Episode #56: What’s It Feel Like To Be Asked to Save The World? (transcript)
Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important, my name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: And my name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: And this is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone, including you, including me, including Brian, and Teddy, on the planet, right now, or in the next 10 years or so. If it can kill us, or turn us into that beam of energy from 2001, we are in. Our guests are scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians, astronauts, almost astronauts, even a reverend, and we work together with you and our guests towards action steps our listens can take with your voice, your vote, and you dollar.
Brian: And this is your friendly reminder that you can always send questions, thoughts, feedback, jokes to us on Twitter, @ImportantNotImp, or email us at FunTalk@ImportantNotImportant.com.
Quinn: Brian, this week's question is what's it like when you've been asked to come up with the plan to save everything?
Brian: No big deal.
Brian: Our guest is Rhiana Gunn-Wright. She is writing the policy for that little thing you might have heard of called the Green New Deal. She's 29 years old. She's a Yale grad and Rhodes Scholar from Chicago.
Quinn: What what?
Brian: What's up? And she's the policy director for the New Consensus, having worked previously for the Abdul El-Sayed campaign, and, oh, also in the White House for the greatest person ever, first lady, and first in our hearts, especially Quinn's, Michelle Obama.
Quinn: Oh, just the best. It felt like we were four degrees of Kevin Bacon away from Michelle Obama [crosstalk 00:01:44]
Brian: Can we get Michelle Obama-
Quinn: Could you imagine?
Brian: ... for a future podcast?
Quinn: Would I be able to talk?
Brian: I don't think so.
Quinn: I don't think so.
Brian: I don't think so.
Quinn: Right? It's black or white. I would either not stop-
Brian: Right, right, right, or be dead silent.
Quinn: Or not be able to say anything. I told you it would happen when I listened to her audio book.
Brian: I heard just, like, a trailer for her audio book, which, of course, is her-
Quinn: Right? It's her.
Brian: ... reading her book [crosstalk 00:02:03]
Quinn: So, here's what happens if you listen. It's great, sure, read the book, buy the book, great. What happens when you listen to it is, because she read it, is you can, which, of course, is what I did, start every day, and end every day, with her talking to you, which is everything I've ever dreamed of.
Brian: Doesn't seem terrible.
Quinn: Rhiana is a damn close second. This was delightful, informative, empowering, inspiring. She's a hell of a human being.
Brian: Yeah, she is.
Quinn: And it became very clear that we are lucky this I the person more or less controlling our future.
Brian: We've had a few of those recently.
Quinn: Yep, yep, yep. You know, I understand how it feels like shit is pretty tough out there, but man, it feels like, for the first time in a while, not officially elected officials, but literally everybody else, I think we're in good hands.
Quinn: I'm pretty-
Brian: I feel great after talking to her.
Quinn: I'm pretty pumped about that. So anyways, let's cut to it, man. Let's go talk to Rhiana.
Quinn: Our guest today is Rhiana Gunn-Wright, and together we're going to talk about what it's like when you've been asked to come up with the plan to save everything. Rhiana, welcome.
Rhiana: Hi. It's terrifying.
Rhiana: Spoiler alert.
Brian: Oh, good.
Quinn: Yeah. Short version.
Rhiana: Too long, didn't read.
Rhiana: It's terrifying.
Quinn: ... for the podcast, it's terrifying.
Brian: Yeah, we're going to get into all that good stuff. Awesome. We are so pumped to have you. If you could, Rhiana, give everybody a quick little who you are and what you do.
Rhiana: Yeah, so I am Rhiana. I'm originally from the South Side of Chicago. I am a policy person. I hate the word wonk, so I don't really use it. But I work in policy, I have since I graduated college in 2011, and now I lead the Green New Deal project at New Consensus, which is one of the main think tanks working on the Green New Deal, and probably like the main sort of clearing house for experts, and research, and whatnot.
Quinn: Into it. And how did you find your way into that gig?
Rhiana: So, like I said, so I've been working in policy since about 2011, well, I graduated. Yeah, and so I was an analyst for a while. I was also a design researcher, so I worked in, actually, user experience for a while, at an ed tech startup.
Rhiana: I finished that job in like 2015, or my project was over. Then I moved to Detroit to work as the policy analyst at the Detroit Health Department. Then the head of the Health Department, Abdul El-Sayed, decided to run for governor for Michigan, and he asked me to be his policy director.
Rhiana: So, after a lot of hemming and hawing, I agreed, so we did it. We released about 250 pages of policy during the campaign, about 11 full ... like, 11 full policy agendas. And just for a check, most gubernatorial campaigns don't have a policy director, and they put out maybe 30 to 40 pages of policy, on the high end.
Quinn: So you're an overachiever.
Rhiana: Yes, kind of, but I don't really know how we did it, but ... And for lots of reasons, we thought it was important. So, we did it, and the policy ended up, especially towards the end of the campaign, getting a lot of coverage.
Rhiana: So, we didn't win our primary, so I was, like, totally ready to just start applying for law school, figure out what to do next, and the heads of New Consensus reach out to me, and essentially ask me, would you do for America what you did for Michigan? And I was like, yeah, if you pay me enough.
Quinn: Right, I'll do anything.
Rhiana: And I was like yeah, sure, because essentially my brand now, I'm figuring out, is do you have a really big, progressive idea? Do you not know how to do it? Do you need someone dumb enough to agree? You should go to Rhiana. So, now that's kind of what I do.
Rhiana: And it was partially because we did a state level single payer plan on the Abdul campaign that was, like, had ... We figured out the taxes you would need to pay for it. We had figured out sort of, like, reimbursement levels and benefits. So, it was like really designed out, and I think that was the moment, because people have been like, you can't ... how do you do single payer at a state level? And then we put out this plan, and then people were like, ah! So you're the one I call for impossible tasks.
Quinn: Right, and you're like, oh, no, no, no, no, no, that's not what ...
Rhiana: I was like, I, um, uh, I mean, uh, like, uh, okay.
Rhiana: I guess I'm not busy, so ... So yeah.
Brian: What have you gotten yourself into?
Rhiana: Yeah, I really, honestly don't know. And so, that's how it happened. The Green New Deal was the first project that New Consensus was taking on. So, I took the policy lead on that, and accidentally became pretty passionate about climate and climate change, which I was not for most of my career, not that I didn't care, but I worked on, like, poverty and equity.
Rhiana: And so, to me, even, I was just talking about this on Twitter yesterday, climate change, I knew it was an existential crisis, I knew it was really big, and important, and threatening. But with the people that, to me, that I wrote policy for, and that I was intending to serve, climate change is not on their top list of threats, right? They face a lot more present threat, present as like they define it, and as we see it.
Rhiana: So, I just didn't ... And climate also felt like a very white policy area to me, so I just couldn't connect up how climate change was actually ... and more the economic system that supports climate change was also at work with the issues that I was caring about, and the communities that I was trying to write policy for.
Rhiana: But working on the Green New Deal I've learned way more about that, and now I'm actually super passionate about the Green New Deal, and think it is really, deeply important for not just our generation, but for even just the moment that we have now, and for really trying to figure out how do we solve this crisis that is not, even though we talk about it as very political, it's not a political game. People will die. Like, millions of people will die if we don't deal with it.
Quinn: And coming back to what you worked on before, it's not ... the rate of attrition is not going to be equitable.
Rhiana: No, no, not at all, and there's actually ... I was just reading this paper the other day that was talking about how, like, in really rich nations, like the US, that have really high levels of income inequality, the worse the inequality becomes, the worse climate change, like, the more emissions go up.
Rhiana: It was just really interesting, because no one really knows the mechanisms, right? No one knows why it happens, but there's not just a growing body of research that says this is what is happening. And so, one of the theories is that because the burdens of climate change are faced so inequitably we have hotspots with pollution. I lived in Detroit, which is like a hotbed for environmental justice issues.
Rhiana: Because of that, actually, there's less action on climate, because the folks who profit the most from it have the most power, and they can sort of siphon off the ills to other people with less power, right? And so it actually makes it hard to build a collective movement, which I thought was an interesting theory about why it happens.
Quinn: No, it's rich white people ruining everything, continuing to ruin everything. Tale as old as time, man.
Quinn: All right, well, I want to dig into that more, for sure. Brian, set us up here.
Brian: Absolutely. Just like every time we do this, everybody, this is our goal, okay?
Brian: We want to provide some context for the question or the topic that we're talking about today, and then figure out some action oriented questions to ask that get to the heart of why we should all give a shit about you, Rhiana, and what you do, and figure out what we can all do about it.
Rhiana: Well, you don't have to give a shit about me.
Brian: I don't know, a little bit. You seem pretty cool.
Quinn: Oh, well, wait until you get to the next question. So, listen, we do like to start things off with one important question, and this is where you kind of fucked up by not listening ahead of time. It's fine.
Rhiana: Uh oh.
Quinn: Oh, yeah.
Rhiana: Uh oh.
Quinn: Oh, it's okay. It's going to be fine.
Brian: We like it better when they don't listen.
Quinn: It is more fun when they don't listen.
Quinn: So, Rhiana, everybody gets asked this. I want you to be bold and honest. Our question is, why are you vital to the survival of the species?
Quinn: Yes. That might be the best reaction we've gotten so far.
Brian: So good.
Quinn: Look, I want you to be honest about it, seriously. You know, both, like, existentially and pragmatically, why are you here, man?
Rhiana: So, I think ... So, on a pragmatic level, I think I'm vital because I think I function as this very weird bridge between quite fierce progressive values and the rigor that is inherent in policy, and I think too often those worlds actually don't intersect.
Rhiana: And I think often it's because of this really, excuse my French, like, really fucked up idea that if you have big ideas then you can't be rigorous, or it's all fantasy, or you're not serious, or you're some sort of kid.
Rhiana: And I don't think that that's true, so I think I have a weird and unique ability to communicate to both camps, and also just more broadly about why these things matter, and to explain the sort of rationale for the Green New Deal and other policies I've worked on, and why they make sense, in terms that people can actually access.
Rhiana: We can talk about this more later, but a lot of it is because I never felt like I had much power throughout most of my life, always wanted to write policy for people who felt like that, or people who grew up in communities like I grew up. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago.
Rhiana: And so, I've always, like from even writing my senior thesis, I've always tried to write in terms that people could understand so that they can access the knowledge, and it's actually turned out ... I got shamed for it kind of early in my career, but it's turned out to be useful.
Rhiana: And then, I think, on a personal level, I think climate change is really scary, and I'm a bit of a nihilist, right? Like, I don't fear death a ton, right? Unless I'm in particular situations. I mean, I'm also a Christian, so my faith has part to do with that.
Rhiana: But I think a lot of the response to climate change is a very human response, right? Who hasn't really, like, fucked something up, and it's become so big and terrible, and you don't know how to deal with it, and you just turn away, and you're just, well ... Like, we're essentially just trying to ghost the planet, at the moment.
Rhiana: But we have figured out that we can't actually end this relationship, and the moon hasn't worked out, and we don't know where else to move.
Quinn: Yeah, nope, nope, nowhere to ... You got nowhere to go.
Rhiana: So we're like, well, we have to fix this now, and I think it can be really overwhelming, especially if you are really scared about death, and about what could come, because it's a terrifying thing to think about.
Rhiana: So, I think I'm vital because I'm not particularly afraid about that, and I think actually death can be a weird motivator in the sense that, like, none of us get out alive. Like, what's the point of amassing huge amounts of reputation if you don't use it to actually make anything better, right? Like, you're ...
Rhiana: So I think that that's actually really useful at a time like this. I always felt bad about not being a more hopeful person throughout my life, but it's actually, I think, coming in handy now, because I'm like, well, who cares if I don't have hope? Like, we just need action, and maybe hope will come along, but I don't need hope to do the work that I do.
Quinn: I like it. I like it. You've really laughed at my question, and now you had a really substantive answer to it.
Rhiana: Well, because it's like a weird thing, like, I don't know. It's also like, why are you vital? Often, I mean, it's just [inaudible 00:14:45] weird ... Like I said, I'm kind of a nihilist, like, I'm kind of a depressive, and so I'm like, does anyone matter? We're all just tiny atoms in the world.
Rhiana: And so, when anyone asks me, like, I've just never been asked, like, why are you valuable? It's also weird, like, as a black woman. Like, I think especially women, but especially women of color, you're sort of taught always that, like, to stand in any sort of power or gifts that you have is not okay, or is a threat, or puts a target on your back, even for something as simple as Twitter trolls.
Rhiana: So, it's something that I've only gotten more comfortable about now, and really only in the context of this fight, and the campaign, because I can't be talking about big ideas if I don't seem confident, everyone else is going to be like, what the fuck are you talking about? I'm like, I don't know either! It's all very terrifying! You know? So, you have to ... I've had to sort of work on it.
Quinn: I get it. I mean, I get it, but at the same time obviously never could, because I'm a white guy, and those things haven't been an issue, because that's the system we designed. Good work, everybody.
Rhiana: Yeah, people are like, white man, tell me everything that you've ever done well in your life, and we shall applaud you for it.
Quinn: Yeah, yeah, yeah, or even the things you didn't do well, you know? You kind of fucking backed your way into. Tell me how you failed upwards, everybody.
Quinn: All right, we're going to get into that more, because I am interested.
Rhiana: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quinn: All right, so, little context. We had a whole podcast on the background and the future of the Green New Deal with your pal, the incredible Varshini, so I won't, for everybody, rehash what the actual New Deal was, a vast infrastructure plan to drag us out of the depression, and prevent it from happening again, and mobilizing our workforce like never before, or how successful it was, or how it's been measured at various points throughout history, mixed, but God knows what would have happened without it, or why a green version needs to exist, which is because look out your fucking window, shit's either on fire, under water, or the polar vortex is in your backyard, and it should not be.
Quinn: But this is an important reminder, though. We semi joke about this stuff, it's not a moment to panic, right? Because panic is paralyzing.
Quinn: So, yes, we are running like 30 years behind emissions, and some things are irreversible. We are in full adaptation mode. But we can slow this thing down. Like one of our previous guests, the amazing Doctor Marvel at NASA has said, this whole 12 year number that everybody uses is not some fucking cliff we're going to fall off, but it is a slope, and we can claw our way back up it. So, we can slow this thing down.
Quinn: We can adapt, we have to adapt, and we can build-
Quinn: ... a far healthier, more sustainable, and certainly more equitable society.
Quinn: But that requires a plan, and that plan-
Quinn: ... requires an architect, and Brian and I have kidnapped that architect and got her on the phone. So, I want to dig into this question, which is, again, what is it like when you've been asked to come up with a plan to save everything?
Quinn: And Rhiana, this is what I think is so specific here, which is throughout modern history, the list of people that have been asked, or forced, to come up with a plan to save the world, whether in books, or TV, or movies, or in real life, is super fucking white, and very dude heavy, right?
Rhiana: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: Basically variations on Bruce Willis, or-
Rhiana: Various John Waynes.
Quinn: Right, or John Wayne, maybe Sarah Connor, but they all seem lovely, and they have a decent track record. For a minute we had Will Smith, who did such a great job, right? We didn't deserve him.
Rhiana: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Quinn: Will Smith was a ... Aliens, Zombies, didn't matter, killed it, right? Handing over his organs to various strangers, the greatest guy. But it is time, very clearly, for a different perspective, because shit is not working.
Quinn: So, Rhiana, I am very confident you think of yourself as much more complicated than simply a black woman in America, but let's-
Rhiana: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quinn: ... start there, as it is the most obvious, if not the most superficial difference. So, are there any specific pressures, either internally, or externally, in your role, that, you know, sure, obviously, getting to the position you've in, must have been a similar road to which you're turning on now, like you said, women of color, not exactly encouraged to show their power.
Quinn: So, I'm just, I'm curious about that.
Rhiana: Well, I feel like there's a lot of context, so-
Rhiana: ... first, there are a lot of women involved in the Green New Deal who sort of fit this ... Who are not white dudes, right? And so, I mean, the main spokesperson is Representative Ocasio-Cortez, who's a Latina woman. You talked to Varshini, who's the executive director of sunrise, and also, what a babe, right? Like, she's just the best. What a babe.
Quinn: You can say that.
Rhiana: Yes, you can say it, but she's amazing, and I don't mean, like ... I mean, she's beautiful, but also just, like, that brain, that passion, like, oo, I just love her.
Brian: She was [crosstalk 00:20:05]
Quinn: No, we hung up the phone and I was like, just give her all the things. Let her do all the things. Great.
Rhiana: Yeah, give her all the money.
Quinn: Whatever it is-
Rhiana: Give her all the things, let her run.
Quinn: ... don't care.
Rhiana: And so, I think that's been really helpful, because even though I know the world doesn't expect that face, or I feel like I'm in a community of other people, right? And it's not just I'm ... Like, the executive director of New Consensus is a black man, Demon Drummer, who used to be an organizer in, actually, the neighborhood I grew up in, Englewood, in Chicago.
Brian: Oh, cool.
Rhiana: And everyone else, I mean, there's also white men involved, but they are so supportive, and so, just, committed to having our voices heard, and helping us navigate the space, and supportive of the work, that that has made it easy, easier.
Rhiana: I think the other thing is I don't really read a ton of press, right? Like, I'm working on the Green New Deal, I generally don't need to read hot takes on it, right?
Brian: Yeah, no, fuck no.
Quinn: Please, God, don't.
Brian: Don't start.
Rhiana: Is it going to change the work that I do? Not really. And so, that helps. I tend to build a bit of a bubble around myself, especially, and it's funny, especially when I'm doing work like this, because I find that I can be really empathetic.
Rhiana: I also was raised, and grew up, in a policy world that's very ... where there's so much emphasis on seeming serious. And for a long time I had these sort of progressive values, but I wrote policy that was much more in a neoliberal framework because I thought that was what I had to do.
Rhiana: I thought that was the only framework I had to work with. I knew that the two weren't matching up, but I was like, well, this is what it is. The folks that I admired, I mean, a lot of them didn't, but a lot of them did. And it just seemed like, to step out of that box, especially as a black woman, could really endanger my career and whatnot.
Rhiana: And this is one of the other reasons, in the Green New Deal people constantly talk about, like, why equity? Blah, blah, blah. But the fact is that people live with the repercussions of policy decisions that were made before they were born.
Rhiana: And so, for me, that pressure to be serious felt really intense, because I feel this pressure to create wealth that I can pass on to my kids in one generation, which is a big fucking lift, right? And that is largely-
Quinn: Well, I mean, it's the complete fucking opposite of the current situation, right?
Rhiana: Yeah, which is really, really hard, and that all has to do with the ways that my family, as a black family that came from the South, was excluded, right? From all the sort of ... all of these protections that could have helped them build wealth, and now, you know, I'm here.
Rhiana: And so, I was thinking about all those things, so I know that I can be really susceptible. And so, when I'm trying to do this sort of policy work where I'm constantly trying to think outside of the box, and trying to stay focused on what is right, right?
Rhiana: Because even if something ... I mean, things have to make economic sense, right? But at a certain point, I don't care how much money it takes to make black people free, to make Latino people free, to have indigenous folks have treaties respected. I don't care, because it's the right thing to do.
Rhiana: And it's hard to hold on to that when there's a lot of noise, because often we think of those things as like extras, and if you can get them, you get them, but they're not essential, quote unquote, because they're not the economic ... or, you know, it's not ... because this doesn't have to do completely with productivity and growth, or whatever, even though it does have a lot to do with that.
Rhiana: And so-
Quinn: It does, and that's the thing, is like-
Rhiana: Oh, a ton. A ton.
Quinn: ... we just happen to be at this crazy fucking crucible moment where inequality is a nightmare, African Americans have seen exactly zero support and growth forever, still none.
Quinn: And, you know, but at the same time we have all these ... Everyone's like, it doesn't have to be about employment, and you're like, the two fastest fucking growing jobs in the country are clean energy, and it's like, why aren't we using this workforce and making it more equitable, and let people have a living wage, and ...
Rhiana: Exactly, exactly. And so, I tend to sort of create a bubble, so I don't hear a lot. I generally work, and then I just, like, watch Real Housewives and hang out with my dogs.
Quinn: But your-
Brian: Such a good show.
Quinn: But your Twitter game is so fucking strong, and specifically your gif, gif, I can never get it right, game is-
Rhiana: Oh, yeah.
Quinn: ... out of control.
Rhiana: Thank you. I love them.
Quinn: So, you do put yourself out there a little bit.
Rhiana: I do, and that's a very new part of my job. I have been in the background, and I've also worked for principles for a while, right? So like, when you work on a campaign, like, I work for a candidate, I work for a principle who has their own platform that has their own ideas, and my job is to support them, it's not to necessarily be seen, or to speak.
Rhiana: And I think I took to that part a lot, because I kind of don't mind being in the background, probably more than that was necessary. But now it's become clear that if we're trying to really help people understand why a Green New Deal is necessary, if we're trying to help people understand why you need to deal with equity and climate together, and how, in fact, that's not a trade off, right?
Rhiana: If you're going to be talking back against these ideas that the Green New Deal is just a bunch of kids that put it together, or it's just a laundry list of progressive policies, someone has to talk about the rationale, and the reasons, and the thought behind it, and give people a space to talk back, and to interact.
Rhiana: I kept waiting for someone to do that, and no one was. So I was like okay, fine, I guess I have to do it. And so, that's really new, and a part of this work that I'm getting more comfortable with, but that has been really quite a bit ... quite jarring for me.
Rhiana: But, I mean, as far as the policy design parts, it feels ... it's definitely not going to be easy. And you're talking to me now, as we're sort of ramping up and starting. Talk to me in November and I'll be like, this is the worst! I hate it!
Brian: Can we schedule that talk now? We'd love to have you back.
Rhiana: You absolutely can, and I'll complain a lot.
Brian: Perfect, perfect.
Rhiana: But right now I don't feel alone, because I'm not under any illusions that I will create this plan from my brain. And so, that's one of the things that I think is really exciting about new leaders, is because I think for so long we had this, like, lone hero mentality about problems. Like, one person shall come and have all of the thoughts. We'll have an Einstein come and solve our problems.
Rhiana: But the fact is that I just don't think that's real, and I think beyond it not being real, I think policy is nothing but collective solutions to collective problems. And so, you should be moving in alignment, and building consensus, and listening to people.
Rhiana: So it doesn't freak me out a ton, because I feel like I'm not alone, and every day we build more relationships, and more people come on board and want to be involved. So like, if I have a question about the economics, I have probably 10 leading economists I can call, right? And be like, does this make sense? And so it's easier, because I don't feel like I have to come up with everything on my own.
Rhiana: And also, it's fun. I love designing systems. I love thinking about systems. I love the fact that we are finally reviving this idea that, like, so little of this is just the way that we live is from God, that these are systems that are constructed. And they weren't always constructed for efficiency, they were constructed, often, to keep some people in certain places where they could be exploited, or-
Brian: What do you mean?
Rhiana: ... would stay in particular lanes, right?
Rhiana: So I love this idea that we're reviving, and that I get to work on all the time, which is that, like, if we built these systems, we can rebuild them. We can build a different world, right?
Rhiana: That's also why, when people talk about the politics of it, it doesn't bother me so much, because to me politics is the most movable part of this, right?
Rhiana: Like, politics is literally people. People are in the way? You can help people. You can change people, right? What we can't change is climate change, right? That is an immovable force. But-
Quinn: Right, and that's the thing we've talked about a lot on here, is it's like, you know, Russians try to put nukes in Cuba, it's like, you know, that just got negotiated away, and then that thing was over. This is ... That is not how this particular problem works-
Quinn: ... which is, like, it's here. The thing is here, and like you said-
Brian: [crosstalk 00:29:11]
Quinn: ... that does not just ... We can deal with the people thing, we can ... Whatever. This specific thing, this hole we've dug is just here. You have to do it. You have to.
Rhiana: Yeah, exactly. So, for me, it's kind of exciting, because I love being a black person and finally being in a position where I can look around and say, in fact, these things in this world don't work, and I'm going to work with other folks to put forward a new vision, and a vision that's just ... it's not just about what is politically feasible, but really a vision for how do you build a more just country, which has always been my dream. So, it's pretty cool.
Brian: Yeah, so, I mean, while it is a collective effort, obviously, and this whole thing isn't on your shoulders alone, what specific perspectives are you bringing to this effort, and the plan that, you know, a rando white guy can't even think about?
Rhiana: Yeah, so I think there's a couple things. I think the first one ... Well, one, I'm not like a climate hawk or an enviro, and I don't say that in a way that's dismissive, I just mean I come from a different space. And so, I think sometimes, like, in terms of ...
Rhiana: Like, I come from a different space, and a lot of my work has been focused on intersectionality, even before I went to Oxford, like, I actually wrote about it in my Rhodes essay about how I was really interested in figuring out how do you write policy that actually addresses multiple intersections of power, and the way that people are seated differently.
Rhiana: And really, what that gets down to is how do you make a policy that actually addresses the root causes of a problem for different groups of people? Because you can have ... people can present the same problem and not have the same cause, just like everyone who has a cough doesn't have a flu, right?
Rhiana: And so, I've been interested in that, and working on it in various areas of policy for a while. So that is what I bring, is that I don't ... I guess I don't really see silos a lot. Like, I recognize them, but I don't mind sort of moving past them, and I don't really have an issue thinking about sort of multiple intersections of ... It's hard, but I like to, and I think that that is a bit of a difference, and something that I bring.
Rhiana: And that was part of the reason that I was hired, was that there was such a ... the Green New Deal includes so much beyond even just energy, which is ... and climate, which we think about, but there are other parts of it, are meant to support the transition, sort of.
Rhiana: So, when people talk about the role of a jobs guarantee, or Medicare for all, thinking about what policies need to be in place so that people could actually participate, and actually get the jobs, and so that we aren't just laying investment on top of inequity and then going, oh, why didn't it all work out justly? And then we're like, what? If you set water on a slope it's going to run down the slope. It's not going to sit across, and like, lay across the whole field, right? Like, you're going to be dealing with the terrain that you're dealing with.
Rhiana: So, I think that I bring that in a way that maybe folks that didn't have to think, or have not felt powerless the way that I've felt powerless, or not felt powerless in front of these systems, feel powerless. And also because I don't profit from ... I mean, I profit from some of them, right? I'm a 29 year old black woman who is a Rhodes Scholar, and like, I have amassed immense amounts of social and political capital for a black woman at all, and really for a lot of 29 year olds in general.
Rhiana: And so, I mean, obviously some of those systems work for me, but I'm not invested in them that I don't mind trying to tear them down. So, I think that that is one thing.
Rhiana: And then the other reason I was hired was because of this policy approach, right? My background is actually, I wanted to be a journalist for most of my teenage years, and into college. I actually just wanted to be editor in chief of Vibe Magazine.
Quinn: Oh, yeah.
Rhiana: Yeah, and then Vibe folded, and I was like, well, what am I going to with my life?
Brian: It was Vibe or nothing.
Rhiana: Yeah, it was. I was like, well, I'm literally never going to work anywhere else.
Rhiana: So, I come from that background, it's all about sort of, like, how do you talk to people, and tell their stories, and how do you understand the world through stories. Then I trained as a qualitative researcher, which is, again, all about interviewing.
Rhiana: And then I was a UX designer, which is ... And we used a design framework, like, most of UX, called human centered design, which has all of these components, that is essentially about research and then feedback, prototyping and feedback, but it really centers in individuals' experience of a product, or of a change, or whatever, and understanding that.
Rhiana: I kind of, out of that amalgamation, although I'm sure someone else has done it before me, I had ... the policy model that we used on the Abdul campaign was really based in fieldwork and talking to communities, getting feedback, and it was a collaborative process.
Rhiana: We also, like, I was the only full-time policy person on staff, so it was also kind of a distributed organizing effort, in the sense that I had interns that worked on different things, and we put out this suite of policies from a very decentralized team.
Rhiana: And New Consensus was interested in that model, and that's the model that we're adopting for the Green New Deal. And it's actually been, even before we've started writing the policy, it's been really fruitful, because people feel engaged and respected on a level that I don't think they expected, whether they're a policy wonk, or an environmental justice group, or a community member, or someone talking to me on Twitter, right?
Rhiana: We try really hard to just be an open space where people can be heard, and can work with us to solve problems, and-
Quinn: Which is pretty rare.
Rhiana: Yeah, which I didn't realize, you know? Because I had ... I mean, I've been an analyst, but I had moved into city government, which is different than think tanks, and then, as policy director, I ran my own policy shop. So, I just structured it the way that it makes sense, and ... to me, the way it made sense to me, and it turned out it was useful.
Rhiana: I would have been hard pressed to come up with that model if I had been, I think, a white man, just because, I don't know, I think just the way that I was raised, and partially my culture, and then just my experiences. I just love collaboration, and just collective effort, so ...
Quinn: Yeah, white guys don't inherently default to that.
Brian: I don't think so.
Quinn: It turns out, you know? In a vacuum, you're like, oh, that's one example, but 400 years of history, turns out that's a statistic, and now it just goes, that didn't work.
Brian: We may have made some mistakes.
Rhiana: Yeah, and I think part of it is also that, like, when no one looks at you like you could be the lone hero, you don't have an expectation that you'll ever be the lone hero, at least for me. The people will look at a white man and say, like, he alone can solve this problem.
Rhiana: But society generally doesn't look at black woman, unless you're Michelle Obama, or now Stacey Abrams, you know? There's ... Or Oprah. There's like a compendium of a few black that people are like, just give them anything and they will fix it.
Rhiana: But for the average, I think, black woman, no one looks at you and goes, you alone shall save the world, right? And so, to me that was just ... it was pressure off, and it also meant, cool, I'll just work with other people, it's fine.
Brian: Yeah [crosstalk 00:37:12]
Quinn: I mean, two things. One, I only disagree in the sense that I do believe Michelle Obama should be queen of America, and not just informally, like she is. I mean, like, give her the powers. She is my everything.
Quinn: But two, it's like, that's what our entire presidential system has been built on, right? As much as ... You know, half the reason America was set up was to escape the king system. We've set up, you know, white guys running for office in the sense that, like, they alone can make this change, right?
Rhiana: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: And that's fundamentally ... I mean, it has worked in a few occasions, you know, where they have had enough effect, but that is only when they have all of the seats of power, or their party has all the seats of power, or like minded people have all the seats of power, and they can start to make that change. But it is, especially now, just fundamentally not working.
Rhiana: But history still remembers them as like the only one who did it, right?
Quinn: Right, which is crazy.
Rhiana: Like, they could have all of these supportive systems, people, and it's like, well, they alone did it. You know, I get it, because it's a ... I think, attractive myth, and so I get it.
Quinn: Sure, FDR did the New Deal, right. It's great, but, except for-
Rhiana: Right, it like-
Quinn: ... monumental challenges and legislative work to make something like that work.
Rhiana: Totally, yeah, and I think it's such an interesting shift now, because I think people ... It comes up specifically in articles from time to time, but I think something that people have been noticing through polling is that millennials tend to be, I think, a bit more collective in their thoughts about how to run a society, or politics, or, you know, whatever.
Rhiana: And to me, I'm wondering, like, we're the first ... I feel like we're the first generation to fully grow up in post Reagan era deregulation, deep individualism, about everyone's sort of, like, on their own, the government should not try to support you, right?
Rhiana: And I always wonder, is this a bit of, like, we lived through it, and now know kind of what it feels like to have so many supports taken away, that we have actually sort of swung in a different direction, and are like, actually, collectivism, this sort of thinking about other people, all of our fates are bound together.
Rhiana: You know, maybe it's just so utopian of me to think, but I wonder if that has something to do with it, because I just see among all my peers this kind of, like, intense rejection of this sort of system where you just have to be out for yourself, and super vigilant. And I think, possibly, because it's just super exhausting, and I don't know how people can keep it up, and everyone's very tired.
Quinn: No, I think it's all true. I mean-
Brian: I'm so tired.
Quinn: ... but it's also, like, I mean, we look at, you're also the first generation to completely come up with full connectivity online, right?
Quinn: And there are just, turns out, an exceptional amount of downside to that, right? In a huge variety of ways. But there is also this exposure you get if, should you choose to, and Twitter is better about this than others, or just generally, like, looking someone up, where you can be exposed to such a wider variety of worlds and people.
Rhiana: Yeah, or you can hear a totally different voice that you would never hear before-
Quinn: And it's like, look-
Rhiana: ... you know?
Quinn: Right, and, I mean, I think back to ... I'm, again, I'm from a small town in Virginia, my high school is 60 to 70% black, in all my schools, and 90% of the kids on free lunch, so I had a very significant exposure to what that life was like, and has stuck by me hugely, right? But a child does not choose where they grow up, so-
Rhiana: Right, yeah.
Quinn: ... there are plenty of kids in the northeast who didn't meet a black person until they went to college, right?
Quinn: But their school might have been 30 or 40% Jewish, right? Or I think about, and this is not the conversation anymore, but years ago it was oh, you're out there in Los Angeles in your bubble. And it's like, well, Los Angeles is not a ... it's not a bubble, you know?
Rhiana: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: I can't remember what the statistic is, but it's something like Los Angeles is home, and I always mangle the phrasing of this, to the second biggest population of like 40 different countries outside that home country.
Rhiana: Oh, wow.
Quinn: And you're like, that's not-
Rhiana: I didn't know that.
Quinn: ... that's not a bubble, you know?
Rhiana: No, no.
Quinn: I mean, it's a little different here than it is in New York, because everyone's in their car, not an exaggeration, so you're not just pressed up against them like you are in the subway in New York or DC. But the point is, is like in North Dakota it is much more of a bubble, so you don't have those.
Quinn: However, you know, you have to empathize with at least the children there, because they didn't choose to be born there and only be exposed to that.
Quinn: It's later, when they choose not to leave it, or in 2019, when there are so many advantages to being connected online and things like that, where you do start to pick and choose what you entangle yourself with, for better or worse, where you can go like, yeah, but you've chosen not to expose yourself, or to take part in those conversations, and that's different.
Quinn: And again, like you said, your generation is just seeing the ... at least some of your generation is seeing the collective benefit, and the necessity of doing that, and why it matters.
Rhiana: Yeah, totally, and we all have blind spots. Like, I'm a black woman, but I'm still American, which means I have national privilege.
Quinn: Of course.
Rhiana: I'm still cisgender, I'm still straight, right? And I'm still Christian, right? Which there's, like, advantages that I have. You know, I'm also college educated at this point. And so-
Quinn: You're fancy.
Rhiana: And so it's easy ... Yeah, I'm a fancy bitch.
Quinn: To be ... Once again, you said that.
Rhiana: Yeah, I'm a fancy bitch. But we have blind spots, and like you said, the internet helps. Like I, at times, where I found myself ... I try to do this thing where, like, if I find myself ignoring an issue that I know is pressing for people, but is too painful for me, or I feel like, oh, it doesn't matter, I try to follow someone who's in that fight, or a voice from a community that's affected by it.
Rhiana: So, like I remember, I followed ... I follow trans people now, because I don't have trans friends in my life on the daily, but I recognize, like, that's a struggle, and I found myself wanting to not look at the next story about a black trans woman that was murdered, and I recognize that as luxury. So at least, even if I can't engage the stories all the time, I'm hearing about it.
Rhiana: Or the detention centers and immigration, like, for me, I'm a born citizen of the US, right? And I've never lived in a border state, although Michigan is actually, technically, a border state. It is, yeah, so ICE actually has jurisdiction in all of Michigan because-
Rhiana: ... we're so close to the Canadian border. Yeah, it's not great.
Rhiana: But, like, so now I follow a couple of journalists who really follow those stories, because it's important, and just because I have the luxury to look away doesn't mean that I should. That's a luxury that I think my generation, like you said, uniquely has, that I can just get on Instagram and be like, oh, I should widen my perspective, let me follow this person, right? Let me hear their insight.
Quinn: It's like the Matrix, right? You can literally plug in-
Quinn: ... and get that, and say I know Kung Fu slash trans people's, you know, stream of thought experiences on Twitter.
Rhiana: Yeah, exactly.
Brian: What parts of the Green New Deal, because it seems like a lot, have been sort of no brainers? And then, opposite, what's been really hard to get included?
Rhiana: So, for us, everything related to ... Well, okay, equity was always a no brainer, right? Like, we defined very early that income inequity, or income inequality and climate change were the twin crises that the Green New Deal was going to attack, because they're deeply interconnected, and because what you need to solve one is actually the same thing, often, that you need to solve the other, and so ...
Rhiana: Transformative moments don't come around that often, so if you can solve two things at once, it is our stance that you should try. Some people disagree. I don't. I don't agree with them, obviously.
Rhiana: And so, now, figuring out what equity, what sort of ... what, related to equity, would be included, that was kind of difficult, because contrary to what people sometimes write in the press, we didn't actually want a laundry list of things. A lot of thinking, and spend a lot of thought, about what policies are needed to ensure that the transition is equitable, right?
Rhiana: So that's where we started, and that the fruits of the transition are also equitable, which is why we talk about ways to turn income into wealth, right? Because we know that that is, the wealth gap, is worse than the income gap, racially, and that is something that even if you pump income into communities, you don't necessarily, one, raise them out of poverty, which is a separate issue that has to do with around, like, in kind benefits, and health costs, and all these other things.
Rhiana: But two, that income doesn't necessarily turn into wealth unless you are helping people figure out vehicles to do that, connecting them to that.
Rhiana: And so, that was actually a little bit tricky, because we had to think really deeply about okay, is this needed to support the transition? So, some things were easy, like paid parental leave, right? Because if you can't have childcare, you can't work. And then some other things, like the jobs guarantee, because of the skills building component, was pretty crucial.
Rhiana: Now, the healthcare stuff we definitely thought about, and ended up being included, but that took a bit more thought, because we were like, well, this is a thing that's moving anyway, should we include it?
Rhiana: But then, obviously, you could see migration patterns changing, and so we were like, actually, as an employment policy, this is really important, because you can't have a mobile workforce if most insurance is employer provided, nor can you have people reenter the workforce if they have chronic conditions, or their family has chronic conditions, because it can make ... Like, Medicaid is the best sort of form of insurance for them, but because of asset limits and stuff, people could get kicked off, even if they do have a well paying job.
Quinn: Right. Right, it's a hell of a rabbit hole to go down.
Rhiana: It is really, really, really tough. So those were harder discussions. I mean, there's a lot of hard debates on the climate side, right? I hate talking about them as sides, but there's ... for the things that are focused more on decarbonization, there's a lot of issues that are very hot topics, like nuclear, or carbon price angle, or land use, and should we reverse suburbanization? These are all-
Rhiana: ... questions that are on ... Yeah, that's the thing, dealing with climate change, it changes everything. When you change your energy system, you change everything.
Rhiana: So, those are all questions. And we got off a little bit easy at the moment, although it won't last, because we're working on policy details, so we didn't have to weigh in on those. But those are going to be really difficult things to work through going forward, because they're really complex issues, and there are pros and cons on both sides. And often the cons have to do about how they impact frontline communities, and often those concerns are the ones that are first tossed aside.
Rhiana: So, navigating that, and really thinking, and really hearing from people, and reaching consensus around that, is going to be tough. We can do it, and we definitely will do it, but it will be hard.
Quinn: It's going to be a hell of thing, but-
Rhiana: Yeah, it's going to be really difficult.
Quinn: Yeah, I mean, a few things, it's like the people who were so lazy in their hot takes about this is a laundry list of progressive shit, it's like, if you want to see my laundry list, I'm happy to break that out. It is a lot more complicated, wonky, and-
Rhiana: Right, I was like, this doesn't have voting rights, like, what?
Quinn: Yeah, you want me to talk about where I want to build the fire to melt down all the guns? Let's get into that shit. But this is not that.
Quinn: It's comprehensive, but again, like, on a huge variety of reasons, it has to be. A, one, we have to do this. Two, inequality is raging, and this is actually one of the reasons why. When people say well, let's hold off on that, let's do it at a separate time. It's like, one, that's never worked-
Quinn: ... period. You know?
Rhiana: Literally never.
Quinn: That's never worked. And two, it's like, no, these things are connected. They do make a difference, you know? The people, the mostly black people in DC who cannot escape the heat at night because the nights are not as cool as they used to be, and also because there's no fucking trees in their parks and around their apartments, and they don't have air conditioners, you know, would like to tell you that these things are connected, because it makes them unable to work, because they're sick, and now they're in poverty even further than they were before.
Quinn: And yet, we can't even have a discussion about something like universal basic income, because, God forbid, it's socialism, you know? It's ...
Rhiana: Yeah, it's really, it's wild, and I've actually ... I used to be much better at making sort of the ... like an economic case, or an elegantly argued case for why equity and climate justice, and climate action, should be linked. And I'm struggling to make those arguments now, because at some point I'm like, if you are going to have some things on the table that can help people's lives, and all we have to do is try to design them out well so that they're equitable, why would you not do this?
Rhiana: I think I'm just getting tired of justifying why we shouldn't have some people suffer as collateral damage in economic terms. Like, I'm just over it. And so, at this point, I'm like-
Quinn: Yeah, how are we still having that conversation?
Rhiana: Yeah, but it happens all the time, and it comes from people that I, you know, building relationships with, that I respect, and I get where they're coming from. My personal patience for making that argument is really running ting, because at this point I feel like I shouldn't have to tell you why you shouldn't leave black, and Latino, and indigenous folks, and disabled folks behind again. Again.
Rhiana: Like, why do I ... Like I-
Quinn: For the 57th time.
Rhiana: ... I don't have time for this.
Rhiana: Yeah, and then turn around and be like well, you know what? Because it's often the same people that will turn around and go, we really have to do something about income inequality, like, it is not right that people can't afford medical care. And you're like, are you fucking kidding me right now?
Quinn: Right, no, it does, it gets exhausting to be the one-
Rhiana: So, we could solve this together.
Quinn: It's exhausting to be the one that has to constantly put together the eloquent argument, when eventually you're just like, how do you not fucking get it? Like, what do I have to fucking say to you in 2019 to make you fucking get it?
Rhiana: Yeah, and I think it's also just exhausting, like, it feels weird, honestly, as a black woman, to be making these arguments, because the opposite is policy that I know will leave people like my family behind. And so, it feels weird to try to argue with people about why they should care about the people that raised you, or that loved you, or that cared about you, why you should care about why we should try to make sure that they can also get the good paying jobs.
Rhiana: You know, it just feels like, at some points, sometimes, it feels like I'm arguing for my own humanity, and I'm like, this is gross. I don't want to be part of this. Because to me, even if it costs a bit more, but is going to reinvest in communities that we have disinvested in, and that a lot of their problems are directly attributable to policy decisions that we have made in the past, why would you not do that? Like, why? I don't, I just, I can't wrap my mind around it.
Quinn: Right, no, it's exasperating, and it's exasperating for me. I cannot even imagine the exponential level it is for you. But, you know, that comes back to one of my first questions for you is, like, this specific perspective you can bring is, like, this is, as much as you want to be the policy wonk Rhodes Scholar about this, this is also very personal to you, and there are-
Rhiana: Oh, yeah.
Quinn: ... as much as there are so many more women, and so many more people of color, and women of color, that are involved in this, like, to not have that perspective of someone who is fighting for a very personal thing, that can name names of people that will be ... that will, not might be, but will be affected for this-
Rhiana: Will be, yeah.
Quinn: ... because they've been affected by decisions in the past, is so necessary. Because five white guys in a room, not only will they not consider that, but it won't even fucking occur to them, and that is why we are here.
Rhiana: Yeah, and so, a really smart colleague of mine once said that policy isn't just about how we distribute power, it's also how we distribute pay, right?
Rhiana: I mean, part of policy is saying, yes, who will benefit, and how? But it's also saying who will suffer, how long they will suffer, when they will suffer, why they will suffer, where they will suffer. Sometimes you answer all those questions, sometimes just a bit, but you always figure out somebody ... Somebody doesn't always have to suffer, but a lot of times you are thinking about who will get the short end of the stick.
Rhiana: I think it's high time for policy to put people at the table who do experience the short end of the stick. Because it's really easy to say, oh, you know, yeah, that could happen, but we'll just make more services available, when you have never had to use any of those services, which generally have super long waiting lists, right? Which generally are understaffed, right? Who knows how long the benefit lasts, right?
Rhiana: And so, there's all these sort of barriers and limitations, and if you haven't experienced that pain, it's difficult to understand why you can't just continue redistributing that pain to people who've experienced it before-
Quinn: Sure. I mean, it's like, you look at-
Rhiana: ... right? Because you don't know.
Quinn: Right, and you look at like our Veteran's Affair Hospital, and what a complete nightmare it is, and it's designed by a bunch of people who dodged a draft, you know? Because that was the era, and so they never took part of it.
Quinn: And so, our military was huge, and now you have these people that are ... You know, they're like hundreds of thousands of cases behind at times, or the paperwork is a nightmare, because they just, the people designing it have never interacted with it. And if you've never interacted with it in any way, much less depended on it, you know, on the minuscule services that are provided. And like you said, who knows when it runs out? Who knows what the [inaudible 00:56:41]
Quinn: Like, that desperation to go no, this has to be much more solid, and has to consider these people this time for the first time, is so necessary.
Rhiana: Yeah, and I think it's also, now that you've gotten me thinking about, I guess, what I bring, it's also just an ear towards that. Something that has confused me, because I'm new to the climate sort of movement. Like I said, I started this project in September, so I've been here maybe six months. Like, do I even go here? I don't know.
Rhiana: So, I'm just sort of getting to be part of some of these fights, or see them. And something that really has confused me is that, so, we know that climate change, and greenhouse gases, and pollution, right? Disproportionately affect some populations. These are the same populations that, when we have green jobs, could struggle to access them, right? Especially if they require relocation, all these other things, right?
Rhiana: These are the same communities that are saying hey, climate action is great, but I need you to consider these sorts of things, because the pollution's getting dumped in my neighborhood, or, I keep hearing about the benefits, but I don't see anything.
Rhiana: And these aren't ... The climate, the EJ world is not small, right? There are a lot of people doing this. So, it's really odd to me to have people argue back and be like, well, actually, climate is the thing that we should ... you know, we can focus on equity later, we need to really think about how to stop this crisis, when the people who will be paying for the stopping of the crisis are the people who are asking you to pay attention to other things, you know?
Rhiana: So, it's an odd thing to be like, let's focus on fixing this. I know that we might fix it on your backs, and you're asking us to make some considerations so that the burden is a little bit heavier, but I'd rather not do that right now, you know? I'm like ... It just is ...
Rhiana: I'm starting to understand more where the tensions have come from, and the history, and that's been really helpful. But at first I was really, like, I don't understand. Because these people are, you know, EJ, it's not as though they're saying don't solve climate. It's not as though they're saying we don't want action. They deeply want action. Their lives depend on it. They're just asking for some policy considerations.
Quinn: Yeah, sure.
Rhiana: And it's interesting to me that even that can sometimes feel like it's being repudiated, which is bizarre to me.
Brian: No, it's true, yeah.
Quinn: I mean, yes, do we have to design the policies that put the price on the carbon, or the specific, you know, toxicity regulations for the water and air, or future incentives or policies around taking carbon out of the air? Yeah, of course, or the whole thing burns, the whole thing goes down.
Quinn: However, the EJ people are saying yes, but when it really comes down to it, the people who are affected by the burning and the polar vortex, like, we are the ones, and we've been getting hit with this, and you cannot leave us out this time, you cannot.
Rhiana: Exactly, exactly, and also, I think they're so ... so many things are interconnected, and that's what really has gotten me interested in climate, and more, much more, passionate about it, because the things that ... Like, if you put more income and more wealth in those communities, that's more tax revenue that's going to their municipalities, right?
Rhiana: Which means that they have more funding to do adaptation, and to have ... I mean, beyond just more funding for schools and whatnot, they have more money to physically adapt to protect the community from climate change, right? Which, if they can do that on their own, means that you, eventually, could have less federal money, or less state money, doing that.
Rhiana: So, if you also include them more, you'll have a more resilient country, right? In lots of ways, because you will have people that have more political power, but also just literally more material means, and that's going to flow into their communities and so forth.
Rhiana: Whereas the opposite is that you have what is going to present itself as a municipal finance program, or a problem, which is, you know, everyone who can afford to move from the communities that ... coastal communities that are going to be most affected, right? Other places that are really going to feel the effects, they're going to move away.
Rhiana: The people that are going to be left are the people that can't afford it, which you're going to see a shrinking of the tax base, which means that they are not going to have enough money, probably, for essential services, much less adaptation. Then you have a city that has gone bankrupt, right? And then it's a municipal finance program. Then you have emergency managers come in and tell those people how to run, and, right, and the whole thing is due to climate change, right?
Rhiana: But people aren't going to experience that as climate change. They're going to experience it as economic loss, the loss of services, the loss of jobs, right? The city's going to ... the locality's going to experience it as a loss-
Quinn: Yeah, we're literally leaving people behind.
Rhiana: ... of revenue, loss of workers, yeah. So it just ... It just doesn't make sense to me, because in lots of ways, just making sure that the transition to a green economy, to a zero carbon economy, includes everyone, and people have access to high quality jobs. Like, that's just, in the end, going to pay dividends.
Quinn: Sure, and you can always turn it around. One of the biggest things we've tried to do here is like, again, whatever ... not whatever, but mostly whatever gets us to the ends, and you want to meet people where they were. So you want to go to these people and go, do you realize that, okay, you want to do ...
Quinn: Let's do the carbon fee thing, and the money comes back to these people, and everything goes well, and the fee goes up, and we cut the pollution down. These people, these indigenous communities, and African American communities, and Latino communities have more money. You want to talk about small businesses and more money in the economy, let's let these people be job creators.
Rhiana: Right, yeah.
Quinn: And then they say no, and you're like oh, oh, it's just because you're a fucking racist, got it. Got it, you just actually don't want these people to be able to rise up. Let's just put that on the fucking table.
Quinn: But otherwise it's like, but you also hate services. So, now you're just leaving people. It's like, let's cut it to what it is, that's fine. Let's put it all out there, and then let's do it right. But don't hide behind, you know, oh, this is not going to help small business creators. It's like, well, no white ones. That's fine. The white ... Like you said, the people who can move away from the coast, got it.
Rhiana: Yeah, but it will ... Yeah, and it will help white small business owners too.
Rhiana: So, it's just the whole ... The discourse has been, I'm learning a lot, and the hard thing is it's a lot of people that I know really care about climate, and often care about equity, but I think it's just a moment where people are reassessing, and the rubber is really hitting the road. And sometimes it takes people some time to adjust, and to really sort of settle in for the long ride.
Quinn: Sure, well, and that's-
Quinn: ... what I want to pivot to here, and as-
Quinn: We've certainly kept you for a while, but I could ...
Rhiana: Oh, you're fine.
Quinn: I want to do this all day.
Quinn: But, so, everyone's like, oh, the Green New Deal! It's like, it failed! It's great! Everything is going to be great.
Quinn: It's like, okay, well, hold the fuck on. We've got at least two years, minimum two years, hopefully only two years-
Rhiana: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Quinn: ... until we can actually legitimately do something about it, right? But at the same time, as annoying and that is, because everyone's like 12 years minus two years is not great, these two years are absolutely essential to talking about this, and getting those people onboard that are going to take a minute.
Quinn: And at the same time, having these discussions, and advancing this thing, which will probably end up being a series of things, in the most productive-
Rhiana: Oh, yeah.
Quinn: ... and efficient way possible. So, what are ways our listeners can actually get really educated and invested in the overarching Green New Deal, and all the various pieces, whether they're coming at this from no knowledge, whether they aren't involved in environmental justice, or equity, or climate, or water, or air. But, knowing that we won't have a real vote on it until 2020, how can we gear these people up to be an active part of the conversation for the next year, two year?
Rhiana: Yeah, so I think there's a few things. One is, obviously, get informed. What I tell people is there's a lot ... because the Green New Deal, and the resolution, was meant to be a set of broad, high level goals, there's a lot of confusing information out there about what is in it, what does it mean, whatnot.
Rhiana: So, I always tell people, go to the official resolution. I mean, it's written in bill, like, legislative language, but it's still pretty easy to read. It's about 14 pages, but the spacing is ... I wish I could have used that spacing in college, I'll just say that.
Brian: Double spaced.
Quinn: Right? I try to do that every day.
Brian: Courier New font.
Rhiana: It's like triple spaced, like-
Quinn: Oh, God, that's the jam.
Rhiana: ... big font, yeah. So, I always say, go to the official resolution and read what it says, and then New-
Quinn: Do you have the URL for that? I want to put that in here.
Rhiana: So, I can send it to you, yeah.
Rhiana: So, it's on a few places.
Rhiana: It's on the congressional website now, which is kind of cool. So, I'll send that. So, read the official resolution.
Rhiana: New Consensus, the organization, the policy shop that I work for, has done, already, a short explainer, two-page explainer, and a 14-page explainer. Again, it's like, the 14 page, it's like designed out, it's not that long, but it goes through sort of the historical, and philosophical, and some of the financial, economic rationale for the Green New Deal. And we'll be putting out explainers on various pieces throughout the year. So, New Consensus is a great place to look for information.
Rhiana: Sunrise Movement, they share a lot about the Green New Deal, and so, that's great. And, I mean, obviously there's a lot of great coverage, David Roberts at Fox does a lot of great work on energy.
Quinn: That is great.
Rhiana: The Atlantic has started to write about some of the industrial and economic aspects of the Green New Deal in ways that are really useful.
Rhiana: So, I mean, obviously, I say, start with the official docs, come to our explainers, and then read as much as you want. And then, I'm always available on Twitter, @rgunns, so people do send me questions, and I try to answer as much as I can. So, that is good. Data For Progress, they also have done some work on the Green New Deal, especially polling, that's really useful.
Rhiana: So, there's a lot of things out there that I encourage people to read, but I always say, start with the real resolution. Like, from the horse's mouth, figure out what is exactly in it.
Quinn: Sure, sure.
Rhiana: I think one of the biggest things that will be useful right now is to just, like, if you care about this, let your reps, and also let presidential candidates know that you care about it, right? Political pressure, and building political power, and just people power, just building people power around the Green New Deal is crucial. It's really crucial, and especially now, because it's fairly new on the scene, and so people are constantly trying to see, is it going to lose steam, right? Are people going to stop paying attention?
Rhiana: And so, especially through 2020, we want ... you know, if we want candidates to be talking about it, to be thinking about it, to be pushing it, we have to be creating pressure on them. That is Tweeting at them about it, you know, it's calling, it's whatever. Sunrise has a ton of ways to get involved, and they're a great group to connect with to get involved, in part because they can also farm out to sort of, like, more local groups who are working on it.
Rhiana: And then, as far as policy, New Consensus, we're trying to figure it out, because we actually still only have three people.
Rhiana: It's a very small shop right now, yeah. Which is why, if you're listening, and I haven't responded to your email, I'm sorry. I'm getting to it.
Rhiana: But for us, we're still trying to figure out exactly how to get people involved. But feel free to send us, you can even just send it to me, Rhiana@NewConsensus.com-
Quinn: Oh, boy.
Rhiana: ... policies ... No, I mean, but I'm ... Policy ideas that people have, because good ideas come from everywhere, right? So we really do mean, if people want to speak into it, we want to be able to speak back.
Rhiana: We're trying to figure out more formalized ways to help individuals sort of plug in. And so, we're ... you know, we're playing around with advisory councils, et cetera, that we could set up. But right now, the best way is just, if you want to be involved in the policy, just reach out, tell us your ideas.
Rhiana: Like I said, we're a small staff, so we're ... I mean, we'll probably be staffing up during the year. I mean, have some patience, but we do really love to hear from people.
Rhiana: And let us know, like I said, if you have been working on research that's relevant, it's just all really useful, because even if we don't respond, we do collect all the info, so that when we have a useful way for ... a more useful way for people to plug in directly, we can tell them. But right now it's just sharing ideas, because we're just really in a listening phase right now, so ...
Quinn: For sure.
Brian: That's pretty great to know, that the people who are doing this whole thing are, you know, interested in what we all have to say.
Quinn: That's a fucking change of events.
Rhiana: Yeah, no, people send me-
Rhiana: ... people send me all kinds of articles-
Brian: That's really cool.
Rhiana: ... on Twitter, and policy plans. I learn a ton. And actually, as much of a cesspool as Twitter can be, I actually have found it really useful, because these sort of participatory policy design processes are really tough. They just take a lot of work, a lot of time. But Twitter, and digital communication, short of short circuits that in ways that's really useful, because people can just send, or talk, or message me, even if they're ... Like, we're poppin' in Finland, like, poppin', you know?
Rhiana: And there's, like, they send ideas. So, I think that it's really useful. But yeah, I read the emails, I read the messages, I've learned so much. So yeah, continue to send. We're all in this together, and so if you have an idea, if you have a thought, we want to hear it.
Brian: This has been so awesome, thank you very much, and we'll get you out of here shortly. Is there, and it doesn't have to be right now, but if you can think of ... and I feel like you've already mentioned, and could just supply us with a list, of people that-
Brian: ... anybody else that we could talk to about this, or any other giant-
Rhiana: Oh, yeah.
Quinn: Anything else in your-
Rhiana: [crosstalk 01:11:44] might actually be-
Quinn: ... nerdy Rhodes Scholar crew-
Quinn: ... of people who are, whether they're big names or small names, it's even more fun to have small names-
Quinn: ... obviously prefer ladies and people of color, because it's just enough of the white guys.
Brian: I feel like [crosstalk 01:11:57]
Quinn: That's enough. That's enough.
Brian: ... that way, though [crosstalk 01:11:59]
Quinn: Yeah, people who are out there just kicking ass. Again, it could be climate, or space, or cancer, or any of these things, if-
Rhiana: No, totally.
Quinn: ... anything that's affecting everybody right now or in the next 10 years, basically, so ...
Rhiana: Yeah, no, I appreciate it. I'll think. Actually, my boss, Demond might be a cool dude, because he used to be an organizer. Like, he comes at this completely from an organizing background, and the way he ... It's like, kind of like, policy is distributed organizing, and using policy as an organizing mechanism, which is really interesting and cool. I mean, I gave him some of those ideas, but he's taken it to another level.
Quinn: Yeah, yeah.
Rhiana: But ...
Quinn: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brian: [crosstalk 01:12:38]
Rhiana: But no, thank you.
Quinn: Yeah, yeah, send them.
Rhiana: I'll think.
Brian: We feel like you probably have some pretty good recommendations.
Rhiana: Oh, yeah.
Quinn: Feel like we got a pretty ... Her iMessage threads are very different than ours.
Brian: I think so. I only guess.
Quinn: Yeah, her crew is ...
Rhiana: Oh. Oh, no. They're not. They're not. Yeah, people have this idea that if you are, quote unquote, smart, that that's like all your conversations are about important stuff, but I told my boss the first day we met, I was like, “Just so you know, I don't do any smart shit in my free time.”
Rhiana: He was like, “What?” And I was like, “My brain can only take so much, so ...”
Quinn: I'll tell you what, man, one of my best friends is the XO on a submarine, and he's pretty much the same way. He's like, “I give it all on that boat, and when I come home, the whole thing shuts off.” Like, there's-
Quinn: ... I got nothing else to offer, which his wife really appreciates, that he can barely keep a tank of gas in the car. But he's like, “On the other hand, I keep America's lights on at night, so you're welcome.”
Brian: It's probably pretty necessary.
Brian: Like, we get into [crosstalk 01:13:36]
Brian: ... we have some questions for you, one of them, some lightning round questions, one of them is going to feed right into that perfectly.
Rhiana: Oh yeah, for sure. Oh, I've always wanted to do a lightning round!
Brian: Oh, cool. Get ready for not a lightning round.
Quinn: Yeah, get ready to be disappointed.
Brian: We like to call it that.
Rhiana: I'm going to try to be a lightning, because I also, when people are like, oh, my God, I took so much of your time, I'm like, bitch, I give 10 minute answers to everything, this is not your fault. This is my fault entirely. Like, please don't apologize.
Quinn: All right, so, first one, when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change, or the power to do something meaningful.
Brian: Lightning round!
Rhiana: Probably the first Twitter thread that I put out, actually.
Quinn: Okay, well, what is it?
Brian: We'll take a few details, please.
Rhiana: It was ... So, basically, I was reading the coverage, it was the day, a day or two after the resolution came out, I was reading the coverage, and I kept seeing people talk about how it was a laundry list of progressive policies, and it was making me really upset, because like I was talking about earlier, we worked really hard for it not to be, and there was rationale.
Rhiana: And so, I just wrote a whole Twitter thread about why equity was essential, and how ... I talked specifically about, like, Medicare for all, and the jobs guarantee were necessary to make sure that the transition actually functioned the way that we need it to function, and that we actually have the real resources in terms of people, specifically, and workers, to do what we need to get done.
Rhiana: I put that out, and I was so nervous. It took me hours to write it. I even read that Audre Lorde quote about how your silence will not protect you, because I just, like ... I could just see the trolls flooding in to yell at me.
Quinn: Oh, God, yeah.
Rhiana: And I put it up, and I got like 4,000 followers in like three days-
Quinn: That's wild.
Rhiana: ... because it got retweeted by like Soledad O'Brien, and David Roberts, and quotes in a Naomi Klein article and stuff. And before, it hadn't occurred to me to say that stuff, because I guess, in my mind, I just assumed if I had thought it, someone else has already thought it and said it.
Rhiana: So seeing people respond and be like, I hadn't thought about this, this was really helpful, and seeing how illuminating it was, was really, I think, the first moment where I was like, oh, my voice is actually necessary in bringing something different, which I think I just took for granted before.
Quinn: Sure. No, that's awesome. That's awesome. Well, we're glad you put yourself out there. Did it include a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gif or no? Did you-
Rhiana: No, there was a Cardi B gif.
Brian: [crosstalk 01:16:12]
Quinn: Oh, perfect. Got it, got it, got it. So, still relevant, perfect, perfect.
Rhiana: Oh, yeah. There was a Cardi B gif at the very end. Yes! It was the old ... I wish I could make that sound.
Brian: Of course it was.
Rhiana: I'm so sad. It's one of the-
Brian: I got you.
Rhiana: It's one of my biggest deficiencies, but can you do it for me?
Brian: Absolutely, any time you want.
Quinn: Yeah, yeah, Brian's-
Rhiana: Yeah, so-
Quinn: ... here on demand.
Rhiana: ... it was the ... Oh, okay, Brian, you should do it really quickly.
Rhiana: Yeah, it was that sound.
Brian: She's so entertaining.
Rhiana: It was the gif where she does it on the Fallon.
Brian: Oh, yeah.
Quinn: Oh, yeah.
Rhiana: Oh Jimmy Fallon, in the green, like, the green outfit, yes.
Brian: I think I saw that. You have a very entertaining Twitter feed.
Quinn: It is. It's good.
Rhiana: It's because I be crackin' myself.
Quinn: No, you got to do something, man.
Rhiana: I, like ... I'm like, I am so amusing guys, how are you not-
Brian: Don't you see how funny I am?
Rhiana: ... hang out with me all the time? I just, like, make jokes to myself. Like my dog fart joke, I laughed about that for days, to myself, alone.
Quinn: I got to get you and my wife in a room, you just entertain each other until the-
Quinn: ... until, like, the sun ends-
Quinn: ... and explodes.
Rhiana: Yeah! Yeah [inaudible 01:17:10]
Quinn: All right, Rhiana, who is someone specific in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months.
Rhiana: Abdul El-Sayed.
Quinn: Dang. Look at that, lightning round.
Brian: [inaudible 01:17:21]
Quinn: All right, Brian, bring it home.
Brian: Okay, so this is good. You talked about how, when you're not working, you just like to do stupid shit. What do you do when you feel overwhelmed, specifically?
Rhiana: I mainline Bob's Burgers.
Quinn: Oh, it's so good.
Rhiana: I order Indian food, and I-
Brian: Also so good.
Rhiana: ... mainline Bob's Burgers, and I try to bribe my dog into cuddling with em.
Quinn: How's that go? Mine doesn't ever work.
Rhiana: She actually will be cuddly often. It's much more successful. She was not cuddly, basically, until she was two years old.
Quinn: Do you-
Rhiana: But now she's more cuddly.
Quinn: Do you use the Indian food as a bribe?
Rhiana: Kind of.
Quinn: There it is.
Brian: [crosstalk 01:18:03] Indian food.
Quinn: Yep, there it is.
Brian: My god, it's so good.
Rhiana: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: It's so good.
Rhiana: Yeah, yeah.
Quinn: Yeah, I could definitely be bribed with-
Brian: Excellent. Very good answers.
Quinn: ... with it.
Brian: Oh, I could be bribed to cuddle with Indian food, absolutely.
Quinn: Sure, sure, sure.
Rhiana: Oh, I also eat night Starburst, so ...
Brian: What kind of Starburst?
Rhiana: I call them my night Starburst-
Brian: This is Starburst that you eat at night?
Rhiana: ... which is just literally Starburst that I eat at night.
Brian: Got it, very good, excellent.
Rhiana: I don't eat Starburst during the day, but when I'm stressed-
Quinn: No, no, no, it's totally fine at night.
Rhiana: ... I eat Starburst at night, and only pink Starburst, and I constantly think of Liz Lemon in 30 Rock being-
Brian: Of course.
Rhiana: ... like, working on my night cheese.
Quinn: Oh, God, that show, I ... Oh, man.
Rhiana: Except I'm like, working on my night Starburst.
Brian: So tasty.
Quinn: It's amazing, and your teeth are like-
Rhiana: Trying to hide the wrappers from my husband.
Quinn: ... no, this is a great decision-
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quinn: ... this is a good decision.
Rhiana: Oh, yeah, and I'm always trying to be very quiet so that my husband doesn't hear me unwrapping Starburst in bed like an animal.
Brian: You know what you should try-
Rhiana: It does not work.
Quinn: By the way, to be clear-
Rhiana: I know he knows what I'm doing.
Brian: He hears it. He knows.
Rhiana: He definitely does, he's just like-
Quinn: That is not a quiet wrapper.
Rhiana: ... I'm going to ignore that you're eating candy in bed.
Quinn: No, it's like my wife and her popcorn. She's like, it's quiet this time. I'm like, no, nope-
Brian: No such thing.
Quinn: ... no, it isn't.
Brian: No such thing as quiet popcorn.
Quinn: [crosstalk 01:19:09]
Brian: I'll tell you what's quiet at night-
Rhiana: But he doesn't mention it.
Brian: ... doughnuts, guys, in case either of you were wondering.
Brian: Night doughnuts, they make zero sound.
Rhiana: Oh, I had to transition off of night doughnuts. I had a night doughnuts phase in my life, right after I got married-
Rhiana: ... when I was like, you know what? I'm just living my life now.
Quinn: Yep, it's out there.
Rhiana: You're trapped, it's fine-
Brian: Oh, they're so good.
Rhiana: ... so I'm just going to start working on my night doughnuts.
Quinn: I tell my wife all the time, I'm like, it's so much paperwork for you to get out of this, you're just going to have to deal.
Brian: Rhiana, how do you consume the news?
Rhiana: Oh, articles. I read basically everything on my phone.
Rhiana: So, articles on my phone. I don't like videos. I'll actually ... Like, I have seen a couple Obama speeches, or like the Stacey Abrams speech I still haven't read, because I just read the transcripts. I don't watch the video.
Rhiana: So ...
Quinn: She's worth watching, because she's amazing.
Rhiana: I know. I don't know what it is about videos, they make me anxious? I don't know.
Brian: [crosstalk 01:20:05]
Quinn: That feels like a different conversation, okay.
Rhiana: Yeah, it's funny. I'm very calm about figuring out the Green New Deal, but I'm like, do I have to watch a video online? Oh, my God-
Brian: [crosstalk 01:20:15]
Quinn: Yeah, nope, no.
Rhiana: ... this is so anxiety producing. So, yeah ...
Brian: This is a good segue, speaking of reading. If you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what book would that be?
Rhiana: Oh, man.
Quinn: We've gotten such a-
Rhiana: Gone Girl.
Quinn: Gone Girl?
Rhiana: Yeah. I, me, because like, Donald Trump is Donald Trump, if I send him a ... just a book about black shit, he doesn't care. So I'm just like, at least read some Gillian Flynn, she's a quality author.
Quinn: All right, I like that.
Brian: I like that. That's good. That's like a different direction, I think, than we've had normally [crosstalk 01:20:51]
Quinn: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brian: ... good book.
Quinn: I mean, we've had coloring books, I mean, all of the wide spectrum. Awesome.
Quinn: Hey, where can our listeners follow you and your highly entertaining life online?
Rhiana: Rgunns on Twitter.
Brian: R-G-U-N-N-S, right?
Rhiana: Yeah, yeah, R-G-U-N-N-S. I'm probably the only policy person with a Snapchat filter as their profile picture.
Quinn: It's a new day. It's a new day.
Brian: [inaudible 01:21:15] good. Good.
Rhiana: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It's the puppy filter, and I look super cute, so what?
Quinn: Perfect, perfect.
Rhiana: And, other than that, that's probably the ... I mean, I'm on Instagram, I think, rgunner.
Brian: Cool, we'll find you.
Rhiana: G-U-N-N-E-R. It's just all plays on the last name Gunn [inaudible 01:21:33]
Quinn: No, sure. You got it, use it.
Rhiana: Bu there's nothing ... I mean, I don't get on Instagram much, and don't get on ... I'm not going to friend anyone on Facebook [crosstalk 01:21:41]
Quinn: Oh, no, no, no, no. We're past that, at this point. No-
Rhiana: Yeah, so just, Twitter is the best way.
Quinn: Rock and roll. Awesome. All right, Rhiana, this has been spectacular. I hope you've had an all right time hanging out with us today.
Rhiana: Oh, I had a blast. It was so fun. I haven't been a ... I was a guest on a podcast before, but it was a much more serious energy podcast, so I'm less nervous this time around. I was also half dead [crosstalk 01:22:04]
Brian: Oh, my God. So glad you're doing better.
Quinn: So glad you're not half dead anymore.
Brian: Thank you. Yeah, I was just very tired.
Quinn: My children don't sleep, so I feel like I'm half dead all the time.
Brian: You're currently half dead, yeah.
Quinn: Yep. Rhiana, thank you so much for all your time, and obviously, everything you're doing out there for the planet, and for all the people that live on the planet, more importantly.
Rhiana: Oh, of course. I mean, people always say that, and I'm like, y'all, I'm going to die too, and I want to die of eating myself into the grave like a good American-
Brian: Night Starburst!
Rhiana: ... okay? I don't ... I want my night Starburst to take me out, not a flood, and not a fireball, y'all. Night Starburst is how I'm going to die.
Quinn: Well, look, if we have enough people that are inspired the way you are, whatever gets them there, then we might do this thing, you know? Night Starburst is going to save the planet. I'm into it.
Quinn: All right, we are going to hit you up again soon, for sure, to hear how this thing is going.
Brian: Thank you so much.
Quinn: ... thank you so much. This has been super fucking rad.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at ImportantNotImportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter, @ImportantNotImp.
Quinn: So weird.
Brian: Also on Facebook and Instagram at ImportantNotImportant, Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So, check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on, thanks.
Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player, and at our website, ImportantNotImportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jammin' music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks guys.