Incorruptible Massachusetts

Why run for State Rep? Anna Callahan

May 27, 2020 Anna Callahan Season 3 Episode 1
Incorruptible Massachusetts
Why run for State Rep? Anna Callahan
Chapters
Incorruptible Massachusetts
Why run for State Rep? Anna Callahan
May 27, 2020 Season 3 Episode 1
Anna Callahan
Show Notes Transcript

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Anna Callahan :

Hi, this is Anna Callahan and you're listening to incorruptible Massachusetts. Our goal is to help people understand state politics. We're investigating why it's so broken, imagining what we could have here in Massachusetts if we fixed it, and reporting on how you can get involved. Today we're kicking off season three, and we're interviewing me. As some of you may know, I have decided to run for state representative. Most of the episodes in this season will be from Solidarity LIVE!, my weekly show where I uplift stories of vulnerable members of our community, and bring on experts to help us discuss our issues here in Medford and Somerville. To introduce the season, I have the great fortune of having Craig Altemose, from 350 Mass as my interviewer, so I can talk a bit about why I'm running. And without further ado, here is Anna Callahan for State Rep.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

So hello, everyone. My name is Craig Altemose. I'm the executive director of 350 Mass Action and I'm delighted to be, uh, stepping in as host here, as I'm introducing and interviewing Anna Callahan, who has an announcement to our listeners to make today. Anna, do you want do you want to share share the big news with folks?

Anna Callahan :

Sure. I am running for state representatives in the 34th Middlesex District, which is part Somerville and part Medford.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Which is super exciting. And as you know, as hopes as folks can hopefully imagine, I am very proud and excited to be supporting Anna in this race. And you know, obviously Anna, you know, running for office, you know, it takes a lot, but it's a big commitment. It's a big step. You're really putting yourself out there and you know, it's not for everyone. So what is it that drove you to to want to take this big step and run for office?

Anna Callahan :

Yeah, there is something that someone I highly respect said to me a few years ago that really drives everything that I have done for the last few years. She says, "if they have the money, and we have the people, we cannot win by preaching to the choir." So that to me drives home this point that, you know, we're not going to pass a Green New Deal without a movement behind it. Not here in Massachusetts, not nationally, we're not gonna pass Medicare For All, without a movement behind it. We're not going to get any of the things that we want, need and deserve, including literally saving our planet and our species from extinction. Like we are not going to get those things unless we really bring more people -- like a lot more people -- into the political process. So I've been spending my last four years training people in kind of a different model of political organizing that, you know, elects slates of progressives to City Councils while building a movement on the ground to support those people. And and I just concluded that, you know, it's it's about time for me to step in and do the "candidate's part" of that.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Can you tell us more more about that model? And again, what what motivated -- I guess we're talking motivation, but you know, how is it structured? And how is it effective?

Anna Callahan :

Yeah. So the model is really quite different from what most people around the country are currently doing. And we got this-- So I started this organization four years ago, three and a half years ago called the Incorruptibles. And that's what we've been doing. We've been training people around the country in this model. So the difference between the two models is, here's the old model, probably sound kind of familiar. You get a bunch of people together. You wait until candidates announced that they're running. You choose the least bad one of the candidates. And then you do everything that you can to get that person elected, which is where most of the training in this country happens. It's-- the training is around getting people elected, whether they are, you know, great, good or mediocre. And then the last step is, after that person is elected, and they start doing something you don't like, get angry and start over at the top. It's it's not actually a very effective model. It doesn't lead to sort of lasting change. We're always back at the beginning again, trying to elect one more progressive. The new model involves putting together a coalition that run -- that comes up with a single platform, and then runs slates of candidates. And those candidates, hopefully, are not people who self-select. When people self-select, they are more likely to be wealthier, more likely to be to be white, more likely to be male. But when, through your coalition, you are-- and the coalition is all of, you know, a lot of working class people, marginalized, vulnerable communities -- And when you work through that coalition to bring people to sort of train people up to be candidates, to encourage people to be candidates who might never have thought of being a candidate, then you get a much better diversity of candidates who's you know, more likely to maintain those ties

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

now,

Anna Callahan :

and then, once you run these slates of candidates on a single platform, once they get elected, and this part is really, really different. Everybody talks about holding representatives accountable. And that is an antagonistic relationship. But the way that this model works, there is a -- an intimate working relationship between the coalition and the elected official where that coalition is really co-governing. So they are helping to figure out what is on the agenda, what maybe is missing on the the city council meetings or, you know, the state agenda for that cycle, to strategize together, about how we're going to pass policy to be involved sometimes in writing the policy and really to work together and get the grass roots out to pass that policy.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Yeah, it's a really exciting model. How did you come up -- How did you discover that or create that or what what led to that?

Anna Callahan :

I did not create it. So um, you know, I had the great fortune of working with Gayle McLaughlin, who was the mayor of Richmond, California. And in Richmond, they rip -- the town of Richmond really had been owned by Chevron for 100 years, to the point that Chevron actually had a desk inside City Hall. And they would pay off every single politician. Right. They would, you know, and by pay off, they're donating to their campaign, right. So in the early 2000s, some people formed the Richmond Progressive Alliance. And they did this whole model. And over the course of, you know, seven or eight years, they had a majority on the city council plus the mayor and they passed the most incredible suite of policies. They passed the first rent control bill in the state of California in 30 years, they reduced the homicide rate from the second highest homicide rate in the country -- they reduced it by 75%. They got 100 million dollars in new taxes from Chevron. I mean, I could go on and on. There's like some amazing, amazing things that they continue to do, right. They're still in power. So that does not change. They are still there. They have a strong coalition, and so I got to work with them. I also worked with Jane McAlevey who is such a powerhouse. She's one of the most successful union organizers in the last 40 or 50 years. She gets 95% participation in the unions where she organizes. And it's not because everybody there is pro-union. It is because she has -- she does the really hard work of convincing people to join the struggle. And she has done it thousands of times. She has perfected this, you know, the sort of convincing conversations, this long relationship where in the end, those people join the struggle. And so I got to incorporate her ideas. She's the one who said "if they have the money, and we have the people, we will never win by preaching to the choir." So she has really proven that herself hundreds of times and gotten, you know, her -- the union she works with gets amazing wins.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Awesome. So tell tell us why why does Massachusetts and the Massachusetts State House specifically need this type of model?

Anna Callahan :

Ah, yes. So, people who have listened to this podcast will will have heard this many times. In Massachusetts, there is a combination of a set of rules, a financial incentives and a culture that basically puts all power in the hands of the Speaker [of the House]. You know, AOC talks about the vise grip of pressure -- that she is under a psychological pressure, social pressure, political pressure, every moment of every day to conform, and that kind of pressure exists at the State House as well. Specifically, one of the things that we're trying to change first is transparency, that there is really no way for you or anyone to know how their state rep is voting. It's all done secretly. And so most bills -- the decision as to whether a bill will move forward or not, is done by a very small group of people in a backroom deal. And it is completely undemocratic.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

And yeah, as, as you're just talking about, you know, AOC and the pressures to conform, obviously, you know, I think most or at least a lot of folks who seek public office, do do it with really sincere intentions and really want to go in and help people and make a difference in the world and, you know, be responsible and accountable community leaders. So why is it -- do you feel like we have this this sense of, of, you know, a lot of the policies that emerged wind up really catering to to special interests and the wealthy members of our society?

Anna Callahan :

Okay, I'm gonna give a little bit of a long answer here. I'm gonna, I'm gonna start with, with national politics, only to make a point. So there was a study done by some Princeton researchers on -- they took about 20 years of, of bills that went through Congress. Every single bill. 20 years of Congress, every single bill that entered, that passed, that failed, and they basically looked at whether how people felt about those bills, how, you know, the top 10% of wage earners felt about those bills, and how the bottom 90% of wage earners felt about those bills. And the conclusion of that research study was that it was about 2000 bills. So the conclusion of that research study was that the top 10% of wage earners pretty much control which bills pass and which bills fail, especially which bills fail. Anything that they don't like, they can absolutely make fail. The bottom 90% of wage earners -- I believe their quote was "the desires of the average American have a minuscule near zero statistically insignificant impact on public policy."

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Mmm.

Anna Callahan :

So that is really something to like, take some serious pause at, that our Congress serves the wealthy period. Full stop. And what people say a lot is they talk about money in politics. It's all money in politics. And I don't believe that it's all money in politics. I like you. I believe that most people enter public office with good intentions. So now I want to talk a little bit about what life is like for progressive elected officials right after I get elected. And this is from my experience, providing these training sessions to people around the country in Oklahoma, in you know, Northern, Central, and Southern California, in Pennsylvania, in Kansas, in Rhode Island, in Massachusetts. And and sometimes having mayors or city councilors attend the workshops. And they're all -- the progressive ones are the ones attending the workshops, right because the we give these workshops through an Our Revolution group, through a DSA chapter, through an Indivisible group, through a PDA -- Progressive Democrats of America. So, it's always -- we find a group that is interested in the coalition building side of it. And then elected officials that are friendly with them sometimes attend. So here's what happens when a progressive gets elected. They have a whole team of people, but they [unaudible] this is to city council or state. They have a whole team of people working to get them elected. And they have this great party on election night. And everybody is really happy. And all those volunteers go home, and pretty much totally stop interacting with that elected official for six months, eight months a year. Right? They just -- they're gone. Meanwhile, the elected official goes to work. And while they are at work, they're contacted and asked to have meetings with developers, lobbyists, Chamber of Commerce, CEOs, the -- as things pass through the city council or through the statehouse. There are all sorts of consultants that develop, you know, beautiful reports that have all these graphs, that are well researched, that have lots of photos. And and most of those -- who who's paying for those? Corporations are paying for this, right? Somebody has to pay for those reports. That's where these sitting elected officials get their information, because no one else is providing information for them, and even their own constituents -- I talked to a state rep, actually one of the earlier podcasts, one of the state reps said that if she didn't go out of her way, out of a district of 40,000 people, she would probably hear from the same 100. The people who feel like it's their prerogative to contact a state representative are people, in general, in the top 20 percent of wage earners. So even your own constituents, right, that's part of the job is you have to serve your constituents. But if you don't, if you don't try to have some control over who you listen to, you will literally only hear from pro-corporate, pro-wealthy, top 20% people

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Mmm.

Anna Callahan :

24 hours a day. That's the nature of the job.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

And so let's flash forward, you know, six months, and you have been elected to the statehouse. Given that that is the nature of the job. What What can you do to guard against that? How do you defend against that, that that insular mindset that creeps in?

Anna Callahan :

Yes. So part of the model is a very specific, deliberate strategy to ensure that the elected official is hearing not only from the sort of grass tops like the leadership of organizations that either serve or you know, our, our whose members are part of working class communities. But that you're directly listening to vulnerable, marginalized, working class people. And here's how it goes. It's not, it's not super difficult, but it's time consuming, and it's hard work and you have to do it. You start off, and I recommend doing this with others, not by yourself. So hopefully with an organization that wants to be involved, because it's a lot of work and they can help you out. Step one is really to list who are the underrepresented, marginalized, vulnerable people who live in your city or district. And that's probably going to include like 30 or 40, demographics, sometimes overlapping. With that list, you then start to make another list, which is who are the individuals or organizations that have access to those people? Who are the ones that are trusted by those people? Who are the ones that serve those people in some capacity? And then you start having one-on-ones. And you meet with those folks with the goal of setting up listening sessions. So let's say for example that you want to meet with, you know that there is a, like a Haitian community in your area. And you have done a few one-on-ones and through talking to those people. you've identified that there is a particular church leader that knows a lot of folks, and you meet with them and they're very excited about the idea. So then they help you set up a meeting that they bring their people to, with translators, if necessary, you know, whatever you need to make happen, and ideally, it's at their location. So they feel comfortable, and it's at their timeline. So if it is at a church, it might be like immediately after the service at the church and it's this -- the whole meeting is 70% listening. So the idea is you ask people, how state politics affects their lives, right? [e.g.] How many people in this room have not gone to the doctor because of cost? And then you get their stories, their personal stories. After, so you do that throughout, for every -- you keep doing this and you -- and this never stops. You can in office for 20 years, frankly, this is exactly what Bernie does and has always done. I remember reading, I kind of knew this, but I, I remember reading in one of his books and on page 202, one of his books, he says, "Oh, I, it's May, and I just had my sixth town hall with high school students only, of the year." So he had already done six whole town halls that year -- more than one per month -- that only included high school students. And you know, he's also done half a dozen for every other, you know, underrepresented community in his area, right in his state and city, whatever it is. So so this is the way that you maintain those connections and you hear the stories of how policies are actually affecting people's lives. And the last thing I'll say is that it doesn't quite stop there because those personal stories -- like when you're at the meeting, you are gauging -- you try to engage those people in the political process, right? You help them to understand, you can narrow in on some particular policy that they want to change, and then you help them and get them to be activated in something that they can affect. But after that, the personal stories are incredibly effective for motivating other people to action. So those personal stories, you can use them with permission to help everyone else that you have then been involved with -- everybody from like all the more politically active activist organizations to all of these, you know, more underserved groups that you're meeting with. When they hear that personal story, they will be motivated to act on an issue that maybe isn't their issue. So that's the model.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Beautiful model. And yeah, I think our politics would be very well served if a lot more folks were to embrace that. Or if we had more folks who did embrace that, like you in office. Yeah. So so what what else do you think is important for listeners to understand about your candidacy about about this race?

Anna Callahan :

Sure. Movement building is the reason that I'm running. I think we can do a lot not just within the district to, you know, I just described it. So, you know, doing all of that work in the district will be important, but I think with those connections with people in the district, you also connect with people in other districts. I'm also running -- I mean, you know, you said, it would be great if more politicians were doing this, and that is the entire purpose of the Incorruptibles and what I've spent my life doing for the last four years, so I really intend to help bring this model to other elected officials. It really is to their best interest because if you do this model really well, you will-- they can run anybody they want against you, they can pour millions of dollars against you, and you will win your reelection. So, so those sorts of -- like the long term goal of being able to, as an elected official, I think I'll be able to get the word out more and get more interest in the model as an elected official than I have been just as a regular person. And then, you know, transparency matters. The the culture at the statehouse the the rules that the State House, the financial incentives at the State House mean that Massachusetts cannot move forward. We cannot be a leader. Our our people, the Bay Staters, are ready to lead. We are ready to lead! We want to lead. On environmental stuff, everybody is ready to even spend a little bit more money so that Massachusetts can lead in, you know, really pushing back against climate change. But we can't do it because of the culture happening. The rules, the financial incentives, the -- essentially the stranglehold that the Speaker has over policy that passes. So I I will do everything that I can to get democracy at our State House.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

And if folks are interested in helping you achieve that to help you win this election, what's the best way for people to help?

Anna Callahan :

Yeah, thanks for asking. Anna Callahan calm is the website for the campaign. Donations are always appreciated during COVID, everything costs more. We can't just knock on doors. We've gotta, you know, pay for phonebanking tools, text making tools, and all of that. And we would love to have more volunteers. So we have a volunteer page on the website, you can sign up there as well.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Fantastic. Well, Anna, thank you again for taking the time to chat with us today. And thank you so much for stepping up and putting yourself out there and, you know, bringing this model around the country and bringing it here to Massachusetts and to this district, because, you know, obviously, you know, these are critical times the stakes could not be higher, as you've said, and we need really good people who are really listening to the right folks when they're in office representing us. So thank you again.

Anna Callahan :

Thank you. Thanks for doing the doing the interview.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

My pleasure.

Anna Callahan :

Right, see you next time.

Craig Altemose of 350 Mass :

Next time