Why is Joe Manchin Calling the Shots? (with Dr. Carmen Rojas)

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Julián and Sawyer talk about President Biden’s newly-amended framework for his Build Back Better Plan and how voters may react to certain legislative omissions like paid family leave and tuition-free community college. They also welcome Marguerite Casey Foundation CEO Dr. Carmen Rojas to unpack how the bill’s passage will impact the work of non-profit organizations.

Follow Carmen online at @crojasphd.

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‘Our America’ is presented in part by the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

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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, where we tackle some of the week’s leading political headlines impacting your community, including the latest with President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which has been an absolute legislative roller coaster these last few days, especially with the recent announcement of some major emissions and last-minute developments. Sawyer, what’s going on with that?

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, so last Thursday, President Biden unveiled the latest iteration of the Build Back Better agenda. This came after senators Mansion and Sinema had had demanded to major cuts to the $3.5 trillion package. So President Biden unveiled this new scaled back version, which is around $1.75 trillion. A lot of the major ticket items in in the package have been cut out, including paid family leave two years of tuition free community college, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and major tax increases on corporations and the uber wealthy. However, the bill contains a number of extremely transformative policies that President Biden has been touting since he unveiled it. I think the biggest one is probably around climate and energy policy. So the framework contains around $550 billion in climate investments, it would cut more than a giga ton of free and house gas emissions by 2030. Includes tax credits for electric vehicles, and a lot more. The bill contains $400 billion for childcare and includes universal pre-K for three- and four-year old’s. It has Medicare expansion, allowing Medicare to cover hearing services, but it does not include the dental and vision components.

Sawyer Hackett 

It extends the child tax credit that was pushed by Democrats in the American Rescue Plan. So that will be extended for one year, which will impact 35 million households includes $150 billion in housing investments, investments in maternal health, community violence, native communities, and supply chain resilience. And so the latest here is that, you know, Speaker Pelosi had instructed the house that the bill will be pens down, meaning they’re not going to be making some of these big changes as of Sunday. But that sets up a vote in the House this week on both the Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure framework. So the timing is a little bit influx right now, obviously, we’re still waiting on some comments from Manchin and Sinema about whether they support the build back better agenda. So things are still a little bit up in the air. But early on, you know, what did you make of this latest iteration of the Build Back Better agenda? How do you think it’s being received? And do you think it’s going to be impactful?

Julian Castro  02:48

Well, I mean, this has been, you know, such a saga from the very beginning of the legislative push on build back better, I saw just a few minutes ago, Manchin make his comments, saying that he needs more clarity. But he’s still not clear, the impact, the budget impact, the deficit impact, the debt impact of Build Back Better. And he at least his comments, were somewhat surprising, and have given folks pause about whether Build Back Better is going to happen. At the same time, Representative Jayapal, who of course, is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House, has said that the progressives are ready to vote for this, for both bills, the infrastructure and build back better. So you have progressives ready to go. And once again, we have Senator mentioned throwing a wrench into President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. You’ve commented on this before, Sawyer, that progressives are always casually referenced as being the problem, being the obstructionist, you know, the ones that are getting in the way, and they’re ready to go.

Julian Castro  04:00

Joe Biden is out there saying we need to do this. This is what’s in the best interest of our country. And look how many people that it would lift out of poverty and strengthen the middle class and create opportunity and jobs. Progressives are right there with him. Now, let’s be clear, when the $3.5 trillion version of this was proposed, that was already a compromise from originally 6 trillion. This is now a $1.75 trillion package. There’s a lot of good stuff, transformative stuff in it. There’s a lot that was left out, paid family leave, which just about every other industrialized nation and some that are not in the world already embraces but the United States doesn’t. You also mentioned dental and vision coverage, Medicare. I mean, Bernie has been fantastic pushing for that and pushing for it and at one point it looked like that was gonna be his red line. How affordable housing you and I talked about, originally, there was about $350 billion of investment in affordable housing opportunity.

Julian Castro 

Now that’s down to about 150 or 175 billion, that’s better than nothing for sure. It’s still gonna go a long way, I was afraid that it was going to go down to zero at one point. So there’s a lot of good stuff in but there’s also a lot that was left out. And this is kind of the classic case of half a loaf. And do you take that half a loaf now? And no pun intended, but build on that in the future. Progressive clearly are saying, yeah. You know, if the choice is between getting universal pre-K done now, extending the child tax credit now and further reducing poverty, investing in affordable housing opportunity that is desperately needed right now, improving Medicare out there, making other investments that are going to help the most vulnerable communities and the middle class, then yeah, look, it makes sense. You take the half loaf now.

Sawyer Hackett  06:07

Right. I mean, I think the White House’s argument as of late has been, if you had told Democrats in, you know, January, I guess, mid-January, you know, after we had won the Georgia election, that we would deliver universal pre-K, you know, more than half a trillion dollars invested in climate change prevention, a huge expansion of the Child Tax Credit, investments in shoring up Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, you would say that, that was a pretty monumental achievement. And of course, they’re right. But at the same time, we’re losing so many of the headline policies that we campaigned on, the Democrats across the country campaigned on things like paid family leave, also, you know, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, this was..

Julian Castro 

That was a no brainer. Yeah, I mean, that’s probably the most baffling part of it.

Sawyer Hackett 

We’ve been running on since 2006, 2006 was when we first put that in our party’s platform, and we still haven’t delivered that. And it’s, you know, it polls in the upper 90s, it would generate the revenue to pay for the policy. It’s a universally accepted, you know, Democrat, probably the highest polling issue Democrats can run on. And once again, we’re going to drop the ball. And the thing that I think frustrates me is that like, when Biden announced this plan, he said, you know, nobody gets everything they want. I mean, clearly, Joe Manchin got every single thing that he wanted here, he has a line-item veto in the Build Back Better agenda, he has cut every single thing that he had problems with, he has, you know, mess with how we would pay for the plan, you know, taking out the provisions to tax the wealthy.

Julian Castro 

I don’t know about that. He probably wanted some tax incentives for the coal industry or something I may not have gotten that.

Sawyer Hackett 

Well, he got it, he got it so that they wouldn’t be punished. I mean, essentially,

Julian Castro 

I agree with you on climate. Yeah, I mean, he peeled that back. I think that’s one of the biggest disappointments, there is a lot of good investment. A lot of it is incentive based on climate. And as many people have pointed out, we could have gotten there faster. And this is an urgent matter, the way that the bill was originally structured. You know, we’re taking a bet now that doing it this way, and incentivizing the private sector, the public sector to do the right thing is going to meet the timeframe that we need to meet in order to address climate change with the urgency that it deserves.

Sawyer Hackett  08:31

Right. Well, and you mentioned that Senator Manchin had just recently stepped out of a press conference, I think his main thing was that he’s looking for a CBO estimate. He wants to know how this is going to impact inflation. He’s worried about, you know, multi trillion dollars of new spending and what that’s going to do to the deficit. But at the same time, you know, he’s demanding a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure framework, and then saying, he is equally open. I think the quote said, he’s equally open to voting down the Build Back Better agenda, if it’s harmful to our country, if it doesn’t have every single thing that he wants in it, he’s willing to vote it down. So he’s asking progressives and, you know, the Democratic caucus to trust him, at the same time, he’s saying, oh, I’m willing to take this thing if I don’t get my way on it.

Julian Castro 

I mean, it’s baffling. It’s just really baffling. And I tweeted out the other day that, you know, if some Democrats feared a primary challenge, the way that all Republicans fear a primary challenge, I mean, that’s their whole political life is they’re looking to their right. Don’t you know, Greg Abbott in Texas right now is a perfect example of that. They move, they support legislation, they all everything that they do a lot of it terrible and bad, but everything that they do, revolves around their fear of a challenge from within their own party. And for Democrats. It’s the other way around. For a lot of Democrats. It’s they’re moving based on their fear of losing to a Republican in a general election. And if you asked me what is what is this with Joe Manchin? I mean, it’s clearly, you know, a lot of it, I think his political self-interest. Yeah. And he thinks that he needs to, you know, he may ultimately go along with it. But he needs to put up a big fight and knock it down and come off as this fiscal conservative and be against the quote unquote, welfare state and everything that he can do, even if he ultimately supports it. What’s galling about that is, you probably can’t find a state per capita, where the people would benefit more from what’s in this bill, especially that centered around the working class and lifting people out of poverty. We’re not talking about Midtown Manhattan, you know, we’re not talking about the Hamptons, we’re talking about a very working-class community that he represents. That’s what’s been galling about the whole thing.

Sawyer Hackett  10:57

I mean, and you could say the same thing about delivering on a $15 minimum wage. I mean, like, that’s something that would benefit West Virginians would benefit Arizonans and you know, Senator Sinema state, and yeah, I think some of it is his political self-interest. I think some of it’s just his ego. I think he likes being out in front of the cameras. I think he likes having every word that he says be reported in the New York Times, I think he likes, you know, doing these press gaggles with 500 reporters surrounding him, I think he just likes being the center of political attention.

Julian Castro 

You wouldn’t be the first politician that likes that for sure. But most of them, most of them don’t get to play around, you know, as the ultimate arbiter of what’s acceptable, and not in terms of our social safety net and lifting people out of poverty that way. But you’re right. I mean, you know, those images of the folks interviewing him from his boat, where is his boat, in DC?

Sawyer Hackett

It’s in the wharf, you know, right there. By the Capitol.

Julian Castro 

Yeah. I mean, Yeah, you’re right. I mean, come to think about what you’re Yeah, you’re right. Like I, you know, you think about these images from the last few months, crowded hallways where he’s been mobbed by reporters, I think I saw one like him getting out of his car, in the evening after an event or going to an event, you might be on to something, you know, politicians, I won’t exempt myself from this. All just about everybody has an ego. And politics allows you to sort of, you know, satiate that need for ego gratification. So that could be part of it.

Sawyer Hackett  12:30

He and Senator Sinema have different approaches. I think on this, he has clearly had no problem being out in front, he’s written three or four op eds, he, you know, talks to the press constantly says he won’t negotiate in the press, and then tells the press every single thing that he wants to cut from the bill. Meanwhile, Senator Sinema doesn’t say a word to her constituents about what she supports, she doesn’t talk to the press, she you know, does these flamboyant thumbs down on things like the $15 minimum wage and then doesn’t explain her vote. But the other thing is that the other thing we forgot to get to with, which is immigration, the Bill also, you know, contains $100 billion for immigration. A lot of it is just sort of addressing the backlogs that already exists in our immigration system. But right now, you know, it appears that it’s up in the air, whether we can include immigration in this Build Back Better framework, because a lot of it is just going to come down to the parliamentarians ruling.

Julian Castro

This figure came out of $100 billion, that the Biden administration was essentially or the legislators were allocating for an eventual immigration component to this people are still wondering, well, like what is that? Right? We don’t know. I mean, there have been two or three attempts. Now proposals that have been put before the parliamentarian that have not been successful so far, that doesn’t mean that something won’t succeed, in terms of immigration provisions in this reconciliation package that would, you know, at least allow people to stay here without the fear of deportation. It can range from that all the way to, you know, originally that thought was a pathway to citizenship, at least for some subset of folks. It’s going to be amazing. And I don’t mean that in a good way, disappointing, infuriating, if we go through this first two years of the Biden administration, and we don’t move a step forward on immigration at all, right. I mean, legislatively, I mean, toward immigration reform. And we’ve talked about that a lot in the past, right, because it was promised in 2009. Didn’t happen.

Julian Castro  14:41

You had DACA and DAPA, and other measures that you had the horror of the Trump administration and everything that came with it from MPP, to use the Title 42, family separation and all of that cruelty, and some of that has been peeled back by Biden button, Title 42 is still being used under court order, they’re having to go and reinstitute the remain in Mexico program. But still, there hasn’t been any legislative movement, even though Democrats, you know, have the ability, in theory, at least, to do that in the House and the Senate, and with President Biden, Republicans are a huge problem on this. You don’t let them off the hook. But we know as Democrats, like you’re going to have to take care of this on your own. This is an issue that you’re going to have to address when you have the chance to, and the idea that we could go these two years when we had this chance, and not get anything done on it, man, you know, I don’t look forward to what some incumbents are going to have to deal with, candidates are going to have to deal with especially in certain hotspots where those issues come up a lot. I’m thinking of Nevada, Arizona, some places in Texas, you know, where folks are waiting for immigration reform. Because they’re immigrants themselves, or they’re in a mixed status household, or they’re dreamers. There are a lot of people out there who have been in limbo for a long time.

Sawyer Hackett  16:12

Right. Yeah. And I think, you know, progressives, as well as obviously, the Hispanic caucus and the Asian Pacific caucus are pretty entrenched that this must be included in the Build Back Better agenda that that we can’t leave immigration out. And a lot are saying, you know, essentially that it doesn’t matter whether the parliamentarian says it says we can or can’t I mean, I think it’s important to note here that this is one issue where the Biden administration is not, you know, on the same side it progresses in that most of them are saying we should overrule the parliamentarian who obviously is a staffer in the Senate is not elected, their job is to advise the Senate to how to act and whether things are acceptable under the Senate rules to include them in the budget resolution. But, you know, we have the option. It’s out there to overrule the parliamentarian, of course, I think we still need 50 votes to do that. So yeah, I mean, what do you think it does to the, to the Democratic coalition, to our midterm prospects? If we can’t deliver on immigration?

Julian Castro

No, I think it’ll fall apart. Yeah, I mean, I think it’ll, I think that you’re gonna have a lot of folks who will be deflated, everyone knows, right, that it’s already going to be a lot harder to get people enthusiastic for the midterms, there’s this pattern that has only been broken a couple of times in 100 years, where the incumbent president’s party loses seats in the midterms, we saw what happened in 1994, Democrats lost over 50 seats or something. In 2010, we lost 63 seats. In 2014, we lost Democrats lost a lot of seats in 2018, Republicans lost 40 seats in the house. So you know, this pattern is a powerful pattern. Now, sometimes it’s been broken, 9/11, after 9/11 and 2002, with Bush, and perhaps because of the pandemic, and this has been such a unique time. That may be the case here. However, I think it’s always going to be true that especially in midterms, you need to make sure your base is fired up, and is going to get out there and vote. And for many people in the base. If they don’t see any progress on immigration, I think that’s gonna mean that more people stay home.

Sawyer Hackett  18:34

Right. You know, they might actually have some single-issue voters who are out there saying, you know, if my drug prices are reduced by Democrats, I might be more open and willing to vote for Democrats. I mean, we’re dropping all of the items that I think actually motivate people to get out there and vote when we say, these are the things we campaigned on. These are the things that we stand for as Democrats and then we don’t deliver on them. Of course, that’s going to have an impact in the polls, of course, it’s going to have an impact on Biden’s approval rating.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, no. I mean, I think that’s right. There are definitely people out there that we’re watching for each of those things, and whose enthusiasm may be deflated, or they just take this is another sign that Washington doesn’t work. And it doesn’t matter who I go vote for and so forth. I think, you know, assuming that this does pass with some of the great things it has in it, if I were Joe Biden, I would show up at an elementary school, as you know, pre-K starts in the fall of 2022, like in August of 2022. And welcome little kids into their four-year old’s into their pre-K classroom and go and do similar event, you’re gonna have to make the most of it. In other words, with what is in there, and there’s a lot of good stuff in there. And Democrats get a need to make sure that they’re able to take full credit for getting this done in the face of such Republican and […]. They haven’t been any help at all.

Sawyer Hackett 

Right. And I think, you know, nobody is wanting more results than our candidates in New Jersey and in Virginia, where voters are wondering if Democrats are going to deliver on their promises, they’ve seen a year of a Biden administration and a year of a democratic control of the House Senate. And they’re expecting that the things that we stand for that we should be able to deliver on those with the majority in each of those. But of course, you know, we can’t always get everything done. And of course, it’s a 50/50 senate and as President Biden said, in a 5050 senate with 50 Democrats, every Democrat is a president. So I think was a good line. Yeah. But of course, yeah, we have to deliver on these things. It’s our theory of change.

Julian Castro  20:41

Oh, yeah. I mean, you’re absolutely right, it is about delivering results. And you know, those when we talk about delivering results, the thing is that we know that’s not just about a vote in Washington, DC, ultimately, that’s about the connection on the ground, affecting people’s lives. And it takes a lot more than the players in DC. It takes folks in the public sector, the nonprofit sector, and the private sector, throughout the country actually implementing these things well, and that’s why I’m excited to talk to my next guest, who is the leader of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, one of the preeminent foundations in our country, Carmen Rojas, and she’s all about making sure that those efforts are well funded, to connect with people where they’re at, and make sure that we’re able to lift people out of poverty, expand the middle class, create more opportunity for everyone. Stay tuned.

Julian Castro  22:03

Welcome back to OUR AMERICA, during the last 18 months of the pandemic, and going forward, perhaps there has been no time where the work of our nation’s nonprofits has been more important. And one of the folks who’s been a leading voice among nonprofit leaders to ensure that the most vulnerable are taken care of that their needs are addressed is my next guest. And I’m excited to have her. Dr. Carmen Rojas is the president and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Welcome to the program.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Thank you so much, Secretary Castro, I’m so happy to be here.

Julian Castro

It’s great to chat with you. Now I’m, you know, in full disclosure, I’m really, really pleased that Marguerite Casey has been a sponsor of our America from the very first season. And I’ve been waiting to do this interview, because your work is at the intersection of so many issues that we’ve talked about on this podcast, because we focus a lot of our attention on the most vulnerable Americans. And before we get to that, though, I wanted to start off by just asking you about the mission of Marguerite Casey, what is the mission of the organization?

Dr. Carmen Rojas

Yeah, we are working to support those leaders across the country, be the scholars, be the organizers, who are working to shift the balance of power so that those folks who have long been excluded from making the rules in our economy and our democracy are not only sort of sharing in their benefits, but at the table getting to inform the future of these institutions that shape their lives.

Julian Castro 

Let me also ask, because I think most folks, when they hear about the kind of work you do, they can relate to it, they can identify with it, they know that it’s important. I want to know, though, how did you get involved in this type of work? You know, it’s fascinating to me, your work for many reasons. One of them is, Marguerite Casey you’re probably either the only or have one of the very few Latinas that heads up a foundation of this size. Talk to me a little bit about your own journey. And you know how you came to this work.

Dr. Carmen Rojas  24:21

Philanthropy isn’t anything that I knew institutionally, frankly, until I happened upon it. When I was a young person working in environmental justice organizations and saw the way that foundations were shaping the agendas of community-based organizations in the places that I lived and the communities that I loved. And I slowly started to ask a set of questions about who was setting the rules, who was allowed to have resources to dream and to fight for a better future? Who were where it was like the innovation or the imagination capital for leaders of color who were sparking the type of debates, the type of engagement that we needed in our community. And I looked around me and I saw that, frankly, very few of the people who were setting these agendas, leaders of foundations, foundation staff, frankly, look like me came from a community like mine had a mom like mine. And became really focused not only on the social movement part, but on the social movement, infrastructure part, like who we know, I know, in my heart that, you know, people in this country with or without philanthropic resources, with or without foundations like mine are going to find a way to fight for a better future. I know that hands down.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

What we do at Marguerite Casey Foundation, and sort of the lessons from this work is, frankly, lead with this idea that freedom is possible. And we want to support leaders with the most amount of resources so that they can create evidence for community members that have what it looks like, what it feels like, of what it wakes, what it feels like to wake up in the moment of freedom, in the moment of the fair democracy and the just economy. And so that’s it’s really a sick, it’s been like a really funny, I never expected, I never expected to have this job. I never expected to have this job this young. And I honestly, I never expected to be the only Latina that runs a nationally endowed foundation. And I am seizing the opportunity really to insert into my sector, a sense of duty, a surrendering of power and resource and a naming of what doesn’t work for us, like what are the things that leaders in communities actually need, they don’t need my advice, they don’t need my relationship, they don’t need my job. They don’t need my time. They need the resources of our institution. And so we’re going to work our best to make sure that they have those resources as quickly and easily as possible.

Sawyer Hackett  27:12

So Carmen, you mentioned resources. Obviously, you know, Julian said that, that, you know, the Marguerite Casey Foundation is known for having this focus on vulnerable communities. But you also, you know, pay really close attention to federal legislation, different investments coming out of Congress. What are your you know, obviously, we’ve had this American Rescue Plan, we have this Build Back Better plan being debated. What are your top priorities in terms of vulnerable communities, and the type of investments that you’re seeing coming out of DC?

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

I think for so long, across parties, we have weed this story, that government is inefficient, that government doesn’t work that government can’t provide, that government shouldn’t do for us, that the public good is something that should be held in private hands. And I see even the conversation right now is starting to reset those norms, the things that we can expect our government to do for us the thing that we can expect our tax dollars to do for us. And so first and foremost, I’m most excited and energized by the possibility of resetting our collective, both priorities and imagination of what a truly representative government looks like, when its sole purpose is to serve the people. You know, I live in a city where currently there are two big things that are up for debate, policing, and housing. And so if I look at housing investments, you know, as I take this story about all the ways that we have told ourselves, that government doesn’t work for us, we know what it looks like to build a middle class in this country. We’ve done it before we’ve done it, we’ve done it for white people. And I think for some reason, we have told ourselves that people of color need a different set of interventions to build a middle class, a different set of interventions to feel safe, a different set of interventions to feel educated.

Dr. Carmen Rojas  29:06

And those interventions over the last 50 years, have overwhelmingly put a boulder on the backs of people of color, and have not actually worked to act to extend the rewards and freedoms of this country to absolutely everybody. And so I’m excited about any sort of investments in housing, any sort of investment in education. Right now I am. I keep imagining what it’s like for people who are waking up for parents who are waking up getting this child credit, getting this $300 check. And from one month to the next seeing that $300 hit their bank account. How to translate transformative that is like the bubble of oxygen, that we’re able to provide people who care for children, people care for people in this country. The evidence that our public our common resources could be used in this collective way to show that we are deeply invested in us and each other is so exciting to me. Sawyer, so like I’m like, obsessed with like the big idea that we can reset this norm, but also in like, just imagine, imagine if you’re a parent who works a low wage job works three low wage jobs, and for the last 5, 10, 15 years, is like a month to month scraping by and gets an air bubble, a little buoy from us.

Julian Castro  30:38

When speaking of resetting the norm, Carmen, I know, one of the things that you’ve been doing is convening foundations and nonprofits to think through not only with the American Rescue Plan, but also hopefully the build back better plan. How do we do things differently from before, so that the most vulnerable folks out there, including so many communities of color, that often don’t get the resources that they need, or aren’t able to avail themselves of programs that they should? Or cut out, sometimes, almost entirely. How do we do it differently? Like, what is the answer to that? What are you hearing out there?

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

I think philanthropy is now in this moment talking about the sheer number of dollars, there’s no amount of private intervention, no amount of private philanthropy, individual donor resources that can compare with the type of investment that’s on the table today, for me, as a leader in philanthropy is to say that our resources can be used to convene, to educate, to make visible, our resources should be used to hold accountable as state has political leaders across the country are deciding how these dollars are being spent, actually doing so in a way that is transparent and clear for the communities that are most vulnerable, and frankly, most impacted by investment and under investment, investment and policing under investment and housing, investment in making sure that prisons are being built like in places like Alabama, under investment and things like education, under investment in the critical things that we know, again, we know how to build a middle class in this country. And we just need to make a commitment and choice to it.

Dr. Carmen Rojas  32:22

And so for me, what’s been strike striking is to see so many leaders in philanthropy actually step up to the promise of being able to use this patient, really flexible set of resources that all of our institutions are undergirded by to be catalytic in that way to be transformative in the way I’ve been like, here in Washington State really excited to see the organizations like the Group Health Foundation of big one of the nation’s largest, the four foundations really invest in making sure that communities across Washington state know that these dollars are happening, investing in local media, investing in multi lingual media, so that it’s clear that this isn’t this thing that’s happening far away in Washington, DC, literally on the other side of the country, the other Washington, these are our dollars that are can be used for us. And so I’m really excited about that. And that feels like the different momentum and imperative in this moment.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I want to drill down a little bit on an issue like policing, you’re there in Seattle, Seattle is one of those communities where you see the whole spectrum of issues surrounding policing, and how do we police   better? How do we change the system that’s in place so that the kind of thing that happened to George Floyd doesn’t happen again, and everybody is treated with dignity and respect. A lot of people, you know, they look at that kind of issue. And they think that that’s an issue about government. What changes do you make in government? Do you get rid of qualified immunity? Do you do different training? Do you put more resources into sending out mental health experts instead of traditional police? What role does philanthropy and nonprofit organizations, what role do they play in an issue like policing?

Dr. Carmen Rojas  34:19

We at Marguerite Casey Foundation are always talking about like the, the edge of the imagination. And one of the things that is so hard for people and especially wealthy white people is to imagine a world without police. And I think it’s our job at Marguerite Casey Foundation. Not only say that a world without is possible, but to name that, like in most communities and most wealthy white communities in this country. Police aren’t visible. I have where I live. I rarely see a police. I’ll just be transparent. I walk around every day and like, I don’t see a lot of police anywhere and I feel extremely safe. I’m a woman who lives by herself. And I think that somehow we have tethered safety and policing. But I feel like it’s safety from and not safety with. And the thing that’s made this most visible for me has been the national reaction of police to the vaccine, the people who are supposed to keep us safe, fighting, doing something that’s actually going to keep us safe, and that we can’t like name and make visible, that inherent contradiction. For me, in this job, I think it’s my job to name that. It’s my job to name that and to name that prisons don’t keep us safe that having people with guns who pull us over, don’t keep us safe, that having people with guns to come and address somebody who is having any sort of mental health issue. Don’t keep us safe. We know that we know that over and over and over and over again, we have so many pieces of evidence, and on the ones that I think it’s to name, that we know that that’s true. And on the other side, it’s to invest in those leaders that are creating different kinds of infrastructure that actually does keep us safe. We know that more quality housing keeps us safe. We know that more quality jobs, keep us safe. We know that when people are able to take care of themselves and their families to be able to access affordable care. That’s what keeps us that we know that.

Julian Castro  36:33

And what do you make about Republicans push to create this boogeyman of defund the police, you know, as though folks who want to improve our approach, don’t want safety for anybody? And you know, what, what do you make of that?

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

This is like the cross-partisan dilemma. I don’t think it’s just repub. I mean, again, I’m in a very, I’m in a very liberal city. And it’s been so striking to me, how all of the people who two months ago were like, oh, my God increase, there’s increased crime in the neighborhood, just are not troubled seeing a quarter, half of police forces across the country refuse to get vaccinated and feeling okay, that they are the first point of intervention in case there is a public safety issue. Who are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of them? And, and that those aren’t the questions that we’re asking ourselves. Instead, we’re asking ourselves, I want to stay away from those people who I have been told, keep me unsafe, and that is untenable in a building a multiracial democracy.

Sawyer Hackett 

So Carmen, you mentioned that you, you know, don’t come from traditional philanthropic circles and in your career path, but can you tell us a little bit about your past, where you come from and sort of what perspective that you bring to the philanthropy world and how you’re, you know, shaking things up over there?

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Yeah, I am. My mom is from Nicaragua. She’s the second eldest of 17 kids from a small town, a really rural community in Nicaragua. And my dad is the youngest of 10 kids from an island off the coast of Venezuela and Trinidad Tobago, and they met in San Francisco, in the 60s, and came emigrated to this country at like the peak of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the labor movement, and were truly able to benefit and enjoy the gains of those movements. And I was born at a time when my parents were middle class, they owned a home, we could take vacations. Our life was so filled with promise. And I started looking around me I went to community college like I didn’t, I was the first person to graduate from high school, my family and I had a bunch of people who created a torched pathway for a future for me, that I could not have imagined for myself. And because my parents immigrated at a time, they were the first two to emigrate, everybody came, they were the ones my mom tells the stories of like filling hand, filling out people’s immigration documents so that they can immigrate.

Dr. Carmen Rojas  39:21

So it was also at a moment where our immigration policy just looks so radically different than today. And so everybody lives in our house. So I don’t like everybody. Absolutely there was not a moment in my childhood where like, we didn’t have a bunch of people at our house and I was raised with this, like very deep commitment that like what was ours was really ours was the collective ours. Like, there was nothing that was mine. Anytime I was like, Oh, well, that’s mine. They was like, no, slowdown. You don’t have anything because what’s ours is ours. And that for me has really been like the driving force. Like this is the thing about philanthropy, like I feel like it’s necessary to make visible as like these institutions exist because rich people chose not to pay taxes. And so I see it as my job to be the steward of these resources in service of a collective us. These resources are ours. And I like lead by that.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Carmen, your story is certainly a testament to a lot of the progress that we’ve made in our country, and also to why it’s so important at this moment that we’re in, that you’re doing the work you’re doing at Marguerite Casey, and that Congress and the President actually take advantage of this opportunity to do something to create that pathway for so many others in the years to come. And, you know, I want to thank you for your efforts to create that pathway. We look forward hopefully, to having you back, as well, as we see the results of this Build Back Better agenda in the weeks and months to come.

Dr. Carmen Rojas 

Wonderful. Thank you so much, Secretary Castro. Thank you so much, sir. It’s great to spend time with you guys.

Julian Castro 

See you soon.

Sawyer Hackett 

Thanks, Carmen.

Julian Castro

We’re back. Well, thanks for joining us on OUR AMERICA. You know, we like to end every week with some good news. We’ve been encouraging you to share your stories, your positive thoughts at a number of voicemail, and I’ll give you that number in a little bit again, but we want to play you one of those voicemails that we just got a couple of days ago.

Speaker 4 

Good evening, Secretary Castro and team OUR AMERICA. I’m calling after listening to the most recent episodes with Marc Elias. Just wanted to share that in 2019, I changed careers to join your presidential campaign and organize on Team New Hampshire with Manny. And ever since spring of 2020. I’ve had the honor to serve as a voter protection staffer. First, in my home state on […], Pennsylvania last year and this year in New Jersey, where we are working to reelect Governor Murphy with a mandate on Tuesday. Just want to say thank you.

Julian Castro  42:30

All right, well, that’s Sawyer, that’s what we’d like, first of all, I want to thank her so much for her work on the campaign in New Hampshire, for being so involved. And even more. So now for being so active in this off year. It’s sometimes it’s easier to get swept up in, you know, campaigns during the presidential year. And to do that for like one cycle. And staffers work, you know, this, you want that campaign staffer more than once, work their hearts out, so dedicated and do so much important work as part of a campaign. But then it’s easy to go from that off years where, I’ll take it easy or move on to something else. The fact that she’s still out there doing voter protection and working on Governor Murphy’s reelection campaign. It’s fantastic to hear.

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, the voter protection work is so important. I think it doesn’t get enough coverage. But just let me tell you a quick story back in 2012, and I was working on the Obama campaign in Virginia. Our local registrar tried to tell us that we couldn’t register students on campus at their student address, because it wasn’t considered their permanent address. They had to register back home and vote absentee. We had our voter protection person walk into their office. Along with it, I was holding a box of 6000 voter registration forms from students. And he put it you know, essentially, I think it was a letter saying like a cease and desist like these people are registering. And if you want to take us to court, we’ll take you to court because it’s important. So hopefully it had a good ending. Yeah, they did have a good ending. They were all registered and we ended up increasing turnout, there was a big deal. But that that voter protection work is so important. And if you’re a lawyer out there, or you’re interested in the law, and you’re interested in helping on campaigns, voter protection is a good place to start.

Julian Castro  44:25

Absolutely. Oh, and if you want to leave us a voicemail, to share one of your stories, share some good news. You can do that at 833-453-6662. That’s 833-453-6662, to leave us a voicemail here at OUR AMERICA. Also subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts. And you can catch me from time to time talking about all of these issues and more on MSNBC and Peacock. 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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