In early spring of 2020, folks around the nation began seeing changes large and small in their communities. Whether it was companies moving remote or store shelves starting to run low, we became aware that something serious was happening. The entire country soon woke up in a global pandemic. Communities and companies had to respond to this new age of COVID19. In this episode of Onward On-Air, host Jake Soberal chats with Michael Tubbs, Mayor of Stockon, Joe Barela, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and James Fallows, Journalist at The Atlantic, about their approach, response and leadership in the current crisis.
OOA Episode 02
[00:00:00] Jake Soberal: [00:00:00] Welcome to onward on air. I'm your host Jake Soberal. Overall last week, we brought you a conversation with unique voices in the fight for racial equity and opportunity. We ran that show as our premier, given the incredible social movement in response to the murder of George Floyd this week. We will go deep with three people who have been on the front lines of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
[00:00:30] We'll be joined by Joe Barela, the secretary of labor for the state of Colorado, whose innovative work in building an integrated system to serve workers in his state is being tested in this moment. Like never before. We'll hear from Michael Tubbs, the young mayor of Stockton, California, whose courage is made clear by his willingness to try things that others simply will not.
[00:00:51] And finally, we'll speak to Jim Fallows whose work spans from writing speeches for president Carter, to documenting history in real time for the Atlantic, each of these individuals from a different context, each an important voice in this moment as the CEO of a tech company, committed to opening doors and providing opportunities.
[00:01:10] We accept that our shared responsibilities have never been greater. We hope that you will see in our guests lessons, insights, and a sense of hope that we can use to move forward. As a technical note, if you'll indulge me, we recorded the interviews in this episode, from my home office, by the end of that recording, it was clear that to give my wife and kids the space they needed, we could no longer shoot from home.
[00:01:33] This episode is actually a set built in one of our downtown Fresno buildings. And our crew built it as the new home for onward on air. Needless to say, I'm thankful to my wife, Sarah, for her production support of episode one, let's get started.
[00:01:54] excited to welcome with us here this morning, Jim Fallows from the Atlantic and have a really neat history with. [00:02:00] Jim in that some number of years ago, I don't know. Now if it is four or five, the receptionist in the very early days of Bitwise industries walks back to our small office in our downtown Fresno location and says, ah, there's a reporter here from the Atlantic.
[00:02:15] And he flew here on his plane. He's here with his wife and they'd like to speak to you. I, of course not I was being pranked, but Jim, I'd love to have you start with us by finishing that story and just sharing a little bit about how we came to be connected.
[00:02:27] James Fallows: [00:02:27] So at that time, I think it was back in 2015. I think my wife, Deb and I were in the middle.
[00:02:32] We were two years into a travel around smaller towns in the country, places as big as Fresno, but a lot smaller than that to flying our little propeller plane, which I'll specify is a four seat single engine propeller plane, as opposed to one of these. Fancy jets. And we were looking for places for communities that had had troubles, economic, cultural, whatever, and how they were trying to recreate themselves.
[00:02:58] We've been in Fresno for a couple of days. We asked what was happening here. They said, well, you should check out this new firm called Bitwise, see what they're doing. And we were hooked.
[00:03:07] Jake Soberal: [00:03:07] We are certainly glad to have become connected and the adventures have continued in a variety of different iterations since then.
[00:03:13] And so I'm going to now move for a quick intro to Joe, and I'd like to welcome also to onward on air Joe. Barela the secretary of labor or the state of Colorado. And Joe, I have known you now only a couple of months, but was really delighted to have had the opportunity to encounter you and your team through our initiative, onward us and specifically.
[00:03:34] Onward CEO. And as we visited with different labor teams around the country in different States, one of the things that has stood out as truly remarkable is that to the greatest degree possible your team in Colorado seemed ready for this moment. And so I'd love to hear about, you know, just to begin, how how'd you do that?
[00:03:53] Secretary Joe Barela: [00:03:53] Well, thank you, Jake. And thank you so much. I think the opportunity to work with Bitwise and onward [00:04:00] us really came at a great time for Colorado. Cause we were struggling just like every other state is how are we going to deal with this unprecedented surge of people, not only losing their jobs because of this healthcare crisis, but as they start returning to work.
[00:04:14] The public workforce system is not set up to deal with this massive increase in volume for customers needing to return to employment. And so luckily in Colorado, we have built through the public workforce system, a bigger ecosystem that takes into account our nonprofits, our community based organizations and those public American job centers.
[00:04:34] And so, uh, through the work. That the Colorado workforce development council, governor Polis, and our office of economic development, international trade. I think we were in a good position to say, we've diversified our economy throughout the state. A one size doesn't fit all. How can we regionalize our approaches and make sure that.
[00:04:52] People who are in need first of all of healthcare and then financial assistance and safety net programs. But then also as they start thinking about returning to work, what are the systems we have in place and where do we need people to help us such as Bitwise and onward, Colorado, so that we can. Turn around this quickly from a health crisis to a reemployment rebounding initiative.
[00:05:12] So I think, you know, what was in place from the public workforce system, our partners and foundations and philanthropies, as well as our education system, our economic development initiatives really helped us turn around from. Coasting to a 2.5% unemployment in February with about 2000 people a week on unemployment insurance to the end of March, where we went over well, over a hundred thousand people applying for unemployment and about 15% unemployment in Colorado.
[00:05:39] So we weren't perfect, but I think we had a lot of the gears in place to help us be successful.
[00:05:44] Jake Soberal: [00:05:44] And it, it is certainly shown. And then of course, I'd like to welcome to the show today, a mayor, Michael Tubbs in Stockton, and we founded Bitwise in 2013 in downtown Fresno. And not so long after that, there was this superstar mayor that came to the scene two [00:06:00] hours up the road in Stockton.
[00:06:01] And since then, one of the things I've really appreciate, appreciated about having you. In the mix mayor Tubbs is, is the ability to have a first call to a peer or to a leader in our region where I can say, Hey, how are you guys dealing with this in Stockton? And it has truly been impressive to see what you've done now, before we get into your role, though, as mayor, you are a leader, a dad and a husband amidst this pandemic.
[00:06:24] I'd love to just hear how, how you guys are doing at home and how you are doing personally in this really new and challenging time.
[00:06:30] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:06:30] Well, thank you for asking me my wife and I have a beautiful six month old boy. Oh, it was actually made the shelter in place. Very joyous. And in many ways I spend more time with him than I probably would have.
[00:06:43] Sadly, actually, when you think of it, that probably will come to me when it's more work than before, but I'm able to spend more time with my son because I'm home and I'm not, I don't have to travel. I can be at the office late. Et cetera. My wife is a, is this a great partner? And we're doing our best to create a sense of normalcy and in a very abnormal time.
[00:07:00] But as for me personally, I've been running and I hate running, but I've been running a mile or a mile and a half or two miles every day, or at least four or five times a week, just get my mind clear and focus and really kind of censoring all the things that matter. I think also as a person of faith, but kind of my faith practice has been very helpful in.
[00:07:19] Giving solace in terms of what Southern my control was not in my control and just doing my best to serve the people I would like to represent. So, I mean, we're as good as can be with the circumstances. I think conversations with folks like you all are also very helpful to keep morale up. And also I've been really amazed with the way the community has responded together in a way to really be good neighbors and do what we can to continue the progress we were making before COVID-19 struck.
[00:07:44] Jake Soberal: [00:07:44] I'm glad to hear that it is an adjustment being home. It's it is wonderful to have more time with the kids, but then there's of course the challenge on, on the news yesterday, my mother decided that it was time to deliver eggs. And so she knocked on the doors just to my right. And she was on the news then with me.
[00:07:57] Uh, so there are, uh, of [00:08:00] course new challenges with that important stuff sort of in hand. I'm really interested to hear Michael, about your experience as a mayor in this moment, it is a different time to lead. And I'd love to hear about how that's working from your perspective in Stockton.
[00:08:15] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:08:15] I was just telling him that I was on the phone with the mayor of Lodi, California, right before this call.
[00:08:21] And I told him half jokingly that if I had realized that this could be what, my last year as mayor and possibly my beginning of my second term as mayor would be, I may have taken a hard look and say, Hmm, maybe I'm not sure. I wanted to be married. It's not because it's not fun, but it's difficult. I mean, you have a lack of a coordinated response or even a strategy at the federal level.
[00:08:45] You have constituents locally who are hurting, who are unemployed, who small businesses are taking the ahead, who are scared, who are confused. Um, and then given the way we're structured in California, you have a County government that's given all the resources that has five. Where supervisors that don't necessarily reflect the population of your city and the buck stops with you.
[00:09:06] So I spent a lot of my time pulling rabbits out of the hat in terms of building resilience in the city. So we've been really thankful for our philanthropic partners. We started a Stockton strong website modeled after Birmingham strong, which really is a one stop shop for all information. Cause I found that the biggest job as mayor is giving people a trusted source for information.
[00:09:26] That you may not have all the answers or be responsible for everything, but you should point people to a resource where they can go to figure out how to access employment arts, figure out the access housing vouchers are. I figured out that actress food we've partnered with edible school yards and Alice Waters and others to bring fresh produce to our food banks and to seniors, we partner with door desk, you delivery.
[00:09:47] We just started the great plates program with the state with excess money. From our general fund, we did a covert response fund. To help our shelters to help our small businesses, particularly at a time when [00:10:00] they weren't able to access the PPP. And then 12 hours, we had 800 small businesses and organizations apply and we only had funding for 170, which is heartbreaking.
[00:10:10] And then also educating the public that this is serious. So this is not a Parson issue, that this is not about a 2020 election. It's really about the health and safety. And then the last thing I would say is it's been a tight rope to walk because in Stockton we have high rates of uninsured populations.
[00:10:26] We have high rates of people with asthma and diabetes and preexisting conditions. And we're the most diverse city in this country. So a COVID-19. Prognosis for some of my constituents, then regardless of age can mean death. So really messaging to the community in a way that's hopeful and helpful and forward thinking.
[00:10:43] But also really reality. How has it been a challenge, but they get, I think the community has responded well. And now folks we're at the point where they're like, look, the curve has flats and look, we haven't had. Armageddon like depths. Look, we're not in New York or Italy. Let us go outside. So now the challenge is working with our County to come up with clear metrics that we need to meet, to open up and also coming up with a strategy upon which we'll open up in a way that's safe.
[00:11:07] Jake Soberal: [00:11:07] I do want to spend some time on the idea of reopening, but there's something that you said there that, that is so close to home for me as a young leader in Fresno. And that is sometimes feeling out of step with the existing leadership, whether that's a board of supervisors, city council, where. Their view of this circumstance better.
[00:11:24] Worse has been very, very different than I've found has been ours at Bitwise. Where in the context of Fresno, where numbers are similar to Stockton and San Joaquin County, we were one of the early companies to say, we're going to go completely remote. Tell me more about that experience of feeling like the reaction here was not in sync necessarily with some of the leaders in your community
[00:11:45] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:11:45] case.
[00:11:45] In point in a month in March, we shut down the restaurants, the movie theaters, the bowling alleys, the parks. Before the governor made his shelter in place or in it, and probably because our County refused to do so. So people thought I was being too [00:12:00] aggressive or I was being too, um, doom and gloom because our County who has a public health officer, didn't make that statement.
[00:12:08] And they're the public health officer there, the County health system. So people expect them to make these health pronouncements. And just now, recently we have County supervisors who are out protesting in my city with. Dozens of people, men that we opened up tomorrow with Trump flags and treading on my Liberty flag, it just seems like it's a different reality.
[00:12:28] Nothing for me is just dangerous, particularly for the folks that I represent and also understanding that we all go into open up. Like we all want to go back to normal, but without a strategy, without testing, without contact tracing, without containment, without a plan that's just not possible. So it's been very frustrating actually, months to kind of.
[00:12:48] Get the entity with the resources to spend those resources in a way that last thing I'll say the County received $130 million through the carer. Zack based off population. Stockton is 52% of the COVID cases. 43% of percent of population of the County. We received $0 million to deal with the crisis. All the money is going as a reimbursement account to the Kelly and departments and to the board of supervisors to have $5 million, $3 million.
[00:13:13] These slush funds. No talk of rental assistance, no talk of small business assistance. No talk of putting a strategy to open up. So it's been super frustrating. And particularly in the time, when you need to show unity where you want everyone to be positive, we don't want this fighting and bickering. It's hard to choose which battles to fight, because at some point we have to fight to kind of get what's needed to get back to a new normal.
[00:13:37] Jake Soberal: [00:13:37] Yeah. And I think that that, that disunity is unfortunately characteristic to a lot of secondary and tertiary markets like Fresno and Stockton. And I think is actually an opportunity to acknowledge that in some places there is a really heightened degree of unified leadership and in our work with onward us and specifically the state of Colorado, We had the opportunity to run into [00:14:00] a state system, particularly around workforce and labor.
[00:14:03] That was not just unified in its approach, but was deeply connected. And so, Joe, I'd love to hear about a little bit about how, how you feel like that was actually achieved because our experience in Fresno mayor Tubbs experience in Stockton, unfortunately is not the same.
[00:14:18] Secretary Joe Barela: [00:14:18] Yeah, J J great question. You know, uh, Colorado real, similar to California is we're really a local controlled state.
[00:14:25] And so we have 64 counties. And so our structures have been built to how do we support all the counties and it's not just a Denver centric approach. And so how do we get you engaged in your own regional economic vitality? What can we do with our teams at state departments to help you thrive? And so through the Polis administration and the Hickenlooper administration, even before that, Really building local strengths in County to take advantage of the resources that they have or where can they go to get them, and also realizing that they don't need to duplicate a lot of things that are happening in other counties.
[00:14:57] And so how can we make sure that you have systems in place to make sure that a Colorado that works for all is available to your, to your citizens? And so looking at how we support business and industry through listening to their talent and workforce needs and making sure that our education systems are.
[00:15:14] Bond into that. Uh, you know, we're very fortunate in Colorado that we have a lot of outside players that are not government that want to come in and help us. And so we have a thriving youth apprenticeship program that works throughout the state, in our education system in making sure that young kids who college may not be attainable or an opportunity for them, that they can.
[00:15:33] Obtain the skills they want through an apprenticeship program and enter a pathway that leads to a livable wage in their community. We also have the Markle foundation and the skillful initiative. Who's really trying to push on a skills based economy where we take down some of the proxies that have been built over years that require a four year degree and maybe years of experience before you can get into the door of a high, a pain, a high skill job.
[00:15:57] So we've tried for a couple of years now [00:16:00] to say, can we look at skills and competencies so we can open up the flood Gates so that you can look at diversifying your workforce, creating talent opportunities for those people who, who may not be able to obtain or get into a college because, uh, that four year degree is a barrier for them.
[00:16:15] So all that work really positioned us to be, um, a little bit prepared if you will. And I would argue that yes. We learned a lot and we could do a lot better, but this healthcare crisis with COVID really accelerated what we learned, those same industries. We were thinking that we're at risk because of technology.
[00:16:32] We're the ones that were most highly impacted because of the pandemic. So we saw displacement in industries where we're thinking technology was going to take away those jobs in three or five years. And those were the first jobs that were impacted because of the stay at home order. And now the safer at home order we're in now in Colorado.
[00:16:49] And so I do think there's a mentality that the. Data's here to help locals be successful and be resilient. Um, and try not to get in the way as the mayor did say, um, a lot of the, you know, we have 64 counties in Colorado from the cares act. There were only five counties who qualified because of their size to get those resources.
[00:17:07] And so we had 59, uh, that are left with nothing from the cares act to help with their response. And so, you know, we need to figure out how do we resource those counties to be successful as we come out of this and rebound.
[00:17:19] Jake Soberal: [00:17:19] Jim, uh, hearing from a mayor closest to the metal, if you will. That is trying and leading hearing from a state that is certainly modeling some best practices.
[00:17:29] You know, there is another form of government here and one in which you have experience, you know, from the archives, I do know that you once wrote speeches for president Carter. And, um, I'm curious, what do they need to say? What do we need from Washington DC in the way of messaging in this moment? Um, from your perspective,
[00:17:48] James Fallows: [00:17:48] So that's a tricky question, which I'll try to use.
[00:17:51] Um, since I'm sitting in Washington, D C right now, even though I'm from California, I'll try to use DC type guile in, um, [00:18:00] answering the question. If you think of presidents of either party over the last century or so in times of national distress. There are several consistent messages. These people have given.
[00:18:13] One is to make sure that they let a nation know that they feel the suffering. We know that people have lost loved ones. They know that people's lives are being disrupted. They know that people are afraid of the future. So having some kind of sense of. Empathy, but somebody who can be the head of the national family, that's one thing a national leader does a second thing.
[00:18:34] The national leader does, which sounds contradictory, but also is complimentary is to say that while the president is aware of the uncertainty and the fear and the suffering president is also saying, there's a way ahead that this is the country that's been through a lot of hard times before. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
[00:18:55] We know there is darkness and there is Dawn, et cetera, et cetera. So first. Empathy and concern second hopefulness and the long road ahead. And then third is some kind of practical proposal we're going to do X and Y and Z and Franklin Roosevelt. Again, of course I was saying is the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
[00:19:15] His practical plan was the a hundred days planned for that, for the new deal. And if you look through the annals of presidential speech writing, whether it's after. Pearl Harbor again by FDR, whether it's by Ronald Reagan, after the space shuttle explosion, whether it's by George W. Bush after the nine 11 attacks, different presidents, they all encounter some kind of emergency.
[00:19:38] So the combination of awareness of hardship, confidence in the future and practicality, that is what. Regular presidents have done, uh, over the, over the years. And I know that this, this applies also at state and local level of government. I'll say one other thing as I think that both the mayor and Jake know, because I've discussed it with [00:20:00] you directly over the years, a message that Deb and I have been trying to convey is that at a time of doubt about national governance, When it seems paralyzed and polarized and dysfunctional, et cetera.
[00:20:12] The hope for American governance right of this era is coming from people like you all. And the secretary at the local, at the city level, the state level, the regional level at the small business level, et cetera. And I think in a. Horrific way. We've had a demonstration of that in the last three months, I've been alive probably as long as all the rest of you combined.
[00:20:32] And in my lifetime, this is the worst failure of federal and national leadership ever. This is a unnecessary catastrophe where the national government has failed. And so it is mayors and it is leaders of state governments, and it's business people. And it's NGOs and faith organizations where I think the country is seeing.
[00:20:50] That's where the resilience, that's where the practicality, that's, where the, the common sense is coming from. So we didn't want it to be proven this way, but you all are proving it right.
[00:21:00] Jake Soberal: [00:21:00] Thank you for that. I'm going to take us to a quick break and we'll be right back. I think that is so profound. What we just heard from you, Jim, in terms of a historic perspective on present leadership.
[00:21:10] And it occurs to me that there's a unique opportunity here in that we have two local leaders at different levels, Joe and mayor Tubbs. What are you experiencing on the receiving end of federal support here and maybe begin with you may or tubs, and then transitioned to you,
[00:21:27] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:21:27] Jill, I think to the point raised by mr.
[00:21:31] because of the absence of federal leadership, our governor and our other mayors, I've created a mutual support network. So two times a week, the mayors of the 13 largest cities in California, including the mayor of Fresno. We're on a call together with someone from the governor's staff, just talking about either public health issues or what's next in terms of I'm a stay at home or an aunt.
[00:21:51] And also some of the things that we're seeing in our communities, I'm sitting there. Harris joins us on those calls once every two weeks. So it's real coordination in terms of [00:22:00] working with governor Newsome, Sandra Harris, to figure out sort of. Where resources are needed to do the jobs that we have to do at the federal level because of the first care is that funding only went to cities or government agencies.
[00:22:12] That 500,000 people are more stocked at a city of 300, 15,000 people wasn't included. That's why the. Fight I've chosen to have with the County is so important because this is just a, really a fight for resources to be able to create the practical plan mentioned to give the folks hope that we will come out of this.
[00:22:31] And there's a way we'll exit an exit safely, but I say I'm just been really impressed with the work governor Newsome or his team has done. And also the work of my fellow mayors, who are in cities similar to my size or. Connects to next like San Jose who every two days a week, we're on a call. We're talking, we're thinking through problems.
[00:22:50] And then also from the private sector, I think philanthropy has been very helpful. We've raised over $3 million in a Stockman strong fund to provide emergency grants and emergency assistance to for rental assistance, to our food bank, to nonprofits, et cetera, to small businesses. Which I've helped kind of dull the pain for the first couple of months.
[00:23:10] And now we're hopeful that with the heroes act that it's passed, because then we'll receive help actually directly from the federal government to do all the things we need to do to provide for our people.
[00:23:20] Jake Soberal: [00:23:20] Michael w what happens if you lose your fight with the County and you don't get any of those dollars?
[00:23:25] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:23:25] What ha that's a great question. So we've also been talking to the governor and his team in the state legislature about Carrie's Zack and Megan has gone going straight to the state. If some of that could be allocated directly to cities of 300,000 people or more, that seems to be getting some positive headway.
[00:23:41] So we're excited about that. Hopefully that carries, that comes through. But we'll continue just having the conversation around, okay. This is what we would do with the resources. And it's Marshall kind of public will and public pressure to say no, like we, we want to exit one exit safely and one of our local governments to be responsive to the needs, to [00:24:00] constituents.
[00:24:00] And again, the union of government that's closest and more, the most nimble is the unit of local government mayor city council.
[00:24:07] Jake Soberal: [00:24:07] And Joe, I wonder what your experience has been as the chief labor officer in a large state, on the receiving end of federal support emits this crisis.
[00:24:17] Secretary Joe Barela: [00:24:17] You know, I think, um, the federal reserve support, at least into the department of labor and employment was, uh, late in March when the president finally signed the cares act.
[00:24:26] And we did receive regulations to deploy that at the state level, within a week. And then we stood up a program to deliver those funds, to impacted workers by April 20th. And so I think we responded okay. Pretty fast to a, what was, I think the delayed response in getting those resources and the technical ability to do it and stay within compliance to the law.
[00:24:47] I do think at the state level, we were a little bit in front of that was some of the, the resources that we had locally. The governor was very proactive in making sure what can we do through executive order or through rulemaking with the power. We have to make sure that workers are protective. So we were able to put in place.
[00:25:04] Paid sick leave, which we don't have as a state mandate in Colorado for impacted workers. And so that was something we did very initially during the stay at home order so that people weren't going to work because they needed a financial income and they could stay home and mandated employers to pay up to four days at that time, if they were exhibit exhibiting symptoms or are waiting on test results.
[00:25:25] And so since then we've had the families first act, which deploys pay sick leave. For most of every industry for employees that are under the size of 500 ours compliments that. And we upped that order at the state level that we require up to 80 hours, two thirds pay for every industry in Colorado. So people aren't forced to go to work and spread COVID-19 so trying to flatten out that curve.
[00:25:48] So I do think. In our department, um, we, uh, were able to deploy and be successful with the cares act on the unemployment insurance. Aside of that, I do think where we still are [00:26:00] struggling is the availability to make people feel safe, to have enough PPE. So that people can go back to work. People can start visiting businesses and start the economy rolling again, as we are in this safer at home phase.
[00:26:12] So I do think we do a, still need some assistance and help from OSHA. I think now, as we open up, people are just not comfortable with what roles and what lanes people play in, in Colorado. You know, there's a federal oversight with workplace protections and safety that OSHA should fill, and we are working them to step up to the plate and help us as we make workers feel comfortable and employers, uh, know what's the right thing to do so they can create safe environments for our workers to, um, return
[00:26:40] Jake Soberal: [00:26:40] and the thread that was in there, Joe, that we're, I think just beginning to hear more and more about, was a bit about the way that we're supporting veterans in this moment already a vulnerable population when it comes to employment.
[00:26:51] Right. What are you doing in Colorado? What are you seeing nationally in the way of providing supports to veterans amidst? COVID-19.
[00:26:59] Secretary Joe Barela: [00:26:59] I just saw a report that was put out that about 14% of veterans are in those high risk industries or the industries that were most impacted with the stay at home orders or the shelter in place orders.
[00:27:11] And so, you know, again, we're seeing vulnerable populations of vulnerable working populations impacted the most because of the work that they can do or a hire to do. And so in Colorado, we do have a very robust federal program, but also state program. We do have resources that go into service career programs, right?
[00:27:28] That work with local areas. We have a pretty substantial air force presence and here in Colorado. And so we have a high veteran population. And so we have already put programs in place prior to this that really worked with veterans to match the skill sets with the available opportunities within their communities.
[00:27:45] And so again, we relied on that program to step up and as veterans are returning to work, know that that's a resource to help them either return to their. Their previous occupation or to access training, if they need to find a new job because their job is not coming back.
[00:27:59] Jake Soberal: [00:27:59] Are we [00:28:00] seeing a, a broken system or are we seeing a crisis whether of leadership or health?
[00:28:06] James Fallows: [00:28:06] I think we're seeing both. And I think over the sweep of history, the biggest changes happen when both of those things are true when there's a longterm chronic issue that needs to be addressed. And there's a short term, acute shock. Certainly there's a sudden problem that the United States and the rest of the world is dealing with.
[00:28:26] And just to, to, to give it a local angle for a moment in cities like Stockton or in Fresno, or many places in Colorado or in San Bernardino County, where I'm originally from near San Bernardino and Redlands, it has been smaller businesses and kind of young people, starting things that have been leading the recovery of these cities.
[00:28:45] And they're the ones that are most exposed right now. So finding some way to. To protect that crucial part of the local ecology and economy from the shock is very important. So there is a tremendous shock. Nobody would doubt that at the same time, no sane person put doubt the longer term. Problems of the system that need equality in the United States is on a scale like that, of the original gilded age back in the late 18 hundreds.
[00:29:12] And funny ways as all of you in your work have talked to broaden opportunity to reduce barriers, to make this a nation of us, rather than us and them. That is sort of the longterm challenge that I know the three of you and your work have been leaders in. So using the shock to deal with the sickness is the challenge we have.
[00:29:35] Jake Soberal: [00:29:35] And mayor Tubbs the same question. Do you see this as a broken system or a crisis of leadership or health?
[00:29:43] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:29:43] I think it was a perfect storm of both. Right. And I think if, if anything else is exposed, sort of just all the cracks in our system that existed all along, you know, secretary knows, mr. Follows knows before COVID-19 went into Americans can not afford the one $400 [00:30:00] emergency at a time where the stock market was roaring and the economy was healthy and unemployment was as low as 2.5% in some places that's broken to me before.
[00:30:09] COVID-19 we knew there are differences in life expectancy based off race and zip codes. We knew that starting communities that were more. Susceptible to conditions like asthma and diabetes and hypertension, but not because of individual choices because of structural choices in terms of, um, environmental racism and where people live and pollutants in certain neighborhoods versus others.
[00:30:32] So really COVID-19 has really exposed and showed us that our, our values are in line. Our professed values are in line with realities. If you look at sort of. Who's deemed essential workers are the same folks who were underpaid and overworked before COVID-19 and the same folks who. Have to go home to folks who are immune copy.
[00:30:52] It's really just shown the great contradictions in our society and how our society is really not that resilient, particularly in a time when we live where pandemics are one off events that it's COVID-19 this year, next year for some parts of the country will be an earthquake next year. For some parts of the country, it'd be a fire.
[00:31:10] And now we have to shore up the fundamentals of our economy and of our society to make sure where we're all. We Zillow, you know, we can also turn in place and be all withstanding out of work for a month or two, because this is not, this is just becoming a more and more real reoccurring. And then I would say, I think that those existing fractures gave rise to the current national leadership, which has now further exacerbated these fault lines.
[00:31:35] These tensions that have really. Made a bad situation that much worse, so that there's literally preventable deaths and people who are literally never, who are not alive because the response to the lack of strategy for the white house. And my biggest fear is as we move into the future in the next couple months, we did a great job sheltering in place.
[00:31:55] But that was to buy us that wasn't the strategy that was to buy us time. You [00:32:00] create a strategy and there's still no strategy for the federal level. And we're going to see the needs get even more magnified. So to answer your question, I think if anything, this presents a moment for us to really. Thing, bold and expansive and deeply about who we are as a country.
[00:32:18] What's the point? Is it us? Like all of us is that all of us truly inclusive of all of us and just to no longer tolerate the fact that a disease that isn't racist, a disease, that isn't classes, a disease that isn't sexist. Affects women, people of color, poor people disproportionately because of the jobs people do, because the way the neighborhoods they live in and because of existing issues in our current structure.
[00:32:44] Jake Soberal: [00:32:44] sadly, I think that we're getting exactly the results we've designed for in too many of the worst ways with that. We're going to go to break and we'll be right back. I remember a time magazine article that featured young mayors in America. And there was Pete Buddha judge position, right alongside Michael Tubbs and was excited by that article and really excited by a different sort of tone.
[00:33:05] It seemed that that generation of leadership was so deeply committed to the pragmatic solutions that we were sort of above some of the partisan realities that had defined a prior generation of politics. And one thing that stands out to me is. Michael, even then you were talking about things like universal basic income and, and went on to even implement that in Stockton.
[00:33:26] And in that time, that was certainly viewed as something that was off center. That was a, there was a wacky idea and you were both celebrated and criticized for trying that what's interesting to me is that in this moment, that is a, something of a centrist idea at the federal level right now. And I wonder from your seat, what does that feel like?
[00:33:48] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:33:48] I think it feels, it feels good. The reason why we did it is because we really felt stronger. I felt strongly that again, a lot of people were living in an economic crisis, economic pandemic before [00:34:00] COVID-19. So it's. Sad that took something like a once in a generation, once in a century sort of epidemic to get us to this point.
[00:34:08] But I think it really shows that the American people have the capacity to rise to the occasion. And again, I think because we live in, in Thailand pandemics, That this has to be kind of our new deal moment. And the income floor has to be part of that discussion of a new deal, not to replace work, but to make sure that work pays and to also make sure that work that's not rewarded with paycheck, particularly the work that women do in caregiving and domestic labor or the work that students do as students.
[00:34:34] Is honored. So I think for the city of Stockton, it also feels good to be centered in terms of a solution versus always being centered for a problem.
[00:34:43] Jake Soberal: [00:34:43] Absolutely. And I wonder, Joe, you lead a state that is doing well pre pandemic and is in the view of most tackling the pandemic. Well, but you're going to have a challenging road ahead for 1824, perhaps longer months, right?
[00:35:00] What are the new ideas that you'd like to try? What supports workers? Well in six months and in 12 months. And as far out as we can see.
[00:35:10] Secretary Joe Barela: [00:35:10] You know, Jake, I think I'd like to start off by saying, you know, it's unfortunate. We had to go through this healthcare crisis to really call grocery store workers and people who work in assisted living homes, hospitals, essential workers.
[00:35:22] And I hope we come out of this, that we have a new appreciation for all work. And I think that. We need to make sure that all work gives an opportunity for people to live in the communities they choose to call home. Regardless if you're born in Colorado, you moved to Colorado, you're foreign born and choose to call Colorado your home.
[00:35:38] We need to work on opportunities that people have pathways to earn economic self sufficiency with the work they do and that's needed to be done. So at all levels. And so in Colorado, we know we need to diversify our economies. Not only in Denver, but in Durango, in Fort Collins, as well as Lamar, so that people have an opportunity to do work that's valued and earn livable [00:36:00] wage.
[00:36:00] I do fear that if we don't rebound quickly, the next domino that will fall in Colorado throughout the country will be those people who are unemployed and they get their health benefits through their employer. And so as they're unemployed, the next. Systems our healthcare systems and the exchange programs that we have in place where people will have to go on to publicly funded healthcare programs.
[00:36:23] And so that's, I think going to be the next issue, if we don't get people to work that have good benefits and then have access to healthcare childcare and affordable, uh, wages. And so, you know, I do think it's a perfect opportunity to look at. How do we make sure that our education systems are connected to the pipeline, that our work, that our employers need a conversation to say, when you graduate from high school, there are multiple paths for you to enter the world of work, where you can live and earn a living that you can be successful in Denver and Colorado Springs in Pueblo.
[00:36:56] And so we need to make sure that there's a conversation continually happening to make sure that. There are opportunities for our workers to be successful. That families take accountability, that they have to put some hard work in, but that hard work will lead to benefits that come from the work you choose to do.
[00:37:12] And it's so critical to everyone, not just what we would call our in demand or critical industries that we know a college degree is needed and leads to a good pathway, but how do we make sure that those other necessary functions in our communities are rewarded with good pay and good benefits?
[00:37:29] Jake Soberal: [00:37:29] And Jim, I saw you nodding along there as Joe mentioned, the importance of, of those most impacted I'm reminded of the sort of adage from it's a wonderful life.
[00:37:38] These are the people that do most of the living and dying and eating and buying right? Uh, in our communities. It's not an insignificant group from any standpoint, but it feels like the majority of the jobs service sector, restaurant retail, hospitality in the United States have been exposed as fragile.
[00:37:54] How do we chart a course back for that chunk of our
[00:37:57] James Fallows: [00:37:57] workforce? So I [00:38:00] will again, um, rely on my, having been around in the U S for a longer time than the rest of you to draw on a historical comparison that if we. If we think that most of what is sick with the United States now, not with his pandemic, but its structure before that resembles what Americans have the eighties 1890s turn of the century were going through when they had their crisis of the great depression.
[00:38:25] And the world Wars, nobody had an answer to that FDR and his team didn't come in with an answer to all of the disruptions that were going on, but they had the benefit of 20 or 30 years of people experimenting with answers like UBI and Stockton, like new training programs in Colorado. Like what you're doing now in Fresno to try to, how to have a nationwide network of ways to match people with job opportunities.
[00:38:53] And I think something we've all said is that. If we're going to have any confidence in the future, again, presidential speeches would be empathy, confidence, and a plan. If we're going to have some kind of confidence in the future, the plan is putting to work, the kind of, of experiments that are going on now in Colorado and, and with Bitwise and other places to match the people who are exposed with a broader range of choices.
[00:39:19] So I think in instrumental terms, I hope we have something like the FDR application of experiments that have been going on. In emotional and moral terms. I hope it's something like one of the effects of world war two when the entire nation was mobilized. And you saw that people from every background and from every, with every function were part of the national effort, a horrific effort of a world war, but it brought out something that was together in the country.
[00:39:46] And I would hope I'm not predicting, but I would hope. That people have privilege and influence in the country would recognize the ones who are picking up their trash every week and delivering their mail and working in their [00:40:00] hospitals and working in their grocery stores and producing the food and recognizing that we can't all thrive unless everybody has a fair chance.
[00:40:08] So I think that is the moral. Next step that our national leaders need to take and local and state leaders already are.
[00:40:14] Jake Soberal: [00:40:14] And with that, I want to shift a little bit to the local. You wrote a book a couple of years ago, Jim, you and Deb called our towns in which you focused on small and medium towns around the country.
[00:40:24] I don't know, was Michael in that.
[00:40:26] James Fallows: [00:40:26] He has mentioned, but we didn't go to Stockton because we had some scheduling mix up, but we will be to Stockton. Of course, Fresno is lovingly featured through the whole whole book.
[00:40:36] Jake Soberal: [00:40:36] That's right. I'm not going to say that Fresno was the main character of the book, but it did feel like we, we really carried the center there at
[00:40:46] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:40:46] my desk right now.
[00:40:49] Jake Soberal: [00:40:49] It's a really, really good book. Kidding aside. Those are towns in which you and Deb clearly communicated a deep care. And I wonder what you're seeing in those places amidst this pandemic.
[00:41:00] James Fallows: [00:41:00] So we've been in touch with lots of people in the cities that I've been in touch with you and Irma Jake recently to hear what Bitwise is doing well, I'll say also as a side note, most of last year, Debbie and I spent making a movie with HBO based on our book.
[00:41:15] We're just going to be out later this year, it'll be called our towns as well, trying to convey the sense of resilience and hope and togetherness in the fabric of American society. We've been in touch with people in Erie, Pennsylvania, which is a sort of battered industrial town where they're rebuilding of small businesses in the downtown has been their hope.
[00:41:35] They're trying to have some way to have that survive. Also, refugees are roughly 10% of their population and admission of refugees as you know, is way down. And so Erie is trying to say, we want to be welcoming to other people. I think the place we've spent most on being in touch with is Sioux falls, South Dakota, home of the largest pig slaughter house in the United States.
[00:41:57] That's the famous Smithfield Morel [00:42:00] slaughterhouse, where interestingly. The mayor of Sioux falls, a man named Paul 10 Hakan. You know, he's been trying to do the right thing from our perspective to try to make it a safe environment for the people, including these low wage, mainly nonwhite. Mainly foreign born people in the meat packing plant.
[00:42:21] When the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem has been taking a different course. So we've tried to stay in touch with people around the country and also we're working on ways to connect even cities. We didn't write about the first time, for example, Stockton.
[00:42:35] Jake Soberal: [00:42:35] With that, Michael, I'd love to give you the opportunity to share a story of something that your seeing in Stockton doesn't have to be scalable.
[00:42:44] It doesn't have to be enormous. That gives you hope, because I know that there are extraordinary things going on in your town.
[00:42:50] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:42:50] So many stories, I feel free to cut me off one story for mother's day to just stop there and strong fund. I was able to raise. We worked with nonprofits and found 125 single mothers, many of whom were essential workers and gave them a $500 gift card from others day for them to use, to pay for other expenses or things they needed for them in their families.
[00:43:09] So you could just see that joined the letters of tears, et cetera. We've started to stop this strong community coalition, which is all the organizations, all the groups get together on zoom Monday morning and talk about what's happening here and there. And from there, a lot of amazing collaborations have happened.
[00:43:25] One is between our Sikh, temple and Stockton. We have the oldest Sikh temple in North America, and a big tenant of the Sikh. Faith is ensuring that you're taking, being a good neighbor, that you can go to any Sikh, temple, anywhere in the world and get a meal. Been somewhere to stay if you need it. So they're making meals and packaging them, and we have another community organization.
[00:43:43] I'm mostly a Latino community organization. Who's taking those meals and delivering them to seniors throughout the, um, throughout the city. And that just gives me so much hope we had, um, we have small business owners stepping up and everyday providing lunch to first responders. And that was especially special cause that wasn't [00:44:00] coordinated from, from government, but I've been just really, really, really impressed with how.
[00:44:05] People have really banded together, have sheltered in place and are trying to defy solutions and trying to be helpful. But I think particularly the work we're doing around food access and making sure that folks are fed and how we're just giving people what they need to survive with no preconditions with no tests with we gave 170 businesses, $3,000 and not loans, not forgivable loans.
[00:44:30] And they unrestricted grant. I'm just doing what we can with the resources. We have to give people what they need to survive. I've been really, really proud of that work.
[00:44:37] Jake Soberal: [00:44:37] And I think evidence of the sort of leadership and collaboration that I look forward to Michael w emits the pandemic. We at Bitwise, and particularly with the division of our company shift three technologies launched the grocery program and it wasn't sophisticated at the jump.
[00:44:51] The first thing was a social post from, and I say, Hey, We'd like to buy groceries and delivered them to you, if you are elderly, sick or immunocompromised. And that of course blew up many people needed that. And so we did what technology companies do and shift three technologies, built an application to automate that process.
[00:45:10] But not long after that, we had a conversation, Michael, where we said, how do we get that to Stockton? And how do, how do what you're doing in Stockton improve what we're doing here in Fresno. What makes that possible because that doesn't feel like the norm.
[00:45:26] Mayor Michael Tubbs: [00:45:26] I'm not the one to answer that question. Cause I have some of my staff the other day, I said, maybe we're just not normal.
[00:45:31] I don't get it. I think the need is so great. I think that no one person has all the answers, I think no more than smart ups know to do it. It's to me, it's easy. If you have an idea that works and I have a need, do it please. And how do I help you do it? But I think it just comes from being more upset with them.
[00:45:48] The problem. They're not trying to block solutions, but me the problems, the problem, and anyone who has an answer that could help solve the problem, I'm all ears and would love to partner
[00:45:57] Jake Soberal: [00:45:57] with. I've observed that in Stockton, I've [00:46:00] observed that at the state level in Colorado and Joe, we didn't know one another from, from Adam, but whether it's onward CEO or the work that's being done with skillful by Markle or the work that's being done by the Zoma foundation in Colorado.
[00:46:16] It occurs to me that attitudinally, that is the posture in Colorado of if you've got a solution, let's weave it into the broader fabric and make it work. I wonder what's giving you hope right now, from what you're seeing in your state.
[00:46:28] Secretary Joe Barela: [00:46:28] Jake, I think we're very fortunate that, you know, through this, and even before that, I think there was that sense of accountability in how do we make.
[00:46:35] Colorado a great place to live and for people to call home. And so through our foundation work or our community based organizations, or even our County municipalities is how do we make this great. And what do I need to do? Not only from a government, but even as citizens, what accountability do I have to help my neighbor?
[00:46:51] What accountability do I have to show up and go to work every day, if I'm healthy and if I can. And so, you know, I think that we see that the people that are going to be called back to work here in this rebound phase, they know that. They're needed in the front lines. If you will, as warriors as we rebound our economy, and if they're healthy, we want them to come back to work.
[00:47:09] But we also, as a state, want to commit that we're giving them guidelines and we're helping with enforcement when we can to make sure that everyone's playing the part they need to play as we help people feel comfortable in this new world. So I think it's going to take a, a lot of people being kind to each other people, um, going the extra mile every day, doing things maybe that they're not used to.
[00:47:31] Right. You know, the people that were fortunate enough to, uh, about 75 to 85% to take the work and work from home telework location, neutral employment, fantastic. They're still working, they're coming back into their offices, but you know, the 25%, 20% that were severely impacted with work. We need people to understand that, you know, their work was completely taken away from them.
[00:47:53] They don't have the opportunity to, because of their actions. You pay in the industry to continue earning a wage. And so we do need to [00:48:00] look at financial assistance and get them the things they need from shelter, medicine, healthcare, uh, an extra $600 a month while they're on unemployment insurance. Those people are using that money to consume and buy things and putting back in the economy so more and more people can go to work.
[00:48:14] And so I just think we need a more understanding that everyone. Situation is different and that we need to help people get to the level of where they were and maybe even better off than before. I think I'm hoping that people will realize that, well, why couldn't someone live on $15 an hour in Colorado Springs or Denver?
[00:48:32] And maybe we do need to look at a minimum wage that allows people to afford things. And why are they doing better often unemployment insurance than they are by going to work. And so I think those discussions will help and hopefully raise the bar so that people realize that, uh, no work needs to be disrespected.
[00:48:50] And we need to make sure that everyone can earn a living with, with the choice of their occupation.
[00:48:55] Jake Soberal: [00:48:55] And those are certainly the right questions, Jim, our mutual friends, Mitch and Freada Kapor and the Kapor center are our partners in onward us. And when we launched into that initiative, I remember asking to, you know, why are you able to move so fast and respond so quickly?
[00:49:14] And her response was that it was obvious and that there wasn't time to wait. Those who would be most deeply affected by this were affected today, not tomorrow. And we can't wait for perfect that I think points us. And I think we've heard tones of that from, from Michael and from Joe. I think that points us in the right direction.
[00:49:33] I want to ask you though, to meet us at the other end of the story. And in this order, intentionally 24 months from now, what does it look like if we've gotten this wrong and what does it look like if we've gotten this right. If
[00:49:47] James Fallows: [00:49:47] we've gotten it wrong, 24 months from now, there's still, we're not, will not be a vaccine.
[00:49:54] And what is now a tremendous economic shock will have turned into a replay of the [00:50:00] 1930s. And you'll have people who feel as if they have permanently lost their place in society. You will have entire regions feeling as if they have no chance to recover and you'll have all the political. Uh, toxins that come from that economic collapse.
[00:50:19] So when you read the history of the early 20th century, the main condition that led to Nazi-ism was the failure of the German economy in the 1920s, which unleashed all sorts of poisons that the world had been dealing with, you know, before that. But also since then, so if we get it wrong, a terrible economic shock becomes a longterm depression.
[00:50:41] If we get it right. We have found a way to buffer what is a serious shock. We're all going through it through it. Now we found ways to recognize what was in a larger scale, unfair about the economy of before in opportunities in remuneration, in healthcare, in education, we've done. We've had the chance to do the kind of reflection on who we are and who we should be.
[00:51:11] The times of emergency can cause. And so the times in American history where leaders have said we are down, but we can see the path towards being up again. We would be on that path upwards again, there'll still, people still be sick. People will still have lost their jobs, but the country would feel as if yes, we're moving in a positive direction.
[00:51:33] So if things go badly, we are still headed down. If things go right. We will have been bruised, but know that we're recovering.
[00:51:42] Jake Soberal: [00:51:42] I just want to hear at the end. Thank all of you, not just for joining us here, but for the work that you are doing in your respective and important roles.
[00:51:51] James Fallows: [00:51:51] Thank you, Jake. It's been an honor to be here.
[00:51:53] Secretary Joe Barela: [00:51:53] Thank you, Jake. Enjoy talking with the group today. Take care.
[00:52:01] [00:52:00] Jake Soberal: [00:52:01] as you might imagine, we record the segments from each episode separately. And so since recording the interview with today's guests, the thing that stood out most to me, the thing that I've shared with most people in conversations is that moment when I asked Jim Fallows what the American people need to hear from the next president in an opening speech.
[00:52:19] And without skipping a beat without having had that question in advance, Jim immediately responded that the American people need to hear empathy for the pain. They're feeling hope for a way forward and a plan for how we get there. Everything you heard on the show this week reflects the views from the ground in communities across the country.
[00:52:39] As we continue to struggle for solutions to the twin pressures brought on by the pandemic and our national reckoning with race. We hope that the diversity of thought we heard here helps to restore confidence that we can, and we'll get to a better place. We'll be back next week until then please share the show with your friends and family and let us know what you think.
[00:53:01] You can email email@example.com. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
[00:53:16] onward on air with Jake's overall was produced by Bitwise industries in association with studio to beat. This episode was directed by Gordon Howell and produced by Randy Garrett. The associate producer was Rigo Aguilar. The executive producer is Joaquin Alvarado. This podcast is edited by Chloe Behrens. [00:54:00]