All is Not Lost (with Tony Messenger) | Crooked Media
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December 07, 2021
Pod Save The People
All is Not Lost (with Tony Messenger)

In This Episode

DeRay, Kaya, De’Ara, and Myles cover the underreported news of the week—including a Miami Art Basel policy change, Josephine Baker’s high honor in France, Black tech entrepreneurs tackling health care’s race gap, and the world of underground adoption. DeRay interviews Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Messenger on his book PROFIT AND PUNISHMENT: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Justice.










DeRay Mckesson: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, Kaya, Myles, and De’Ara talking about all the news that you didn’t know from the past week. And then I sit down with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Messenger who I’ve known for a long time, ever since the days in Ferguson, to discuss his new book, Profit and Punishment: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Justice. The advice for this week is to enjoy your friends and family ya’ll. It’s like, and I say enjoy it purposely, because there are a lot of people who are like y’all hanging but y’all not enjoying each other. Like y’all are together because yout got to be together, family’s around. But like, play the game, play Taboo, play, you know, play Spades. I played Spades recently with somebody recently who is not very good at Spades, and he will never be my partner again in Spade, but a good guy. By do that, like actually experience joy, enjoy each other. Let’s go.


De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod, Save the People, I’m De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @dearabalenger.


Myles Johnson: I’m Myles Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @Rapture spelled very, very weirdly.


Kaya Henderson: I’m Kaya Henderson. You can find me on Twitter @HendersonKaya.


DeRay Mckesson: And this is DeRay. D E R A Y on Twitter.


De’Ara Balenger: I think I want to start with just holding some space for Virgil Abloh, who we lost through a battle that actually the public did not know about with a rare form of heart cancer. So for y’all that don’t know Virgil Abloh, you should get to know his work. He’s been incredibly influential in the fashion space, but also in the culture space. I think, really re-imagining a lot of cultural spaces for Black folks and for folks of color. And so he most recently was the creative director for Louis Vuitton, but has his own brand called Off-White and just seems—I did not know him—but just seemed to be a good dude who was all about opening doors. And now it makes so much sense that he pushed himself to accomplish so much since he knew that he was on a short timeline. So. Yeah, I just feel like this loss was a hard one. It kind of made me think of Chadwick Boseman and losing him. And, you know, I’m 40 and as I go more and more into the [unclear] space, I think about my own mortality. And still, though, obviously have so much life to live. So just so sad, honestly, by these folks that we’re losing so young and just in the middle of their brilliance.


Myles Johnson: I mistakenly tweeted like my first thoughts—or not even my first thoughts on it, because I don’t personally know Virgil Abloh and I didn’t know personally Virgil Abloh. So outside of me, just being sad because it is a sad circumstance, sometimes I mistakenly use my Twitter as like an open diary of like thoughts that I’m thinking and people will take their moment to remind me that that is not the right thing to do. But I still stand beside what I think, and I think it’s a powerful thought, that I sometimes think when famous Black people die, how they die kind of also becomes glorified. And I too thought about Chadwick Boseman. I thought about, and Virgil Abloh, and how it’s perfectly fine that these people kept to what they were going through private. I think that’s, I think that’s perfectly appropriate. But I didn’t want the narrative around them working until the last breath. That kind of, how that seems to me that really started getting to me, the fact that oh, you would never know that these Black people were going through anything because look at these performances, look at the amount of work ethic. And something about that disturbed me, and I’m OK with not necessarily knowing how to fully articulate every single part of what disturbs me. But I do know something about a Black person dying and then part of the amazing thing about their legacy being that you would never have known that they were suffering or in so much horror or in so much, in so much pain. I didn’t like that and I wanted to kind of name how it was kind of making me feel. Yeah. So besides the regular human decency things that I feel because somebody’s passed away, I always think about, you know, these amazing Black artists as a cell inside of the Black community, and the cell inside of the Black body in artistry, and thinking about like, what does that mean outside of what it means, you know, as far as like personal things?


Kaya Henderson: Yeah, I think it is the, it’s desiring to create a counter-narrative to the like strong Black woman are strong Black man trope, right? That we are supposed to be able to just withstand these very human things that hurt and that are, you know, we don’t, we’re not allowed to always have the space to be in pain or to be hurt or to grieve. Our job is to show up and produce and that is a big tension that I think we wrestle with. Because on the one hand, is quite admirable that, you know, I mean, sometimes your work is the thing that gives you fuel and so you want to keep doing it because it makes you feel most normal and da da da da da. But also, there’s the sort of other side to that coin, so I totally feel you on that Myles. I just, you know, I, when Virgil Abloh was first named creative director of Louis Vuitton, I, you know, I was like, Well, hot dog, this like London dude has done the thing, and I was like, Whoa, that cat is from Chicago, how about that!? And so I had a different level of pride, because not only do Black people not make it to the pinnacles of fashion the way Virgil did—but hear me, Virgil, right, like he was my cousin or something, but he was and so, I’m just, I’m gonna keep it fam because that’s the way you feel about people who make it, right, we’re proud of them, they are part of our family—but I just had even more pride that he was an American, a Nigerian- American—oh sorry, not Nigerian-American, Ghanaian-American—who grew up in Chicago and, you know, figured out ways to connect streetwear and art and fashion and culture. And you know, that’s who we are, right? Like, we are magical in that way and I just have always been proud of, you know, fashion is not my thing, whatever, but I’ve just been proud to see him and others, lots of creatives out there redefining. Yeah, just proud. Sad on his passing, but also proud at how many people, or the way that we are celebrating his life and recognizing him for his accomplishments. Go Cousin Verge.


De’Ara Balenger: And do you think, and I and I did know Virgil, did not know him well, but we have been around and texted before—and you know, the thing that I appreciated about Virgil’s life is that he did put it all out. He put it all on the table. Like they were, you know, and that’s why people sort of criticize him. People love some things. People don’t love it all. But he really did brainstorm in his art, and he did it. Like he put it out. You saw the luggage, you saw the IKEA collab, you saw the tennis shoes. Like, you know, such a creative person. And I feel like so many people, you’re like, Well, let me wait for the best moment and let me I can only do two things, da da da da da. And he was like, I’m going to put it out, I’m going to put it all out. And I do think that’s a model. And I echo the sentiment about—and you know, honestly, we don’t know, I know people who are closer to him who did know, actually. So the public didn’t know what he was going through, but the people close to him did. And that is actually, you know, the beauty too of humanity and what it means that Black people get to be whole humans is that like we hold things close to the people we love and we share some things in public. And, you know, hopefully Virgil got to do all of those things. But I do love that he played with ideas in public and like things that fashion had never been able to do, he was able to do and open doors in that way. And I think that that is a model.


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.


[ad break]


Kaya Henderson: My news this week is about Art Basel, which is an amazing international art show that happens in Miami annually. And I love it when it’s Art Basel time because it’s an opportunity for us to get to know and see many artists who, for whom this is their big moment of exposure. And it turns out that Art Basel has actually had some admissions requirements for galleries to show. What happens is galleries apply to show at Art Basel, and some of the admissions requirements were pretty outdated in terms of who could apply. In fact, you needed to have a brick and mortar gallery space. You needed to have been in business for X number of years. The nature of your business had to be a particular way in order for you to apply. And that, those rules served as obstacles for people of color and marginalized galleries to participate. In fact, in 2020, not one African-American-owned gallery appeared in Art Basel’s online iteration. They were online because of COVID, but not one African-American owned gallery. Well, this year they lowered the obstacles of entry, changed the outdated rules, in an effort to, in a concerted effort to invite previously marginalized galleries to the big dance. And this year, there are four galleries owned by Black Americans, three, with three galleries from Africa, eight from Latin America and one from Korea. And this is huge because it means that the artists who those galleries represent get to be seen on a world stage. And it was a little touch and go for some of the African galleries. In fact, one from South Africa that got out to Miami just before the Omicron variant surfaced and travel bans were put in place. But the good news is, is there a whole bunch of Black and other, and other ethnic artists who got shown at Art Basel this year. And we should check them out. And so there are people like—one of the reasons why I love it is because it forces me to check out who the new artists are and just to hear artists names who we haven’t heard. And so I want to shout out Qualeasha Wood and Noah Davis, Karon Davis his wife, Bonolo Kavula, Arlene Wandera, Nathaniel Oliver, Troy Makaza, Sungi Mllengeya, and Helen Evans Ramsaran, who are all artists who were shown at Art Basel this year. All artists of color, Black artists. And you should check out their works because this is the reason why people show at these big things and we want to support Black art. And so I thought this was a cool thing to bring to the pod if you’re intentional about diversifying. Sometimes it is just a small policy change that allows a very different set of people to show up. So hats off to Art Basel for changing their admissions requirements.


Myles Johnson: Yeah, I love this because Art Basel such a big deal, right, is really one of the few times that when culture and like mainstream culture cares about art, specifically Black, like a certain type of Black art, Black performance art, Black contemporary art—it’s really a chance for all eyes to be on you because so many things are happening at one time. So they’re being as much entry— access to entry by rather—as possible is so important. I think, like I think about like outside of Art Basel, when do people really engage with Black contemporary art on such a big scale where you know, Rick Owens is there and there’s MTV and all these sponsors and all this stuff, everything that’s going on. I’m like, maybe like a Beyonce or Solange release, if they decide to like, you know, incorporate that into what they’re doing next. So it’s really important that these artists get to have access, you know? And I love that other ethnicities and other races are able to have access as well, you know? But of course, I’m mainly thinking about, you know, Black folks globally and it’s important for us to be able to have entry to those things, specifically when any other time it’s only the mainstream. And we already know that mainstream creates a very specific type of Black image and a Black artistic expression they’re interested in, and that could just get flattened and deafening and just totally shape what you would think all Black people are talking about, you know, and what Black people are thinking about. And Black art, specific contemporary art and like Black performance art is so important because it shows the vastness of what Black people are thinking through and creating through and feeling. So, you know, we have to do that. And there’s a couple of places in New York that have Black women who started digitally-ran galleries and stuff. So even when hearing you talking about that you don’t need a brick and mortar place, I think about how that’s so great because so many Black people have gotten access to owning a gallery because you don’t need the brick and mortar in order to show art now. And again, so that amendment was so necessary. So thank you for that. You know, that gave me the warm and fuzzies. It was so positive. Kaya, usually, I’m like, OK, here there’s usually so sobering. I’m like, Oh my gosh.


De’Ara Balenger: I actually went to Art Basel this year for a day and a half, which is pretty of time actually to be at Art Basel. But it was. And I’ve gone a few times, and even with a COVID of it still going on, I did feel kind of like a cultural difference this year, actually. And so I think some of these changes Kaya, that you’re speaking to in this article are actually really palpable on the ground too. Like there’s just a different feeling. And I think the other thing was just on a practical level, like all the Black art just crushed it, like it just was, like everybody was showing phenomenal, provocative, you know, make-white-people-think make-white-people-mad pieces. It was just so incredible. So, so, yeah, so thank you for bringing this to the pod. And I was there because my company Maestro we actually were part of bringing Tulsa to Art Basel. And so we were able to get some artifacts from Greenwood Rising, which is the museum that commemorates Black Wall Street, but also talks about the massacre in 1921, but were able to bring some artifacts to show, and also had performances by—and this is why I’m even talking about this—Fire in Little Africa, and these are a collective of artists from Tulsa. They are incredible. So please, you can stream them on anything you stream music on, but you won’t regret it: Fire in Little Africa. So they were definitely my highlight from a performative perspective from Art Basel this year.


DeRay Mckesson: The only thing I’d say is it is really cool because there are set of creators and a set of sort of leaders in the space who now are our, there like the 30, 40-year olds who are curating the stuff. So not only is it like more people color galleries, but like I think about some events where I knew the people hosting the event and like they call me being like, Do you know a Black photographer? I’m like, Oh, you should get him. And they’re like, He was amazing. And it’s like, that sort of, that is happening now where you’re getting these networks and pockets of Black people being able to put other Black people on who at the top of their craft who otherwise might not have been known by the, you know, the really old school art person who only saw art in one way and didn’t ever look at Instagram or didn’t—you know, there’s a new generation of art connoisseurs coming up, and artists themselves, so it’s been cool to watch. I even think about like the artists that I’ve seen come up since the protest began. Like, I think about some of these sculptors, I think about some of the major artists on magazine covers. It’s like, I remember I remember when you asked me to do like a random photoshoot in a warehouse before you ever got paid to take photos, right? And now you’re like, now you’re so busy, you can’t even do the warehouse photos no more so. So it’s cool. And I didn’t go this time, but everybody’s down there. And you know, it is one of those things where you go because all your friends, like, you can see all your friends in one fell swoop.


Kaya Henderson: And we should all go together next year. That would be fun.


DeRay Mckesson: We should just have an event. We should have a Pod Save the People pop up.


Kaya Henderson: Yes!


De’Ara Balenger: Oh yeah. Definitely.


Myles Johnson: Oooh. So it was one afternoon. I was in bed. I might have been like 10-years old. And I saw Lynn Whitfield—warmly known on the internet as evil Angela Bassett—on my screen, and she was performing this person who I didn’t know if it was real, this is like on [unclear] I’m 10. I didn’t know what, I couldn’t tell if it was fictional or real. Because this person went from dancing. They went from helping end the World War II, went from, you know, plenty of husbands. And I said, Oh, what is it? And then it was set in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, and I said, Well, hold on because I know from history books, I’m 10, I know from history books how Black people have really lived in that era, and this just wasn’t a possibility. But it was a possibility. She was playing Miss Josephine Baker. Josephine Baker, before Diana Ross, before Donna Summer, before Beyoncé, before Nicki Minaj, before Little Kim, there was Josephine Baker, who was really the mother of Black superstars. She really is the first person to be a singular Black woman identity who was known for singing, dancing, acting, all of that, and really grabbed a global imagine, grabbed the attention of the global imagination in a way where people—i.e. white people—she seem to transcend race for. So the good news this week is that Josephine Baker, the American-born entertainer and civil rights activist who first achieved fame in Paris in 1920s and ’30s, was given to France’s highest honor on Tuesday when she was inducted into the French Pantheon, the nation’s Mausoleum of Heroes. When, I first heard about this, it really moved me. But then also, I thought it would be really interesting to give to everybody else, specifically because I work with or, you know, I’m working with two Black women, to see people’s engagement. Because again, I always dis the Oscars and I dis the Grammys, and I was really excited about this. But I said, Hold on, devil on my other shoulder, how you excited about this but you was just hating on the Grammys? And besides giving a B.S. idea about, you know, how we all live in contradiction, I really felt like that was a true accomplishment. I felt like when I really look at how the French feel about Josephine Baker, what Josephine Baker felt like being with France, I felt like it was a real acknowledgment of the significance of this Black artist, this Black performer. Again, she adopted 12 children from around the world. They were known as The Rainbow Family. They were all of different races. And not only did that happen, they were also have their own type of like fame inside of that. They were in ads. They were, I would like to say a pre-Kardashian, OK? Like, this is a family known for, a family known for being a family, and that being its own thing as well. She was a part of the resistance during the World War World II. I’m going to be honest with you, I really want to be able to smoothly tell you her interactions with this but anytime I try to tell Black people’s interaction in the World War II, or celebrity interactions in general, I really get confused because it just sounds like a very far off time. And I’m like, so there were agents and secrets and Hollywood people and it starts to get into a Steve Spielberg place in my mind, so I’m not able to ground it. But she was there and it was noted, and I believe the people who are saying it. Because I know if evil Angela Bassett is a part of it, it must be of integrity. And again, Baker is just a widely admired in France. She’s loved there, and I just love that, they made this action. And again, I know that other people have critiques about what’s going on inside of France and the fact that they’re using this as a way to kind of maybe brush over certain types of racial disparities that are happening in France, but I agree with all those things, but also it has brought a lot of warmth to me. Because again, I just really remember that first interaction with Josephine Baker, that first interaction with her story, and it kind of like blowing my mind that somebody could have such a colorful life in such an era. And it made me think about what else I was lied about, and what other stories that were just as colorful that I didn’t know about. And also just knowing, again, every performer that we like are reformer. Even when I think about Doja Cat just releasing woman and how people are fascinated with Doja Cat kind of performing this type of like African woman, ancient African woman seductress, I’m like, Oh, well, we know who birthed that. That’s just a reiteration of Josephine Baker, so we’re still eating off of her imagination years and years later. So, it just feels right that we put as much respect on her name, on her banana skirt, on her biopics, as possible. La Fin. Which is French for the end.


Kaya Henderson: [laughing] This was, this is really inspiring to see France recognize Josephine Baker in this way. Of course, it took me to thoughts about, you know, how African-Americans who could not find peace and freedom in the United States often fled to France—Langston Hughes, James Baldwin—because in France, they were treated very differently. In fact, there’s a term called Necrophilia, which describes how much the French loved and appreciated Black culture. And it reminded me I was in Paris a couple of years ago and I took this amazing tour called Le Paree Noir, which is Black Paris. And it’s a walking tour where this guy who conceptualized the tour himself and did all of the research and whatnot, he leads you on a walk through Paris and you learn the history of Blacks in Paris in a way that I have never seen in any guidebook or anything. And it’s pretty amazing history because in fact, Blacks have been successful in Paris, in France for a very, very long time. And you know it, it saddens me that we have to go to other countries to be free, that our best and brightest minds had to go to France in order to write what they needed to write or perform their art the way they needed to perform their art. But it also, all of these, all of those people were free and unburdened enough to be able to criticize our culture and our society in ways that we who were here could not. And so it’s complicated, but I think it’s very, very interesting. And if you’re ever in Paris, check out Le Paree Noir, the Black walking tour.


Kaya Henderson: So my news, my news, always from NPR, which I love so much. And it’s about how Black tech entrepreneurs are tackling health disparities with Black folks in particular. So I don’t, I’m just very much as an entrepreneur, just very much in the entrepreneurial spirit, and when I see our folks solving real problems using these platforms, it just, I just really get excited by it. And I think as this kind of coming out of COVID or perception of coming out of COVID, when still so many black and brown folks are still getting COVID, are still dying from COVID, hospitalizations are still higher for us, you know, I just don’t want to give a false sense of, you know, we’re through this? I mean, that’s obvious with the Omicron variant. But I think, yeah, I just wanted to highlight these folks because it’s just wonderful and I think it speaks to what we need and what the gaps in our health care system are. So this article talks about Ashlee Wisdom, who’s an entrepreneur and started a platform, a health and wellness website, and she has more than 34,000 users. Most of them are Black. And the company is called Health in Her Hue, and it connects Black women and other women of color to culturally sensitive doctors, dulas, nurses and therapists nationally. And I think this is so important because we’ve seen before, and we’ve covered this and talked about this so much, just in terms of how the type of care you receive is really predicated on the race you are, unfortunately. And so actually connecting folks to doctors who really understand, who really see people as people and want to treat them and their full selves, I think is so wonderful. And I think oftentimes we don’t know which doctors to go to for what. So I think this is such an incredible resource that she’s supplying folks with. The other platform started by Unity Stokes, president and co-founder of StartUp Health. And it’s a company headquartered in San Francisco. And it has—oh, this is actually a fund and so they have invested in a number of health companies led by people of color. And doing that because they believe that these [unclear] are critical to solving some of the biggest challenges in our health care system. Finding platforms that are created by Black founders for Black people and communities of color continue to blossom because those entrepreneurs often see problems with solutions that others might miss. Another founder, Kevin Dedner, whose startup Hurdle is one of those companies. And so this company pairs patients with therapies who honor who, you know, who want to do that again. And this company pairs patients with therapists. And he started the company three years ago. But more people have turned to Hurdle after the killing of George Floyd. Another one Medhaul started by Erica Plybeah—sorry, I said that incorrectly. She works with providers and patients to secure low-cost rides to get people to and from their medical appointments. So another one that I’m sure is extremely, extremely helpful. So just wanted to lift these folks up, one, because being an entrepreneur is hard, being an entrepreneur of a purpose-driven company is even harder. Kaya Henderson can speak to that too. So I just wanted to lift these folks up, honor them, thank them. And y’all, check out these platforms because they seem that they are really, you know, speaking to those gaps and health inequity.


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: One of the things that I loved about this is that when people talk about health care, and I didn’t appreciate this until I ran Human Capital in Baltimore and I had to oversee our health care system. We had great benefits, it was a $5 co-pay and we covered 100% of all services and still people aren’t going to the doctors. And before I had thought like it was, I’m like, it is too expensive da da da. And then I realized in our communities, I forgot, like my great grandmother’s experience, it was all the other things. I mean, money was its own thing, but it was like, how is she getting to the doctor? Is there a reminder? Who is scheduling? Like, she is not sitting on the phone for 45 minutes with a calendar trying to schedule, you know? Like it was all of those things. So what was cool about seeing this article is the company Medhaul, like, I want to learn more about them, but providing transportation to people—it’s like I’m nowhere near my grandmother right now. I’m nowhere near so many other people in my family who are getting older and like, how do they get to the regular appointment, right? Like that is the, my grandmother went to the doctor all, my great grandmother went to the doctor all the time. She had diabetes. She went in a lot and like, it was always a process that everybody sort of figured out, who was going to take nanny? You know, did you need to get off? Does somebody? But like, those are often the things that I think we don’t talk about in the conversation about access. It’s like scheduling appointments—much harder than people think. Getting to the appointment—harder for a set of people. And then having the information at your fingertips so you don’t have to make 10,000 calls and stay on a computer is really powerful. So shout out this set of people.


Kaya Henderson: Yeah, I had a similar reaction, DeRay. Like we have very different problems than other communities. And so if there aren’t people solving our problems, these problems persist. And so I thought the Medhaul thing was brilliant. I have a friend who opened up a bunch of mental health clinics in marginalized neighborhoods in New Orleans after Katrina, because nobody was tending to Black trauma. And it wasn’t just about opening a clinic, it was about coordinating rides from key places like barbershops and beauty salons and projects and places where people were. And so when we, when we start companies to solve problems, we are often solving very, very unique problems that have catalytic impact on our community. So shout out to the health entrepreneurs. Thank you De’Ara for bringing this to the pod. And it is about time that we, that we are serviced appropriately by the health care community. You know, I’m watching Harlem and I’m on Episode 7, where Tye does not get the health care that she needs in the hospital. And it is an ever-present reminder of Black women not being listened to, our health care needs not being attended to. And so this was timely. Thank you.


Myles Johnson: Oh god. Um, I guess I had a bigger thing even with you talking about the Tulsa when we were talking about Art Basel earlier, and you were talking about Little Africa [unclear]—they were from Tulsa just rang about Black Wall Street. I love that we’re in a moment where the Black innovations the Black communities have been created are un-burn-a-downable. So there’s this new faith In things because everything’s happening in this imaginary ether called the internet and digital space and in a lot of, and technology has really been able to, the technology of Black imagination has really been able to meet the moment of the internet and that new technology and create things that it feels safe to have faith in, and to love and to be able to think that Oh, for generations, this might believe an impact and maybe create this in this space, it can’t be taken down. It can’t be burned down. It can’t be attacked or blown up like we’ve seen so many other of our efforts do. We’re in this real reckoning generation almost, you know, one hundred years later, we’re in this reckoning generation where we’re kind of recreating communities in ways that are almost a little bit like, dare I say, a little bit like bullet proof to certain types of violences and acts. Or at least that’s the optimism that I always get from these type of stories. It feels safe to hope and to love it.


DeRay Mckesson: So my news is the not feel-good news of today’s episode, and it is about adoption, I always try to bring stuff that I am, that I don’t know about in the advocacy space. And because I spend my day job working on issues, I’m always surprised when there are things that I just completely I’ve never heard of. And this is about shadow adoptions. ProPublica did a phenomenal, phenomenal, phenomenal piece called They Took Us Away From Each Other: Lost Inside America’s Shadow Foster System. And I was like, What is the shadow foster system? I know normal foster care. I have been interested in it for a long time in terms of just understanding it better from an advocacy perspective. But what they do is that they detail these two daughters who get separated from their family because their family is just not able to meet the needs of raising kids. Mother dies from a staph infection. Father is addicted to drugs. Grandmother is resentful of the mother dying, and they just, it is untenable for them to be raised by this set of adults. But instead of putting the young, the young women in foster care, they essentially go into the shadow foster care system. And what that means is that they just get plopped down with other adults. And the father, the legal guardian is asked to sign over legal rights, parental rights to another guardian, but they don’t actually go in the foster care system. So there are none of the legal protections that kids would get in the formal foster care system, so like regular checkups, house visits, checking for guns in the house, those sort of things. And I did not know that there are estimates that believe that as many kids are in the formal foster care system are in the shadow foster care system, which blew my mind. And you know what the article does a good job of is explaining that in some ways this came from sort of a good, a good idea that like, you know, when kids have to get taken from homes for safety and emergency situations, we want to put them in places where there’s an adult that already cares, an aunt or uncle, a grandmother or something like that. And want to do it quickly without having to go through a long court process and da da da. But the challenge becomes when you’re in the shadow system, there are just no protections for kids, though that aunt, that uncle, that grandmother gets no money that is set aside for you to actually raise that additional child. And it also talks about how one of the reasons why the shadow system exists is because we have underfunded child services to such an extent that like it is easier and more cost-effective for states and municipalities to funnel them through this non-foster care system than it is to put them through the formal system. The last story I’ll tell is, the article talks about, so the way the lawyer who eventually helps the two young women who is featured in this, how she finds out is that a guy reaches out to here and is like, I want to fight for custody for my kids. And she’s like, OK, cool. And then she’s like, But your kids aren’t in foster care. He’s like, No, no, no, they are. She’s like, No, they aren’t. And that’s what gets her to realize that there is a whole different system of foster care that’s a shadow system. And I wanted to bring it here because it legitimately, like I had never heard of this, did not know it, blew my mind.


Myles Johnson: Yeah, I think on reading it, the first thing that I thought about was how many people that just growing up, even in their early ages, like high school and middle school and hearing different people situations, And, you know, you just kind of gasp or get to connect with people. I’m like, Wait, I’ve known people who are in the shadow foster care system! And from the story they would tell and, you know, either they’re in like a household that liek experienced a death or there was a lot of abuse and something like that seemed to like have happened, and that’s how they ended up with the house they were in or whatever. Specifically when I was living in the suburbs in like, Atlanta. I’m like, Wait. Like, it’s so interesting when you read something that’s so sensational and so compelling and then when you were review your own life, you see how actually close you are to it and how detrimental is to it. And yeah, it was, it was sad and it brought my day down. It did everything that I’m sure that you meant for it to do, DeRay.


Kaya Henderson: You know, I just think about how many, to Myles’ point, I think about how many Black families that I know who have taken somebody’s kid when somebody died outside of the proper mechanisms, outside of the, you know, official mechanisms. In part, you know, to save them from the jacked-up foster care system that is. And then and sometimes it works out fine. I mean, my mom was the first person in our family to have a house, and that meant lots of different people lived with us at various times in my growing up. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and there might be four cousins in the bed because something happened somewhere or whatever. And, you know, given our history with law enforcement, we would rather take care of it internally than to involve the authorities because then somebody’s kids were getting taken and what not. So this is rational, especially for communities that have rough interactions with official systems. But I think, of course, it ignores all of the mental trauma that kids go through being, I mean, the supports that kids need to exist when a family member has died or sickness or whatever kind of trauma, like all of that is gone. None of that is is there. And so I think one of the things that the pandemic has allowed us to pay more attention to is the whole child, right? It’s not just about academics or physical safety or whatever. How kids feel and how kids engage is really, really important. And so this just reminded me that it’s not just enough to put kids in a place that is maybe safe or whatever, that we’ve got to attend to all of kids’ needs when they go through traumatic experiences like needing to be rehoused somewhere.


De’Ara Balenger: Yeah, this is just, you know, like to Myles’s point, it did what it needed to do. But it actually remind me of a conversation I was having with some family members last night. I’m in Minnesota, and many of my family members here actually work or run, work in or run assisted living facilities. And my mom also works and supports a guardian in D.C. and they look after elderly people who don’t have family and so someone’s appointed by the court to make sure these folks have what they need. And we were just talking about, like all the myriad of challenges if you are a vulnerable person, right? If you’re elderly person, if you’re a person that’s challenge with kind of extreme mental illness. And what we all got to very quickly was that it’s a larger cultural issue in this country because we just don’t treat vulnerable people with dignity. So I think this, just this article about, you know, this report on these children, you know, I just kind of, we were talking about elderly people and people that had health challenges and all this. But it’s just like, it’s also children, right? It’s folks in our community. And we’ve talked about this before. It’s incarcerated people. It’s folks that, you know, that our culture just acts like they’re invisible. And because of that, they’re not the policies in place. They’re not, there aren’t the checks and balances in place, both legislatively, legally, but also just morally, right? And even a curiosity for most of us in terms of like what’s happening to these people. We know these systems exist. Like we know we have issues of poverty in this country. We know we have issues with people not being able to eat in this country. We know we have problems with, you know, with housing. But what’s happening to all these people? Where are they? So I don’t know, this just made me think about that DeRay, and just the conversation I was having, you know, with my aunties and my cousins, you know, Black women who are taking on, of course, the care of these vulnerable people, right? And doing it without the infrastructure, the state and city infrastructure, that is really required to make sure that these people can live, so these people can live healthy lives. So they’re not, they’re not suffering. So . . .  yeah.


DeRay Mckesson: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned, there’s more to come.


[ad break]


DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Now, my conversation with Tony Messenger. And, you know, we know that the country treats poor folks in the worst way possible, that people who have the least always are hurt the most by the systems. But what Tony Messenger does is he exposes the tragedy of modern day debtor’s prisons. He helps contextualize how the prison system actually is just a revolving door for people in so many ways. And he uses the cases in Missouri. He talks about this one woman in Missouri who served a year in jail and owed more than $15,000 because she stole an $8 tube of mascara. I mean, it’s nuts. I learned a lot in this episode. I learned a lot in this conversation, and hopefully you will too. Let’s go.


DeRay Mckesson: Tony, thanks so much for joining us on Pod Save the People.


Tony Messenger: Thanks for having me. It’s good to talk to you.


DeRay Mckesson: Now we’ve known each other for a long time now, meeting way back in Ferguson, which feels like a lifetime ago. Can you talk about what you’re doing now? Is it similar to what you were doing then? And how is your world, and sort of take us to the book—like, how did you even, you’ve bene a writer for so long, how did you get to this book?


Tony Messenger: You know, the irony is the roots of the book, some of it came out of Ferguson. As you recall, when I was the editorial page editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2014 and 2015, one of the things I was writing a lot about was the underlying causes of some of the angst in North St. Louis County that was separate but contributing to the police brutality problem. And it was all of these young Black people getting arrested on traffic offenses and then owing a bunch of money to the court, and then sometimes missing a court date or being required to stand in line at these ridiculous municipal courts all night long, being told they can’t bring their kids, being told all sorts of problems, and ending up in jail over and over again, primarily because they couldn’t afford to pay all of these tickets, many of which were contrived on ridiculous charges. And that was when I first sort of became aware of this general concept of the criminalization of poverty. And when I became the Metro columnist at the Post-Dispatch in late 2015, that became a topic that I really started writing about a lot. And what really drove me toward writing this book was a separate area of that criminalization of poverty. And that’s when I discovered that in Missouri, they were putting poor people in jail, and in this case, primarily poor white people living in rural Missouri, because they couldn’t afford to pay for the bill they got for their previous jail time? I mean, it was literally a debtor’s prison. And what I discovered when I decided to delve into this book project is that, using a hashtag that I learned from you, “Ferguson is everywhere.” And same with the debtor’s prison situation that that’s being applied in many of the rural counties in this state. Every state in the country, it turns out, has one of these charges statutorily for jail time. And not everybody applies it, but that is just one piece of the problem that we have all across the country as it relates to the criminalization of poverty. It’s fines and fees and all sorts of financial punishments that are inflicted on poor people, and disproportionately on people of color, not because they’re more likely to commit crimes, not because they are a threat to public safety, but simply because they’re poor. And the state uses this tyrannical power that it has developed over decades of really bad lawmaking to basically put people in debtor’s prisons, starting with minor offenses. And it is a massive, massive problem that I think a lot of people will be shocked at when they read my book, because so many people who have the lived experience similar to mine, you know, suburban middle class white guy, have no idea that this is what happens in the criminal justice system for a lot of folks.


DeRay Mckesson: Now before I ask you some questions about some specific things in the book, can you talk about why you, why you organized it the way that you did, and why you use storytelling as a way to move us through, given that you could have taken a different approach to the book?


Tony Messenger: Sure. So one of the reasons I did it the way that I did is when I was writing some of the columns that I wrote on a couple of the characters that are in the book, I discovered that people really got to understand the reality of how devastating these stories are if they connected to the characters that I was writing about. I write about criminal justice reform a lot and most of the people that I write about are people that have been accused of a crime in some capacity, and sometimes they’re minor crimes, sometimes they’re a little bit more serious crimes. It’s hard sometimes to get people who haven’t been involved in the criminal justice system themselves or with family members to be sympathetic to people that they don’t understand, whose lives they don’t understand, and so I made this commitment that for readers to care about this underlying issue, they were going to have to identify with the characters that I’m going to write about. They’re going to have to realize that these are people that could be my aunt, my sister, my brother, my parents, my kids, and I wouldn’t want any of those people to be treated this way by the court system just because they didn’t have enough money to buy their freedom. And that’s why I decided that it was really important to make sure that this story was was written on a foundation of the characters, getting to know the people in the story. And specifically the three main characters that I focus on all happened to be single mothers, and that’s not an accident either, because one of the things I found out—and I saw this in Ferguson and I saw this in my reporting through rural Missouri—is that women are sometimes in a position in which they are abused by the system even more severely than men, in part because they have all of these responsibilities for kids and taking care of their families and other things that you know, sometimes men can get away from. And so the devastation to their families when they are in this cycle of poverty that is made worse by the criminal justice system, you know, really just tells a story that I think people need to understand. And I found great sympathy and empathy with Brooke Bergen and Kennedy Kellman and Sasha Darby, the three women that I focused mostly on in the book, and I hope that readers will do the same.


DeRay Mckesson: One of the things that I didn’t know, and this is in the beginning of the book, I didn’t know—you tell this story about Kellman being asked to pay essentially to be defended, and I didn’t know that was a thing. Can you talk about that?


Tony Messenger: Yeah, one of the things that that both Kennedy Kellman and Sasha Darby, so they’re—Sasha lives in Columbia, South Carolina, or did at the time, and Kennedy lives in Norman, Oklahoma, and they both ended up before these municipal judges on minor charges and they got a court date, and, you know, not much different than getting a traffic ticket, and they got a court date and they show up in court. And one of the things that happens in a lot of these courts is the first thing that happens is they get a sheet of paper and that sheet of paper says, you know, Do you want a public defender, and if you do want a public defender, it’s going to cost you 40 or 50 bucks, and you’re a poor person and you’re showing up to court for the first time to stand before a judge and you don’t have 50 bucks. And so what do you do? You just check a box that says, No, I waive public defender. And you’ve just given away one of the most important rights that you have to make sure that you don’t make a mistake that could affect you for the rest of your life while you’re standing before this judge. And both Kennedy and Sasha in a situation that is really common—primarily because all they see is the dollar amount and say, Well, I don’t have 50 bucks, so I don’t have an attorney, I’m not going to going to pay for one—they waived these rights that they need so badly to protect all of their other rights. And in most states, there is a charge for a public defender. Now, most states also give the judge the ability to waive that charge for the public defender service, the ability to waive that charge and they frequently do because they recognize their whole existence is because they’re representing poor people who can’t afford their own attorneys. But when you go into a court and you’re handed a sheet of paper by the bailiff and nobody gives you any advice, you don’t know any better, the first thing that often happens and it happened to Kennedy and it happened to Sasha is they signed away one of the most important rights, and that is the right to counsel.


DeRay Mckesson: What are some of the things that you learn in the process of researching the book and writing these narratives and filing these cases?


Tony Messenger: I did not realize, even after my reporting in Missouri, how prevalent the problem with fines and fees are in courts, particularly municipal courts and county courts all over the country, and how directly related to the 2008 recession they are. Now, there have been fines and fees going back forever, and they have frequently been used as a tool against people of color. But what happened in 2008 during the last Great Recession is all sorts of states had their revenue dry up. And many of those states, like the ones that I focus on significantly, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina, are states in which their legislature are dominated by Republicans. And most of those Republicans have signed on to Grover Norquist’s No New Taxes pledge. So what happens when the state has run out of revenue and you have lawmakers who have a majority who are committed to no new taxes, but you still need money for stuff? Well, you get creative, and the way they got creative is they said, You know what, we’ll just charge poor people fines and fees in the court system to raise money to pay for sheriffs salaries and, you know, other things that they think are politically important. And yet they can raise money that way and say with a straight face to their constituents, I didn’t raise your taxes. But what happens is then poor people go to court and they find out, well, now I owe three bucks for this and four bucks for this and 50 bucks for this, and you get out of court from a traffic ticket or a shoplifting ticket or a minor drug case, and you find out that you owe $300, $800, $1,000, not as punishment for your crime, but as a back door tax that lawmakers added to every court case in that particular state. And this happens in New York, it happens in California, it happens in the South. It happens everywhere. And it’s a backdoor tax. That’s all it is. And worse than that, it’s a really efficient tax because—or a really inefficient tax, because when you try to tax poor people who don’t have the money to pay, you’re not going to actually collect the money that you need, and then what happens is you issue warrants for the people who can’t afford to pay and they go back to jail and continue this cycle and end up with a bill that’s even larger than the one that they couldn’t pay in the first place.


DeRay Mckesson: One of the things that I found so interesting in the book, and like the backdoor tax and stuff like that—were there any other things, was there anything you were surprised by, like in doing this research? Because you came into this already having written stories about people, so you weren’t like, you know, you’d already seen a lot and Lord knows we both were there seeing the wildest thing that we had ever participated in in our lives during the protests, but was there anything that surprised you, that you were like, Wow, I thought it was bad. I didn’t know, it was this bad? Oh, I thought it was this way and then I learned it was this way? Like, I think about—let me tell you, one of the things that I was surprised by, or not even surprised by but like seeing it written down, there was that one judge—I remember the name—but you talk about the people who have to pay to be on probation and then you highlight that like the judge was friends with the person who owned the company. And you’re like, It’s so shady.


Tony Messenger: Yeah, there was a there was a judge in Oklahoma who owned land, and happened to rent, or owned a building, and happened to rent that building to a private probation company that also happened to be the private probation company that he was assigning cases to. So if you’ve got a DUI in this judge’s courtroom, you ended up having to pay all sorts of money to a private probation company that provided services, a defensive driving course, an ankle bracelet, you know, all of the different things that you have to do when you get one of those sorts of infractions. And the company making the money happened to be somebody who was renting a building from him. And so there are a couple of examples of that. There’s a judge in Missouri who sold the building to a private probation company in a similar situation. So when you ask about what surprises me, that’s part of it. It’s the judges. The judges allowing themselves to be used as tools of the state to basically be tax collectors—that surprised me. I’ve written about judges a lot in my career, and I tend to have a greater respect for the judiciary sometimes than I do the other two branches of government, but in these cases, I found judges consistently violating the civil rights of poor defendants and basically just standing with the prosecutor and with the state to try to raise tax money out of these folks and threaten them with jail as though they were somehow being personally offended because this poor person standing before them couldn’t come up with, you know, 100 bucks, 200 bucks, 500 bucks, 1,000 bucks, whatever it was, to pay to make their case go away. And it surprised me that it’s not uncommon in many jurisdictions in this country for judges to behave that way. And yet there’s a great dichotomy in that the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled unanimously that this practice being carried out by judges in the circuit courts in that state was completely unconstitutional. Something similar has happened in Idaho recently, it’s happened after the book was was edited, but a Supreme Court in Idaho issued a very similar unanimous ruling against the circuit judges in that state for using fines and fees as a precursor for putting people back in jail. It surprises me that that many judges are willing to trample on the rights of the people before their court in order to use them as tax collectors instead of treating them like people that have the same civil rights that all of us should have.


DeRay Mckesson: Now, so much of your work is, so much of this research is rooted in Missouri. How do you think these lessons apply across the country?


Tony Messenger: Well, because every single state is struggling with this concept of the criminalization of poverty. So one of the things I get into is the need for bail reform, because that’s one of the places in which people who are poor initially find themselves trapped in the criminal justice system and treated differently than people of means. And I talk about efforts to reform the bail system in both California and on the East Coast and in New York and New Jersey, and talk about how that’s sort of the tip of the spear. If we can reform bail, we limit the amount of times poor people are stuck in jail and treated differently than than people of means. The other thing that I get into in the book is how there is this other movement related to the criminalization of poverty to try to change the way we suspend driver’s licenses. In about half of the country now—and it was significantly more than that when I started writing the book—you can have your driver’s license suspended if you owe fines or fees on an old court case. So whether it’s a traffic case or some other sort of case, you owe a 1,000 bucks and you can’t afford to pay it, your driver’s license can be suspended without any due process in many states in this country. And there is this movement now all across the country—and if your listeners Google Free to Drive, they’ll go to a website that really talks about this movement to change this policy. Think about how ridiculous the policy is. Most of the time, if you can’t afford your fines and fees, it’s because you’re poor. Well, what happens when your driver’s license gets suspended because you can’t afford to pay those fines and fees? Now you’ve lost your ability to work at least legally, unless you happen to live in a city that has great mass transit. And so the state has now made it harder for you to get the money that you need to take care of your family and and also pay these fines and fees. And worse, what’s going to happen, what is quite common if you’re a poor person who gets your driver’s license suspended, is you’re going to drive anyway because you need to take care of your family. And what happens, you get pulled over and now you end up with a criminal repercussion for something that was purely a condition of poverty. And that happens all over the country. One of the people in my book, Brooke Bergen, was in prison for part of the time I was writing the book, driving on a suspended license. And I mean, to me, putting somebody in prison for that particular crime is an indication that we have our priorities backward in this country.


DeRay Mckesson: What do you want people to get out of this? You know, people, a lot of people have heard about fines and fees, mostly because of Ferguson. People are starting to sort of think about these issues and books that are starting to pop up. What does your book, what do you think this book helps to add to the conversation that’s happening around about justice in the country?


Tony Messenger: I think one of the things that it helps add to the conversation is understanding that opposing the criminalization of poverty is not a left issue or a right issue. There are people who are on all parts of the political spectrum who understand that putting people in jail because they’re poor, and using the criminal justice system to make people’s poverty worse is not a very American thing to do, at least in theory, at least in concept, at least in terms of the Bill of Rights that most of us believe in. And so I really did find as I was writing on this issue, that it appeals to a broad spectrum of people, be they Democrats or Republicans or independents. And so that was something that I hope people get away from this, take away from this, is that this is not just a black-white issue or a Republican-Democrat issue, this is an issue that affects people all across the spectrum of our country. And there are plenty of good reasons to be opposed to the criminalization of poverty, no matter your political background. The other thing is, I think people, I hope people come away from this recognizing the scope of the problem. This happens to a lot of people and for people who are stuck in the system, you know, some of them made mistakes but the question that we have to have about our criminal justice system is how do we punish those mistakes? How do we protect public safety when those mistakes happen as compared to giving somebody in effect a death sentence for stealing a tube of mascara from Walmart because we’re never going to let them escape the clutches of the criminal justice system? When I talk about Brooke Bergen’s story, and literally she stole an $8 job mascara from Walmart and ended up blowing the county $15,000 because they put her in jail for a year, ultimately for that crime. People see that story and they see some of these other stories and they’re like, That’s ridiculous. And I know that readers are going to read these stories and say, That’s ridiculous. What I want them to come away from is understanding is that happens to a lot of people and it’s happening to a lot of people all over this country, every day. Every single day. And it happens because lawmakers are using the courts as a fundraising tool, as an ATM, and it has devastating effects on people’s lives.


DeRay Mckesson: There are two questions we ask everybody. The first is—I don’t know, before I ask you that—in the judges vs. judges part you like—and you talked about this already when you were like, the thing that surprised you is how the judges participate in it—you also note, there’s a part where you talk about like how they got on the bench as something that surprised you, or like—yes, I’m not making that up, right? You did talk about that.


Tony Messenger: So one of the points that I argue in the chapter Judges Versus Judges is that electing judges is, generally speaking, not a good idea, because it puts judges in a different situation than those states that have some modified version of what we call the Missouri plan, where they end up being appointed to their positions after applying and fulfilling certain merit tests so that we make sure we get judges who are of high quality and we reduce the partisanship and the election type pressures as much as we can. The reason that’s important, and Missouri is a good example here—the circuit judges that are putting poor people in debtor’s prison are all elected, and so they’re serving in these county courthouses in which the most powerful people are the local sheriffs and the local presiding commissioner who control their budget, the judge’s budget. And the judge is elected by the same people who elect that sheriff and elect that presiding commissioner and relies on the same fundraising as that sheriff and that presiding commissioner. And so when they come to him and say, you know, we need a little extra money for our jail, that judge has a conflict because he needs to try to get money out of the people before him. And one of the ways to get money is to keep them in that cycle, send them back to jail and send them a bill for jail time, and then if they can’t afford to pay that bill for jail time, send them to jail again and keep using that threat of jail in order to force them to pay the county more money. So those judges that are elected all have built-in conflicts that work against the independence of the judiciary. The Supreme Court judges in Missouri are not elected. They are appointed through a merit system and they are put in their spot in a way that is less political than the circuit judges. And so I think it’s telling that the circuit judges that were allowing these schemes to take place in which they unconstitutionally trampled on the civil rights of citizens, the Supreme Court judges who were not elected overwhelmingly, unanimously saw. And they’re Democrats and Republicans. They’re, you know, from a wide mix of the political spectrum. They saw unanimously that this is wrong, that this is a problem. And so one of the things that I didn’t realize until I was working on the book is that the United States is one of the only countries in the in the first world, the free world, you know, in terms of industrialized countries that even has elected judges. Most other countries with independent judiciaries do not elect their judges in the way that we do in many jurisdictions in the United States. I think that’s part of the problem.


DeRay Mckesson: It is sort of nuts, and I think you’re right, as you note in the book that so many people don’t realize it, that they’re like, Oh, the judge. You’re like, Oh my God, this is nuts. But there are two questions we ask everybody. The first is what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years has stuck with you?


Tony Messenger: I had a ninth grade English teacher named Brother Paul Fitzgerald, and he gave me a C on a paper one time and I was upset. I was a straight-A student. And he could tell I was upset and he took me out into the hallway and he said, what’s wrong? And I said, I got a C on this paper. And he says, Yeah? And he says, What’s your problem with that? And he says, Well, this guy next to me who hardly ever gets an A on anything, got a B on his paper. He’s like, Yeah? He’s like, What’s your problem? And I said, I’m an a student, this paper’s better than a C. And he looked at me and he said, Is it your best work? And I said, What do you mean? It’s better than his? I said, that’s not my question. Is that paper your best work? And I said No. He says, When you give me your best work, I’ll give you an A.. And that stuck with me. I’d like to think this book is my best work, and I’d like to think that I’ll continue to do my best work every day as a columnist and as an author as I work on other books. But the idea that nobody deserves an A. You get an A when you do your best work, that’s probably one of the ideas that that has stuck with me more than anything else in my life.


DeRay Mckesson: And the last question is, what do you say to people who feel like they’ve done everything, right? They called, they emailed, they stood in the streets, they testified, they ran for office—they did all the things and the world hasn’t changed in the way they wanted it to. What do you say to those people?


Tony Messenger: Keep going. You know, one of the things that I learned from you during Ferguson is this concept that the struggle is never over. That that even with successes in this restart of the civil rights movement that’s been going on these last few years, there’s always another struggle. There’s always a Rittenhouse verdict around the corner. There’s always another police brutality shooting. There’s always another case of somebody put in jail, primarily because they’re poor. And it’s hard. Fighting for justice is difficult. I signed one of my books for a friend of mine in Dallas, Texas the other day who’s a preacher and somebody who is very much involved in the social justice and racial justice movement, and I told him, I said, I hope this book provides a little bit of inspiration as you continue the daily struggle. Because those people who are in the streets fighting for the rights of all Americans to be free and to have their civil rights protected constantly need that little push, that little extra inspiration to keep going so that they don’t feel like they’re banging their heads against the wall. But my short answer after giving you a long one is: just keep going.


DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, we consider you a friend in the pod, and I consider you a friend in general. Thanks for coming on today.


Tony Messenger: Awesome. Thank you very much, DeRay. I really enjoyed it, and it’s good to talk to you. Let’s not make it as long next time.


DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week.


Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrie and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Executive produced by me. And special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Myles Johnson.