How to Rebuild Our Country After the Pandemic (with Carmen Rojas)
A tidal wave of federal money is set to flow into communities across the country as programs like the American Rescue Plan Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act disperse funding. Andy speaks with Marguerite Casey Foundation president Dr. Carmen Rojas about how to make sure that money goes into the right hands. They also discuss the brightsides of COVID, how to make the government work for us, and why liberal movements must include poor white people.
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Carmen Rojas, Andy Slavitt
Andy Slavitt 00:17
This is IN THE BUBBLE with Andy Slavitt. Don’t forget, send me your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you’ve been doing that, and I appreciate it. I’m recording from the road today, I’m in our nation’s capital, Washington DC, where we have just seen speaker McCarthy and the Republican caucus release a bill that suggest we will fight to allow the debt ceiling to go on for one more year, we won’t default on our debt. But at a cost. What’s that cost? Well, the cost includes capping expenses, which we can argue about. But it also includes pretty much repealing the climate provisions of the inflation Reduction Act and adding instead some incentives for fossil fuel development. So this is, as you may have read, what Republicans in the House are saying is the floor, not the ceiling. In other words, it got passed with one vote. And they’re saying, No compromise. President Biden has said that he will not negotiate with terrorists, why negotiate to release the debt ceiling on expenses that have already been approved by Congress? Right. So let’s think about this, the money being spent here is money that Congress told the administration to spend. And that is now saying, hey, we won’t let you spend what we told you to spend, unless you undo some things that are politically important to us. So not surprisingly, the President has said and so as the Senate, that it’s the OA. So that’s the state of things here with regard to the budget and some issues that mattered. And I was in town. And I’ve been in town, in part to celebrate the fifth year anniversary of United States of Care, great organization, which I helped to co-found, with its current CEO, Natalie Davis, has been on the show before but not for a long time. And maybe we’ll have her back at some point. But pretty astounding, their whole idea is to bring people and people’s needs into the policymaking process. And it’s been very fun to watch as they’ve, they’ve had a real impact. And it’s nice to see. So congratulations to them. I’m also in town because Anna and I are going up to New York to see one of our sons and then going to Philadelphia to see our other son. So we couldn’t be more excited about that. As a reminder, our next show will be Wednesday. Although we may have a little surprising for you in your feed on Monday to tell you about what’s going on with the show, as we are now coming to you once a week. And I think a better format, with really, really high quality shows, as we like to say actual experts and actual facts. So that will begin on Wednesday, if you didn’t hear Wednesday’s episode. I talked about it then. But you can go back and listen, Scott Galloway is terrific. The conversation was Scott was really thought provoking. You know, he talked about how, among other things, addressing some uncomfortable topics, including how do we sort of take care of people who it’s not popular to argue for. And you know, he he’s talking about what’s happening to young men in this country, which he said is a difficult thing to talk about. We also talked about one not so young man, Tucker, Carlson, and a bunch of other stuffs worth listening to. But that really got us thinking about today’s episode, where I’m really thrilled to welcome Dr. Carmen Rojas, who’s the president and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, because she wants to talk about some uncomfortable things too. Carmen usual here has a pretty interesting perspective about the topic of poor white people. And what I love about the show when we’re at our best is we are not afraid to have people on who want to talk about the difficult topics, the complex topics. And, you know, she says something that our executive producer, Kyle says, which is you gotta have complexity, you gotta be willing to embrace the complexity. It’s the only way we’re gonna get to real dialogue. It’s the only way we’re going to learn things. I think it’s an ethic that Kyle has put into the show. And I’m so glad that Kyle, they will continue to make the show. But we also as I think about it, want to make sure that we acknowledge a couple of people who’ve been involved in the show for quite some time, and you’ve not really heard their names very much, but their names are Kathryn Barnes, Martin Macias. And James Barber. They’ve been a big part of making the show, along with Kyle and I and Noah. And I really can’t say enough about all the people that have worked on the show. And as they go on to work on other shows in Lemonada just know how wonderful they’re going to miss them until well, until I see them again in a week or so which I probably will, hopefully, but really great people. And while they’re making the show, I think Kyle and I are both grateful, Noah’s is grateful. So anyway, that’s what it takes to bring you great guests like Carmen Rojas. This conversation, I warned you It starts out as a pretty straightforward interview with a couple of questions that I really wanted to ask you to get off my chest. But what’s fascinating is that we start to digress in the middle of this conversation. And we kind of both decide as with a lot of really good conversations, not to go back in in this particular case, I think it led us to a pretty wonderful place in talking about some real interesting, difficult issues about government, the role of government, money that comes out from government, what to do about it, what her organization’s doing about it. And then who she is personally, which is a really fascinating, accomplished person. I hope you enjoy here is Carmen.
Andy Slavitt 06:32
Carmen, welcome to the bubble.
Carmen Rojas 06:41
Hi, how are you? It’s great to be here.
Andy Slavitt 06:44
So, look, we’ve had a lot of upheaval in this country, in society over the last 8 or 10 years, our things feeling on the ground in communities across the country, we take stock in what some of the big issues or concerns are, particularly among communities that don’t always have the highest degree of political representation in power.
Carmen Rojas 07:09
It’s scary, it is sad. It is a universe of really deep contradiction. So on the one side, as you know, we are experiencing some of the most extreme economic inequality, we are in a new gilded age for all intents and purposes. And that is shaping how people are seeing themselves within our government and their ability to both actively participate in the making of society around them and benefiting from our economy. And on the other side. Unsurprisingly, people still come together everyday to fight for a better future. So I think it’s simultaneously this tough and fraught moment. I also think it’s important to note like we’re, we’re experiencing in this moment, what I think is some of the most exciting investments and communities across the country, right. So the federal government is giving $4 trillion is made, giving $4 trillion of our dollars back to us to make our communities better, and double down on everything it takes to make sure that people are living well and living lives of dignity in this country.
Andy Slavitt 08:31
Let’s focus in on that money. And that investment in our communities. What’s it for? What’s it supposed to do? How is it pass and created?
Carmen Rojas 08:40
Yeah. So there are about six pieces of legislation. We’ll start with the American rescue plan, post COVID, right? There was a moment during COVID, where we saw our government realize that our greatest national treasure aren’t corporations or billionaires, they are working people. And so we saw our federal government start to make a set of investments, some that emerge in the American rescue plan. In things like free school lunches, for the first time ever in US history. We had a period in time where if you were a kid who went through a public K through 12, you are guaranteed a lunch, we moved hundreds of 1000s of young people from having food precarity to being able to have a guaranteed meal every day. Simultaneously, we also had sort of a Child Tax Credit where if you were a low wage parent, every month you got a $300 check. And $300 helped made sure it makes sure that you weren’t evicted from your apartment or your home. It helped make sure that you have before the transportation for you to get to work and make sure that you had the medicine and food that you needed to live your life. So ARPA and the beginning of COVID created this opening, where we started to see our relationship with government in a different way. For the last 50 years, as you know, right? Like, we have been living under a drumbeat of feeling like government was a burden government was taking stuff away from us, a good government was a small government. And right now we are in a moment where it was a shift, right? It was like, everyday people should benefit from the tax dollars we pay into our government to make our lives better. It should not be a siphoning of resources, from working people to corporations and billionaires, it should be actually another way around. And I think that they’re, we’re currently experiencing an opening that I’m really excited about.
Andy Slavitt 10:53
Some of the other opportunities for those trillions of dollars. Really, what I want to get to is understanding what I think you guys launched the public dollars Republican initiative, and I want you to just sort of paint that picture for us.
Carmen Rojas 11:05
Yeah, every American today, because of the set of investments that federal government is making has $1,800 that they can access from the federal government to do things to address climate change, and their day to day life to upgrade electric appliances in their home to be able to get an electric vehicle, the sheer amount of money that people working people have access to, to buy a new appliance to buy an appliance that isn’t gonna drain energy from their home and not cause harm to the environment. It exists now, it didn’t exist a year ago. And so I feel like there are things like that, that feels like a very clear commitment by the federal government in resetting our expectations for what government can do for us.
Andy Slavitt 11:58
Let’s take a quick break. And then let’s talk about how to take advantage of the opportunity that all of this money flowing into prepare communities has we’ll be right back. I’d love to hear some examples of some of the groups that you funded through public policies for public good, and the kind of impact that they’re having.
Carmen Rojas 12:43
Yeah, so you know, a key partner of ours is a group called Native Americans in philanthropy, and they had been working for a while. So just like as context, sovereign Native nations have little access to federal dollars, right. So like, in order to get a federal grant, you need a grant writer, you need to be able to manage a federal grant. And most native communities don’t have all of this infrastructure necessary even to compete for these grants. And we were able to give Native Americans of philanthropy a $700,000 grant about a year ago, and towards the end of the year, through this $700,000 Grant, they helped tribal nations when 1/3 of new government grants for conservation projects, so that a $700,000 grant on our side led to $27 million to tribal nations. This is unprecedented.
Andy Slavitt 13:46
That’s amazing. Wow, I’ve talked about leveraging a startup investment to accomplish something that can be even more powerful.
Carmen Rojas 13:55
Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think that there’s a way in which, you know, that is truly public dollars for the public good, right? We were able to use our philanthropic support to support an organization that then went out and built this infrastructure. And so for us as an institution, we have made a commitment to support three things. So one, is making sure in communities across the country, that cities and counties have the technical expertise to get these federal dollars drawn down into our communities, mostly in the southeast and the Southwest, where you have a number of elected officials who are actively working to thwart the ability of communities to access these resources.
Andy Slavitt 14:38
Why are they doing that?
Carmen Rojas 14:41
When people are worried about where their next meal is gonna come from, when people don’t feel like they can actually meet their day to day needs. They’re less likely to actually exercise political power. I think there is an active attempt to use to economic power to disenfranchise poor communities, again, in rural communities and an urban communities across this country, that there is a real attempt to atrophy the ability of people to imagine that government if you are the governor of a state, and you’re saying, I don’t want that money, and then you live in a community in that state, and you’re like, Well, my schools aren’t getting better. Why should I care? Why should I support the government to give out this, this money to other communities across the country, it becomes a self-reinforcing prophecy, right? Like you say that government doesn’t work. And you’re not bringing in those resources or using them to make people’s lives better, or instead using them to build prisons, or instead using them to give corporate subsidies to come into your communities and not using them to make people’s day to day lives better. I feel like it reinforces a narrative that government shouldn’t work for people.
Andy Slavitt 15:59
Right? Well, isn’t it true that, I mean, there’s a belief system that says that it is that it’s a zero sum game, and that if you support some other communities, that inevitably means that there’s going to be fewer resources for their communities, and they may be historically majority communities who may be used to being supported, they may feel like they’ve been self-sufficient. But everything around them has been built by the government over time. And so when they see government funds going in those directions, they think it’s going to be at their expense.
Andy Slavitt 16:31
I’m gonna go one step deeper and make sure that I’m picking up what you’re putting down. And, like, I feel like you’re talking about poor white people.
Andy Slavitt 16:40
Yeah, I’m talking about right. I’m talking about race, for sure. But it’s not only race, but it’s race is a huge part of it, I think, and racism, not just race, racism.
Carmen Rojas 16:49
Yeah. I just want to name like, I live in Washington State, right. And so the vast majority of poor people here are white people, the vast majority of people in jail and prisons here are white people. And the thing that’s been the most interesting thing for me, since taking this job, is our real desire to make white poor white people. These invisible power holders, I’m going to tell you, I’m just gonna sound like a non sequitur, but I promise and it’s gonna, it’s gonna lead.
Andy Slavitt 17:24
I like non sequiturs. Let’s just go with it.
Carmen Rojas 17:26
Great. Tom Friedman wrote a piece in The New York Times maybe like a month or two ago, essentially, about red states. And everything intimate. It sounded like what you just said to me. So I intimated I was like, I just don’t get it. These poor white people, it does keep supporting these really conservative candidates. And they are using our resources in these horrible ways. And they overwhelmingly benefit. Laying at the feet of some of the least powerful, least rich people, the nature of our democracy. And so I was like, Oh, great. Let me look at where the top five donors to the Republican Party live. And they live in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami. And I was like, oh, it’s interesting that we make invisible, the richest people and the most powerful people that benefit from poor white people being sort of taken down a path of authoritarianism, because we don’t want to hold them accountable. Right. And so, for me, I am as the leader of Marguerite Casey Foundation, really doubling down on this idea that we need poor white people in our, I don’t want to use army.
Andy Slavitt 18:51
No, no, but I think you’re saying they need to feel included in the conversation.
Carmen Rojas 18:55
I think we talk oftentimes about race and talk about multiracial democracy, and don’t ever actually include poor white people in that vision. Yeah. And this is a new, this is a new thing, right? Like, the Civil Rights Movement included poor white people, the black liberation movement in Chicago included poor white people, right? Like, there’s a long history of multiracial organizing, that included poor white people. And I think I was thinking about this today. The one of the insights that I’ve had since getting this job is that there are two people that really rich people are super uncomfortable with. One is poor, white people, like rich white people. There’s nobody that makes rich white people more uncomfortable than poor white people. They’re like, I don’t want to talk about them. Or if you’re a white person, I’m from the south, a poor white person on the south. Absolutely not. They are not seen as us right. They are us. They’re seen as like some other version, and the other, the other group of people that rich white people hate are poor people of color, right? And so like, I want to insidious, right. So like the same caricature that Friedman had for the poor white person at a different moment for a different election, it would be the way that we would describe poor Black people in cities, voting against their interests, right? Or poor working class Latinos, in the southwest, or in California voting against their interests.
Andy Slavitt 20:29
I don’t buy this argument that people vote against their interests. I do think people don’t do a good job. Go back to the first beginning of our conversation. I don’t think people do a good job seeing these communities by these communities. I mean, I mean, poor communities very well. And look, I’ve served two Democratic administrations or I can speak about the Democrats. I can cast aspersions on Republicans if I want to. But the Democrats haven’t done a great job speaking to poor white people to people who are in certainly part of the Union base, that you know, the working class, and I think that left an opportunity for the Republicans. And I take your point, these are not the people running the Republican Party. And Ron DeSantis, went to last I checked, he went to Harvard. That’s, you know, Donald Trump inherited wealth. That’s right. So but you know, they’re marketers, right, Donald Trump is a marketer, he figured out there is an audience that’s being ignored. And I’m gonna speak to that audience, if that audience happened to be different populations that weren’t that he would have spoken to that audience, but he saw a market opportunity. And it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily done anything about it. But I will say that there’s value to being seen and heard. And there are people today that perhaps they are being more seen and heard than they felt in the past.
Carmen Rojas 21:51
Like, so if we, you feel like you are right. But if you are poor, now, if you’re, you actually aren’t sending your kids to better schools. If you’re living in a holler in Kentucky.
Andy Slavitt 22:04
I’m not saying that outcomes are any better. I’m saying that there is something that is particularly galling about feeling like you are not welcome. You’re not seeing no one talks to you everything that goes on in Washington, DC, and everywhere else is for other people, you know, you know, Hollywood, et cetera, et cetera, that someone just saying, I see you I know how you live is a place where they start, even if they’ve changed nothing Oh, I buy that. And I think I think this is what Democrats sometimes miss. And it’s also now true in Hispanic populations in Florida and Texas, as well. So this is why I think your work is so interesting, and so important, because the part on educating the country that you can’t ignore 60% of the country is fundamentally poor, or has no savings. 60%. And, you know, if you happen to be lucky enough to be in the other 40% It’s very easy to get into a world where you never have to see or interact. Forget the politics, forget whether you’re Democrat or Republican.
Carmen Rojas 23:08
That’s right. No, I mean, I so appreciate you saying that’s like, the reason why I think I push on, especially like poor White people as a need for them to see themselves in a vision for a multiracial democracy is because I think we’ve done a really bad job of including their dreams, right, like, frankly, like, I don’t know that we know how to talk about them as progressives. And again, this is a new thing, right? Like, we have a long history of Back liberation movements that included white people, poor white people. And there’s something so bizarre for me about this moment where, again, like, there’s nobody that I’ve seen that, especially like, which right liberals dislike most then poor people of color and poor white people. And the uniting theme is poverty.
Andy Slavitt 24:11
I think rich people like them, so long as there’s no affordable housing in their neighborhood, and they don’t have to see them. And I look at we’re obviously generalizing. But yeah, you know, we want to judge that based on people’s feelings based on the outcomes that are being delivered. The both parties could do a much, much better job making the case and understanding these communities. I will tell you like. It’s interesting, when I spent a lot of time advocating for making the ACA stick that get repealed and for Medicaid and for Medicaid expansion, when it was under appeal. And, you know, I do think this is where race plays an interesting role. It’s some of its race some of its racism. But, you know, people’s depiction of someone on Medicaid is not accurate. 65% of people in Medicaid in West Virginia are White. More than half the people have the Medicaid Well, the plurality people have been beat asunder. Half of the planet, people are white. But I understand this idea that if people think there’s a government program, and it’s for people that are below their economic status, or for largely for another race, and then they say, Hey, wait a minute here, my life isn’t so great. Don’t tell me that, you know, I have all this great opportunity that’s coming my way, because I don’t see it either.
Carmen Rojas 25:25
I think like, for rich people, it’s a subsidy. And for poor people, it’s welfare. Right. So like, you take something like the mortgage interest, tax deduction, 100%, the amount of money that people who earn over $200,000 a year in this country get from government for mortgage interest, tax deduction, any sort of tax write off, anything that you can write off and pay somebody to actually help you write off is six times what the poor average poor person gets in this country, our government spends more to make the lives of rich people easier, better, more dignified than it does hands over fist six times. It’s like, it’s absurd,
Andy Slavitt 26:07
right? It’s actually that second quintile, because it’s the lowest the lowest quintile doesn’t pay, it actually gets more benefits. So they pay its but there is there is a crossover point.
Carmen Rojas 26:17
Sales tax, right? Know, if you are in that lowest quintile, you still go and buy milk, go and buy whatever you pay your taxes.
Andy Slavitt 26:26
One thing I realized is we are very few programs for the lower middle class, very fragile of all races, and peoples who are just struggling to get out of poverty. It has been a great conversation, I want to take a final break, and come back and hear a little bit more about your story. And how it’s shaped your view on a lot of these things will be right back.
Andy Slavitt 27:07
Let’s talk about money for a second. You know, Republicans would say that their strategy is let’s grow the pie. Bigger economy, everybody wins. The problem is, if your starting place is zero capital or no savings, then it’s impossible to benefit. If you’re a renter, when property values go up, you pay more. If you’re a homeowner or landlord, when property values go up. It benefits you. So historically inflation is hurt people to lower end more than the higher. And so the problem is this is where I think you’re exactly right. That what’s the job of government is it we have a powerful economic engine? The problem is if there’s a lot of people that can’t find their place on that engine, they’re just basically getting continually separated from everybody else. And that with money goes political power, generally speaking.
Carmen Rojas 28:02
Yeah. Well, it’s also like, this goes to your point earlier, like to draw a thread, right, like, and then people look to be seen. And right now, we are living in a moment in which authoritarian forces not just in the United States, but globally, are creating a spotlight for people to feel seen, regardless of the changes in their material realities. And we’re not doing a good enough job countering that. Right. Like, we are not taking this threat seriously. And I worry, I worry that did you watch The Handmaid’s Tale?
Andy Slavitt 28:45
My wife watch it, I watched a couple episodes, but she watched it pretty religiously.
Carmen Rojas 28:49
And I can only make it through a couple of episodes. And there are these scenes where she’s like sitting in a coffee shop or at a bar or at a restaurant and on the news on the TV in the background. Something really wild is happening, right? So like reproductive rights are getting removed. And she’s like, Oh, it’s just this one thing. And if we what we don’t have the ability to do right now is take a step back and look at the whole set of both policies and politics that are moving through our communities that are moving through our cities that only affirm this movement to having a very small number of people in this country have full control over the future of everybody in ways that are not only undemocratic, but are authoritarian.
Andy Slavitt 29:52
Sure, but look, the point about seeing people like in California, undocumented immigrants are going to be seen under very real way for the first time in California. And well, you know, in other states, you know, the biggest political pawn are the whole, the great replacement theory and this all of this, you know, conversations around the border in Texas and sending troops. You know, it’s a very different model here in California.
Carmen Rojas 30:23
So I think government plays a role in that, right. So like, I started off talking about moving the money to places supporting communities getting this money, I think the second is supporting people to get organized and put pressure on government and influence the movement of these federal dollars within their cities and states. The third, I think a number of boomers forget about all the good things that governments did for them, you look at the cost of colleges and universities, right. So like, when people over 60 now are like, when I went to college, I worked it, you actually paid 4000 in the UC system, the UC system was free, for a huge part of it existence. I did my undergraduate and graduate work at UC San in the UC system, and left with $160,000 in student loans. Most boomers can imagine that right?
Andy Slavitt 31:17
Now you could work, you could work a minimum wage job and pay for college back then. Like people don’t realize it, maybe the reason they own a home is because they were able to get a loan at a point in time when maybe other families weren’t able to get loans. And so then that home, blossomed into a very valuable asset. And that created financial security to take a risk to go into a business. And that business blossomed because it had all kinds of advantages and tax breaks. And so to sit back and say, good for those people. Wonderful. That’s great. That’s how the American dream should work for those people. But then that not to announce that it didn’t work that way for everybody.
Carmen Rojas 31:59
Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you. I think that that’s true across race, right. So like my mom immigrated to San Francisco, kids. And now it’s a whole soccer team, and a football team, basketball team. But she got a job at a bank and the she worked at Levi’s factory, worth cleaning office buildings and got a job working at a bank, there’s a financial institution, a big financial institution, this bank offered all of its entry level employees, no interest loans to buy their first homes. And so she worked at a time like, in which labor unions had created a context for non-labor workers, where that kind of a benefit was seen as the most normal thing in the world, right? Like where you were, you know, my mom doesn’t have a high school diploma, got a job as a teller at a bank and was able to buy a house in San Francisco. And that changed everything for everybody in our family, right. And so I think you’re right, like a good number of people didn’t benefit from and the vast majority of people of color, the vast majority, let’s be even clearer with black people did not benefit from these huge public investments. And so, for me, the money mattering feel so important, because the project of neoliberalism, the project of rugged individualism, the project, of disconnecting us from each other is so powerful. And it’s cuz we have a choice. I, every day feel like, we are at a national crossroads, where either we continue to go down this path of what you described, right? Like, being a democracy in name only. Or we make a set of both personal and institutional commitments that put us on a different path. And I am going to where I just refuse to be the last generation of people like me, I just refuse it. I don’t think that there is anything magical about me. Don’t think that there’s anything super special. I know I love me. But I want there to be more of you. Millions of me. Yeah, millions of me. I can’t be just like dumb luck, and meeting the right people at the right time that makes this possible. It has to be something that every single person in this country understands that our fates are tethered, because we want a country that serves us all well and equally.
Andy Slavitt 34:53
I would put that quote on a wall with your picture. I refuse to be the last generation of me. It’s very beautiful and poetic, inspiring. It just says so much. Also about remembering where you are in the chain. You go back far enough with almost anybody in this country, there was somebody who was struggling. There was somebody in you know, maybe it was not their parent. Maybe it was a grandparent, maybe it wasn’t a grandparent, it was great, great grandparents. But most people in this country, you go back far enough, there was a struggle. And I think the fear that I have in the sense of concern I have about our country is when I feel like people are so far removed from that story, that they don’t relate to other people’s struggles any longer. And so those who have that, that easy life, to get that context around you to say, what you just said, which is, I’m going to make sure there’s people that follow me that get that benefit. That’s everything.
Carmen Rojas 36:03
I feel it in my heart and you like it feels. Let’s go back to poor white people, right? Like, I grew up in the Bay Area. I’m majority, I went to a school with 4000 kids, second largest school in the state of California, and lived mostly the smallest place I’ve ever lived in my life is here in Seattle, Washington. I’ve lived in New York City, Oakland, San Jose, got Gaza, Venezuela. And now here and I spent my whole most of my life, imagining like some rural place that was like so far removed from my reality. And frankly, imagining that those people in in rural Kentucky, rural Tennessee, rural California, are so different from me. And imagine that they wanted nothing more than my not doing well, in order for them to do well.
Andy Slavitt 37:07
That’s how you felt growing up.
Carmen Rojas 37:10
Oh, I felt like that up until recently, I was like, man, poor white people really must hate me. And then I got this job. And we started, you know, I started looking at our grant recipients, and saw the ways in which across the country and in really hard I think about Alabama arises as a group in Alabama, that fought to get ARPA dollars not used to build prisons or jails, but instead, use the benefit the public, led by blood by a white woman in Alabama, ah, there couldn’t have been a more different person in my imagination than me. And we sat down and had a conversation. And I was like, Oh, we have the same dreams for each other, we’re alive. We’re like, we’re people. And I feel like, the longer we spend imagining that somewhere in this country, somebody different from ourselves wants, believes that their benefit comes up our demise, the more powerful we make the forces that want to concentrate power and resources. So I just, I don’t want that, like I am trying my absolute best to be as curious and as open as possible. Mostly again, because I think the stories that we’ve told ourselves about poor white people are the same stories that we’ve told ourselves about poor Latino people about poor Black people, about poor native people, about poor Asian people, about poor people, and whether or not they are deserving of the gifts of being in this country. And I don’t that’s not, I don’t want to spend any time there.
Andy Slavitt 38:57
It’s interesting. What, what surprised what has surprised you the most? You know, as you’ve kind of gotten into this curious mode, particularly about what unifies us what, what could unify us even if it doesn’t already, but what you find there is a commonality that we can build on.
Carmen Rojas 39:19
That people love. Complicated people might like that you are willing to tolerate complicated people in your day to day life and in the same, like, everybody has a Trump supporter in their family, everybody like everybody, everybody, everybody. I do. Everybody does. And we don’t want to be honest about that. We want to imagine the Trump supporter being out there in the universe, but everybody knows somebody who saw them who felt seen by the last political administration, and nobody wants to admit that. That is hard to hate people up close.
Andy Slavitt 39:57
I do have one and He’s just a racist. I mean, he’s always been a racist.
Carmen Rojas 40:03
I can’t. Are there a bunch of people in my family who supported Trump? Because they care more about abortion than anything else. They’re Christian. They’re really Christian, conservative Catholic conservatives, and immigrants. It’s like every. It’s maddening. And I think it’s hard to hate people up close.
Andy Slavitt 40:28
Sure. I think the wrong thing to do is to start with their Trump supporter, the right thing to do is to start with, you know, he lost his wife to cancer, or whatever it is that humanizes them, that makes you feel a connection. And then you might say, there’s a lot of things you don’t agree on. But you’ll see the humanity in them. And I think that’s a better place. It’s a better path.
Carmen Rojas 40:51
It’s not satisfying Andy, like before, like Carmen 1.0 was satisfied all the time. Like she was certain she was clear, there were like boundaries and lines. My world was really small and pretend neat. It was like a controlled universe where like, I could only have a conversation with people who are most, most proximate to me, in my experience.
Andy Slavitt 41:24
So how do you like Carmen 2.0?
Carmen Rojas 41:26
Oh, god, she’s so much fun. Like, it’s, I’m uncomfortable more than I am comfortable, you know, weird thing about running a foundation is that everybody’s super nice to you all the time. And you are the funniest person that people meet all the time, and you never have a bad idea. And so really early in this job, I made a decision that I just couldn’t, if I was going to be an effective leader. If I wasn’t going to be the last of me, I needed a push out of that. And I needed to do that in ways that are really uncomfortable, because I am a privileged person, like I get to come back to my home where I live and like, have economic security, have political representation, I have everything that I need as to the people that I love. And so if I can’t be uncomfortable, and my job is to give away somebody’s money, and that How am I asking a working person to be uncomfortable, I’m asking anybody to be uncomfortable. And I am always surprised at how much more honest I am about the messiness of human being a human being, that being a human being is such. On the one side, what a gift to live a life. And on the other side, it’s a messy endeavor, where I have no idea what the what the what this life is going to bring in. If you know, I’m at the halfway point. If this next half is spent a lot more curious than the first half if it’s spent being up close to people who may not like me, who I may not agree with, on a whole bunch of things. But where I get to practice being, like a whole human being, I’m gonna do it and I’m gonna fight for a left future. I’m gonna fight for a government that works for us. Um, that doesn’t mean I think sometimes people hear me and believe that it’s like, like a kumbaya. Like, that’s easy, but it’s very Brene Brown of me, right? Like, let’s just like sit being in loving relationship with everybody. No, it means that I’m just going to be clear about the things that are important to me and try and bring as many people along in the journey of belonging that I can.
Andy Slavitt 44:10
Well, it’s been an honor to have the head of the Marguerite Casey Foundation on the podcast, but it’s been a delight to have Carmen 2.0 podcast. Thanks for being in the bubble.
Carmen Rojas 44:23
Thanks so much for having me.
Andy Slavitt 44:39
I bet you want to know what’s coming up on Wednesday. Well, I’m gonna tell you, Wednesday show is one of your favorites. One of my favorites to Eric Topol. We’ve got some new guidance from the FDA and the CDC about COVID vaccines. And we have some new initiatives around the next generation of COVID vaccines. There are actually initiatives that none other than Dr. Topol had been advocating for. And as rarely happens, common sense, has prevailed due to the hard work of Dr. Ashish Jha. So we’ll talk about all of that with Eric. And as usual, Eric and my conversations, while they cover a lot of things you need to know, they’re always done in a way that just super low key and casual and friendly and fun. So I think you’ll enjoy that. We got another show coming up the following Wednesday with Ben Smith, formerly of BuzzFeed, which, as you may know, jumped out of the news business. End of an Era in a way, this is a type of news. Well, a thrust itself on our face, to be honest, it made us click on it. It sort of changed the nature of news, and it’ll be no more. So what gives? What are that? That’s going to be the fun conversation. Ben and I have the following week. I look forward to talking to you Wednesday. Have a great weekend. We’ll pop into your feed on Monday, and then we’ll bring you Eric on Wednesday. Have a great weekend.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.