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Hope, Solutions, and Forgiveness with Senator Elizabeth Warren

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Indebted - Debt and Race in America
Indebted - Debt and Race in America
Hope, Solutions, and Forgiveness with Senator Elizabeth Warren

Welcome to the Season One finale of Indebted! Our episodes have focused on exposing how debt harms Black people and the entire economy—but people are fighting back. There are reasons to hope for a better, debt-free future. In this episode Maurice is joined by four heavy hitters in the fight against debt and its roots in systemic racism. They discuss the many approaches to tackling these problems, from education and legislation to policy advocacy and direct action.

Guests this episode include:

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[00:00:00] Maurice BP-Weeks: Cancellation. Such a simple concept. Throughout the season, we’ve covered lots of types of debt. Everything from medical debt to municipal debt. For almost every topic we’ve touched on, cancellation was presented as the policy solution. Just get rid of it. The solution is not without controversy though.

[00:00:22] There’s a litany of questions that come up in response to cancellation. How are we going to pay for it? What will happen to the economy? [00:00:30] Won’t the debt just grow back? What about the people who paid off their debts? Do they get nothing? So I thought we’d spend some time in our last episode talking through some of those questions and why cancellation is still the best solution for Black people and our whole economy.

[00:00:47] And since it’s our last episode, I called on some heavy hitters to answer that question.[00:01:00] 

[00:01:05] Welcome to episode nine, the season finale of Indebted, a podcast about debt and race in America. I’m your host, Maurice BP Weeks, a lifelong economics and racial justice organizer. Each episode, we tackle a different aspect of debt, exploring how it works and why it spells bad news for black people and our entire economy.

[00:01:26] In this episode, we’re talking debt cancellation and other [00:01:30] solutions with really some of the smartest people I know. Let’s get into it.

[00:01:41] I’ve called on the debt collective several times throughout this season, and as I’ve said a few times. throughout I’m a superfan. I love organizing and campaigning, and their members have truly pushed some of the most transformative things over the years. In fact, I give them a substantial amount of credit for getting the [00:02:00] topic of debt cancellation into the public and political conversation at all.

[00:02:05] Way before student debt cancellation was being debated among Democratic presidential nominees, The Debt Collective was organizing debtors unions of students who were drowning in debt. They had people willing to go out on debt strike before student debt hit the record two trillion marker and became a core kitchen table issue for the entire country.

[00:02:26] So I want to start this episode with the originators who are [00:02:30] still doing a massive amount of work to make sure that not just student debt, but all types of debt are cancelled. Since I first encountered them, the Debt Collective has grown to cover medical debt, criminal debt, For profit college debt and so much more.

[00:02:45] So why cancellation? Let’s ask Astra who’s the Debt Collective co founder and author of the recently released book The Age of Insecurity Coming Together as Things Fall Apart. 

[00:02:58] Astra Taylor: My name is Astra Taylor I’m a [00:03:00] filmmaker writer and one of the co founders of the Debt Collective. 

[00:03:04] Maurice BP-Weeks: Thank you So so much for joining me Astra.

[00:03:07] It’s so good to talk to you And yeah, we’ve been joking all season, this is like kind of a debt collective podcast as well, just because like, I’m a super fan. And y’all are like the ones who are who are leading this. So yeah, so grateful that you are able to come on and chat with me. I’m 

[00:03:25] really 

[00:03:26] Astra Taylor: grateful. I mean, I’m a huge admirer of you and your work and all of the [00:03:30] work you’ve done to raise awareness and organize around this issue.

[00:03:32] And I was, I have been very happy to see the lineup actually, um, and see the dead collective from the center. So thank you. 

[00:03:40] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah. Yeah, of course. Um, okay. So we’re talking about the solution that’s come up a several times on the season, um, of the show, which is cancellation. And I think a lot of people think of this as like a really extreme.

[00:03:56] Like, you know, the most lefty, [00:04:00] wacky thing in the world, and I’m curious if there’s like a, how do you think about the like, question of why debt cancellation as a solution to, to this massive problem that we’re facing? 

[00:04:13] Astra Taylor: The solution to the problem is, is partly debt cancellation, uh, and more, right? So from my radical, wacky, left perspective, it’s debt cancellation and Uh, you know, and all of the policies that we need to ensure that people don’t go into debt to begin with and I Know you agree.

[00:04:28] I’ve heard enough episodes of this podcast. I know [00:04:30] your work, you know We need universal health care to get rid of medical debt. We need free public education. We need social housing Um, we need high wages so that people aren’t forced to borrow for basic necessities But, you know, cancellation is actually something that, that appears radical only when we think about it for working people, because wealthy people in corporations get cancellation all the time.

[00:04:52] They walk away from their, their debts all the time. I mean, I hate to say his name, but you know, Donald Trump called himself the [00:05:00] king of debt and called himself smart on a big national news interview because he had had multiple bankruptcies. which meant he got debts canceled. He was being savvy in that context.

[00:05:14] I mean, we, we call it a bankruptcy when you’re poor, but it’s a strategic default, right? If you’re a company. So that cancellation, um, you know, is, is actually much more routine than we give it credit for, but there’s a, there’s a class and power dynamic there. [00:05:30] And from the, Debt collectives perspective, you know, the cancellation of household debts is a part of achieving economic justice.

[00:05:38] So that’s why we reject the language of forgiveness and we use the language of debt cancellation, abolition, uh, relief. Because debtors have done nothing wrong. You know, you haven’t done anything wrong if you incur medical debt because you’ve gotten sick. You haven’t done anything wrong if you pursued higher education and you have student loans.

[00:05:58] And so for us, it’s, you know, [00:06:00] it’s, it’s a simple matter of morality. And, and the math is really secondary. And I think the math works in our favor too. There’s a lot of economic arguments for cancellation, but really it’s, it’s, It’s justice, right? It’s like, well, these debts are illegitimate to begin with, they’ve got to go.

[00:06:15] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah. Yeah. But it’s, it’s interesting how much narrative plays a role here. And, um, just what rich folks are allowed to get away with that’s then reframed for poor and working folks as like, Oh, you were just an [00:06:30] irresponsible, like, insert the derogatory thing. Um, and yeah, one of the things I really appreciate about the Debt Collective is y’all’s, um, Really savvy ability to push back on that.

[00:06:43] And another thing I appreciate is like the actual organizing of debtors unions that are pushing for some of these policies. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about what that looks like today. 

[00:06:55] Astra Taylor: You know, it’s, it’s interesting debt collective has its origins and occupy wall street. [00:07:00] And obviously that was in the shadow of the mortgage crisis of 2008.

[00:07:05] So that was all about debt. And the fact that these subprime mortgages were pushed on predominantly black and brown borrowers um, and then those were Rated triple a and sliced and diced and sold and insured and securitized and all the these financial imaginations that You know brought down the the not just the the u.

[00:07:24] s. Economy, but the global economy And then who suffers while working people [00:07:30] who are foreclosed upon who lose their jobs, you know Black households lost half their collective wealth overnight. I think Latinx households lost even more, right? So debt was in the ether. But what happened at Occupy Wall Street was, you know, just ordinary people started talking about it.

[00:07:47] It was like this moment where people kind of broke through that shame or, uh, and started pushing back on some of those stereotypes that you just mentioned, right? Like, Oh, you’re poor and it’s your fault. You’re foreclosed upon and [00:08:00] it’s your fault. Like there was a sense that something structurally was, was wrong.

[00:08:03] Uh with the economy and so that was where You know A few of us a handful of us that went on to found the debt collective started talking about debt in a political way For me, it was a huge Epiphany because I had just defaulted on my student loans and I was so stressed out about it and hear other people talk about Their situation was you know, almost therapeutic in itself, even if I still had the debt But that’s where we started saying [00:08:30] hey the banks got bailed out Well, what about ordinary people?

[00:08:33] Why aren’t we getting our debts canceled too? You know, we haven’t done anything wrong and we thought we were doing something so novel, this new thing under the sun. And what I’ve learned through my work on democracy and through my, uh, you know, just working on, on these financial issues over the last year.

[00:08:49] Uh, sorry, the last decade is that debtors revolts are nothing new. That throughout history, going back thousands of years, debtors have risen up and basically said, we [00:09:00] can’t pay, we won’t pay. We can’t take this anymore in the ancient world, but also in the colonial era. And that’s because debt has long been a tool of not just profit accumulation, but social control.

[00:09:13] And especially in the U S context, racial domination, you know, debt, isn’t just. Again, it’s not just about money. It’s actually about power. And so we started raising what seemed like both an original demand. It wasn’t that long at that original, the demand for a Jubilee for debt cancellation is old. [00:09:30] Um, and what seemed like a totally pie in the sky demand.

[00:09:33] So. We will never forgive and never forget the writers at NPR and Reuters and other mainstream, you know, publications who are like naive idiots asking for debt. These kids will never happen. I 

[00:09:47] Maurice BP-Weeks: can’t believe they’re right. Like 

[00:09:49] Astra Taylor: who could believe that this would be possible? Like they’d like a little free college with their student debt cancellation.

[00:09:55] Can you believe it? Uh, and we were like, yeah, [00:10:00] we can believe it because a few generations ago, college was free. I mean, mostly for white guys. But still it was free. So we actually can imagine this and we know that student debt wasn’t a crisis a few decades ago. So yeah, you know what? We can imagine this and we’re going to start thinking about how to make it real.

[00:10:16] And that meant that it was incumbent on us to start learning about policy and learning about the laws and getting really wonky, which I know is your domain, right? Wonking out on on the details of it all, but also just [00:10:30] relentlessly getting people together and trying to Inspire them with the sense of like they’re entitled that actually they’re owed these things.

[00:10:38] They’re not debtors. They’re creditors They’re owed a decent freaking life Like no the world does owe you a living You know, cause you’re a human being and, you know, and so let’s get rid of that whole ideology of a buyer bootstraps. You’re poor. Cause it’s your, your fault. And the doubt collective is really good.

[00:10:54] And I can’t take credit for all of our, our slogans and phrases, you know, but, but [00:11:00] one that I think is really important that, that is, you know, we, we always say. You’re not in debt because you live beyond your means, but because you’re denied the means to live. And that’s the thing you’ve actually been done wrong.

[00:11:12] And we’re trying to set things right again. This is we’re talking not just about debt cancellation. We’re talking about justice. We’re talking about economic justice, racial justice. Ultimately, I think climate justice, because you know, debt is the charging of interest. It’s saying the economy has got to grow.

[00:11:27] You got to have more tomorrow to pay back what you borrowed. [00:11:30] That’s not sustainable for the planet. So. Cancellation is not just about cancellation, we have to have that bigger frame of actually democratic renewal in mind when we say that word. 

[00:11:41] Maurice BP-Weeks: Alright, I’m going to give you a chance to shoot down some right wing messaging here.

[00:11:47] This is going to be so fun. So one thing that I hear really, really often when I’m, when I’m talking about cancellation of, of any kind of debt is, um, you know, what I’m, I’m [00:12:00] a 60 year old person and I had student debts or I had mortgage debt and I worked really hard and I worked nights and my partner worked and we paid it off.

[00:12:14] And now you’re talking about wiping it out for this next generation when really they should just do the same thing I did. Why should they get their debt canceled? And not me, you know, 65 year old middle [00:12:30] American and I’m wondering what, uh, you know, I’m sure you at the Debt Collective just hear that constantly.

[00:12:38] And I’m wondering, you know, a doesn’t give you an aneurysm and be like, what do you say to, what do you say to that when you hear that? Yeah. 

[00:12:46] Astra Taylor: I mean, I’m like, I have so many retorts because I hear that all I do hear that all the time. And you know, one is. You know, people’s perceptions of their their struggles back in the day is, you know, really skewed and they don’t [00:13:00] the statistics show that it just does not correspond to contemporary reality.

[00:13:04] I mean, federal student loans were so insignificant that the government didn’t keep track of them till the late nineties. I think till 1999, like it wasn’t even keeping tabs on them, right? Like, yes, there were loans. So when student lending first emerged, you know, it’s mostly to cover uh, Some cost of living, you know, maybe some food or your shelter, right?

[00:13:24] But not necessarily tuition because there was more state investment. [00:13:30] Tuition, you know, was more manageable. Uh, you know, in some cases it was free or there were nominal fees, you know, so that that’s the thing. This is a problem that was so trivial. The government wasn’t Keeping track until I was almost 20 years old.

[00:13:43] So this is a really recent, uh phenomenon And it’s one that’s grown explicitly, you know, i’d also say that our our friend friendly baby boomer You know minimum wage went a lot further when you were young than it does than it does today, right? So you could do a lot more with your part [00:14:00] time job costs of living were lower It is just objectively harder to make ends meet, uh in today’s economy but I think you know beyond that like Tit for tat, right?

[00:14:11] Like actually today, you know, kids have it worse, which is true and it’s not just kids We know that the fastest growing demographic of student debtors actually people who are older who are who are senior citizens I would you know I think again we want to get to that underlying morality and be like you actually have something to gain [00:14:30] from having a population that’s not Burdened by student debt because that means you know what someone who goes to med school might be able to go and be a physician in a rural community or a dentist, you know, a lawyer might be able to refuse that job at Exxon Mobil or Goldman Sachs and go and actually try to serve the community.

[00:14:51] You know, your grandkid might just have a bit more time to spend with her family or might be able to. You know, save for a down payment on an overpriced house [00:15:00] instead of paying off their student loans. You know, like, let’s, let’s start to think collectively here. And, you know, have you heard of this thing called democracy?

[00:15:08] It kind of helps to have an educated citizenry. Maybe you actually want people pursuing higher education, um, because maybe it benefits you in ways that are not just so, so literal, so my, so myopic, so selfish, you know? And so I’ve always wanted to also try to push people out of that type of thinking and be like, Oh man, you know, the stinginess of, of, [00:15:30] of that worldview, I think is actually just really, really destructive, you know, and it’s like, I don’t have kids, but I pay taxes.

[00:15:36] So other so other people’s kids can go to public school, right? Yeah, we live in a complicated world. Why not let people get educated a bit longer. So I think we have to push back on multiple fronts. And I, yeah. And, um, you know, and I think we’ve made a lot of inroads over the last decade, but we have a, uh, the last decade, but we have, we have a far way to go.

[00:15:56] Um, and we just have to keep making the same points over and [00:16:00] over again. 

[00:16:01] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah. There’s something about, I, I love this, the, you know, paying taxes for a school, even though you don’t have kids or paying taxes for, you know, the fire department, even if you have never had a fire in your house or something like that.

[00:16:14] And. You know, part of what it leads me to is like participating in society is not just a reciprocal thing. Like it’s not always just One for one. Like we’re all doing this together. We all don’t have the same experiences. Part of being a society is [00:16:30] actually collectively doing things and maybe that’s definitionally actually what a society is.

[00:16:36] I 

[00:16:36] Astra Taylor: can see your, I can see your, your, you know, video background. You can see mine too. It’s like, I buy a lot of books. So, you know, I’m going to be like, I don’t want to fund the library or something. It’s like, no, I want other people to be able to get free books just because I buy a lot of them, you know?

[00:16:50] Yeah. 100%. This is what society is. You live in it. 

[00:16:53] Maurice BP-Weeks: Totally. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. Exactly. Exactly. 

[00:16:58] Astra Taylor: And cancellation, you know, there’s, [00:17:00] you know, you know, I think there are moments right where we make the economic argument, you know, debt cancellation is an economic stimulus. It will boost the economy by X billions of dollars.

[00:17:11] It will enable entrepreneurship. I think all that stuff is really true and important to emphasize. But, but yeah, yeah. Again, I always want to go to that North Star of justice, of equity, of reparations, right? And to say, you know, we’re not, like, stop thinking just like an economist. Because the [00:17:30] economy, it’s not something that should be separated from society.

[00:17:33] Maurice BP-Weeks: So, so good. Um, I really appreciate you coming on and, and, and chatting with me and, yeah, entertaining my, uh, conservative messaging. Imagine if Maurice was a conservative, this is what he would say. Um, so, yeah. And thank you so much, Astra. I mean, really, just for all of your work and, um, and for the amazing work of the Debt Collective and I’m just so glad to be in [00:18:00] community with y’all and, and so glad that you came on this podcast.

[00:18:03] Astra Taylor: Thanks. Oh, right back at you. And thanks for 

[00:18:06] Maurice BP-Weeks: having me.

[00:18:11] Astra is so great. Make sure you pick up her new book, The Age of Insecurity, coming together as things fall apart. We are so lucky to have organizations like Debt Collective organizing the crap out of all of us to get to where we are today. And amazingly, maintaining so much energy, [00:18:30] so much hope, so much momentum.

[00:18:32] Since we’ve spoken about them and to them in so many ways this season. I want to take a chance and give all their staff and members a hearty thank you. Y’all are really, really, really an inspiration. And to all the listeners, please go check them out at debtcollective. org. I believe in organizing so deeply, and I understand if you think I’m just fully indoctrinated.

[00:18:55] I am. But Cancellation is not just a solution being [00:19:00] presented by rah rah, shut it all down types like myself. What about academia? Years ago, I was giving a presentation in Detroit about the debt around the bankruptcy, explaining to folks some of the background and how it works, similar to what we spoke about with Sakibati in the previous episode.

[00:19:17] In the audience was an academic who studied economic and racial inequality. She agreed with the policy solutions I was putting forth, and had academic research grounding them. [00:19:30] So let’s zoom from Astra in Brooklyn all the way to another friend who’s a professor in Iowa. My 

[00:19:36] Louise Seamster: name is Louise Seamster. I’m an assistant professor of Sociology and African American Studies at the University of Iowa.

[00:19:43] Maurice BP-Weeks: Louise, it’s so good to talk to you. You too. I am super excited to talk to someone who I really think of as an expert on this issue. So I think I want to start with, um, you know, lots of people I hear from [00:20:00] experts about the economy, like on the news, on CNN, maybe even from the floors of Congress, that say, if we take radical action on debt, like cancelling debt, any type of debt, then it’s gonna destroy the economy.

[00:20:17] That’s something that’s gonna, how are we gonna pay for it? It’s bajillion dollars. Inflation will be out of control and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Should we believe those people? Like, [00:20:30] like, why or why shouldn’t we believe them is maybe a better thing to ask. 

[00:20:34] Louise Seamster: Well, I mean, firstly, the studies show that it’s not going to destroy the economy or Uh, you know, uh, erode our ability to pay for things if we’re talking about student debt, um, as you prior guests have said, like that money’s out the door.

[00:20:50] So it’s not even a cost to the government. Um, all they’re losing is future payments, which are primarily interest. Uh, into back into the [00:21:00] public purse, but those could be equally paid in as taxes instead. And so partly what this shift is, it’s thinking, um, away from debt systems as the way that we show our citizenship in America and back towards a tax based system where if you do better as college is promising you will, then you will earn more and pay more taxes back in as the like, You know, in recognition of and in paying it forward for future people to be able to do the same.[00:21:30] 

[00:21:30] But as far as the fear that people express that this will ruin the economy or this or that, I think we could reinterpret that as people’s fear that this will ruin the status quo that they are accustomed to, which relies on a lot of discipline and control, um, and a lot of income that comes from debt payments that would have to be reconfigured.

[00:21:49] If we no longer relied so extensively on debt as our, like, primary economic way we interact with each other. And that’s, that’s what we should hear when people are saying this would [00:22:00] destroy everything. They mean for them, it would destroy, like, the income streams that, uh, often they depend 

[00:22:07] Maurice BP-Weeks: on. Right. If the economy is just funneling money to very, very rich and wealthy people, like Maybe that’s okay to to destroy.

[00:22:17] Maybe that’s not 

[00:22:17] Louise Seamster: something we want. Yeah. Often they mean this would be personally bad for me in that I take advantage of the situation created by all this mass indebtedness. Um, and, and I’m okay with that. 

[00:22:28] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah. I mean, so [00:22:30] another, another thing I feel like I often hear is, and I, I remember specifically, uh, hearing this from lots of elected officials, um, around Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico’s debt that, you know, if we Do anything to cancel Puerto Rico’s debt or even reduce their payments.

[00:22:48] We’re creating a moral hazard. We’re showing that like If you can be irresponsible with your money and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, insert any conservative line you want. And [00:23:00] none of it matters because like, you know, the American taxpayer will absolve you of all of your sins. And, and that creates a slippery slope where like, why wouldn’t every state do that?

[00:23:10] Why wouldn’t every person do that? Why wouldn’t every company do that? Et cetera. And I, I wonder how. You think about the concept of moral hazards at all when it comes to debt. Mm hmm Well, 

[00:23:26] Louise Seamster: firstly companies do do that they shed debt [00:23:30] all the time, but they no longer feel like paying whether that’s going through bankruptcy or Shutting down and opening a new name.

[00:23:36] They have all kinds of ways to Deal with that. They don’t feel like paying down racing at various ways And and we should be worried about moral hazard for them. I believe that it encourages them to take risks with other people’s well being, um, and not ever have to pay the consequences of that. And then, and as far as as the rest of us, um, and whether [00:24:00] I think it is really helpful in my own work to think about how we talk about it.

[00:24:05] Debt, whether it’s an individual debtor, a student debt or, um, a city debtor or Puerto Rico, um, like colonial debts or, um, even national level IMF loans, um, you see the same narratives across all the scales and that really helps you understand that this is about storytelling and, and how the morality tales that we tell about debt are [00:24:30] tales that are part of that control of How debt works to make individuals feel bad and often is the people with the least power who are the most locked into paying their debt the most Burdened by it literally and also the most burdened by it rhetorically like it’s the debt They must pay to society like in the case of Alexis Harris’s work on penal debt For instance, like right, that’s the debt you have to earn back to even be considered like a citizen again Yeah, um, and, and, and that’s really heavy and a lot of [00:25:00] people take that seriously, but in all of these cases what that takes for granted is the debt structure itself.

[00:25:06] So it assumes that the debt that you are stuck paying it was like justly incurred, that it was fairly designed, and that the debt that you owe at this moment often be kind of, Gloss over whether that was the amount you took out in the first place, which in many cases for student borrowers, it is not, it is far more than they took out and they can’t pay them their way out of this debt trap.[00:25:30] 

[00:25:30] Same for Puerto Rico. Like the amount of their debt growth over the last two decades, um, you know, increasing seven fold is primarily through tricks and interest assumption and penalties. And, and I, uh, it was. You know, sitting and realizing that that we often say, like, we’ll say, Oh, student debt crisis is 1.

[00:25:53] 6 trillion. The Puerto Rico Oh, 73 billion in debt and not [00:26:00] inquire about how that came to be, how recently that came to be, um, the role of things like interest in boosting that. And we’re talking about Numbers that start compounding pretty much exponentially at a certain point and and have a take on a life of their own when you cannot repay.

[00:26:19] And so I think that we should understand that when people talk about moral hazard, they are trying to create an alternative story that [00:26:30] Direct away from looking at and interrogating. How did these debt instruments come to be created? Who were they designed to advantage? Are they working for people according to the, you know what we believed they would do?

[00:26:44] Um, are they fraudulent? Yeah, I’ve been literally in a moral hazard. Um, narrative will Will crop up frequently to say like, Oh, this is a you problem and not to look, you know, to direct away from that structural higher level [00:27:00] that no matter in what cases, no matter whether it was legal or not, um, the way in which you became indebted, that you must pay your way out is something that we are becoming accustomed to here.

[00:27:12] And, and that is a power move that people in power can say, I will impose fraudulent debt on you. I will even get busted for imposing fraudulent debt on you, and yet you’re still going to have to pay your way out of it. 

[00:27:24] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah, it’s just reminded me I, I, I like first encountered this, uh, this phrasing like [00:27:30] during the foreclosure crisis when people were like, well, we can’t bail out homeowners because like, then no one would pay their mortgage.

[00:27:37] And, and yeah, there’s just like so much. I mean, part of when I was organizing the retort was like, you know, it’s So much of this debt is like literally fraudulent, like literally illegal. Um, and you know, also a response to the won’t this debt just regrow? Like, shouldn’t we go after the people who are making the debt like this debt regrow over and over and over [00:28:00] again, instead of focusing on, you know, individuals to pay back stuff that they, that is not just fully incurred to.

[00:28:06] Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:28:08] Louise Seamster: I, I think, um, I mean, again, like the more you can point out that it’s literally banks. Who themselves got bailouts, who also created the fraudulent transactions, who are also saying this would be bad for our business model. If people simply didn’t repay the, if you start to see what their business model relies on is that they continue to be able to create new fraudulent [00:28:30] products for people to buy into.

[00:28:31] And then we can also see how useful the, like the role of financial literacy as a concept is to be like, if something bad happened to you. You should have saved money better. You should have bought a different kind of house. You should, like, the problem is a you problem. And that you’re supposed to somehow become this expert in recognizing and managing and preventing frauds.

[00:28:52] You are having to step in for all of the regulation that we lack to find and enforce [00:29:00] and prevent all of these fraudulent structures from cropping up. And that is not a fair burden to place on people. Alongside the the moral hazard type of narrative is that is that we are not individually equipped to resist these fraudulent schemes that are going to keep getting churned out and thrown at us at all these different 

[00:29:19] Maurice BP-Weeks: levels.

[00:29:20] Yeah, it just reminded me about like CRA requirements with with banks and Uh, how many of them [00:29:30] focus on, uh, on financial literacy as the like that C. R. C. R. A. Is community reinvestment act. For those who don’t know, it’s this, uh, act that was passed in the seventies that like it basically requires banks to, um, meet the needs of communities to a certain percent.

[00:29:48] And banks do all sorts of tricks to get around it. And one of them is investing in their own financial literacy programs that will teach you you. Why it’s your fault. You went into debt with them and how you should [00:30:00] get out of debt with them. Um, yes. Yeah, which is 

[00:30:03] Louise Seamster: often essentially or explicitly them advertising new financial products to you, which are definitely not fraudulent or even like marketing to kids that they will like, you know, these big banks will come in and like, Have a fake bank set up for kids to play with that are like, and they’ll say, like, this is great advertising for it to get to their parents.

[00:30:23] And that is what they’re then getting community reinvestment act credit for to overcome their history of [00:30:30] financially redlining communities is that now they’re offering financial literacy products. Yeah. 

[00:30:35] Maurice BP-Weeks: So you mentioned redlining, which I feel like is a good transition to, to maybe the last thing I want to ask you is that, you know, I, part of why I do this work.

[00:30:45] is building towards a, an economy that is not just economically just, but racially just as well. And I think of the two things as interwound, but when you [00:31:00] don’t think of those things as interwound, you end up with solutions that, um, you know, that just help white folks and leave lots of other folks behind.

[00:31:10] Um. And there’s a lot of debt in this country, like there’s, you know, 17 trillion worth of consumer debt, like 2 trillion worth of, it’s all trillions, like 2 trillion worth of student debt. And I wonder, how do we build a response to that, that does hold these two [00:31:30] things and move towards both racial and economic justice in our work?

[00:31:35] Well, I 

[00:31:35] Louise Seamster: think to begin with, the path forward starts with debt cancellation, because As part of a larger prong, like one prong of many, uh, for dealing with this, uh, problem because of the way that the amount of debt that millions of Americans, especially African Americans have wound up [00:32:00] in as a result of these protests.

[00:32:01] Policies is, is simply an amount that cannot, that holds people back and will hold them back for their lifetimes in the next generations as well. And, and that slate has to be wiped clean for us to actually be able to address. Um, racial inequality like to even get to a starting point, and that was one of the principles that drove us when we were designing the cancellation recommendation for the [00:32:30] amount that would maximize racial equity in canceling student debt that we were working with Senator Warren on on how you would incorporate racial equity as a concern or principle into a student debt cancellation amount.

[00:32:43] And that’s one step of of several because I think in my other work, I’ve also looked at how debt works differently for you, depending on who you are. And I think that’s also an important piece of the puzzle, which is that if we say the American dream was to buy a [00:33:00] house and go to college and make something better of yourself, both of those steps run.

[00:33:05] Through debt if you don’t have family wealth, right? And the assumption was that that debt assumption would work out for you in the end because that was formulated off of models where that did work out very well as a White wealth generating mechanism whether it’s housing policy. You can get these handy mortgages In neighborhoods that have been designed and kept white [00:33:30] for you to maximize your, the way you can leverage that debt assumption into wealth through the accumulation of basically undeserved extra value because your house is valued more than a house home in a black neighborhood.

[00:33:44] Um, and so I, I try to emphasize like the, the benefits of, of these, what I call like white debt structures. Like, uh, you know, we’re talking about subprime mortgages as, as black debt, that, that white debt can be really advantageous. You don’t have to pay your way out of [00:34:00] it to make it become fabulously wealthy.

[00:34:02] I always think about Donald Trump as my example, like he’s probably net negative. Most of the time he brags about that. And yet he doesn’t live like somebody with, um, with zero or negative wealth. He lives like a rich guy, which he is. And so I try to wrap my weight around that, that contradiction that like.

[00:34:22] Having access to, uh, leverage debt to generate wealth, having access to wealth to make debt is a privilege for some, [00:34:30] and I think we need to interrogate that and question that as much as we need to wipe debt clean and, and, and think about. How we would restructure things if we wanted to combat that 

[00:34:44] Maurice BP-Weeks: as well.

[00:34:45] Well, it was so great to talk to you. Thank you so much for bringing all of this, uh, all of this expertise. And yeah, where should, where should folks go to check out some more of your work? Um, 

[00:34:56] Louise Seamster: I guess you should Google me. Uh, I mean, [00:35:00] I’m an academic. We, we kind of keep our stock in Google Scholar. That’s where you can find a list of my publications.

[00:35:06] If you cannot access any of them, you can email me to get a copy of them behind the paywall. Um, but I try to make stuff available online, open access, so people 

[00:35:17] Maurice BP-Weeks: can help with that.

[00:35:22] See? We aren’t just wackadoodle angry activists. There are real policy solutions that can solve this debt and race [00:35:30] problem, and cancellation is one of them. Okay, so, the people are calling for it. We have academics backing it up. Where are our elected officials in all of this? To answer that, I dialed someone I’ve worked with a few times who I thought might have something to say on the topic.

[00:35:50] Elizabeth Warren: I am Elizabeth Warren, and I am a senior senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 

[00:35:56] Maurice BP-Weeks: Thank you so much for being on Indebted, Senator Warren. It’s so [00:36:00] good to see you again. Oh, it’s good to see you, Maurice. Yeah. So, we’ve known each other for a while, and I know you as a proven fighter for economic justice.

[00:36:10] And one of the things we have in common is our desire to hold people like billionaires and bad corporations and folks accountable for targeting everyday folks. Yep, 

[00:36:22] Elizabeth Warren: guys who definitely do not want to be held accountable. Can we just admit that part and 

[00:36:26] Maurice BP-Weeks: begin with? Exactly. Exactly. Um, so [00:36:30] I know a lot about your story, but I’m curious if you’d be open to sharing what got you into this fight, like before the CFPB, before Scott Brown, like what, what really got you interested in, in, in fighting for economic justice stuff?

[00:36:43] Elizabeth Warren: So I was born and raised out in Oklahoma and a family that was just holding on to its place in America’s middle class by our fingernails. And some years were better and some years were [00:37:00] worse. And when I was about 12, my daddy had a big heart attack. He was laid off. And we nearly lost our house. And that was the first time I began to understand about a mortgage.

[00:37:17] I learned words like mortgage. Mortgage is how we were able to buy that house, access to it. But a mortgage was going to put us out in the street. Because we couldn’t make the payments now my mama went [00:37:30] back She got a minimum wage job back at a time when a minimum wage job Would make a mortgage payment and keep a family afloat those days are not there now not at all But it’s always hung around me and so I want to be a public school teacher because I figured this is how I’ll be secure and safe and then one thing led to another and Ended up in law and law school teaching But, around debt.[00:38:00] 

[00:38:00] That’s why you and I know each other so well. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Always studying it and what’s happening to America’s working families. Why are the debt loads going up? Why is it that families are struggling so hard? So, that’s been it for me since I was a little 

[00:38:18] Maurice BP-Weeks: girl. Yeah, yeah. So as you know, debt has such a disproportionate impact on communities of color in particular.

[00:38:28] Um, I would say even [00:38:30] specifically black communities. I’m curious how you think about solving issues of debt, but doing it in a way that really acknowledges the specific harm that is done to those communities. 

[00:38:42] Elizabeth Warren: So let’s, let’s talk about a specific example. And that is up until 1965, it was the law in the United States of America that lenders could discriminate against people [00:39:00] based on zip codes, black neighborhoods were target.

[00:39:04] And so, families could get federally subsidized mortgages, low cost mortgages, and start building wealth if they lived in white communities, but not if they lived in black communities. And notice, it’s a debt instrument that made a huge difference. And, so then, laws changed in 1965, civil rights laws. Do they matter?

[00:39:27] You bet they matter. Because one of the [00:39:30] things that we can observe happening, Is wealth continues to go up in America, continues to go up for white families, but it starts going up faster for black families. And the black white wealth gap that was created because of discrimination in access to mortgages actually starts to shrink.

[00:39:51] And then 1980, Ronald Reagan, right, comes along, and what happens [00:40:00] is they just start undermining civil rights laws, undermining enforcement, giving banks more power, frankly, to get out there and discriminate. And the wealth gap starts widening again. And then, in the late 90s, early 2000s, oh Lord, this is when it gets horrible.

[00:40:20] These big banks and finance companies figure out, you know, there’s a lot of wealth in black communities. A lot of folks own their [00:40:30] homes, nice homes. And so they go around, they literally knock on doors, go door to door in black communities. and offer people better mortgages, at least that’s what they said.

[00:40:44] So they’d lower people’s monthly payment, offer them a little cash up front to repair the roof or add a room on the back, knowing all the while that what was buried in that paperwork was [00:41:00] going to cost these people their homes. Because it was low, low payment for the first 24 months and then, bam, payment through the roof after that.

[00:41:09] So They basically started hollowing out black communities and once they perfected it, they then took that, those same devices to white communities. They cost Americans, actually we’ll never know the exact numbers, somewhere between about 6 million families to [00:41:30] 10 million families just lost their homes over this.

[00:41:33] But it was black communities that were devastating, that were hollowed out, entire neighborhoods. That had had homeowners, were now renters, or even abandoned. Um, because they just didn’t care. And, and then, we watched the black white wealth gap just explode. Because the wealth that people [00:42:00] had built up, through their homes, gets ripped off by the giant banks and other big financial institutions.

[00:42:07] And this is where you and I really come together on this. It’s during this crisis. When you and I say we’re putting a stop to this, we cannot let this ever happen again in America. And that’s where we get new rules, and we get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in place, and deliberately put right at the heart of that agency, lending [00:42:30] discrimination is part of what the statute says they are responsible for going after, ferreting out, and putting a stop to every single day.

[00:42:40] And that’s, that’s what they’re trying 

[00:42:42] Maurice BP-Weeks: to do. Yeah, yeah. I get so emotional when I think about that time period and just remember working with some of those families that did absolutely nothing wrong. And were, you know, just put in the absolute worst situation where they then have to find somewhere to, you know, move their, their family that’s lived there for [00:43:00] maybe five generations at that point out into somewhere else.

[00:43:03] You know, 

[00:43:04] Elizabeth Warren: Maurice, what got me during it was how many people blamed themselves. Yeah. I remember this. Do you remember they do these like in a high school auditorium and have people come in who were now in foreclosure? to try to help them. And how many people would come in who were ashamed? 

[00:43:24] Maurice BP-Weeks: So, man, oh 

[00:43:25] Louise Seamster: my gosh.

[00:43:25] Who didn’t 

[00:43:25] Elizabeth Warren: understand they had been cheated. They thought they were trying to make good [00:43:30] decisions. They relied on banks. They thought they were being treated fairly. And to find out, not just they’d been cheated, but how badly they’d been cheated. And there was nobody there for them. There was nothing, nothing to do about it at that point.

[00:43:45] And I just, to this day, it infuriates me. These bankers made themselves rich and richer. And then when they blew up, not just black neighborhoods, not just homeowners across the country, [00:44:00] but blew up the whole damned economy, they get bailed out by U. S. taxpayers. While people who lost their homes, they’re left with 

[00:44:09] Maurice BP-Weeks: nothing.

[00:44:10] Right. Right. Well, I will say that people in this moment are still struggling, obviously. And I think, it feels like to me, more ready than ever for just a massive solution to this amount of debt that America has. This amount of consumer debt. And, you [00:44:30] know, you see numbers like 16 or 17 trillion dollars worth of worth of consumer debt, which is just a staggering number.

[00:44:38] I mean, it literally is an incomprehensible number. Um, so I’m wondering what’s, you know, I, I, I know you have, have a plan for so many things and I’m sure you have a plan for this. Um, so how do we attack this, you know, either legislatively or at the executive level or maybe it’s protecting the CFPB so they can continue to fight for us here?

[00:44:59] Elizabeth Warren: [00:45:00] Yes, yes, yes. I mean, and, and, and more, but let me give you one. If you, if you’re going to hand me a magic wand, first place I’m going to waive it is I’m going to cancel all the student loan debt. And, and I’ll tell you why. And here I’m talking about what, about a trillion and a half dollars. You know, this is a lot of money.

[00:45:18] Right. And I’m also going to, by the way, put policies in place where we never go back there again. We’re going to make education debt free. So here’s the short version of why this matters. [00:45:30] Right now, if you’re born into a rich family. Getting a post high school education, two thumbs up, gives you a real boost as you go forward, increases your lifetime earnings, your lifetime health even, right?

[00:45:44] But if you’re born into a family that can’t afford to write a check to pay for you to go to college or technical school, it is the official policy of the United States government to say to 18 year olds, here, just sign on the bottom line [00:46:00] and take on a big load of debt. Yeah. That way your college gets plenty of money and don’t read the fine print, right?

[00:46:09] Just take this dead on. So let’s just pause here for a minute. First of all, you see from the whole setup, it means the rich get richer and everybody else struggles, right? Because the people who are born into well to do families, not a burden for them. And this matters. It like we’re starting to watch things like it’s harder to start [00:46:30] a small business.

[00:46:30] You’re an entrepreneur. You’ve got a great idea If you have no student loan debt two thumbs up you can live on ramen noodles and have seven roommates And start your own business, right? Right, you’ve got to make that 385 a month student loan payment Good luck to you, because that’s not going to work. So we’re watching how student loan debt keeps people from starting their own businesses, right?

[00:46:54] Keeps them, by the way, from starting homes. And what did we just talk about? How homes are one way that you build up [00:47:00] wealth over time, right? Okay, so that’s, that’s what we’re watching. But there’s more to it. Scratch down a little bit more and You know the answer here. African Americans borrow more money to go to school, borrow more money while they’re in school and have a harder time paying it off when they get out of school.

[00:47:18] Uh, the single group that carries the biggest debt load is black women. There we go. You cancel that student loan debt. [00:47:30] And it is the single biggest in one action, the single biggest step the federal government could take to help close the black white wealth gap. It just, just starts to shrink it up. And that’s powerful because it’s about more opportunities for more people going forward.

[00:47:52] So you give me my magic wand, that’s where I’m going. 

[00:47:56] Maurice BP-Weeks: Okay, this is, this is now my, uh, you know, my, my [00:48:00] goal in life is to get Senator Elizabeth Warren a magic wand somehow. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but, uh, I’m going to work as hard as possible. 

[00:48:09] Elizabeth Warren: Let’s, let’s put in a little, a little, um, uh, kudos. Uh, cheers for President Biden and Vice President Harris, because they have done something in this space.

[00:48:22] Remember, number one, they wanted to cancel a bunch of student loan debt. And, uh, by the way, [00:48:30] if they had been successful, about a third of all African Americans who owe. Student loan debt would have had their debt completely wiped out and most of the rest of them would have at least reduced their debt burden.

[00:48:46] So this is a big deal. Supreme Court wouldn’t let them do it, but here’s where I want to give real props. They didn’t just sit down and say, okay, well. Tried that, didn’t work. They’ve come back at it. And so far, [00:49:00] this administration, the Biden Harris administration has canceled student loan debt for about three and a half million Americans.

[00:49:08] Not bad, not bad. The Department of Education that works for them is now going through a whole rulemaking to take another cut at trying to cancel student loan debt across the board. Plus, and here’s the biggie, Maurice, they have now tweaked a plan that’s been around for a long time, but you’re going [00:49:30] to be shocked to hear this, folks like Betsy DeVos never would let it work, called, I know, I know, you’re shocked, the Income Determined Repayment Plan.

[00:49:39] And say it just now. Tweak to this thing so that people only have to pay about 5 percent of their disposable income. And by the way, if your income is fairly modest, 5 percent of your disposable income might be zero. [00:50:00] And if you work in public service, after you’ve made 120 payments, that’s 10 years, whatever is the remainder of your debt balance.

[00:50:08] And if you’re out in the private sector, whatever remains after 20 years, again, I know it’s a long time, but the amount you have to pay monthly. Is modest compared to the rest of your income, whatever debt burden you have left will be canceled. And that belongs now to Americans [00:50:30] as of right, and I get it.

[00:50:32] There aren’t a lot of brass bands around this right now. Not a lot of headlines, but Maurice, this one is potentially life changing. It’s. It reduces the burden, so yeah, you really can start that small business and in all the months before you have any income, your student loan debt is suspended. You really can get a mortgage because it’s only 5 percent of your disposable income, not your [00:51:00] total income, that you’re actually going to have to pay and you really do have debt forgiveness at the other end and for everybody who’s interested.

[00:51:08] And working somewhere for a non profit, for an advocacy group. Can you name a couple of good ones, Maurice? 

[00:51:14] Maurice BP-Weeks: Oh, I can name many. I 

[00:51:16] Elizabeth Warren: thought so. Uh, public school teachers, firefighters, people who work for municipal government, or state government, or federal government. All those folks. There’s now a plan to get you [00:51:30] through and to say we’re grateful to you for the work you’re doing in public service.

[00:51:36] And one of the ways we’re going to show our gratitude Is if you had to borrow money to get through school, we’re going to help you, going to help you cancel out that debt. And, you know, um, I just want to say president Biden, vice president Harris. Thank you. This is a, this is a good first step. And one of many things we need to do to reduce that student loan debt [00:52:00] burden.

[00:52:00] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah, absolutely. And we’re up against some powerful forces. So, you know, every, every step matters. Every step matters. Yeah. Well, Senator Warren, I know you, you have to run. I’m just so appreciative of your, of your time always and it’s great to catch up with you and to stay in touch. Listen, 

[00:52:16] Elizabeth Warren: I’m just so appreciative you’re talking about this.

[00:52:20] The issue of debt is so important and talking to people in a way that just makes it clear. This is what’s going on. [00:52:30] Here’s what the bigger forces are. And sometimes, Getting people into a space where they understand and here’s what you can do about it. Cause there are things people can do. So Maurice, keep up the great work.

[00:52:41] I really appreciate 

[00:52:42] Maurice BP-Weeks: it. And I will. Sounds good. Thank you. Bye bye.

[00:52:53] Hi, this is Kayden, the publisher of Convergence Magazine. There are a lot of places that you can put your hard earned money in support of our [00:53:00] movements, but if you’re enjoying this show, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to Convergence on Patreon. We’re a small, independent operation and rely heavily on our readers and listeners like you to support our work.

[00:53:10] You can join us at patreon. com slash convergence mag. Subscriptions are pay what you can, but at 10 bucks a month, you’ll get goodies as well as knowing you’re helping to build a better media system, one that supports people’s movements and fights fascism. And if you can’t afford it right now, don’t worry.

[00:53:26] All our shows will be free for you to enjoy. You can also help [00:53:30] by leaving us a positive review or sharing this episode with a comrade. Thank you so much for listening. So I want to go a little deeper specifically on this question of how we approach debt cancellation in a way that recognizes the historic systemic impact on black communities in particular.

[00:53:49] This is a key focus area of mine, and I think it’s crucial we focus in on the most impacted folks if we’re going to win a new and better economy. A new organization made up of some of [00:54:00] my favorite economists and policy experts focuses on just that. So I spoke with their co president. Hi, 

[00:54:08] Jhumpa Bhattacharya: my name is Jhumpa Bhattacharya.

[00:54:10] I am the co president of the Maven Collaborative, which centers race, gender, and joy in the pursuit of economic 

[00:54:16] Maurice BP-Weeks: justice. One of my favorite, favorite, uh, organizations and one of my favorite, favorite people. Thank you so much for being on, agreeing to be on the show, Jhumpa. I’m so excited to talk to you.

[00:54:27] Jhumpa Bhattacharya: Thank you so much for having me. You are one of my [00:54:30] favorite people. So this is gonna be fun. Yeah. 

[00:54:31] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah. Yeah. Okay, so this episode we’re talking about solutions to the economy, specifically the massive amounts of debt and the wealth it extracts from Black people in the economy. And I know that Maven centers Blackness in their work.

[00:54:49] Um, I’m going to start with a devil’s advocate question, which I always, my mom always said the devil doesn’t need an advocate, but I will, I will be one for a moment and say, you know, [00:55:00] Why should we create policy that is designed and centered around Black folks instead of just creating universalist policy that’s centered on everyone?

[00:55:12] Black people are included in everyone. So why is, why is a specific focus even necessary? 

[00:55:18] Jhumpa Bhattacharya: So I wish we lived in a world where focusing on all lives or having universal policy also meant uplifting and treasuring the hopes and dreams of Black people. But we [00:55:30] simply do not. That’s just not the reality of the world that we live in.

[00:55:33] We live in a very anti Black, um, sexist, xenophobic world, right? Um, and so whenever we have tried to ignore race, which is what you’re asking in that question, right? Just ignore the fact that people are Black, and Black people have been treated differently since the beginnings of this country. Just ignore that.

[00:55:54] What ends up happening is you create policy that always throws Black [00:56:00] people under the bus. When you don’t center their needs, you know, so if you can look at something like, well, let’s look at voting, right. And elections. And we, it’s, it’s okay. We just, we say all people have the right to vote, but what happens?

[00:56:12] Like, we know that there are specific because we’re so anti black as a nation. There are always specific things that come up that prevent black people from being able to vote. Whether it’s, Oh, you’ve been incarcerated and so you can’t vote and you have a huge. population of black folks, uh, an over [00:56:30] representation of black folks in the incarceration system.

[00:56:32] Because again, anti blackness in the criminal legal system. Or it’s, it’s okay, we’ll just make COVID shots available to everyone. And you don’t specify or make sure that there’s access in black communities. Black folks won’t get the COVID shot because they literally cannot, right? And so when you don’t bring those who have been pushed into the margins of our society to the center of policymaking, they will always get ignored and thrown under the bus.

[00:56:58] And the flip of it [00:57:00] is, when you do center Black people who have been the most marginalized, right, or one of the groups that have been most marginalized, you lift 

[00:57:07] Maurice BP-Weeks: everybody up. Yeah, this is going to be my next question. Like, what, what, what? What does it mean? And what would it mean to center blackness in our policymaking, especially like in the, in the economy?

[00:57:17] Jhumpa Bhattacharya: Yeah. It would mean that you look and see what are the lives of black people? What? Okay. So if we’re talking about debt, this podcast is about debt. What is the debt that they have? And as you’ve gone through in so many episodes, [00:57:30] medical debt. Criminal legal debt, student debt, debt, utilities debt, right? Like, all of this exists for Black people.

[00:57:39] Yeah. Right? Right. Um, and so, if we are designing and if we really want to include an inclusive economy, we need to look at what are all the ways we have extracted, stolen, right? Stolen time, stolen labor, and stolen money. What are all the mechanisms that we’ve created in our economy? And we’ve created them.

[00:57:59] They’re man made, [00:58:00] right? Literally, almost, almost literally man made, right? And so, if we then take a look at all of the levers and the mechanisms that are extracting from black people, then again, you are eliminating all of the mechanisms that are extracting from all people. Right? Because black people are also not a monolith.

[00:58:19] They are queer, they are straight, they are unhoused, we also have some millionaires. You know what I mean? Like, they’re, they’re all the things. They’re single, they’re not single, they have [00:58:30] kids, they don’t have kids, like, literally. They’re taxpayers, they’re Afro Latinx people, there’s Afro Asian people, like, there’s undocumented black people, it’s all the things, right?

[00:58:39] And so It really means looking at the specificity of the hopes and dreams and the ways in which the lived experiences of black people and we design policy to ensure that they are impacted and uplifted because what we’ve created are a bunch of systems and policies that are actually hampering. Right.

[00:58:58] And deny dignity. [00:59:00] 

[00:59:01] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m always, this is like sort of the perpetual question that I feel like I ask all of my, not just the people who are on the show, but all of my friends, all of my colleagues, like, how do we break out of that? Like, how do, how do we break out of this system? It seems like. Um, you know, I, I think that I’ve seen more of a surge in left organizing that understands problems of [00:59:30] neoliberalism and, uh, understands anti black racism than honestly I ever thought was possible in the last 10 years of my life.

[00:59:38] And like you’re saying, I think we’re still stuck with at least a federal government and certainly, uh, you know, corporations and et cetera that Just aren’t really meeting the moment in the way that the organizers in the street are and I’m yeah I’m just wondering what what you think is needed to sort of break out of this this [01:00:00] little I can’t even call it little this racist rut that we’re in 

[01:00:06] Jhumpa Bhattacharya: You know, it doesn’t have to be evergreen anti blackness has been evergreen in our nation’s history and present but it doesn’t have to be it’s choices that we’re making every day.

[01:00:15] And I think first and foremost, I mean, this is at least the way Maven sees it is we have to acknowledge that it exists. Like so many of us want to live in this. No, no, we’re post racial and it doesn’t matter. And like Kumbaya and can’t we all get [01:00:30] along in all lives matter. Right. Um, and that’s not going to get us anywhere.

[01:00:34] It hasn’t gotten us anywhere. That’s like literally what we’ve been trying to do and it didn’t work. It doesn’t work. And so I think. We as a nation need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable talking about race. And I think that’s what really hangs up, especially a lot of folks on the left. It’s like, but our message polling data says that Americans don’t want to talk about race.

[01:00:58] Well, of course they don’t want to fucking talk about race. No [01:01:00] one stopped them to talk about race. It’s by design, but like, that’s not our job. Our job is not as narrative changers or people that are thinking about. Really creating a different type of economy. We can’t be meeting people where they are. We need to know where people are and then we need to move them to a different place.

[01:01:17] Right? Yeah. Yeah. And so I think we need to have real talk about how race matters in America. So first we just like all have to be on the same page and like even preaching to our choir like I don’t even think the left or the progressive movement is there [01:01:30] yet. And then I think once you have that, we actually need to have the space to dream and vision of what does that world look like?

[01:01:38] Because we’re constantly in reactive mode, because there’s so much to react to. And we’re never given or rarely given the time that it takes to be like, okay, let’s vision together. What does this society that actually centers Black people, Black women, what does that look like? What does that taste like?

[01:01:56] What does that feel like? What does that smell like? What does that mean for me [01:02:00] as a non Black person? What would I gain from that? Right? How is my liberation tied to that of Black people? Like, can we have that conversation? And I think once we get comfortable, again, being uncomfortable, these are not going to be comfortable conversations, and that’s Like, can we just say, like, it’s okay, y’all, you’re going to get that feeling in your stomach.

[01:02:21] That’s okay. I used to be a teacher. Like, that’s when people learn when they’re uncomfortable. 

[01:02:26] Maurice BP-Weeks: Yeah. One of the things I love about Maven so much is including the [01:02:30] push towards joy as well in it. Because I just think so much about black joy as being sort of systemically, systematically destroyed through.

[01:02:41] Our participation in the economy and what it takes and the fact that, you know, you need three jobs and the fact that you Are in all of these types of debt and can’t provide for like kids if you have kids and so many other things and, and, um, yeah, I’m just so glad that y’all, [01:03:00] y’all are, y’all have put that in it, you know, center in your work as well.

[01:03:03] And, and, um. It’s not centering blackness just to tell the story about how tough it’s been, but really, we can create a more joyful society, um, through our policymaking. Yeah, yeah, we 

[01:03:16] Jhumpa Bhattacharya: can. And it’s, I think it’s important to talk about joy and You know, I’m from Oakland, and, uh, whatever, you can, you can throw the, oh, she’s a California hippie thing at me if you want by, by saying, oh, she believes in unicorns and [01:03:30] rainbows.

[01:03:30] But I’m like, you know what? Why don’t we believe in unicorns and rainbows when we think about the economy? Yeah. Because I think having a more expansive and creative way to think about the economy, um, and centering Black people and Black joy in particular just opens up so many doors, right? And really gives us, It’s an idea of like creating a different society.

[01:03:52] So like centering black people doesn’t mean creating a new hierarchy, because that’s what a lot of people think, right? They’re like, Oh, you want to center black [01:04:00] people, but like, what about me? I’m indigenous. Or what about me? I’m Latinx. And I’m a South Asian woman. Right? Like. I see my joy and my liberation tied to black people, but I understand that not everybody is there.

[01:04:12] But to me, I’m not talking about creating a society when I say we should center black women, center black people, black trans women, whatever it is that we want to talk about. I’m not saying now they’re at the top and everybody falls at the bottom. I actually think when you center blackness and center joy, You’re thinking about creating a society where there is no [01:04:30] hierarchy.

[01:04:31] And so like, we think there needs to be a hard hierarchy because that’s how white supremacy works, right? Like somebody has got to be at the top, but what if that wasn’t true? And like, to me, centering blackness is about that possibility. Right? It really puts you in a space of, let’s imagine a different world where we can coexist where there isn’t a social hierarchy.

[01:04:51] What would 

[01:04:51] Maurice BP-Weeks: that look like? Yeah, I feel like patriarchy plays so much into that as well. Obviously all these systems are just wound up in, in each other, but, um. Yeah, I [01:05:00] appreciate you so much for, for coming on the show and really closing out the season with, with, uh, you know, some, some homework for all of us to get uncomfortable.

[01:05:10] And that’s, um, the way that we’re going to, going to move forward. So thank you so much. Thank you so much. So what do we need to do to get there? We probably can’t get Senator Warren that magic wand. We probably can’t trade out our current policies for [01:05:30] one’s Louise rights, and we probably can’t put the Debt Collective in charge of everything, unfortunately.

[01:05:37] I think throughout this season, we’ve really demonstrated not just how broad this issue is, and not just how impactful it is for Black people in particular, But how there are so many different ways to push back against the people who created and exacerbate this crisis. Think about all the experts we spoke to this season, like Jessica Ackmoody in Michigan, pushing legislation that would end payday lending.[01:06:00] 

[01:06:00] Or Dr. Luke Messick advocating for single payer healthcare. Or Rochelle Brooks working with people caught up in the racist criminal justice system. The truth is, we need all of those people, and the rest of the guests from this season, and you. Yes, you, the person who’s listening to this to all keep pushing what all the episodes this season show us is that the problem isn’t just with one industry and it’s not just one corporation or policy, it’s [01:06:30] structural, a solution to debt, one that allows black folks to truly participate in a liberated economy.

[01:06:37] requires a total rebuild. And hey, that’s not going to happen tomorrow. But we’re further along than we used to be. My friend Tara Raghavir, who runs an amazing housing organization called KC Tenants in Kansas City, always says this quote from educator and philosopher Paolo Freire, What can we do today [01:07:00] so that we can do tomorrow what we cannot do today?

[01:07:04] After hearing it about a dozen times from her, I wrote it on a post it note that sits on my desk. If you too are frustrated by the role that debt plays in harming black people and the entire economy, I encourage you to ask yourself the same question. What can you do today so that we can do tomorrow what we cannot do today?

[01:07:25] That might be joining the Debt Collective or another organization. [01:07:30] It could be pushing an elected official to support the right policies. It could be as simple as sharing some political education sources, even like this podcast, with a friend or a relative. So they can learn more about the issue. The screwed up system we have now relies on silence, acquiescence, apathy, hopelessness.

[01:07:51] But we, the indebted, must refuse to give in to all of that. We will win the economy black people deserve. As [01:08:00] long as we keep our vision bright, and we keep fighting. What do you know about debt? Debt. Is debt good or bad? Hi, Jet. Hi, Jet. And that’s a wrap on Season 1, everybody. I want to express my deep, deep gratitude to everyone who’s listened.

[01:08:22] I could not have imagined when I started that I would have as much fun making this and sharing this as I did. And you all are a big part [01:08:30] of that. If you want more of Indebted, you are not alone. This episode was about cancellation, but we’re not getting canceled. We’re working diligently to try and make season two a reality.

[01:08:42] What could you do to help? Well, you could click on over and rate the podcast on whichever app you’re using to listen. And if you found the podcast useful or helpful or have any other comments, you can send me a note at indebted at mauricebpweeks. com. The show is produced by Josh Elstro. [01:09:00] It’s written and hosted by me, MauriceBPWeeks.

[01:09:03] Until next time, let’s keep fighting for the world we all deserve.

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