prevents racial achievement gaps before they even happen.

Kristen Bell 

And good childcare reform should mean that the early education and care workforce, which is largely women of color, are given the salaries and benefits they deserve. Number four, universal childcare is good business. Employers need employees, employees need childcare. The pandemic has shown us that it’s pretty much as simple as that. Plus, saving families $30,000 a year also puts more money in their pockets, money that can go to supporting local businesses and boosting local economies. And don’t worry if you’re not writing any of those down, I know you’ve got your hands full. We threw them in the show notes for you, too. I know, I know. There’s poop on the carpet. I’m almost done, I promise.

Kristen Bell  46:06

Look, I’m not here to sell you on some rose-colored portrait of civic engagement. I call it like it is okay. That’s my job. No chorus of angels will descend to beck in your arrival when you get involved to demand change. In fact, for a while, it will probably feel like a yet another futile thing on your very, very long to do list. And even if you do win, you’ll have to keep fighting to make sure whatever legislation got passed is actually being implemented. And then you’ll have to figure out how to take another stab at what didn’t get passed next session. But let me tell you something. You’re no stranger to hard work. You know, there’s no easy W’s in this game. But what there is, is community. Power in numbers. You’ll find other parents and teachers and people just like you who are equally overextended, but care about building a better world for all of us. You’re part of the child care movement now. Welcome. Okay, now go get to that poop. Back to you, Gloria.

Gloria Riviera 

Thank you, Kristen. So we all know we have a lot of work to do, right? Yes. But tonight, I’m gonna go hang out with my kids. You know, I’ve been working on this podcast, right? Yeah. Do you know what it’s about?

Gloria’s Kid 

Child care. And when someone has a baby, they don’t get any help. Like, if you’re a mom and you have a husband, they don’t have any help. So the government can’t help them. So they need child care. So what’s the point of going to work if you just have to pay for us to stay at an area so you could go back to work, so you can pay for us to stay at that area? So that you could go back to work?

CREDITS

NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US is a Lemonada Media original presented by and created with Neighborhood Villages. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen. Veronica Rodriguez is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. Our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and me Gloria Riviera. If you like the show, and you believe what we’re doing is important. Please help others find us by leaving us a rating and writing us a review. Do you have your own experiences and frustrations with the childcare system? Do you have ideas for what we could do to make it better? Join the no one is coming to save us Facebook group where we can continue the conversation together. You can also follow us and other Lemonada podcasts at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms. Thank you so much for listening. We will be back next week. Until then hang in there. You can do it.

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