Voters Turn Out to Support Climate, Broadband, Other Local Initiatives in 2020 Election — Episode 114 of Building Local Power

Date: 9 Nov 2020 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In this episode of Building Local Power, host Jess Del Fiacco is joined by ILSR staff members John Farrell, Christopher Mitchell, and Ron Knox to discuss the 2020 election and what the results may mean for ILSR’s work. Their conversation touches on a number of topics, including:

  • Interesting ballot initiatives that passed in communities around the country, such as:
  • How we can reckon with the huge ideological gap between political parties, especially regarding specific policies that receive broad public support.
  • What a new administration could mean for federal broadband, climate, and antitrust policy.

 

“When voters are faced with these really clear policy choices, it turns out that these policies are actually popular and they’re often wildly popular and then they win. I think that’s just such a clear lesson for our work… and the work of organizers everywhere, it’s no mystery that issue campaigns can be really successful and can lead to really immediate and important policy changes.”

 

Jess Del Fiacco: Hello and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast dedicated to thought-provoking conversations about how we can challenge corporate monopolies and expand the power of people to shape their own future. I’m Jess Del Fiacco, the host of Building Local Power and communications manager here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. For 45 years, ILSR has worked to build thriving, equitable communities or power, wealth and accountability remain in local hands.
Jess Del Fiacco: Good morning. I’m here with my colleagues, John Farrell, Chris Mitchell and Ron Knox, and this is ILSRs special post-election episode of Building Local Power. Before we get started, I just want to specify that we are recording this on Friday morning. We do not have a call in the presidential election and states are still counting. FYI, if you’re listening to this in the next few days, next week, that’s where we’re at, still held in suspense in many ways.
Chris Mitchell: If you’re much farther into the future, let’s hope it’s a much, much brighter future than our year of 2020.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, 2021 listeners, I hope you’re having a great time. To get to our actual conversation, if hypothetically, purely hypothetically, if I was a person who had only spent the last 48 hours refreshing results, refreshing the stats on Pennsylvania and Georgia and not paying a whole lot of attention to other local elections throughout the country, what have I missed specifically? I know you guys have had your eyes on some interesting ballot initiatives in different cities. I’m curious how those line up with how people came out to support any particular candidate or the different parties. Maybe we could start with Chris. I know some interesting stuff happened in Chicago and Denver.
Chris Mitchell: Yes. I’m going to start big and we’ll see if anyone can top me, but we had referenda to do more on broadband, would probably be a way to characterize it. In particular, Denver had to overcome a state law which says that a city has to pass a referendum in order to basically build a network or to partner with a network, even if they just want to provide access to public housing or something like that. This is a law that’s one of 19 states that have this sort of a thing passed by in the big monopolies through a pliant legislature. In Denver, they voted 83.5% to restore that authority to be able to make those decisions locally but that, that was a tight election compared to Chicago, where they voted by 90% to 10%, that the city should make it a priority to make sure that all neighborhoods have decent internet access, which I defy anyone to have better numbers than that this morning. It’s very exciting.
John Farrell: Chris, I have the best numbers. Just wait until I get to my stuff.
Chris Mitchell: Okay.
John Farrell: I’ve got the best numbers. You’ve never seen numbers like these before. They’re the most beautiful numbers.
Chris Mitchell: That’s remarkable. I’m sorry that you’ve perfected that accent just when it will no longer be that useful. God, I hope so. What I think is exciting about that is that these are major cities. These are areas in which if you ask the federal government, they would say, “There is no problem here. There is lots of competition. There is lots of investment. These are vibrant places where you have lots of broadband,” and people are rejecting the big monopolies. They are saying, “We want service that’s better. We want customer service that’s at the human scale. We want reasonable prices.”
Chris Mitchell: The bad part is, I’ll just say briefly, is that there was a couple of referenda in smaller towns. There was one in Lucas, Texas, there was one in Kaysville, Utah, in which they rejected plans to build specific municipal local controlled networks. One of the things that we do see is that when there’s a referendum, for a specific project that has $1 figure on it, it is much easier for the big cable monopolies to put a lot of money in to scare people off. I would not consider this the end of the road for those places. Often we see that there will be some kind of resurgence where people will spend the next few weeks thinking about that and deciding, “You know what? Why did I vote for Comcast? I don’t know, why did I do that?” Then, they may have another vote in a few years in which we’ll see a significant win. It’s a pattern we’ve seen.
Jess Del Fiacco: Is that a communications issue? I mean, why consider it after you’ve already voted?
Chris Mitchell: Yeah, I think it is partially communications. I feel like and who among us doesn’t do this, right? You’re like, you know who you’re going to vote on the key races and then you’re about to go into the polling place, you’re like, “Oh, wait, there’s other things I have to answer.” Then, you’re just at the last second trying to remember it and maybe your perceptions were swayed by a bunch of dramatic advertising you saw. After that, you’re talking to your neighbors and they’re disappointed about this and you learn more about it and then you think, “You know what? Why did I vote that way?” I mean, Longmont, Colorado went through this. We studied it very closely and it was fascinating.
Chris Mitchell: Two years after they rejected the referendum, they passed it very soundly. Honestly, they probably could have done it weeks later just because of how people more educated themselves after they’d cast their vote. It’s just a dynamic that we see from time to time.
John Farrell: I wonder if we could have this sort of alternate reality conversation about three weeks after 2016 election, if people might have changed their vote, Chris, then we wouldn’t all be sitting here refreshing results pages with such a level of anxiety.
Chris Mitchell: Well, I guess I would say I feel like we do have that ultimate reality. Donald Trump has received millions more votes. One of the things that I’ll say that I mean, I don’t think there’s any way we’re going to avoid coming back to the national issues on this, but we live in a polarized country and people have very strong feelings about the parties at the national level. Maybe, but I think my analysis is more relevant to some specific local issues than those sort of national ones.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, we’ll get back to the national… Oh, sorry, Ron, go ahead.
Ron Knox: No, it’s okay. I was going to say, look, I’m curious if maybe part of the issue on the broadband initiatives has to do with the amount of and the potential for funding, like in big cities versus small towns, like a pro, I mean, municipal broadband initiative in larger cities would have more funding for more mailers or TV ads, radio ads, all those kinds of things wherein small towns, all the funding would come from the corporations of folks who are pushing back against municipal broadband and there’s not a lot of funding on the other side, I wonder if that can kind of have an effect.
Chris Mitchell: I think that can have an effect but I think the overwhelming effect is that it is easy to pass a general referendum. It is hard for a cable monopoly to say, “No, you don’t want better internet access.” Like the sort of Obi Wan Kenobi you’re like, you’re happy with your Comcast. It doesn’t work if the question is, “Do you want something better?” People say, “Yes.” The question is, should we, and I’m just going to be really hyperbolic in a way that I don’t think this is the way to talk about it. I don’t think this is an accurate claim but if I was running against it in Denver or Chicago, I would say, “Should we close down these city parks to have better broadband,” and then you’re going to see a totally different vote when they actually have to put it together.
Chris Mitchell: We have to be honest about the level of support. How I read these elections is that the cities are not taking this seriously enough. It doesn’t mean that they should spend a billion dollars to build broadband fiber optics out to everyone but it means they really need to take positive steps to encourage competition and new investment, remove barriers and part of that I think does mean modest amounts of investment in shared infrastructure, so that smaller ISPs can actually build their networks without having to pay $1,500 per customer and if you can get that down to a few hundred dollars per customer with smart city investments that are shared, I think we have a marketplace that looks a lot different, that’s what I think people want.
Jess Del Fiacco: All right, let’s move on to John. What are your big numbers, John? Please share.
John Farrell: A 100%, I’ve got 100%, Chris, for you.
Chris Mitchell: Well, Ron’s going to end up with 105%.
John Farrell: Yeah, actually, we’re talking about 100% is that the ballot measure in Columbus, Ohio, it’s a state that allows Community Choice Energy. They allow cities to go out and be the buyer of the electricity source for their residents and small businesses. The voters there passed a ballot measure that would get the city to 100% renewable electricity by 2023. That’s 100% part about measure did not pass with 100% of the vote but it’s indicative of what we’re seeing a lot around the country. There’s over 150 cities that have already made pledges for 100% renewable energy at some date certain. Usually, not quite as ambitious as Columbus just passed by 2030, 2040 and what have you, and those cities represent over 100 million Americans. You did see climate change as a discussion in the national elections, but it’s actually at the local and the state level where we’re seeing a lot of movement.
John Farrell: Here’s just a few other examples. Columbus passed this ballot measure. East Brunswick, New Jersey is also going to create a Community Choice Agency, thanks to a ballot measure that passed handily on Tuesday. There’s a couple of ones out in California. Oddly enough, Albany, California passed a measure to increase the utility tax to fund climate and other local initiatives but Berkeley, California didn’t pass. Theirs failed by just a few percentage points to raise electric bills just vary slightly to create a fund to do more climate funding, clean energy development at the local level.
John Farrell: There was, however, success in Denver. Denver also succeeded on the climate front as well as broadband with a sales tax increase that will be used to create a $40 million a year fund to invest in clean energy and climate initiatives at the local level, which is pretty substantial and is part of a trend now that we’re seeing. Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland have all also in the past few years passed either through the ballot measure or through the city council these different taxes or fees to focus investment on reducing the impacts of climate change and facilitating clean energy.
John Farrell: What I find really interesting about that is not only are we seeing cities do a lot, they’re also committing to very ambitious schedules for doing things compared to at the state level. There was also a win in Nevada, where question six requires utilities to get to 50% renewable electricity by 2030. Yet, you’re seeing a lot of cities saying we’re going to get to 100% by 2030, not 50%. They’re putting their money where their mouth is in passing these local ballot initiatives to do more. It was very successful of the things that were on the ballot around climate and clean energy, almost universally they passed and they’re going to be adding a lot more resources into the fight to reduce our carbon footprint and to especially increase the economic rewards for these communities from doing more clean energy.
Chris Mitchell: Let me ask you, do you have a sense that that was correlated with other people’s votes? I mean, do you have a sense that there was a lot of people who voted for Republicans who would maybe not support those policies, but then voted directly for those policies and this is foreshadowing a future part of our discussion, I guess.
John Farrell: I think, yes. I mean, I think, you look at Nevada where we’re all waiting and waiting and waiting to see how that state is going to vote in the presidential election but question six passed handily, both in 2018 and again, this year. It’s a sort of a curiosity of Nevada where some of their initiatives have to be passed twice to be on referendum. I do think that there is much broader support for action on clean energy and you could see this, frankly, in the polls. The Yale Climate Initiative does some really good public polling regularly. Things like solar energy and clean energy generally, poll like 70, 80% of the population wants to spend more money on these things. It’s really no surprise that we find these things easily outpolling, for example, Democratic politicians who are more often associated with action on climate change.
Jess Del Fiacco: Any other questions for John or should we move on to Ron’s numbers?
Ron Knox: I’ve got good numbers too, not the best, but pretty good numbers.
Jess Del Fiacco: All right. Go ahead.
Ron Knox: Yeah, I mean, I just, I think that’s really interesting framing and just to kind of frame some of my numbers in the kind of national political landscape, right? I mean, we started the show here. It looks very much like Joe Biden is going to be the 46th President of the United States but the Democrats lost, on their way to losing double digit house seats. The balance in the Senate is going to end up hinging on to run off elections in Georgia State where Democrats haven’t won a runoff election in decades. It’s not lost on anyone here on the show or anyone listening that the race nationally has been extremely close, painstakingly close in some places despite the persistent unpopularity of President Trump, Democrats struggled in a lot of places around the country.
Ron Knox: That’s the big picture. That’s the framing but then you look at these smaller ballot initiatives, these really issue-specific initiatives and you see a much different picture. Arizona, which is a state that is on some networks, still too close to call it and a very close race. Proposition 208 last night officially passed and that would raise taxes on the wealthy to help fund public schools, very progressive measure and obviously a progressive tax. Arizona also legalized recreational cannabis as did South Dakota, Montana, New Jersey and Nebraska, a state where Trump won handily when going away. Voters there approved caps on payday lending interest rates and they approved it by 83%. It’s massive statewide margin, right?
Chris Mitchell: It doesn’t beat 90%, just to be clear.
Ron Knox: Yeah.
John Farrell: 100%.
Ron Knox: Yeah, 100% of people. 83% is wild, but I mean, this is business regulations. It’s the kind of thing that you think a very red state would not be into but yet it passes by a massive margin.
Chris Mitchell: I assume that it was opposed. I mean, that industry has a lot of money to put into these races. It’s not like it’s something that was evenly spent. I would guess that that the forces that would like to have not have passed that probably put a lot more money into that effort.
Ron Knox: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s the same, I mean, in Florida. Look at Florida, right? It’s a state that Biden lost by a significant margin, yet the state approved a 15-hour minimum wage, a thing that a lot of business groups would oppose. They approved a 15-hour minimum wage by 30 points. That’s like super majority of voters in that state approved a massive margin.
Ron Knox: What we’re seeing all across the country is this kind of divide between the way that people vote for these candidates and the way that people vote for these very specific localized issues and policies that I think there’s a better connection to people’s daily lives and the way people actually live and the business and the political and economic environment around them. I just think we’ve seen this huge split and it’s very, very interesting to me. I think it means a lot for the direction of the country.
John Farrell: I do, I find this really fascinating as well. I think one of the things I keep thinking about is a lot of these issues that you talk about, obviously Ron, if you get 80% in Nebraska, you’re pulling Democrats, you’re pulling Republicans, and it highlights… We talk about being a really divided country and I think what we really need to say is we are really divided, our political parties are really divided, like the ideological gap between Democrats and Republicans has grown really wide, so that they can’t, even though you have these payday lending restrictions being enormously politically popular, for some reason can’t pass a bill in the legislature that would get bipartisan support.
John Farrell: I think that really, I see that as not only an issue that affects how our government works and the faith that people have in their government to come up with solutions to our common pressing problems. I see that as a problem that directly affects the work that we do that tends to cut across in a really interesting way some of these partisan divides like corporate concentration in the economy, like our work on Amazon and its threat to market competitiveness. These are issues that have progressive implications around opportunities for labor, to organize, to get fair wages, but also opportunities for small businesses to survive and compete. It’s really frustrating to feel like the political parties are so far apart or so locked into their ideological combat that they can’t address these things that are wildly popular.
Ron Knox: I think what comes down to and yes, and that’s all correct. I think what this comes down to, I think it’s increasingly easy to project whatever qualities you want onto politicians, right? They’re heroes. They’re Boogeyman. It’s very easy for people to believe the most dire predictions about what a political party or a specific politician is going to do. It’s going to cost you your job. They’re going to raise your taxes. They’re going to take your guns, right? All-
Chris Mitchell: They don’t like you.
Ron Knox: They don’t like you. All the things exactly, they don’t like you. They don’t represent you, all the things. What’s much harder to argue about in those ways are these very simple propositions, right? Do you think low wage workers deserve to make more money? Do you think payday lenders should be able to charge whatever interest rates they want? Do you want to tax the rich to pay for schools? When voters are faced with these really clear policy choices, it turns out that these policies are actually popular and they’re often wildly popular and then they win. I think that’s just such a clear lesson for our work, John, as you said, for our work and the work of organizers everywhere, it’s no mystery that issue campaigns can be really successful and can lead to really immediate and important policy changes.
Ron Knox: Does it mean that people can just ignore candidates and candidate politics completely? No, you can’t because the people we elect to control policy at every level of government but this difference between the way the voters view people versus the way they view the issues in front of them suggests to me that the country is ready for a change in our kind of larger political and ideological worldview.
Jess Del Fiacco: Before I move on to my next question, I think now is a good time to take a short break. Thank you for tuning into this episode of Building Local Power. If nothing else, this election has shown the importance of working for change on the local level and coincidentally, that’s what we do here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. If you want to help support our work, I hope you’ll consider heading over to ilsr.org/donatetoday. We need your help to produce the resources necessary to push back against concentrated, corporate and political power and build stronger communities. Plus, you can make sure we get to keep this podcast going. Go to ilsr.org/donate. Any amount is sincerely appreciated. Now, let’s return to my conversation with my colleagues John Farrell, Ron Knox and Christopher Mitchell.
Chris Mitchell: We’ve each had a chance to throw out some numbers. I’m curious, Jess, do you have any numbers you want to throw out or do you want to react to our excitement, enthusiasm, overtopping each other?
Jess Del Fiacco: I’ve got no numbers to share with you. Sorry about that but I think the big question about where this conversation is going is there anything that could possibly fill that gap? I mean, it would seem that we could have someone a party that’s like these are our issues. People like them. We’re going to run on these issues. Is that going to happen? Are we going to get a new worldview that can tie these things together? That’s a big question and you probably don’t have an answer. I guess what would you like to see? What would be useful for our work?
John Farrell: Just a weathervane party. Any issue that’s got 60% for support among the population is part of their party platform.
Chris Mitchell: Well, I think it is worth hitting the brakes for a second to remind ourselves that we celebrate a lot of the referenda that we liked but in California, where it’s considered a very progressive state, the corporations passed several referenda that were good or they defeated referenda that would have harmed them in some ways, not intentionally harmed them, but would have benefited the people that work for them.
Chris Mitchell: The Uber one in particular, which I think was 22 and I think it’s worth remembering past conversations we’ve had with David Morris, one of our cofounders, about how we’ve seen referenda be weaponized by corporations because the ability of mass media to really drive people in a certain way to say we’re going to legalize cannabis in Ohio by creating monopolies for corporations to control it, which was fortunately shot down in a previous election cycle. Some of this is also just, it’s a little bit more complicated than we’ve led on, I think.
Ron Knox: Well, I’ll say this about, yes, I agree but I’ll also say that it’s very easy for… Well, it’s not easy but corporations, lobbyists, the folks that can often have their hands all over ballot initiatives and referenda can make them very confusing and can make referenda sound like a really good thing for voters when in fact, they’re not.
Ron Knox: There was an initiative here in Missouri that, in fact, would have essentially ended gerrymandering and gerrymandered districts but the way that it was written, made it sound like it was a really good deal, like it was going to cut the amount of gifts that lobbyists could give to politicians and it was going to create this bipartisan commission to look at legislative districts. Yeah, well, in reality, what it did was it reduced the amount of gifts by $5 and it did not say that on the language of initiatives and they created a commission that was entirely controlled by the people already in power. I just think these things can be confusing, I’ll say that.
John Farrell: Yeah. That’s not the only example. There is one in Florida a couple of years ago where the utilities managed to get on the ballot a competing initiative to one that was meant to open the solar market to more competition. Utilities in Florida, already monopolies, had been very successful limiting any way for consumers or particular for other small companies to get into the solar business. Florida residents, Republican wanted more competition, I think, probably even more support on the conservative end than on the progressive end for that kind of policy, in particular. The utilities ran their own very confusing ballot initiative that would have essentially cemented their monopoly, but was made to sound like it was going to allow for competition.
John Farrell: There is, I think, a challenge with that. It really frustrates me though, I want to kind of pose this back as a question, if ballot initiatives can be successful and we’re seeing that they are successful, but they’re not a panacea, what else can we do? What are the other strategies we have for advancing these kinds of policies? In climate and clean energy, it’s been go local. It’s been focused on cities, focused on states that’s where you can still have policy conversations that are and potentially politicians that are not so, like ideologically cemented in their ways and that you can make some progress on these issues but of course, cities don’t have the power to affect some of these areas because they are limited in their powers.
Chris Mitchell: I like just to react to this because I feel like it’s a communications issue and Jess is very smart on these things. I feel one of the issues is that the people who are crafting messages on behalf of the sort of folks who I said are focused on policy, I don’t think they really appreciate how many voters don’t think of themselves as being a Democrat or Republican. You got all these people who are like, yeah, they’re mostly going to end up voting for Democrats perhaps because of where they live and what their options are but they have different views on guns or they have different views on minimum wage. You have a lot of Republicans that support the minimum wage and you’ve got democrats that don’t, you know because some of those democrats are small business owners or large business owners that have a view that may be out of line with their peers.
Chris Mitchell: I just feel like, I don’t know if he was doing it for retorque reasons but Paul Krugman had this thing where he was just shocked at Florida, raising the minimum wage while voting for elected officials that oppose the minimum wage and I don’t find that surprising at all. People average your political views and then they act as though that average means something and it doesn’t. It’s statistical malpractice. I guess what I will come back to is the question for Jess is, is this mostly communications or am I just oversimplifying it because I’m focused on that in this minute?
Jess Del Fiacco: No, I think communications is a significant part of it. I mean, I think part of it is treating any voting bloc like it’s actually a monolith. Not everyone in cities is going to vote for a Democrat, even if that’s a trend. Small business owners, they’re not a monolith. It’s going to go either way on policies. Organizing at community levels is significant if you want to connect those policies or those referenda whatever it is to a candidate or to a party and if that doesn’t happen, then no, you’re not going to have people make that connection because most people aren’t thinking that deeply about candidates’ platforms.
Jess Del Fiacco: It just doesn’t happen. They don’t have a sense of… You were talking about reading seven books about monopolies earlier, most people aren’t going to read seven books about monopolies. They don’t know the history. They don’t know a voting record. They have a vague sense of what that person is and they’re going to read specific questions on the ballot as like, “Oh, yeah, yes or no, as I’m feeling in the voting booth.” You’re right, they’re not as connected as they are and if candidates want them to be, they need to do a lot more of that community level organizing, I think.
Chris Mitchell: Ron, your eyes got really big during a part of that.
Ron Knox: I was going to say, most people aren’t going to read a pamphlet about monopolies let alone seven books unfortunately.
Chris Mitchell: There’s some good ones that are about 250 years old, though. I highly recommend it.
Ron Knox: That’s very, very true. That’s very true. No, I mean, look, you know I think that’s right. I mean, unfortunately, I think a lot of people vote for the name on the front of the jersey, the logo on the front of the jersey instead of the name on the back or the policies on the back, so to speak. I think it’s a shame, but I think, like what we’re seeing on the local level both from these state wide referenda that we’re seeing where a lot of more progressive policies are being put in place and are being approved by voters by big margins and so on, is that I think that there is this desire now, at this moment, and maybe this desire has been around for a while.
Ron Knox: But there’s this desire at this moment to shift away from the broad-governing philosophy that’s kind of controlled our politics and our economy for the last 40, 50 years or so, right? I call it neoliberalism. What does that mean? It just means this political philosophy that shifted power away from our democratic institutions, to the market and to powerful corporations and experts that support these corporations and their interests and it’s all happened through these policies of deregulation, privatization, austerity, pro-monopoly and you know, all these kinds of things.
Chris Mitchell: As an example Ron, let me just say, as an example of that, I think, this was laid out really well in the recent book by Barry Lynn, the Liberty from All Masters, in which for most of the history, for instance, prices had to be clear and non-discriminatory and more recently now with Amazon, and we think of it commonly with airplanes, but it’s arguable about that, but now, it’s not clear what the price of a thing is that I’m buying and I’m paying a different amount than my neighbor. That’s an issue in which previously the government said for the market to work well, you have to be clear and transparent prices. We’ve said, no. We’re going to let the market set that and keep it secret, if it wants to. That’s what you’re talking about in terms of like neoliberalism in terms of an action, right?
Ron Knox: Absolutely. I mean, that’s exactly right. What it leads to, I mean, it leads to people getting ripped off. It leads to you and me, consumers getting ripped off. It leads to really big powerful sellers being able to rip off suppliers, all these kinds of things. The sum total of this is our modern economy, right? The most unequal economy in a century, wage stagnation for decades, monopolies across industries, all these kinds of things, I think some of these ballot initiatives that we’ve seen in the local organizing initiatives to get these ballot initiatives on the ballot and to get him past, it shows us the path that we’ve taken to get here to this economy is wrong and we need to find a different one. This organizing this really on the ground, hands on grassroots organizing that’s led to these successes is really important and it gives me a lot of hope.
Ron Knox: The other thing that gives me hope and confidence that we’ve moved beyond this kind of unequal, monopolized economy is the House Judiciary committee’s investigation of monopoly power in tech and the findings, that not only does it exist, but it’s damage to the economy and these companies should be broken up and regulated. This report was embraced by a democratic majority, the members of which have a wide variety of viewpoints on business regulation. Some of the proposals in the committee’s report were embraced by Republicans as well such as Ken Buck and others. This is important, right? I think the election just reinforced to me that Americans across the country, even if they’re still just voting for the logo on the front of the jersey, as I said, they’re actually ready to push back against corporate control of their lives and their democracy and push back against this hands off pro-monopoly approach to governance.
Jess Del Fiacco: Right, yeah. I think, to bring it back to communications, people do feel the effects of that significantly unequal economy. They just don’t always get these things spoken. They’re not being described in ways that they can connect to like, “Oh, yeah, I have no savings and look at what Amazon’s doing in my neighborhood.” If we can connect on those things, then people do get it, like there is hunger for that change. I think.
Chris Mitchell: I agree. I think a lot of this comes back to mass media and I still blame television news, more than anything else.
Jess Del Fiacco: I think you have blamed television news in every podcast we’ve put out lately.
Chris Mitchell: I guess the question is whether I’m being convincing, because at least I’m consistent.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah.
Chris Mitchell: I just find it frustrating because people want to blame Facebook and Facebook sucks and people should blame Facebook for lots of things but Facebook is manufacturing the content. Fox News, CNN and others are, that’s the content that is kind of warping people’s brains. It just so happens that Facebook is the carrier of that currently but what it comes down to is I feel like people are more positive and hopeful about their local situation than they are about things that they learn about through the media. Most of our media today is designed to stimulate us and to get us scared or emotional in some way that will lead us to watch more of it. I don’t feel like we’ve yet reckoned with how television has hacked our brains, which were designed on the savanna for hundreds of thousands of years in certain ways that we trust our eyes. It’s different for radio.
Chris Mitchell: Actually, I think the way we interact with podcasts is different and is much better for informing ourselves. That’s why I always harp on TV news. I think the visual medium screws it up but fundamentally, I would just bring it back to, it’s easy to fool people with television news and I feel like that’s where a lot of this comes from because people feel that their lives are getting worse. They have little less control. Their dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to. Then, the TV tells them this is why because those bad people there are trying to screw you in this way. That’s a message which has been designed by very smart people with lots of science to try and figure out how to distract you and get you to react in a certain way.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yep. No argument here.
Chris Mitchell: Anyway, I would just say that Deb Fallows and James Fallows have a great book. I think it’s called Our Towns. I forget, their latest book, whatever it is, it covers some of this and I think it’s helpful to get a sense of the dynamic. As we’re sort of, I assume, running out of time here at some point, there’s a lot of things to be hopeful for. I mean, I think there’s reasons to hope, laugh as hard as you will, maybe we won’t see the country torn so much apart by immigration in the near future as we see, at least current extrapolations suggests that Republicans are pulling more votes from communities of color than they expected.
Chris Mitchell: Maybe white supremacists will have less of a role, white nationalist as Donald Trump exits the party and we’ll see more of these issues being less, the sort of flashpoint that I think has been really ugly for a lot of us when we look at how some of the racial issues have been demagogued. I think there’s some reasons to be hopeful as we move forward to break past some of that and I’m going to come out of this hopeful one way or another, because that’s what I am, I guess.
Ron Knox: I’ll just say really, really quickly that, as far as like hope and I mean, I think there is a lot of reason for hope in particularly in those ways and those kind of ideological ways, but once this election is over, we are in the worst part of this yearlong, possibly multiple year pandemic. It is bad. It looks like it’s not going to get any better this winter. We are in the middle of a small business extinction event that’s really tied to this pandemic.
Ron Knox: I’ll just say that I will be more hopeful and my level of confidence in this incoming government to really govern and to really help people will increase when I see real concrete proposals put in place to help small businesses and to rebuild the small business economy, both to rescue those that are still alive right now and floundering and struggling and to create the infrastructure and the incentives for folks to be entrepreneurial, start new businesses and kind of regrow that economy from the ground.
Jess Del Fiacco: Speaking of being hopeful and maybe a little bit of magical thinking here, with the Georgia races going to run offs, do we… There’s a chance, at least, that we could end up with Democrats in control the Senate? Do you all have thoughts on what that would mean for your work?
John Farrell: Yeah, I guess I just really quickly, though, I want to piggyback off what Ron was saying, as an element that I’m hopeful to see in whatever administration we end up with, so he has highlighted the antitrust findings of the House Judiciary Committee. I think one of the things that people don’t often realize and also benefit from Chris’s reference to TV news is that the connections aren’t being made for folks, generally speaking, at least those that don’t read seven books on monopoly.
John Farrell: Between the way that these structural market problems that are highlighted in that report, also spill over into our politics whether it’s ballot initiatives or anything else and just a quick illustration of that as in Ohio. They passed a bill last year called House Bill Six to essentially bail out coal and nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy. And other companies that had previously been monopolies, had been forced into and actually volunteered to go into a competitive market, realized they couldn’t compete, so therefore used their monopoly power and political influence to buy the votes, literally buy the votes, the FBI is investigating, of legislators to protect them from competition.
John Farrell: I think we have to just keep in mind that whatever big picture we want to see from the incoming administration, it needs to start to break those chains of corporate power in the marketplace and the way that it spills into our politics. Biden administration with a democratic House and Senate, I mean, David Roberts from Vox has said this pretty well, that basically all the good climate policies we’ve seen have resulted from unified democratic control of governments because the republican party has decided to vacate on climate and energy policy, with the exception maybe of helping to renew some federal tax credits for clean energy that are great for people who are wealthier and don’t really help a lot of Americans, unfortunately, benefit from clean energy.
John Farrell: I’m hopeful that what we’ll see is, I mean, if nothing else, a willingness to even talk about climate change. One of the things we’ve seen from Republican administrations at state and federal levels is to expunge the language of climate change from any conversation in the state as though ignoring it will help us deal with it. I am hopeful that this like horrendous hurricane season, the wildfires in California et cetera, are helping us turn the corner to realize that actually this is a problem we have to deal with. I’m hopeful that a Biden administration with a Democratic Congress could actually pass meaningful climate legislation that could frankly, just pour lots of money into our cities and towns and communities and states to just invest in clean energy things that will boost the economy. We have a great opportunity here.
John Farrell: We’re actually talking about this, we have a rare look at federal policy in a program called 30 million solar rooftops, a project that ILSR is leading that is looking at how do we combine our clean energy policy with economic stimulus and in a way that tries to address some of these issues of monopoly power and racial inequality, all at the same time. I think, unfortunately, it would take probably a democratic administration, and a democratic congress to pass those things but I’m also hopeful that lots of those are things many people care about.
John Farrell: I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Property Brothers and their show about fixing up homes for folks or whatever. Jonathan Scott, one of the Property Brothers, was helping folks go solar as part of the home remodel projects. He’s actually coming out with a documentary, not like home remodel show, but a documentary did with PBS about how we could overcome some of these issues of monopoly power in the energy system to address climate and clean energy. He’s got all these conservatives who are talking in the trailer for this thing who are saying, “We really need to do solar and clean energy. It’s really important to have more energy independence.” I think we have an opportunity potentially and I’m hopeful that it would be successful, regardless of the outcomes in the senate run offs in Georgia but the evidence so far has been if we want to make progress on climate and clean energy, then unfortunately, you’ve had to elect Democrats to do it.
Chris Mitchell: I’m quite worried in ways that I was very hopeful prior to and now I’m quite worried about broadband opportunities in the new senate. Many of us expected that Comcast will be very powerful in a Biden administration, but the democrats have put down strong markers that they really wanted to put money into broadband and not only that, but getting beyond the focus on rural and back to urban, where we started the show, recognizing the need, particularly for communities of color that have been left behind.
Chris Mitchell: While I am very optimistic about hopefully leaving some of this divisive racial language behind that I think we’ve seen from a white nationalist presidency, I think we’re going to see more of a return to the big corporate friendly policies of less populism from the Republican Party. I kind of feel like we’re not going to see very much broadband investment from the federal government. I would expect that to the extent that we do, it will probably be wasteful subsidies to Comcast and charter spectrum and that sort of a thing rather than programs that would structurally solve the problem, create a real market, which would make future subsidies less costly because subsidizing a broken market is just a really, really bad policy. I’m kind of afraid that’s where we’ll end up.
Chris Mitchell: It’s one of those things that like, it’s just a different set of problems and a little bit disappointed that in some ways I feel like 49-51 senate one way or the other actually doesn’t make that big of a difference on this issue when you look at the power of these monopolies. I thought that giving democrats a decisive majority would have led to them being bold for recovery package, which would have involved broadband spending in the way that we saw energy spending so well snuck into the stimulus. The opportunity to make these bold policy movements doesn’t come along often. I thought the democrats are ready to take it. Now, I just don’t see a path for getting there, although we will work very hard to build that path nonetheless.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, it was supposed to be a hopeful note to end the show on, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: I don’t want to sit here and keep ragging. I don’t want to pretend that all Republicans have racial animus. I don’t believe that but I can’t overstate enough how glad I am that I think many Republicans will really tone that down. I don’t know what’s in their hearts. I don’t really care what’s in their hearts. What I care about is people having the opportunity no matter what their skin color or background is, to live a good life in the United States. I feel like getting rid of the Trump administration will move us closer to that goal. For me, that’s enough to take away on this, I think.
Ron Knox: I’ll say real quickly, maybe on a more hopeful note to end here. From the independent business perspective, I think there’s a lot of low hanging fruit that an incoming Biden administration and a new Congress can get done that will really help small business. I think things as simple as enacting the paycheck guarantee proposals by Senator Sander and Warner and Representative Jayapal that would be a huge step towards sustaining small businesses throughout the COVID crisis. That would be huge. I think any initiatives to overhaul the Small Business Administration would be extremely important, reorienting its lending programs to deliver more funding to small and BIPOC-owned businesses, and to integrate its analysis and its advocacy functions, I think that would be really, really important.
Ron Knox: There’s a bill by Senator Rubio called the Freedom to Compete Act that would ban employers from using non-compete agreements for entry level and low wage workers. That should be immediately passed by both chambers and signed into law. That would do a lot of good to workers across the country. There’s all the stuff that’s out there. Bills that have been introduced and have languished, all these things that can be done through executive order and executive function that can really help people help workers, help small businesses, help communities, it just has to happen. Hopefully, this incoming administration and incoming Congress are motivated to do these things.
Chris Mitchell: Yes. I just want to say that I think it’s really important that we not fall into this blue team, red team where we feel like, if Biden administration is getting unfair criticism from a right leaning press that we feel like we have to defend their inadequacies, we really need to hold democrats’ feet to the fire on these issues, push them hard, and knock it into the sense that we can’t criticize Democrats because we feel that that some of the Republican folks are making over the top accusations that are out of line with four years of the policies they’ve just been pushing.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, as tired as we might be after this week and the last four years and a pandemic that we’re still in the middle of, now is not the time to relax on any front, really. On that note, thanks, everyone. Is there any final thoughts, comments?
Chris Mitchell: You know what? This has been, I think, less organized than I wanted it to be. I know I wandered more than I wanted to. One of the things I hope people will take away is don’t take too many firm conclusions until we see what more of the data says. The exit polls are all wrong that we’re seeing on the news. There’s a lot of things in which we’re junkies and we’re trying to get information but there’s bad information out there. Many of us poisoned our brains with months of polls that were wrong and we’re having trouble adjusting to the reality because we’re trying to fit it to what we thought reality was. That reality never existed. We were told-
Jess Del Fiacco: Some of us have been saying the polls are wrong for the last few months, Chris.
Chris Mitchell: Thank you, Jess. I will listen to you more in the future. You have definitely proven to be more wise than many others but I think it’s important just to remember that there are a significant ways in which we take numbers seriously, more seriously than we should when they are not definitive. I think this is a reminder. The referenda that we’re seeing are real, right? I mean, people they support these policies and they recognize that their lives are getting worse. It’s up to us to, I think, do a better job of connecting that to how they have less control over their lives because government has given more control to the, I don’t want to say the market, I want to say the monopolies because I will firmly defend the market. I know that we’re all on the same page there, but I just try to be more consistent with the language. We want functioning markets where we can have them. There I go, rambling as I’m trying to apologize for rambling.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you all. This was a great discussion.
John Farrell: Thanks, Jess.
Chris Mitchell: Thank you, Jess.
Ron Knox: Thanks, Jess.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. You can find links to what we discussed today by going to ilsr.org and clicking on the show page for this episode, ilsr.org. While you’re there, you can sign up for one of our many newsletters and connect with us on social media. We hope you’ll also take the opportunity to help us out with the gift that helped us produced this very podcast and supports the research and resources we make available for free on our website.
Jess Del Fiacco: Finally, we ask that you let us know how we’re doing with a rating or review on Apple podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts. This show was produced by me, Jess Del Fiacco. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL. For the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I’m Jess Del Fiacco and I hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for the next episode of Building Local Power.

 

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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

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Jess Del Fiacco

Jess Del Fiacco is ILSR’s Communications Manager. In this role, she works closely with program staff to develop and implement communications strategy that supports ILSR’s mission. She promotes ILSR’s work through the organization’s newsletters, website, social media, events, and more. Jess also hosts the Building Local Power podcast. Contact Jess for media inquiries.