Ketanji Brown Jackson Makes History

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Julián and Sawyer compare the first days of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic Supreme Court nomination hearing to those of Trump’s candidates, including Brett Kavanaugh. They then talk about the latest out of Ukraine amidst the ongoing Russian assault. Later they welcome Marguerite Casey Foundation CEO Dr. Carmen Rojas to talk about voting rights, police reform, and the power of Women’s History Month.

Follow Dr. Rojas online at @crojasphd and the Marguerite Casey Foundation at @caseygrants.

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Dr. Carmen Rojas, Julian Castro, Sawyer Hackett

Julian Castro  00:13

Hey there. I’m Julian Castro.

Sawyer Hackett 

And I’m Sawyer Hackett.

Julian Castro 

And welcome to OUR AMERICA. This week we’re going to discuss the beginning of the confirmation process for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and talk about the latest in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how President Biden is responding. We’re also later in the show going to welcome back our friend, Dr. Carmen Rojas, the President and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, to talk about voting rights, police reform, and Women’s History Month. But first, Sawyer, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearing for Supreme Court confirmation got underway today in the Judiciary Committee of the Senate. how’s that coming along?

Sawyer Hackett

That’s right. Yeah. The confirmation hearing is just getting started today, as you mentioned in the Senate Judiciary Committee, for Judge county brown Jackson, who is poised to become the first Black woman in American history to be considered first spot on the Supreme Court. Just to remind folks judge Jackson is currently a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia position she was confirmed to last year with three Republican votes. The Washington Post I thought had a great graphic showing how she sort of lines up compared to the other justices that are that are on the bench right now. It noted that she is the only person out of all of them who won went to a private school to attended an Ivy League law school, three clerked for Supreme Court. Four was a public defender, five served on the US Sentencing Commission, six there’s a district court judge and seven served on a Court of Appeals. I think that that was a fascinating look at just sort of how she sort of stacks up against the current justices on the court. And yet, you know, Republicans are already attacking her, trying to attack her qualifications. Unsurprisingly, they’re going back to the well of these, you know, racist dog whistles on soft on crime. You know, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, for example, tried to target her record as a public defender, you know, claiming her rulings were too lenient on certain racial issues. But she’s obviously a pro. She’s met with more than 35 senators in advance of these confirmation hearings. She’s been prepping tirelessly, and looks to be headed to a swift confirmation, you know, pending, a good hearing here. So Julian, what were you looking for this hearing? Obviously, we’re only on day one of this. But how do you think things are shaping up so far?

Julian Castro  02:29

You know, this hearing actually feels like more of a celebration than I can remember in a long time. Part of that is because of the last three nominees that we had one of these hearings for were Trump appointees. So it’s been a while since we had a democratic appointee. But Ketanji Brown Jackson is a trailblazer. She would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. And she also has this experience, this professional experience that is relatively rare, at least in the last three generations, among Supreme Court justices. She’s the first justice since Thurgood Marshall to have significant experience as a criminal defense attorney. In her case a public defender, she has had a life experience that is all too rare among Supreme Court justices. She brings the perspective of somebody who served on that Sentencing Commission. That’s rare too, we haven’t seen that among Supreme Court justices. So she’s groundbreaking. But in addition to that, she has this professional experience that will add a perspective that I think is sorely missing right now on the court. And so what I’m looking for in these hearings from the Democrats, because the way these hearings work, right, I mean, is Democrats who are friendly to her are going to want to highlight all of these things that I’m talking about, and why she’s so very well qualified, and why she, you know, would make a great Supreme Court Justice, they’re going to highlight the trailblazing nature of her appointment, and also how she feels gaps on the court right now. They’re going to be asking those types of questions to draw that out of her. On the flip side of it. We know what these Republicans are going to do. They’re going to try and embarrass her. They’re going to bring up you know, irrelevant stuff. They’re going to try and twist and turn some of the decisions and opinions that she’s written as a judge and maybe her from her work as a public defender. When I think about their tactics, I part of my mind goes back to what they did with the Willie Horton ad in 1988. I can imagine that type of Willie Horton push against her in these hearings. They’re gonna do whatever they can to try and discredit her but because she’s so well qualified academically, in her legal career, and is a trailblazer, and Of course, maybe most importantly, because Democrats have 50 votes plus the vote of Vice President in the Senate. I think that she’s gonna get appointed without much of a problem.

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, I mean, you’re 100% right about the dog whistle attacks. I think this will be a masterclass in dog whistle racism. I think they would do that with any democratic nominee, but especially the first black woman being appointed to this seat. Politico already did sort of a roundup of where they think Republicans are going to go on the attack. They’re already going after her over this perceived leniency over child pornography cases that, you know, they’ve confirmed other justices who have sent into those cases in the exact same manner. They mentioned that they’re gearing up for an attack on affirmative action, pressing her to recuse herself from cases involving race. What precedent is there for that, for that kind of?

Julian Castro 

I mean, never mind that they have no evidence, as far as I know that she benefited from affirmative action more than anybody else. That was, I mean, she had a stellar academic credentials all the way through. You’re right. I mean, this is just part of the dog whistle bullshit, that they aim, you know, especially at a black woman. Well, also

Sawyer Hackett  06:09

like, yeah, like Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz, I think, for the most part, were the only two to sort of start to dredge this stuff up today, the soft on crime narrative. These were the two men who led the charge to overturn the election in January, on behalf of a criminal authoritarian, you know, Donald Trump. Now these two guys are the ones who are going after Ketanji Brown Jackson for being soft on crime. I mean, that’s just it’s laughable, almost. And I think you’re right, like, because she’s so qualified, because she’s so poised, and I think prepared for this. She’s just went to the confirmation battle. Last year, she sat with 35 of these senators in advance of the hearing, I think her resolute demeanor and presentation, recitation of the facts and defense of herself in these hearings, it’s gonna come off looking great for her, for Joe Biden’s nominee for the Democratic Party, while Republicans are just, you know, throwing shit at the walls to try and make anything stick, you know, with some of these dog whistle racist attacks. And I think they will be viewed that way, too. I mean, it’s pretty overt when you go after a Black woman on affirmative action, because you have this perceived sense that maybe she was a beneficiary of it, she shouldn’t be able to have an opinion on those cases. I mean, it’s just absolutely horrible stuff that they’re subjecting her to, but she appears to be able to, you know, handle it very well.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, no doubt. And I mean, the truth is that for both Democratic nominees to the court and Republican nominees to the court, as you know, this is almost ritualistic. Now, they go through the Judiciary Committee, they know that the senators on their side are going to try and pump them up and, you know, bring out their qualifications, and the other side is going to go after him. You know, I have to draw a distinction here, like think that all of us should draw. Our nominee is not the one that was accused of sexual assault, or other misdeeds? Right?

Sawyer Hackett 

Well, it’s interesting that you brought that up, because Republicans spent most of today complaining in this using this as a forum to air out their grievances about how Kavanaugh was treated in the hearing. I mean, you Grassley talked about it in his opening statement. I mean, why don’t you think that that’s a winning, like line of argument.

Julian Castro  08:11

I mean, what are you supposed to do when somebody has been nominated to the Supreme Court, and it’s your job as a senator on that student judiciary committee, to vet that person, not bring up the fact that somebody has accused the person of sexual assault? I mean, that’s ridiculous that you wouldn’t bring it up. You know, I mean, you have an obligation to investigate the facts of that. And that’s what they did. And they still somehow are hurt by the fact that he actually had to answer questions about a credible allegation of sexual assault.

Sawyer Hackett

Well, yeah. And you know, because you brought up Kavanaugh like I also, like, feel like nobody has pointed this out in a public forum like this. And I hope that they’ll bring it up in this confirmation process, but like, how many times did we hear from senators like Susan Collins, that, you know, Justice Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett all assured her that they were going to respect precedent, especially precedent about, you know, Roe vs. Wade. And they turned around and essentially are preparing to gut all of those protections. What did these confirmation processes? What do these conversations with senators behind closed doors even mean anymore? What’s the purpose of all this? I mean, it’s really just, are you in power? Are you able to confirm this justice, you know, with your own votes, then they should be confirmed? That’s essentially how we’re viewing these confirmation battles these days. And not to mention, like, maybe this hearing and her swift confirmation will bring back some hope for everyday people about what the Supreme Court is. I mean, I think the supreme court’s approval rating is at an all-time low right now. It’s a 6-3 conservative court. You know, it feels like some of the most basic protections that we have are starting to unravel and the court is acting essentially at the direction of the Republican Party. So I think not only her experience, but also her fresh perspective. You know, her being this inspirational figure will bring a lot back a lot of respect back to the court. And maybe it will bring some more calls for reform for, you know, adding additional judges who can help restore, you know, the sanctity of this once respected body.

Julian Castro  10:14

Yeah, absolutely. I think that, you know, ultimately her nomination will go through smoothly, she’ll be confirmed. she’ll succeed Justice Breyer. This also comes against the backdrop of breaking news from just yesterday that Clarence Thomas was hospitalized with flu like symptoms. He’s 73 years old. This is a cause for concern.

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a reminder that we have a court that’s filled with, you know, old men who have been stacked on the court by Republicans over the years. And I think it’s coming at a time, I think, for the Democratic Party, where a lot of people are coming around to the idea of reforming the structure of the court, you know, adding term limits, for example, or adding additional justices to the court. And there’s been a huge push on that. And I think there should be I mean; Republicans essentially stole two Supreme Court seats from Democrats. And now, you know, were nominating somebody who’s incredibly, you know, inspiring and exciting and part of this new generation of justices. And that the stark contrast between people like her and people like Sonia Sotomayor, with people like Clarence Thomas, still sitting on the court, it’s just, it’s incredible. This body has become more partisan even than Congress.

Julian Castro 

Just to think of the news over the last couple of weeks about Ginny Thomas, Clarence Thomas’s spouse, and look, I mean, spouses have their own lives, their spouses that, of course, have their own profession, they are in their own right, accomplished and doing what they’re going to do in advancing their own careers. But to find out that Ginny Thomas was in attendance at the stop the steal rally on January 6, to talk about the credibility of the court, to me, that raises a concern about the impartiality of Justice Thomas, when the Court starts to deal with issues related to January 6, and any requests for information, other legal matters that might come up to the Supreme Court about that.

Sawyer Hackett  12:19

Well, and I mean, you mentioned that, you know, spouses have their own right to do what they want to do. Of course, that’s true, but like, Clarence Thomas has attended Republican fundraisers before. I mean, like, this is a guy who has broken every sense of decorum that the court had about respecting of political boundaries, not to mention that almost I think every single Republican sitting on that court right now is part of this farmed out system of Republican justices that, you know, have been pushed by the Republican Senate for years for decades. I feel like we have to just reject that entire premise of you know, that these people are up above politics, because of course, they their political, and they have political opinions and their wives are attending, you know, insurrection events. I think that that’s yeah, it’s extremely alarming. And you’re right, like if these issues eventually reached the court and needed decision, like, yeah, he should recuse himself, his wife attended the event.

Julian Castro 

Now, of course, well, this confirmation hearing is happening for Ketanji Brown Jackson and occupying a lot of the oxygen in the room, so to speak in Washington, DC. There is still a war that is raging between Russia and Ukraine.

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, the city of Mariupol has been under Russian siege for weeks now. The military has surrounded the city cut off food, water, electricity. They’ve been indiscriminately hitting homes and schools and hospitals with these military bombardments. It’s estimated that 1000s have died in these attacks, and 1000s more have fled as refugees. On Monday, Ukraine rejected a Russian demand for a merrier poll to surrender. Russians demanded that Ukrainian forces leave the city or face further assaults and a quote military tribunal. This comes against the backdrop of President Biden traveling to Poland this week to discuss efforts to support Ukraine. He’s also leading a call with President Macron of France, German Chancellor Philip Schultz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Russia on Monday said that it’s summon the US Ambassador to Mexico to provide him a note of protest over President Biden’s comments last week calling Putin a thug and a murderous dictator. They warned that relations between our two countries could soon be severed completely. And Zelenskyy. Of course more than that if the world doesn’t soon step into end this Russian invasion it could spark a third world war. So that’s sort of where things stand on the invasion of Ukraine. Julian, what do you what do you make of the latest how the president’s handling things? Where do you think this goes from there?

Julian Castro  14:51

I think that the Biden administration has shown good judgment in mustering support for Ukraine in delivering weapons to Ukraine and other assistance. The question is going to get harder and harder for the administration is to how far should they go? I don’t think we’re at a boiling point yet on that issue, but on the right, the Fox News crowd is cheerleading for the United States to get more and more aggressive, and potentially trigger direct conflict with Russia. That’s something of course, that is not in the best interest of the United States, or Ukraine or Russia or anybody in the world, for that matter, because these are both nuclear power countries. But I think the Biden administration is doing a good job with its diplomacy, keeping that alliance together and supporting Ukraine as smartly as it can. I’m also very impressed with the way that the Ukrainians have been able to hold off Russia’s efforts. Folks far more intelligent about military matters, than I am have commented on how surprising it is that the Ukrainians have been able to stave off the Russian invasion. Russia has not established air superiority, for instance, they have not been able to take over the first or second largest cities, Kyiv, or Lviv. They’re mired in, I think, a much longer conflict than they expected when they went in. Yeah, I

Sawyer Hackett  16:34

mean, I think you’re right about Republicans had been trying to sort of out Hawk Biden, on Russia attacking him for being you know, too slow to respond, especially on, you know, the ban on Russian oil imports. Susan Collins was hitting him over the fact that he’s been pulled by Congress to essentially do certain things, which I think is fair, I mean, that, you know, the White House I think, has acted largely in response to things that Congress has done. Meanwhile, eight Republicans voted against a bill suspending the normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus last week, you know, this MAGA caucus of the Republican Party essentially siding with Putin in this invasion. But yeah, I mean, I think you’re right, like Ukraine shows no signs of relenting, Zelenskyy is desperate, but he’s, you know, very resolute in refusing to surrender, rallying the world to support his nation. And then, you know, Putin and Russia don’t show any signs of giving up. And if they’re not able to occupy those strongholds like […] and others, like, the US has warned that there could be some other tactics that are on the table like chemical weapons, or direct attacks on civilian populations. So I mean, yeah, I think these calls for a no-fly zone are only going to get stronger, especially among these, like, weird group of hawks in Congress. But, you know, we had on the former ambassador, Russia, Michael McFaul on the podcast a couple of weeks ago. And he explained, people don’t really understand what a no-fly zone is. But a no-fly zone is essentially just it’s engaging in a war with Russia direct conflict with Russia, and that would not be good for the US. So I think that, you know, President Biden isn’t going to give into any sort of political pressure on that point, I just don’t see the White House changing its tune on that whatsoever.

Julian Castro  18:13

Yeah, this is a matter where President Biden’s experience comes into play. I mean, he lived through the Cold War, he legislated through the Cold War, he, you know, sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of course, served as vice president during the time that Russia invaded Crimea. And he’s had a lot of time to learn and to think, and to understand how to position the United States in the appropriate response, so that we achieve our goals of aiding Ukraine. But at the same time, you don’t trigger World War 3, and he’s used that language himself. Yeah. Right, that we’re not going to start World War 3. To me, that’s comforting. Yeah. And I think it’s comforting to a lot of people that are older than I am that remember, living under a fear that World War three would be triggered, whether it was people that lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, even up into the 1980s that I do remember, as a kid, still this sense that you had both of these countries that were armed with nuclear weapons aimed at each other. And the idea that it could all be over if something went wrong, you know, if it escalated, I mean, I know I don’t want my kids to grow up with that same damn kind of cloud hanging over their head and fear, you know, and the drills that people used to have to do. So it’s comforting to hear President Biden understanding, acknowledging, articulating very clearly that that’s what we’re trying to avoid.

Sawyer Hackett 

There has not been a clear example, I don’t think yet in the Biden Presidency of the difference between Biden and Trump than this, I mean, imagine.

Julian Castro  20:01

You had Trump like threatening nuclear war in North Korea on Twitter, I mean, shit.

Sawyer Hackett 

And I don’t even know how he would be handling this because he’s right now, like he’s trying to he called Putin a genius early on in this thing. And now he, you know, Trump is trying to I think trying to reframe himself and saying that he would essentially launch nukes against Russia right now like that it’s absolutely bonkers the shit that’s coming out of this man’s mouth right now. But this is the clearest example of like, what kind of competence leadership is needed in the White House in these crises. I mean, I don’t know whether Trump would be, you know, handing over the keys to Ukraine, to Putin would be supplying Russia with military weapons right now. Or whether he would just be launching a full-scale nuclear war with Russia. Like, we have no idea where he would fall on that, because he’s so chaotic, and so incompetent and so idiotic, that like, it’s just such a reckless person to have the keys to the nuclear codes.

Julian Castro 

Well, I mean, like, but to play devil’s advocate for a second. And, you know, I mean, I don’t believe this about Trump, but like, they’re on their side. Their argument is, it’s basically the crazy man theory, that his craziness is going to deter others from even stepping up to the plate, essentially. Now, the danger is, if you’re wrong about that, okay? You just screwed everybody across the world. And it’s the end of everything, right? But that’s his theory. It’s that he’s so crazy. And he’s like, hey, you better not do it, I’ll bomb you in the hell and so people won’t even step up, you know?

Sawyer Hackett

You can’t play chicken with a country that has more nuclear weapons than anywhere else in the world. I mean, it’s, it would just be the worst possible situation if this man was in charge right now. And I hope that I hope that there’s voters out there independent voters who maybe are, who maybe have rethought whether they support Joe Biden or support Democrats, that they think about that for a few minutes, just because it’s such an important thing that nobody’s really talking about because Trump has been so out of sight out of mind right now. But I’m very thankful that we have somebody like Joe Biden in office right now and not somebody like Donald Trump.

Julian Castro  22:03

Absolutely. Well, when we come back from the break, we’re going to come back a little bit closer to home and speak with Dr. Carmen Rojas. We’re gonna actually welcome her back to the program. She’s the CEO, and President of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, stay tuned.

Julian Castro 

Dr. Carmen Rojas is the president and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation. She previously served as the co-founder and CEO of the workers lab, and has all together spent 20 years working with foundations, with financial institutions and nonprofits to improve the lives of working people across the United States. And we’re so happy to have her back as a guest. Thanks a lot for joining us.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Happy to be here. This is a real treat.

Julian Castro

Absolutely, well and even more of a treat, you know, for me, because of course, during this month of March, we commemorate Women’s History Month, I think you may be the only Latina that heads up a major foundation of your size of the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Just want to start off by asking you to reflect on that.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Oh, Jesus, like coming out hot. Start easy. It’s sad. I think like in this moment in the United States, where people of color by the like, whenever there is the you are the first I think innately there’s like the moment of celebration of like, oh, wow, like I’m breaking a barrier. I’m like entering into a domain where people never imagined people like me, ever existing. And then you settle in and you look around and realize that this is not the fact that I’m the only person is not an accident. It’s actually by design, right? It’s people like me, who went to public K through college, whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, aren’t supposed to be in places like this. And you see the harm of not having those kinds of connection or rootedness in the issues that the vast majority of working people in this country are facing, people who are not like one generation removed from me. They’re like my siblings. They’re my nieces and nephews, they’re my cousins. And so I’m proud to run Marguerite Casey, you know, I love our work and simultaneously hold the tension or the hardness of what it means that only a certain type of person gets to have the privilege to run an institution that’s resourced to dream. And imagine a different world.

Julian Castro 

And, you know, just within the last 18 months, of course, we marked the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment, and, you know, women’s suffrage. You know, I think about that, in the context of the efforts today, to tear down our democracy and our democratic process. I mean, tell me how you take your own experience in being in the spaces that you’re in, as you said, against a lot of odds, and translate that into the work that you do through the foundation, to expand democracy and to empower, particularly women and women of color, who have too many times been left out.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

So many ways. So just as context, Marguerite Casey supports leaders, scholars and initiatives that are really focused on shifting the balance of power in society to those folks who have long been excluded from that. And what we know is that those folks are often women and women of color, disproportionately women and women of color. And for us as an institution. For me as a leader in this moment, I am holding true the fighting words of people like Andrea Mercado, who runs an organization in Florida called Florida Rising, that is actively fighting a set of political institutions and corporate leaders that are committed to disenfranchising harming, silencing her and her community in Florida. And we want to put all of our resources behind leaders like Andrea, so she not only has the resources to fight, she has the room to dream and plant the seeds for what’s possible when we win, right? One of the things that I always come back to is, you know, my mom, you know, like you, I have like a great depth of love for my mom, like she is such an amazing human being in my life. And over impossible odds, she made it from a small town in Nicaragua, to San Francisco. And that made a bunch of choices that changed her life that weren’t always the easiest choice. It wasn’t always the convenient choice. It wasn’t always the fit in and get along choice. It was oftentimes the fight choice. It was oftentimes the dream and want for more choice. It was often the complicated and clumsy choice. And I think, for me, as I sit in this role in this moment, looking at not even the next two years, but the next six months looking in places like Texas, places like Florida, places like Michigan, where there are active attacks, against enfranchisement and actually bringing more people into the democratic process, economic exclusion and actually making it impossible for low-income people to actually live lives of dignity in this country. I see my job as channeling all of these things that my mom brought when she came here, and making room for women and women of color and providing them the resources, not only to fight, but to dream.

Sawyer Hackett  28:31

So Carmen, last time we had you on the podcast, we were in the middle of this fight over voting rights. And we were not successful in passing Federal Voting rights legislation. And in Texas, they passed their, you know, voter suppression law, SB one, we found out that at least 25,000 voters were disenfranchised from voting in the in the last election in the March primaries. What do you see as the future for the fight for voting rights? Obviously, we’ve made no progress for federal legislation. But what do you think like this moment takes? What kind of urgency we need to pass something to overcome these laws that are passing and suppressing voters every day?

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Yeah, you know, I think that one of the hard things that has happened in our memory is the disconnection of our democratic process in our economic institutions, right, like those two things seem to have been disarticulated from each other. And so I’m going to actually talk a bit about what’s happening in Michigan. And so we all remember in the summer of 2021, corporate leaders came out and you know, sang the praises of the movement for Black lives wanting to support Black leaders throughout the country. What was also simultaneously happening was these same corporations and corporate leaders were actively funding an opposition. They were funding an opposition to enfranchisement. They were funding an opposition for the movement for black lives. They were funding an opposition for a multiracial democracy, and I think that we need to look and fight for enfranchisement and voting rights do democratic process. But we actually actively have to hold those people who are funding and fueling anti-democratic processes accountable. And so in Michigan, Color of Change and community change have gotten together to support a handful of organizations to actually not do the thing that we’re normally doing, which is knocking on doors and making sure people are registered to vote. But they’re working on holding corporate leaders accountable, who have actively funded disenfranchisement. And so I think that in this moment, we have to look beyond the bringing in of people into the voting process into the ballot box, we have to actively hold people accountable, who are funding and fueling those systems, those leaders who are actually making it harder for people to vote.

Julian Castro  30:58

You know, you bring up a good point about holding corporate leaders accountable, because we’ve seen the impact that they can make when they get involved in causes. Here in Texas, they push back against the so-called bathroom bill a couple of years ago, I know that they’re pushing back in Florida against that don’t say gay bill that the Florida legislature and Governor DeSantis are supportive of talk about the headway that you feel is being made in that regard. It does seem like with social media, with Twitter with these other tools, that it is a little bit easier to put things out in the light of day and you know, for lack of a better word, sometimes shame these corporations, these big corporations into doing the right thing. But well, I mean, what do you see when it comes to holding them more accountable? What makes you hopeful? What do you think we still need to work on?

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Yeah, the thing that makes me hopeful is that institutions like mine, so Marguerite, Casey is nearly a billion-dollar institution, we do grant making, but we’re also an investor. And oftentimes, in institutions like mine institutions, like universities, institutions that actually hold and sit on money, don’t use the full weight of our power in service of the causes that we say we care about, we use a margin like a small margin of those resources. And so we at Marguerite Casey Foundation are actively working to figure out how we give proxy votes to organizations on the ground to actively put pressure on corporations that we have stake in. And we are actively working in organizing groups of other foundations, other investors to start the process of divestment like these corporations exist because our money, and we can’t be speaking out of both sides of our mouth. So on the one side, I think that social media has created visibility. And I worry that if more of us don’t actually fully utilize all of the power that we have to hold corporations accountable, we’re not going to get very far, it feels like a number of people in philanthropy, like the one hand behind their back by doing grant making work and not doing the act of investment work. And I’m just encouraging everybody that sits on an endowment, again, universities, foundations, I want to make sure that I encourage them and that we offer our framework to fully utilize your role from being a consumer to being an investor to hold corporate leaders accountable.

Julian Castro 

I mean, I just think, you know, and there’s a lot more that that we could talk about on the subject, but I find it fascinating because, you know, my brother Joaquin, and I were talking a couple of days ago, he’s been really focused on Latino representation and media and the coming merger between Warner and discovery is about to happen. And they announced that 13 new board members for that board. And you know, there were zero Latinos or Latinas, even though a big push had been made for some sort of representation. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also issues of content creation and other things. And I was telling Joaquin, like, part of the problem here is, you know, you really need the foundations and other institutions that have significant dollars, and are independent from these companies. Because these companies, often they’ll give $25,000 to a group’s you know, annual event to buy a table, and they get so close to these groups by sponsoring them. And then basically they neutered these groups, that it takes institutions that have a certain amount of wealth and haft in their own right to basically allow for more objective, stepping back and putting pressure on them. And it sounds like you know, on some of these issues, that’s what y’all are doing.

Dr. Carmen Rojas  34:49

No, absolutely. So like, we just take the media landscape as a whole, you know, like one of the things that I decided we were going to do right when I started in this job, was frankly have not spent a lot of time convincing people that our Media Matters and actually just act like it does, and invest in podcasts like this one, invest in capital B, provide resources to people who are actually creating content that not only reflects us as a people, but that reflects our dreams and aspirations of what is possible as a country when our stories are told. And it’s been amazing. It’s been really, really amazing to name that we have the power and resources to create room for people who have the storytelling ability, who have the journalistic integrity that have the proximity, and can bring to bear, bring to light the issues that our communities are facing in a complex way. It’s been transformative again, like I think that like our support of podcasts has been so helpful for us as an organization to expand the aperture of where we see our sort of influence of change existing.

Sawyer Hackett  36:05

I would like to bring it back to the issue of policing, because I know that that’s a central focus of yours. And the Marguerite Casey Foundation, you referenced back in the summer of 2020, when folks were taken to the streets by the millions, calling for reform, calling for change. You know, it seems like since then, especially like a lot of Democrats have kind of turned their backs on that movement. And you know, just the other day you heard the President in the State of the Union, say fund the police and not you know, defund the police not that we expected him to say defund the police. But it just seems like we sort of lost some of that momentum. I’m wondering, do you see the change the progress on this issue coming from at the local level, coming from organizations like yours pushing for change, and not at the federal level anymore? Does it seem like that the prospects for change at the federal level, you know, aren’t looking so great anymore?

Dr. Carmen Rojas

I have been like sitting with like the 12-month span between one State of the Union and the other State of the Union mind, one State of the Union, we were talking about passing a bill named after George Floyd. And the next state of the Union talking about fund the police. And one of the things that it’s brought to bear above and beyond policing is, frankly, like the limits of our current political leadership and the limits of our current political system, right? That like, we can see that radical of a pendulum swing in a moment where we’ve actually seen increased funding to policing, there’s no police department in this country that has seen a decrease, crime has actually not increase, it’s actually decreased. Right. And so I think that one of the things that I am both holding, is the fight that we have to reimagine our political system and rebuild a political system that can hear the call to defund the police, from people on the streets affected, every day, day in and day out by police violence, and that actively wants to engage in a real conversation of meaning making and change doing. And on the other side, and deeply inspired by the experiments that are happening all over the country to address harm, right like that. People are putting pressure on cities and city governments to invest in ways to address harm and hurt that don’t require somebody with a gun to come to your house and possibly shoot you that, that is in the realm of possibilities. And that hasn’t been like, you know, I worry that like what happened at this last State of the Union will only increase cynicism, and the promise of our government, by the people that we need by young people, people of color queer folks, who are often the targets of policing to be a part of our political future. And so I’m also trying to figure out how we share the disenchantment and offer a path forward that feels true and meaningful, for that actually is true and meaningful and engages them in our political process. We can’t let the political process go. But I feel and I hear the pain that folks have.

Julian Castro  39:18

Just a final question, Carmen. Of course, we’re in an election year. And y’all are a nonprofit foundation. And so you don’t engage directly in the electoral process. But what happens this year is going to have a major impact on the people who are served by your grantees and you know, who are at the very heart of the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s mission. Are you optimistic or worried, frightened? You know, at this moment in time as we sit here, seven and a half months before the 2022 election, what are your thoughts on this next year?

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

I’m both an optimistic person and Angela Davis wrote a book called Freedom is a constant struggle and don’t take any when we get that from me as a constant reminder that like no one can be taken lightly, that across the country folks are winning, that our ideas are winning, that we have DAs, who are imagining a different way to address harm in their communities, that we have progressive mayors, that we have leaders across our political institutions that are trying to things if I have a worry right now, Secretary Castro is that we are unprepared for the rise of White supremacy, and the institutionalization of White supremacy and the normalization of White supremacy that we are oftentimes in this moment, I just heard this amazing interview, and somebody was asking, you know, like, where else in the world is the rise of White supremacy happening like this? And the response was, no, it happened here, like this is Jim Crow, with the governor of Texas is doing, what the governor of Florida is doing. Those are reminiscent of Jim Crow laws, right, Jim Crow norms that were created. And that wasn’t that long ago. And I worry that we are anchoring into a past and frankly, like that conservative and White supremacist forces are taking over our learning institutions. So we don’t have the gift of history and memory to correct our errors moving forward. So if I have a concern, it’s in part about sort of the 22 elections, but more so about the reckoning, and need to actually reckon with our past so that we don’t blindly end up in a moment that is not too far from our current moment.

Julian Castro 

Dr. Carmen Rojas, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Carmen Rojas

Thank you so much, Secretary Castro. Thank you so much, sir. It’s so good to see you both all the time.

Sawyer Hackett  42:27

So before we go, we wanted to bring up a heartwarming story in the confirmation battle for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. You know, your friend, Senator Cory Booker brought this up during his initial statement for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. He pointed out that one time Ketanji Brown Jackson’s daughter penned a letter to then President Barack Obama requesting that he nominate her mom for a seat on the Supreme Court. Her daughter Leila, who was 11 years old, a middle schooler in 2016, wrote, you know, touting her mother’s credentials following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Jackson was then you know, serving on the district court of Washington at the time, she said, quote, I would like to add my mother Ketanji Brown Jackson to the district court to the list, she said, referring to Obama’s shortlist, as she’s determined, honest, and never breaks a promise to anyone, even if there’s other things she’d rather do. She can demonstrate commitment and is loyal and never brags. I just thought that that was a great little anecdote to bring to this confirmation battle.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, she called it. She got it back then. A lot of foresight. Yeah, that was really sweet. And I was so glad that Senator Booker brought that up. And then confirmation hearing as a parent, you know, especially at that age, maybe you know, she was 11 when kids are little older. 12, 13, 14. Certainly when they’re teenagers, sometimes you feel this disconnect. And you wonder what they really think of you. I mean, what higher praise could they be? Could there be than your daughter sending a letter to the President saying you should appoint my mom to the Supreme Court. It’s such a sweet moment. And it speaks to the great person that Ketanji Brown Jackson is and I’m sure the Great Mother, yeah, that she is, and her relationship with her daughter. And it was so wonderful to see her daughter in the audience today. She was there. And when Cory was talking to her, and you know, talking about this letter, she was beaming with a lot of pride for her mom. And so I mean, this is one of those moments. It’s like an American Dream story. unfolding right in front of you.

Sawyer Hackett  44:30

I love the I love the kids in in politics moments. I always think that they bring a little levity to the dark moments and for folks who don’t know or don’t remember, go look up when Julian was giving his 2012 keynote speech at the convention. His daughter became you know, internet famous overnight for you know, she was swaying your hair, your hair looking at the jumbotron check checking out her hair, making sure it looked good. How old was she at the time when that happened?

Julian Castro 

She was three at the time. Yeah, she three and a half. I can’t believe that was almost an it’s gonna be 10 years in September. Yeah, they grow up fast.

Sawyer Hackett 

So wild. I yeah, I remember I remember at the time watching I think it was Jimmy Fallon or somebody do something about that about your speech and you know talking about your daughter, it was just a great moment. So I love when, you know, politicians kids get in the picture because it sometimes it’s, you think of these people, politicians, you people, as you know, on a pedestal or you know, not real human beings and it’s a cardboard cutout. Right, right. It’s good to be reminded that they’re real human beings and have real personal lives and real families.

Julian Castro

Absolutely. It was a sweet moment. All right, don’t forget to leave us a voicemail sharing the stories that you care about most right now at 833-453-6662. That’s 833-453-6662 And also subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts.

Sawyer Hackett  46:07

We’ll see you next week.


OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.


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