"The Politics of Care" Transcript
Guest: Dr. Deva Woodly
Betty Teng: Welcome to Mind of State, a podcast for both political junkies and armchair shrinks. I’m psychoanalyst and trauma therapist Betty Teng.
Jonathan Kopp: And I’m communications strategist and political hack, Jonathan Kopp. Join us as we welcome experts in politics and psychology to consider this: the state of our nation through the state of our minds and the mind of our state. Hi, Betty.
Betty: Hi, Jonathan. What’s on your mind these days? Like what’s going on?
Jonathan: Well, I’m thinking about our political process. You’re probably shocked to hear that.
Betty: Such a stunner. You don’t say.
Jonathan: But I’m thinking about politics. I’m talking about politics. Politics on the brain all the time. And I’m watching a split screen, right. I see two things happening. I see our official political process where people are registering to vote. They’re getting their absentee ballots, they’re getting their vote plan together. And then I’m seeing a whole separate thing happening on the other side of the screen. And that is the unofficial process. I’m seeing the protests. I’m seeing the outrage. I’m seeing the petitioning. I’m seeing the hand wringing and the buttons and the signs. Enough already. We need a change. There’s something not working about our political process. And I’m wondering where and when are those two streams going to match up or clash up?
Betty: I would say that your splits are the splits of a lot of people, because I am here to tell you that a lot of my clients are talking about this as well. Do they participate in the grassroots movements? Do they participate in the voting? And do they get involved? Where do they get involved? Because so much needs to change. But how do we do it?
Jonathan: I am frankly thrilled that politics is making its way into the session. That to me is a great mark of progress.
Betty: That is a foregone thing that’s been happening. No, seriously, we are really mulling over these questions, which I think is why you and I are having this conversation right now.
Betty: And I think with regard to how much participation counts and what do you do is a real question of any individual, but it’s a question, as you’re putting it, in politics and in government and in civic discourse and democracy.
Jonathan: Look, if people are grappling with whether their vote matters, then does it matter if they take to the streets?
Betty: Right. Exactly. And yet there’s this movement afoot that has brought millions of people into the streets. So to talk about this and to kind of put this into historical and political science context is our next guest. Should we bring out?
Jonathan: Let’s do it.
Betty: Okay so, Dr. Deva Woodly is an associate professor of politics at the New School and the author of The Politics of Common Sense: How Social Movements Use Public Discourse to Change Politics and Win Acceptance. Her current works include her forthcoming book Reckoning: #Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Necessity of Social Movements. Thank you so much for joining us, Deva.
Deva Woodly: Oh, I’m so happy to be here. Thank you.
Betty: You know, Deva, one of the reasons why we had you on is, you know, we looked at your book, The Politics of Common Sense and How Social Movements Use Public Discourse. And for me, in my work as a therapist, I see a lot of people from a lot of different identities and intersectional personas. And they have in this moment over the summer felt alternatively energized and also helpless. And so they don’t know if marching, protesting, participating in rallies really does much, you know, and they are, of course, not political scientists like yourself or students of political science. So I wanted to ask you said social movements, protest, and rebellion are an essential part of democracy. Your new book is saying that there is a democratic necessity to social movements. So can you unpack that for us a little bit?
Deva: Sure. So my book argues and honestly, all of my work up until this point has led me to believe that we treat social movements in the wrong way and that when we’re thinking about democracy. So we treat social movements as kind of like, you know, episodic interruptions in the normal functioning of democratic politics but that’s not actually true, right, empirically or sort of theoretically in terms of the use of social movements. Empirically, social movements have been around as long as democracies. And that’s because social movements are actually a part of democracy. It’s a feature, not a bug. It is the thing that democracies use to, or that emerging democracies, that allow them to remain democracies instead of devolving into oligarchies, because the tendency of all large institutions is to become self-serving. That is, institution serving rather than mission serving over time. And that’s just like the iron cage, Max Weber, right. This is the thing like you set up an institution and eventually it has its own imperatives to preserve itself more than to serve the mission for which it was set up in the first place. And democracy is no exception. So social movements are the things that recall democracies to themselves and disrupt that oligarchic tendency.
So democracies are a democratic institution, right. So we often think of, like, you know, the free press as a kind of fourth branch of government. Well think of social media as a kind of fifth. So then the question about protests is one that is a little bit less fraught. So is a single protest going to sort of change the way that business is done, the way that power is arranged in a single instance? No, almost never, right. But protests over time combined with resonant messages absolutely do change the way that things are run and have the potential to change the way that power is arranged. So it’s a collective effort and it’s a collective effort that happens over time. So it’s not the case that any one protest usually makes a decisive difference unless it is extremely large and very, very disruptive. But cumulatively, over time, protests do make a difference, especially if they’re of size and scope, that is, they’re all across the geographic map and involve all sorts of people, as these last protests have. And that’s in part because they change the way that people think about politics, right. They change what people think is possible, what people think are problems, what people think are necessary to fix those problems, and the level of agency people believe that they have. So it is a whole process of change, not an instant of change.
Jonathan: We tend to be myopic, right. And we think about life from this moment. But can you give us a historical perspective on social movements and the interplay between the protests in the street and the government in the halls of power?
Deva: Sure. One of the books that I love to go to for the impact of protest is a classic called Poor People’s Movements by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward. And in that book are a case study of several different American social movements that have made huge differences in terms of how governance is set up because of direct protests. So it goes over sort of labor strikes like wildcat strikes in the early part of the 20th century and how workers occupying the sites where they worked and shutting them down, which was thought of as completely off the map like crazy radical thing to do, right. And that they actually were the things that led to the birth of the National Labor Relations Board, led to the power to form unions, you know, led to the ability for workers to have input on their working conditions, et cetera. But one of the things that they say in that book is that these concessions are actually won in the moment of disruption, right. So in the moment of direct action and protest and then after the moment of direct action and protest, usually you don’t get any more concessions. What you then do is try to institutionalize the accommodations to whatever demands have been made. So that’s really important for people to be clear on. And I don’t say that because it’s not worth institutionalizing accommodations to demands. It absolutely is. But it’s important for people to understand that you need both sides of that process.
Jonathan: So in other words, are you saying that, in other words, the government or the authorities, in embracing the call for reform, are somehow coopting the power of the movement? Or is it always a tension or can they work together towards a constructive end?
Deva: What I mean is that they do work together toward a constructive end, but that the direct action and militant protest is the critical sort of part of getting concessions. Now, getting those things institutionalized so that they work for everyone is that the process that follows, right, the institutionalization. So I don’t consider it cooptation. I just consider it the process of how social movements impact governance. But both of those sides are important. So it always annoys me when people are like, what we really need is to be in the streets. And it’s like, absolutely. That is what we really need. Or on the other hand, what we really need to do is appeal to elites. Well, there’s no point appealing to elites without people in the streets, right. But at the same time, people in the streets who are not willing to work with elites are also not going to be able to diffuse the benefits of the things that they have won.
Jonathan: Right. So they’re all core necessary ingredients in the effort to change. You need the militant protests in the streets. You need inside voices as well. Sometimes we see them coming together like the police taking a knee or politicians at the front of the march, right.
Deva: Well, no. For me, not police taking a knee.
Jonathan: So talk to us about that.
Deva: So I would say, no, that’s not what I mean. So, for example, the Movement for Black Lives, which is the movement that my current book is on, they play both an outside and governance game, meaning that there is both vigorous organizing around direct action and militant street protest and an electoral justice project that’s about electing new kinds of candidates at every level of government and also pushing policy to allies in Congress who are not necessarily a part of the movement, but who are sympathetic to it, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, you know, etc.. So this sort of working with governance or working within the governance structure doesn’t mean that sort of symbolic actions by people who are already in government represents some kind of real alliance, only that you have to be willing to work in the register of that power, right, with those decision makers, but not take their gestures to be sort of definitive. Only to understand that you have to work the policy side and the electoral side at the same time you’re working in the streets.
Betty: When people make that connection, because at first when I look at protests, I look at it as an emotional response. And it’s a frustrated response. People protest because they cannot withstand what is happening anymore and they want to move and do something about it and speak out against an injustice or disenfranchisement. How does a movement become so organized that it connects to these strategies of connecting with people who are then looking at it in a more structural and organized way?
Deva: Well, organizers do that within social movements there are people who are called organizers. That’s their whole job.
Jonathan: We had a president who was one, I believe, most recently.
Deva: Right. We did yeah. So organizers are people who are in movements, who have made the connections, right, who work together, who study together, who are making connections between injustices, their causes, and their possible solutions. And they are the folks who galvanize others to action, but also to understanding. And this movement has done so in a variety of different ways, both on and off line in a very large public conversation that’s been facilitated by, although not limited, to social media, right. So if you kind of can recall in 2014, just the phrase Black Lives Matter was controversial, right. Just the phrase Black Lives Matter was controversial. But the movement initiated and was not afraid to have a very large public conversation about structural racism where they sort of debunked or said what was wrong with the idea that all lives matter could stand in for Black Lives Matter, right. This is a very proliferate conversation that was happening both online, but also in people’s own lives across time.
So what happens is that in 2014, Black Lives Matter seems shocking. And then you talk about it for a while in the public discourse and not inevitably because organizers and the movement are, you know, initiating that conversation, but then the conversation also gets beyond that, right. Like, the more people who get it talk to more people who get it, right. And then you have people who are like independently producing like memes and explainers and applying it to their own lives and it sort of becomes a part of the public discourse in a way that is comprehensible to everyone even if everyone doesn’t agree. But this takes time, right. And so it matters that five years, you know, six years after, you know, the first kind of uprisings in Ferguson and the beginning of this iteration of the conversation about Black liberation and what that has to do with, you know, America becoming itself happened. Like, it matters. People have learned over that time, right? They have learned like, oh, I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, but now I feel like I know what this means. I feel like I know how to apply it in different cases. And don’t forget, the empirical world also conspired to make everything that the movement claimed evidently true, right?
Jonathan: Yes. And video to prove it.
Deva: And video to prove it. But not only in the case of murder. I think that it’s also really important, this phenomena of the Barbecue Becky’s, and that the very same day that George Floyd was horribly and viciously murdered by that cop, you know, Christian Cooper, the Black bird watcher from Harvard, was also threatened with the white tears of Amy Cooper, no relation, who was calling the police as a deadly weapon against this man. This happened at the same time. So it was an illustration, a vivid illustration, of the argument that the movement has been making all along, right. That white supremacy operates on all of these different levels, right. And that it can be harmful all the way from like vicious lethality to just changing your life chances. Just changing the way you’re able to live your life. That’s what structural racism is. That’s what white supremacy does.
And it also made visible, I think, to a lot of white people who don’t think of themselves as racist, how white supremacy is not about what’s in their hearts. It’s actually about the structures and practices that are already in place, right. You know, you can be or think of yourself as a nice person and still be benefiting from the fact that if you call the cops, they are not going to come and shoot you, right. And if you call the cops on someone who is Black, you can end their life even if you don’t mean to, right. Which has happened a couple of times, right. You know, so I just think it was like the empirical world provided vivid examples for the argument that the movement was making and then the movement would just reinforce the argument. And you see a ton of movement actually in like public opinion polling on these questions over this time precisely because people are coming to understand the argument that the movement makes.
Jonathan: So we’ve come to sort of a moment of a perfect storm where forces have come together. It feels like we have hit a breakthrough moment. No doubt there will be, you know, steps back and steps forward. This is a lifelong struggle. You know, when I think about movements, I think about politics. And I wonder with other movements and other uses of language, if there is a political calculus that we need to think about in terms of political power. Because if you watched the first presidential debate of this cycle, Trump was attacking Biden by attacking Bernie and Elizabeth Warren. And he was saying, you know, that Biden is not driving this train, right. That the radical socialist left is actually driving. And I wonder about when we play to our base are we ever at risk of undermining our objective? Because we play into the criticisms from the opposition. How do you balance the drive to our ideological purity and the pragmatic concerns of bringing the rest of society along?
Deva: Well, I mean, I think you can approach it all pragmatically. I think it’s a question of the term of consideration. What battle are you trying to win, right? So I think whomever, as we can see, won the Democratic nomination would have been called a socialist.
Jonathan: For sure.
Deva: And even Bernie is not really a socialist.
Jonathan: Of course.
Deva: You know, not that there’s anything wrong with that, again.
Deva: So in my view, I actually am not really interested in the attacks of the other side. What I’m interested in is the message from our side and the values and beliefs that we hold to and not in the service of purity. I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in whether or not people on the left, or what is considered the left now, which honestly by historical standards is really just like basic care for people. You know, my interest is, are people on the left making an argument based on their values that people believe can actually help them, because the thing is, is that the kind of, you know, unwillingness to stand in our values. So then a lack of being able to deliver right to people is part of the problem. It’s not really you know, I think that there’s a relatively small, older group of people who are really scared by socialism. People under 35 think socialism is fine and people even under 55 are split about it, right. It’s people over 65 who have a really strong memory of what socialism was in the early 20th century and are like still really scared about it. Most people are actually not that pressed about it. What they are skeptical of is that people who are promising them all this stuff can deliver it.
Jonathan: That’s the question is how do you translate the power of a social movement into political power, right? Because if you’re not translating from words and marches into power that can execute change at the policy level, then it’s all sound and fury.
Betty: Well, and I think something that you’re talking about, Jonathan, and to include what you’re saying, Deva, if in the value based system that these words are real, that they’re grounded, they’re not just soundbites. And I think people have lost faith in the politics and discourse as being, you know, perhaps social media drives this, as these sound bites to get you to pay attention to some outrageous thing rather than really ground ourselves in values of care. Like you said, the word care many times. And I know you have emphasized the politics of care as a philosophy underneath. That politics of care intrigues me because it blends politics, which can be something that almost becomes institutionalized and away from the people now, even though it is a civic entity in care, which is so much about keying into people’s needs. I think that this is the connections that we are missing, perhaps that socialism delivers as well. There’s a collective aspect to socialism that maybe the older generations, under the shadow of the Cold War, feel sort of impacted by, but the younger generations are not sort of harnessed by the history of the Cold War and the disputes that came out of that. But what about this transmission of a communication that this is a politics that’s not forgetting the people itself?
Deva: Well, I mean, that’s what organizing is or it’s what it’s supposed to be. So, for example, in the Movement for Black Lives, there’s a sort of a wing or a table of the movement that is about electoral justice. And the philosophy of the electoral justice side of the movement is that we’re not interested in endorsing candidates and then just sort of like letting them, you know, take our votes and our endorsement and our labor and never be accountable to us again. Instead, what the purpose of the people on the electoral justice side of the movement is to recruit candidates for every level of office, right. And this is part of sort of convincing people that you can deliver for them is that you don’t start at the national level. You don’t start by asking them for a national level thing. The point of governance that most people encounter most of the time is their local government. That is where they can see, right. The city council, the school board, the mayor, right, the district attorney, the judges, right. Those are the people who actually impact their lives. And that’s how people actually begin to learn how government works and what civic duty is good for.
And so people in movement had started organizing in 2014 at the local level, recruiting people who had been politicized in movement for local offices, right. If you look down ballot, you know, it’s the opposite of what happened in the Obama years, actually, right where Obama won two national elections relatively easily, but the down ballot was slaughtered. Opposite here, right, is that national elections have become very structurally difficult for Democrats to win. But steady gains have been being made at local levels, including amongst district attorneys, which were the first targets, the first electoral targets, of the movement. So, you know, that’s what I mean. All of this is over time. We’re in a culture where everything is supposed to happen instantaneously or we’re supposed to have some, like, big heroic moment. The truth is the heroic work is the slog, right, in the trenches. And that is what has been ongoing. And it is in that moment where people flip the district attorney, right. And then, you know, marijuana prosecutions go down by 90 percent, right, in their neighborhood, right. It is in that moment that people begin to get hooked into the civic process and where you can start to build power. And this building power is not just building power for a vote at the national level. It’s also building power in terms of people’s political literacy and people’s capability to demand the things that they actually need, right. Because they have a better sense of what government is and what it can do and what it ought to do, right, for them. So you develop, what a democratic citizenry.
Deva: Which we have allowed to be decimated, right. You know, over the last more than half century. So that’s the work. It’s really not about electing Democrats at the national level. I mean, we are certainly in a desperate situation at the moment. But the nature of the work is actually not about that. And that’s why you don’t have to worry about, like, are we alienating these like, I don’t know. That’s not the issue. The question is, are we building the kind of political power that can deliver for people? Are we changing people’s expectations about what government can do? Are we making people feel efficacious? Because indeed they are efficacious about some governance. So now I’m kind of on my soapbox because I’m a small D democratic true believer, right? Like that is my religion. So I’m very, you know, I have seen what happens when people realize that they actually have power.
Jonathan: What do you say to people who believe that the most aggressive form of protest is to abstain, right. To protest by sitting out rather than lend legitimacy to what they consider to be a broken or corrupt process? Is there a place for abstention?
Deva: Hmm. I mean, I don’t think that abstention is the right move. But at the same time, I also think that a part of what is broken about our, you know, our democracy is that abstention can seem rational to many people, right. Like, you know, a quote in an article that I recently read, someone said, you know, this was like a young Black potential Democratic voter. And the interviewer asked him, like, are you sure that you’re going to vote, right, this year, this year of all years, right. And this person was like, you know, I don’t know. You know, my parents voted, my grandparents voted, fought and died to vote. And we’re still poor and we’re still in the same place. And we’re still being terrorized by cops. I don’t know if it matters. And empirically for many people, right, it doesn’t matter, right. The national vote doesn’t empirically, directly matter for their life chances, even though it empirically matters for the life chances of the whole collectivity.
Jonathan: Well that could speak to the legitimacy of voting, but it could also speak to the legitimacy of the forced choice, right. If there are two candidates or five candidates and you think that none of them adequately represent your interests, then you reject the very premise of choosing between flawed choices.
Deva: Yeah, but I think it’s more than just choices. I really think it’s kind of like despair. I think it’s a kind of despair about the efficacy of governance at all. So it’s good to have better choices, but it’s better to actually show people their power. And that’s something that usually happens at the local level before the national level. So that’s why the organizing is so, so, so important. We discount organizing and political campaigns have distorted what it means. Political campaigns think organizing is you, like, fly into a place 10 weeks before the election.
Deva: And knock on doors. And it’s great to knock on doors, but that’s not what organizing is. Organizing takes years and organizing is developing relationships with people around what they need and how they can be empowered to deliver it over the course of years, right. Not over the course of 10 weeks. So, you know, that’s what’s key, not only sort of for, you know, making the goals that you want to make, but also for creating the kind of democratic polity that you need in order for self governance to be possible. And that’s the work that the Movement for Black Lives, but also many different social movements that have arisen in the 21st century, are doing, right. Like, you know, Me Too is doing this work. The Stoneman Douglas kids are doing this work. The Sunrise Movement is doing this work. This is the deep work of democracy.
Jonathan: For sure. But let me ask you about this. I mean, there are political movements on the right that are also working quite effectively at organizing. Who’s playing it better: the right or the left?
Deva: Well, I mean, I think that the right has been playing it better for 70 years. That is, empirically been better. But that’s because they believed in organizing and they also had a national institution for that organizing, which was the church, which turns into the conservative church.
Jonathan: And building at the community level, right, stacking.
Deva: Exactly. We have a roadmap for how this is done. But now I think that they’re at a moment of fracturing and they’re also at a moment where they are in the minority and so have turned vicious in a way that is unappealing to most people. So I think that they have a lot of experience in organizing in this way, but I think that they’re going to have a little bit more trouble organizing broadly, partly because they’ve become so odious.
Betty: Yeah. And what you’re talking about in terms of the long slog of organizing, which is building relationships, gaining trust, making dialog with people so that needs can be determined. This is the blend between, to me from my perspective, politics and psychology, because you identify with what people are hurting from or what they are missing, what they lack. And then you have to over time figure out what is the best thing for them. And it takes a long time. And to convince them that becoming involved is something that’s even possible, just like you were talking about the despair of that individual. That’s generational despair. It’s an intergenerational trauma of a sort. And I was wondering about the left has got a coalition building that is much more diverse and #Black Lives Matter, or the Movement for Black Lives, has built these coalitions. And it’s including other people into the movement that are not necessarily directly impacted by police injustice, but feel absolutely like they cannot bear witness to this any longer. You know, this kind of grassroots organizing where people are being empowered, how does that move people? Like, how do we reach the guy who is saying he’s in despair and he doesn’t want to vote? Observing generations of his family who have voted and still sit in the same position.
Deva: You ask him to do other political work. You know, that’s the thing about organizing with a politics of care at the center, right. A politics of care is about your orientation toward governance is how do we come to understand what people need and then distribute responsibility so most people have what they need to live and thrive, right. And so it is not about demanding the vote from this person. It’s saying, you know, what is the biggest problem that you face in your life or that your community faces? And, you know, how do we step in, right? How do you step in? What would you do if you could if you had support? So you don’t ask for the vote because the vote is not what he needs, right.
Jonathan: Right. The vote is a transactional moment that you need from them.
Deva: So you stop asking for that. What you ask for instead is, or not ask for, you ask about, right? Like what is the thing that your community needs? Like what is the thing that if people had the resources what would you do first here and what kind of resources do you think you might need? Let’s start to think about that. Let’s start to talk about that. What do people already have? How do we? So that’s, it changes, and I think this is part of what’s appealing about the Movement for Black Lives and why it has so successfully worked with Me too and Sunrise and all of that is because the purpose is, the question is, always not what can you give me so that I can give you something else. But instead, like, what do we all need to live and thrive? What are the things that we need in order to live and thrive? And this was a question that was highlighted in the very beginning in a seemingly, like, incidental way. If you all remember in 2014, you know, when the Ferguson uprisings were just happening, all around the Internet, you started to see memes of that Audrey Lorde quote about self care. Do you guys remember?
Betty: Yes, yes.
Deva: So, of course, that’s been taken up and commodified and become like about pedicures or whatever, instead of like, you know, caring for yourself while you’re a revolutionary who has terminal cancer, which is-
Jonathan: With well painted toenails.
Deva: Right, right, with well painted toenails. Not that I’m against well painted toenails. But the point is, is that the reason that struck such a chord, though, particularly before it was synonymous with all these commodified things, is because we are living in an age, right, in a political economy and in a kind of social logic in which nothing is supposed to be as important to anyone as they’re waged work, right. Everything else is secondary, both by necessity, but also by the sort of neoliberal logics that we operate under. And that’s inhumane. And it’s inhumane, and it’s especially inhumane to the poor, but it’s actually also inhumane to a ton of other people who work for very high wages, right, but still don’t have any time for the human interaction in their life. And time also to care for themselves, right. So we’re in an age in which people are yearning for a different way of relating to each other and the world. And the movement has come in and said, what if we do politics as though we want to live?
Jonathan: Imagine that. Imagine that, right.
Betty: What a revolutionary thought.
Deva: As though we want to live, right. Not just exist, not just to survive, not just be running after the next coin. What if we did politics as though we wanted to live together and enjoy our time on this planet?
Betty: Right, right.
Deva: And I think that’s just deeply resonant.
Jonathan: So, Deva, how far do we go? I mean, I’m all for no justice, no peace. I march. I protest. I petition. I do all those things. How far do we go? Is it give me liberty or give me death? How disruptive do we need to be? How disruptive is it appropriate to be in this moment or ever in the social change business?
Deva: Well, I mean, I don’t know. People have to assess that for themselves, right? I mean, I think that there are moments for, you know, physical, forceful revolution, as, you know, Frantz Fanon taught us. But there are also moments for revolutions that are, you know, revolution is never bloodless, but that aren’t directly born of war. For example, what happened in South Africa and the overturning of governance there. And then there are times for restructuring, you know, and a reorientation of structures in society that’s short of revolutionary, but still very significant. And then yet there are other times when what you need is a vigorous kind of reform or cleansing, right. Like it’s situational, right. And people have to sort of decide that together. And it’s a negotiation also. It’s not always path dependent. You know, sometimes things change as people go along. So I would say that the sort of, in the American case for now and sort of around the world in places where people have been marching and protesting, but also sometimes setting things on fire and also taking down monuments, you know, and also, right. Like I feel comfortable with that level of engagement. You know what I mean? And because people seem very clear about the kinds of transformation that they want and people seem really clear that they don’t want it to be bloody.
That’s the thing, is that whenever people like, sort of, gnash their teeth about the violence, the violence of these protests, it’s estimated that somewhere between 25 and 30 million people were in the streets just in America this summer. If people wanted to be violent, we would have been in a civil war with bodies on the ground. Now we have bodies on the ground. But it’s because of an infectious disease that our current administration refuses to do anything to control. The protest didn’t even add to the spread of COVID 19, a deadly virus that is going around. It is like the epitome of peaceful protest. And I refuse to accept any other kind of characterization because a few buildings got set on fire. I mean, that’s just, it’s absolutely ridiculous. It doesn’t. Given the scale of the protest, if violence was in any way in the purview of even one percent of the people who were in the street, we would’ve been looking at something very, very different than what we saw, which was mostly people, you know, huge multiracial coalitions of people marching with their children.
Betty: With masks on.
Deva: With masks on for the chance to live in a society they can be proud of.
Betty: And Deva, you mentioned the pandemic, of course. And we sit in this time with the pandemic as a driver or as a crucible for all of this shift and a reconsideration of a lot of things, because there’s a lot that’s going wrong and the ways in which government has not cared for us. Do you feel that these confluences of crises is pushing this drive towards how do we live together, you know, and what’s next then? How do we get out of this or where do you see this going in your wisdom and your research and your observations on this?
Deva: Well, look, I can’t tell you what the end of this is, but I agree with you that this is a critical juncture. This is one of those times in history that you read about. But the reassuring thing, maybe reassuring, is that if you look at 100 hundred years ago, right, you look at 1919, we’re kind of in the same spot, right?
Betty: Yeah. Tell us what spot, because you know the spot better than we know the spot and that might help us.
Deva: Well, you know, at the beginning of the 20th century, we were in the midst of a world war after a global pandemic, in the midst of uprisings for racial justice, in the midst of trying to figure out the transition of power in the United States. Also between the sort of 19th and 20th century, is trying to figure out what sort of difference was going to be between how we carried on, you know, sort of with each other. We were in the middle of the Bolshevik Revolution and the beginnings of what we now think of as the labor movement. It was also a critical juncture where everything seemed to be changing at the same time because it was and nothing about how it turned out was inevitable. It was all contingent and it had to do with the way that people worked together to resolve all the problems that butted up together at that moment. Now, they didn’t come up with any perfect solutions, right. And the solutions that they did come up with have run their course, right. But this is the moment for us to set the terms of the 21st century, right. This is the moment in which we are doing that.
And the truth is, is that you don’t get a chance to do this unless there is such a juncture as this. So even at the same time as it is excruciating, it’s also an incredible opportunity because this is the moment where we can decide actually everybody deserves a living wage, free health care, leisure time. And we also are going to think about governance as what do we need, how do we need to distribute responsibility so that everyone can live and thrive, right? So that we can invent in a human way. So that we can both share resources and innovate. Like this is the time that we sort of start to institutionalize those things. And it’s important to sort of do that in policy. But also it’s about changing your mind about how government works and what it’s supposed to be for. Because that’s also what changed at the beginning of the 20th century, right. Like, there began to be this idea that the government should provide enough stability so that people could reach prosperity. Most people could reach prosperity. That had never been a kind of idea. There was no idea that most people could be prosperous before the 20th century or so.
Betty: Yeah, it was all that nobility.
Deva: It wasn’t even on the board, right? It was just like most people are going to be poor and die young and that’s the way that is. So, but people change their mind about what was possible. And so then tried to put in place an apparatus that could make what they believed possible, actually possible in the world, at least for some people. So we are at the same moment. We have to decide what we believe is possible and then put in place the apparatus that makes it possible for most people, right. Like so, you know, it’s all it’s work and it’s terrifying. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’re in a terrifying moment. But, you know, critical junctures are always terrifying.
Jonathan: But you know what? You’ve framed it in an optimistic way. You’ve said we’re at a critical juncture and change is possible.
Deva: And there’s also international examples of different forms of leadership as well. I mean, look, Jacinda over in New Zealand is like showing us the way, right.
Deva: And she, you know, people are learning from that, right. Especially under the kind of question that we have now hanging about us. Can we create a society in which people can live and thrive, right? And let the tradeoffs be, you know, something that we’re willing to deal with. And we look around the world and we see some examples of people who are making it work.
Betty: And one of the takeaways from what you said before is that these organizers and the organizing work to show people that they have agency. And that is very important in terms of individual change and in terms of societal change. So that is something that I think people lose sight of. And you need the organizers and movements to show people that they actually have agency in government and that it’s not just this monolith that you can’t attend to or get involved with.
Deva: Right. I mean, the movement has just had its first election of someone who was politicized and raised in the movement who has gone to Congress, right. Cori Bush just beat a 30 year political dynasty in St. Louis and now is a new congressperson, right. And that follows a wave of people who weren’t necessarily politicizing the movement, but who have been cultivated by the organizations that support movement, people who have come out of Run for Something, people who have come out of Higher Heights for America, which is just a group that prepares women of color to run for office, right. Like so you don’t have to tell people that they have to be satisfied with the choices that are on the table. You have to go about the work of actually creating new choices and that’s already begun. And so that does make me hopeful. You know, social movements have a logic that this kind of change takes time and that we have a huge moment of potentiality that people are trying to take advantage of, although outcomes are not guaranteed.
Betty: Yeah, yeah.
Deva: Right like, and it is very stressful.
Betty: Yeah, very, very stressful.
Jonathan: Especially when we’re living in an era of minority rule
Deva: That’s right.
Betty: Yes. Yes. But I think what you see particularly emphasized was agency and that people can develop agency. They might not have it right now, but they can gain it and they can learn it and they can spread it. And that is really, really significant because I think there are a lot of people who feel very overwhelmed and therefore inactive or frozen. And that’s very, very distressing.
Deva: Yeah. And I love your psychology analogy because, one, the movement does take this perspective of healing justice really seriously. Out of the disability justice movement, but also has roots in this idea that to be well is a process that takes time, right.
Deva: Like to make yourself well takes, is a process that takes time. And political change is a, kind of, course towards social wellness. So, of course, it’s a process that takes time and you have to sort of invest in it. So I actually I really like, I have not thought about it as almost like the process of therapy, but it is almost like the process of therapy.
Betty: There’s a lot of confluence in it. And I think that’s the way it can be connected to and it, that’s why it’s so apt that it’s the politics of care. You know, it’s not the politics of progress or it’s not the politics of industry.
Betty: It’s the politics of care.
Betty: There are a lot of similar and parallel.
Deva: Right, because the process is the thing. The outcome is not the thing. The process is the thing.
Deva: Because you don’t quite know what wellness looks like at the beginning, right.
Betty: Right. And you find it along the way. You find what it feels like. So to feel good so.
Deva: That’s awesome.
Jonathan: Deva, thank you for making the choice to join us on Mind of State.
Deva: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
Betty: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Mind of State. If you like this episode, you’ll find plenty more on Apple podcasts or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
Jonathan: You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at Mind of State Pod. Our website is MindofState.com.
Betty: Mind of State is produced by Alletta Cooper and Jenny Woodward. Special thanks to our co-founder, Thomas Singer. I’m Betty Teng.
Jonathan: And I’m Jonathan Kopp. Join us next time on Mind of State.