April 19, 2021

108. Data for Progress

108. Data for Progress

In Episode 108, Quinn & Brian discuss: Data for progress.

Our guest is Julian Brave NoiseCat, the Vice President of Policy & Strategy at Data for Progress, a progressive think tank that uses data science, public opinion research, policy analysis, and other research to develop and advocate for progressive policies. 

Julian’s also a writer, artist, activist, and a proud member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq'escen and a descendant of the Lil'Wat Nation of Mount Currie.

The name Data for Progress really says it all. It’s a group with a mission for making progress founded on a belief of data. Julian would describe himself as a progressive realist focused on addressing the biggest and broadest challenges of our lifetime with the tool he knows best.

Our conversation delves into the ways in which we can add credibility to the data we collect, how to use it to create informed decisions that affect real change, and how data is wholly dependent on the questions that you ask of it. We also discuss the political and voting power of native people in the US and the importance of highlighting native voices in the media.

Have feedback or questions? Tweet us, or send a message to questions@importantnotimportant.com

Important, Not Important Book Club:

Links:

Connect with us:


Important, Not Important is produced by Crate Media

Transcript

Quinn:

Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian:

And my name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn:

This is science for people who give a shit.

Brian:

That's right. We give you the tools that you need to fight for a better future for everyone. The context straight from the smartest people on earth and the action steps you can take to support them.

Quinn:

That's right. Our guests are scientists, doctors, nurses, journalists, activists, farmers, CEOs, astronauts, even a Reverend.

Brian:

Yeah. Oh, this is your friendly reminder that you can send questions, thoughts and/or feedback to us on Twitter @importantnotimp or email us at questions@importantnotimportant.com. You can also join tens of thousands of other smart folks and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:

Brian, I don't know if you saw our previous guest episode number, wait for it, 42.

Brian:

Whoa.

Quinn:

Dr. Sian Proctor, Dr. Proctor, do you remember Dr. Proctor?

Brian:

Of course.

Quinn:

Do you remember she calls herself the analog astronaut?

Brian:

Yes, yes.

Quinn:

Did you see she got picked to go to fucking space?

Brian:

Yes.

Quinn:

Dr. Proctor's going to space.

Brian:

Amazing.

Quinn:

So excited.

Brian:

Pretty wonderful. Pretty damn wonderful.

Quinn:

We will definitely rerun that one because, god, she was awesome. That was just a fantastic conversation.

Brian:

That's so huge.

Quinn:

Yeah, all the way back 2018. It was called What Happens When You're Almost an Astronaut. Now she's going to be an astronaut, the best thing ever.

Brian:

That's so great. We can erase that almost.

Quinn:

Yup. Anyways, yeah, those were our guests. You can send us some feedback. We love it all. Brian, this week we are talking about Data For Progress, which is the name of a kick-ass organization. Also, just a loaded term, it's fantastic. It's about data and what are we using it for, Brian? For progress.

Brian:

For progress.

Quinn:

We're talking about how do we get to this elusive thing called progress? I believe is how you described it?

Brian:

Yes.

Quinn:

Progress.

Brian:

I've heard of this.

Quinn:

Why it matters? Who is leading that charge?

Brian:

That's right. Wonderfully, our guest is Julian Brave NoiseCat, journalist, author, policy advocate, so many other things. We're, of course, so thankful that he took the time to join us today.

Quinn:

That's right. He's in the middle of his writing his book, which we stopped him from doing, which was great. Middle of getting his washer fixed, stopped that from happening too. All in all, I'm sure he's definitely not regretting-

Brian:

So pumped that he's on the show.

Quinn:

... the hour he spent with us. But, boy, some incredible perspective and commentary on where we are, where we've been, where we're going, and what everybody here can do to support his efforts and those of everybody who were trying to do the right thing.

Brian:

That's right.

Quinn:

Should we go talk to him?

Brian:

Yeah, it was so good. Let's let the people hear it.

Quinn:

Let's let the people here it, Brian.

Brian:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Okay.

Brian:

Here we go.

Quinn:

Our guest today is Julian Brave NoiseCat, and together we're talking about why it matters, who's doing the measuring? Julian, welcome.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Quinn:

Absolutely.

Brian:

Julian, could you please just give everybody a quick little intro just on who you are and what you do?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, sure. My name is Julian Brave NoiseCat, I'm the Vice President of Policy and Strategy at Data For Progress, which is a progressive think tank that uses data science, and in particular, public opinion research as well as policy analysis. Occasionally, other forms of research to develop and advocate for progressive policies, particularly, related to climate change and climate justice. I also do a fair amount of journalism and writing in addition to the policy advocacy and activism work. I'm supposed to be working on a book right now, but I say yes to far too many opportunities to go on podcasts. I'm not doing as much book writing as I should be. I'm also a citizen of the Secwepemc nation and a descendant of the Lil'Wat Nation of Mount Currie. And what's now British Columbia, Canada.

Quinn:

Awesome, thank you. Well, I'm both thankful that you lost another hour of book writing dusk, but also you have my apologies. There's nothing like cutting into that. I totally get it.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

It's okay. I'm just going to say [crosstalk 00:04:31] is if I want to make the time, no one else is going to make the time for me. I just need to defend it.

Quinn:

100%, man. My day job is I'm actually a screenwriter, and so I actually created this entire business instead of just doing my work. I fully empathize with what you're doing.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

It's funny how that works.

Quinn:

Yeah, 100%. Awesome. Awesome, thank you for that.

Brian:

As a reminder to everyone, and so you know Julian, our goal on the show here is to provide some context for our question or our topic today. Then we'll dig into action oriented questions and action steps and what everyone out there can do to help support? Sound good.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Sounds good.

Quinn:

Awesome. Julian, we'd like to start with one important question. It's a little ridiculous, but 107 something guests have had some fun with it. Instead of saying tell us your entire life story, we like you to boldly answer why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Oh, shit, I don't think I am vital to the survival of the species. I would say that humanity has a unique capacity for collaboration and cooperation. We've developed languages and cultures and entire governing structures to facilitate the better aspects of our humanity. I think about and work on climate change and the many assorted and related problems interconnected to it every single day. When you get down to it, cooperation is really going to be one of the most essential parts of tackling our current ecological crisis, crises actually. Yeah, I guess as someone who thinks about policy, governance, and communication from the perspective of a journalist and writer and advocate, I guess that I have some of the skills that I think are going to be essential for broader humanity to tackle these crises. But I do not think that I'm essential to that project.

Quinn:

Oh, that's a hell of an answer, nonetheless. You're certainly not alone. I would say 70% of people answer, or they just laugh at us, which is always a concern.

Brian:

Thanks for not laughing at us.

Quinn:

Awesome, man. Well, listen, Julian, this is I'm excited to have this conversation because I'm so thankful and admire so much the work you guys do, and particularly, what you do because you obviously do a lot of things. I want to focus on that as our topics. How we're measuring policy now and climate and COVID and more, and why transparency and inclusivity means so much in the measurement and in the advocacy? You have very quickly become one of our most, to lack of a better word, prominent, influential measurer. On your personal website you said, "The belief that indigenous peoples can contribute to understanding and addressing the world's most pressing challenges inspires my work."

Quinn:

That reminded me of there was this cat named Richard Hammock, who was just this titan of American mathematics, and he worked at Bell Labs back in the day when they had all these different disciplines on the same hallway. He gave a speech in which he funnily described this brutally honest lunch conversation he had with some folks from the chemistry department. As he recounts and he said, "I went over and said to the chemistry people, do you mind if I join you? They can't say no, so I started eating with them for a while. I started asking what are the important problems of your field? After a week or so, what are the important problems you're working on? After sometime I came in one day and said if what you are doing is not important, and if you don't think it's going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it?"

Quinn:

I thought about that and the context of your quote, because you, again, you do so much more than data and analysis. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about how your background and your values, how you use those to focus on the world's most pressing issues? From, again, so many different applications from, like you said, journalism and data and everything?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, so I grew up in Oakland, California, which I think is a very interesting place and played a very significant role in shaping who I am and how I think. I also grew up in a, probably, fairly unusual household. My father is First Nations, as I said, originally from the Canadian side of the border. Although, he moved here and has lived here for coming up on 40 years or four decades. I've lived in the US pretty much my entire life with like a few exceptions for short periods of time where I lived back in Canada or went off to school in the UK. That experience of growing up in a place that is remarkably diverse like Oakland, that has a long history of progressive activism. That includes the student movements of the 1960s, the Black Panther Party as well as the origins to a certain extent of the native rights movement with the occupation of Alcatraz beginning of 1969 and extending through 20-, sorry, 1971.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

That whole history, which was still the memory of which was still alive and well in the community when I was growing up. As well as the unusual circumstances of living in a household where my dad was native and was an artist, and was very proud of that. There's all sorts of elements of the art world, my dad's an artist, that I got to be part of that really made me proud to be indigenous. At the same time as my dad left our home when I was very young, when I was six or seven or so, and so I grew up in a single mother household and was awake to the world's injustices through that personal experience. As well as through just the culture and realities of a very diverse urban city like Oakland.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think all of that pushed me to value my experience and the experience of the community that I was from, which was the native community. Which itself was even though that Oakland is very diverse, the native community was often seen as fairly peripheral. At the same time, I thought that we had a history and a perspective that mattered. Probably before I had enough knowledge to know that we did in fact have a history and perspective that mattered. I've been very blessed to pursue the education and a career that allows me to, among other things, make the case for the perspective that says that we matter and that we have something to lend to some of the biggest and broadest challenges of our time.

Quinn:

Yeah, like you said, it's a fairly unique childhood perspective. Certainly, much different than mine and I imagine very different than most. I usually save this question towards the end, but I'm curious all of that atmosphere being around you very intimately in your own home and having a single mom for a period of time and everything that happened. After Alcatraz, and like you said, the native people seemingly on the periphery. I'm curious when that became practical. The question I usually ask is when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to actually do something meaningful? I'm curious when that starts to kick in for you?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Oh, that's a really interesting question. I think that I still struggle with feeling as though I have the power to influence and make change. I think that there's a enormous amount of history and a pervasive ratio of data of people in this country that continues to suggest to people like me that we don't matter or are gone or are stuck in the past. Therefore, I don't have anything to lend to the challenges that our society and the broader humanity face today. I think on some of my lower days, I still feel that to a certain extent. I still feel as though native people don't matter to anyone including progressives sometimes. Then I think on other days I do feel as though what my community and my people and I have to say about various challenges is honored and respected.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think that, that varies by day. I think it probably goes all the way back to the teachers and figures in my life who made me feel as though there was something of value in that history and experience. And that I had some something insightful or something that mattered to say, and I'm incredibly and eternally grateful to all of the people who cultivated that sense of value when I was growing up and getting educated and going throughout my life and there are many of those people. My mom probably being the biggest among them.

Quinn:

Yes.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Then, beyond that, I think it's very normal for people to feel excluded and their voice doesn't matter. I certainly still feel that way on many days, and there were many other figures in my life who probably not intentionally, although maybe in some instances intentionally, made me feel that way.

Quinn:

That's super compelling, and I appreciate you sharing that. It's, again, as someone who does writing, but as a straight privileged white guy, even when I turn stuff in, I can hit send on the button and you just feel that fraud simple blinking. Like, "Oh, why would anyone be interested in this?"

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Exactly.

Brian:

I think about that with everything I do.

Quinn:

Yeah, but I can and cannot obviously imagine how much more complicated that can feel and the number of inputs on how that cumulatively build up to create that feeling sometimes even with someone who has been published everywhere and contributed in so many compelling ways to getting us to where we are today, frankly.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think any society and certainly in a democracy, there's like a desire to be heard and valued that tends to go proportionally with your ability to influence power, and in D.C., to influence money and votes. I think the thing that I often still feel is that I think that there's a lot of well-intentioned people on many sides of the political spectrum who want to acknowledge and include native people. But that there is an underlying sense that there are so few native people and native people are so lacking in power that it's not a constituency that should be included or prioritized in any way. It's almost like a utilitarian and pragmatic relationship to who matters and who is valued.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, I think that part is very hard because on some level it suggests that the assimilation and genocide of native people has had a lasting impact on the perception of whether or not we are a voice and constituency that matters and should be listened to even by the folks on the good guy's side of the spectrum.

Quinn:

Thank you for sharing that. I've thought about that as used so, and we can get into this a little more than the influence you've had in part and parcel with a lot of other incredible hardworking folks about making dead for interior a real thing, which is incredible. I think back to when Obama got elected and there was a lot of, maybe not a lot of, but certainly a fair amount of folks who look like Brian and I maybe from the South or whoever it might be that felt a lot of like, "Are you happy now? You got your guy in office, is that enough?" Also, on the same stroke, how so many different groups, so many disparate, and mostly, well-meaning groups that had been not listened to for so long put so much on one person being in office and projected very, very real and very valuable wants and needs onto what hope can do? What this person embodied.

Quinn:

I've just thought about that in the context of getting Representative Haaland into having her become secretary, which is just incredible and a long time coming, especially, in that office of all offices. I wonder if you've thought at all about that? What it means now once it's reality? They always talk about when someone runs for President, how different that can be, the campaign version is from the realities of doing the job and running the show. How that's translating in the aftermath of her really getting up to speed?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, firstly, I'd say that obviously it took a lot more than just me, and in particular, I think that Madam Secretary Haaland deserves an incredible amount of credit for leading a very compelling life and navigating what must have been an impossibly complicated career to get to the place where she is now. And to carry the hopes and dreams of people to this point. I only can know a small fraction of what that feels like when I talk to her, and from my own perspective and experience. I know that, that must be, that kind of leadership, that must be really hard. It's obviously a privilege, but it's also a burden to a certain extent.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think that she has so far navigated it with remarkable amount of grace, and at least in her time in Congress was a very progressive, but also I would say a very reasonable person who was willing to listen to and work with folks of all sorts of ideological backgrounds to move forward policies. She actually sought four bills signed into law in her time in Congress, which is a pretty remarkable achievement for someone who is only there for two years, a little over two years. I think that it's probably unreasonable to expect her to undo more than 200 years of oppression and history now that she's in the leadership of interior. But it's also probably unfair to say that she can't make any progress on that history.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think that she's going to have to do the very difficult thing of leadership, which is making progress and judicious decisions to advance a number of very worthy goals related to native rights and climate action and environmental sustainability. At the same time, she's going to have to balance the realities of being an executive of a remarkably large and complicated bureaucracy that the ship doesn't turn 90 degrees real quick. I think that's going to be hard, but I think that she's done this before. She's run a state democratic party before, she's navigated Congress before, and so I'm very hopeful that she's going to make us all proud through her work at interior.

Quinn:

I think that was one, obviously, any number of frustrating things, but in her hearings, I can't remember who the person was who was like "I'm not voting for her. She hasn't answered any questions with substance and her views are radical." It's like she was actually fairly bi-partisan, again, in a very short period of time in Congress. Like you said, she's very reasonable and very effective. To pass four bills in two years doesn't really happen, and that requires someone who's a listener and is also firm in what they stand for and what they feel like they're able to do. Like you said, she's navigated some things before [inaudible 00:23:13].

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, and especially in a period of divided government. The only way to pass a bill in a divided government is to work across the aisle. I think the other thing that you have to deal with, of course, as a leader and as a public figure, and probably, even more so as a woman and a person of color than others is a real misrepresentation of who you are and what you stand for. I imagine that part is very hard, right? Because if somebody was saying mean or inaccurate things about me, I would want to respond to every single thing that happened. But, of course, as you know someone in holding public office and with a responsibility now to not just a party, but to an administration and a president, you can't do that. I don't know, I often think about it ruins my day when anybody gets mad at me on the internet, and then I think about politicians who have to deal with that everyday.

Quinn:

No, the restraint above anything else, I just can't even imagine. Do you have to take the phone out of my ears?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

No way. Yeah, exactly.

Brian:

Oh, that'd be tough. Let's talk about Data For Progress. Per the website, you do a voter analysis, voter file analysis, digital communications, polling, and policy development and message guidance. You were hugely instrumental in the showing the appeal of the Green New Deal. Your guest bloggers are a who's who of progressive heavyweights. It's all great, but your team isn't just a pie in the sky think tank throwing out just liberal theoreticals on Sunday morning talk shows. It's called Data For Progress. You've got a mission for progress founded on data. Just today, you tweeted a bit about how the American Jobs Plan is going to see some differentiation from what influential wonks and the public find most important to get done and why we have to walk the line of maximizing wonky plans that work with what will actually get passed and be popular and keep the house and the Senate in the hands of people who will continue to get stuff done.

Quinn:

There must be some, some focus internally on how you guys position yourselves to not just be writing out thought papers every week that are never actually going to get applied to, or yes, this wonky thing would be great, but it's never going to happen. How do you, I guess, how do you choose to focus like what to focus on and how to emphasize and deliver that in such an effect? You guys have only been around for like three years.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, that's a really interesting question. I would say that we have gotten lucky to a certain extent, so sometimes we choose to focus on things and other people decided they're of interest as well. But I would also say that we... and this is not unique necessarily to our think tank or organization, but we tend to think about not just devoid of context and questions of power, basically, who to influence and how to persuade them and what things would be persuasive to them? We don't think about research absent those kinds of questions. If the question of the day is a concern about, "Well, one of the concerns moving forward will be whether the American Jobs Plan proposed by President Biden will add to the deficit and cause inflation?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Via our ability to run surveys related to those questions, we can dive in and ask a series of, run a series of, polls sometimes in priority geographies where there might be elected officials who need to see the research related to that question to inform their decisions. We're able to do that sort of thing, and often are able to do it in a way that is credible, that is research that people can look at and feel like, "Okay, I'm not being misled or heard here." If it's a politician whose job essentially is on the line based upon the decisions that they might make. They're not going to just be persuaded by any old thing, particularly, if they're a politician in a swing district or battleground state who certainly knows how to read a poll.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

We know how to ask the questions and ask the appropriate voters in the right geographies questions that are related to the issues of the day in ways that find accurate and fast and cheap answers to very relevant policymaking decisions. We can do that with other forms of research as well, but we do at most often with polling. I think that what's relevant about all of what I just said is that my general view of social science is that the questions that are asked and how themselves hold significant ideological, I don't want to say biases, but come from particular ideological perspectives. Like the question of the data that you gather is conditioned by the question that you ask and who you ask and how you ask it and all of that.

Quinn:

And who's asking?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yep, exactly.

Quinn:

Right, that's the whole you got to include the measurer part. How is the question itself loaded?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Right, exactly. From that perspective, I think that there's no such thing as true public opinion out there. I don't think public opinion is just this thing that you can go out and measure, but it's also not entirely constructed. Because there are actual views that voters hold that politicians and advocates would be smart to play to, or to be aware of as they make their case for change. It's somewhere between something that exists out in the world and is shaped by the views of politicians and media leads and all that stuff, and that's the area in which we engage around the margins.

Quinn:

Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. There's wonderful folks out there who've been doing versions of this for so long, obviously. But it seems like you guys have really capitalized on something that was missing, and that's why I loved seeing the Press Secretary quoting you guys from the podium, was it yesterday or this week? That is you are having a substantial impact there, and clearly that matters to them. That's, again, measuring, like you said, public opinion, whatever that might mean in any given case. But, in the end, it's can we move the needle a little bit with the folks who were elected for good or bad to move the needle?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Right, I think basically the way I think of what we do is that there are, particularly right now, there's a few options that are ahead of policy options, messaging options that are ahead of the President and the people who work for him, and Majority Leader Schumer in the Senate and Speaker Pelosi and all the various members of Congress, and some of those options are more progressive. We need to try to convince them as many times as possible across all the various policies that could be implemented to go with a more progressive option and to also optimize the way that they talk about that policy so that they're talking about it with the most popular and persuasive framing.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

So that not only do we have the best chance of getting it done and appealing to most number of people, but also so that when our marginal Senate and members of Congress are up for reelection in 2022, as many of them win those campaigns as possible. So that we can maintain our majority, which is going to be really hard if you look the political science literature. The party that holds the White House very, very rarely holds the House of Representatives in the first midterm election.

Quinn:

Yeah, usually, gets wiped out at best. Well, you guys have certainly helped push some of these policies that are already affecting people's everyday lives. Now, we just hope that, like you said, those people will run on those things and show people this is what government, which is not perfect by any stretch, but in this case, can certainly help overcome a deficit of practical help from the past four years, if not past 40 years or so. I want to talk a little bit about the political and voting power of native people in the US, and like any group per se, I think it's easy and lazy to assume that native people will vote for liberals because liberals tend to, though not always, further environmental protections, for example.

Quinn:

It's lazy because that's not true, and of course, because native people like Black Americans or Brown Americans, or like clearly we did a very poor job of, in the 2020 election, of Brown Americans of whether they come from somewhere in Mexico or Central America or the Dominican or Cuba, these are not one group. But the largest needing voting block in the US, I think, is in Alaska, and they helped put Murkowski in office.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Exactly.

Quinn:

And four of the current Members of Congress, I think there's only four members of Congress are of native descent, correct me if I'm wrong.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Five.

Quinn:

Five, okay. Well, are three of them Republican, two or three, I believe?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Three, yes, so there's two from Oklahoma and then there's Yvette Herrell in New Mexico who is from Cherokee descent. In Oklahoma, the two are Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin, and then the two Democrats are Sharice Davids of Kansas and Kai Kahele of Hawaii who was just elected in 2020.

Quinn:

Right, and obviously Deb just retired from the House. But it's also understandable because Republicans, again not always, but traditionally will stand against government overreach, which is obviously something that matters here. I know that tribes spend a lot of money on political campaigns. Can you explain to me because I've been a political science nerd for a long time, but I just didn't realize, and this is just of course lazy on my part, the way tribes are counted for political donations, it seemed to be there in a specific gray area for how much they can actually donate. Is that correct?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I, actually, I'm not familiar with the campaign finance laws and how they relate to tribes. I think that that's right, though, that it's a little bit of a complicated legal question.

Quinn:

Sure. Well, we'll try to do some research on that, and maybe it's something I can follow up with down line here. But I noticed you talked about, in some of your writing, that you're part of a group called the NDN Collective, which is described as a new non-partisan organization dedicated to building indigenous power. I wonder if you can talk about where that came from, what your biggest obstacles are, and where you actually see some progress being made as far as growing native political and voting power in the US?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think that just universally in the American political system, the main ingredients of power are political leadership, the ability to organize and mobilize people, so grassroots activism, money. I think money is a pretty significant one. And, lastly, media, and I think that Indian Country has come to possess at least three of those forms of political capital. But I think the fourth, the last one I mentioned, media, is still often elusive although it was interestingly a pretty significant determining factor in elevating Secretary Haaland to be a leading contender for Secretary of Interior. Basically, as you mentioned, there are five native members of Congress roughly equal party representation among that group. It was perfectly equal before Haaland left for the administration.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

A number of those politicians, including Secretary Haaland herself, have relationships to grassroots indigenous led movements. Haaland fairly notably went to the camps erected in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline and cooked green chili stew and tortillas for water protectors. The ability, of course, of native people to mobilize large numbers of people and activists for their causes is a significant source of power. It's a key ingredient to social change very often, and then there's a minority of tribes that have done pretty well for themselves primarily through gaming revenues, though, not exclusively through gaming revenues. Some of them spend like other businesses and economic interests on politics and campaigns, and while most native voters prefer Democrats and most tribes give to Democrats, just the location of many tribes being in rural and conservative Western States has meant that the political relationships in Indian Country are actually pretty bi-partisan.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

As you said, in some instances those relationships appeared to have played a pretty significant role in influencing very important votes, such as the Alaska delegation support for Secretary Haaland's nomination as Interior Secretary. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both of the Alaska senators, both Republicans, voted to support Haaland's confirmation even though she's a Progressive Democrat. The part of this that I think Indian Country is still building is the media element which I think is really, really powerful and important. Most people consume politics through cable news and social media as well, and the absence of native voices and representation in journalism on cable news and in the social media discourse does translate to less power and influence in a number of those discussions and conversations.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think that's a very interesting area for me personally because I do a lot of journalism and media and writing, and Haaland's confirmation began as a media buzz thing. Like the media narrative around her in many ways predated the political insight or interest in her becoming the Secretary of Interior. In some ways, wrote that into existence through an outside campaign that included a significant emphasis on the media. I think Indian Country is I think surprisingly influential in American politics. I think a lot of people don't know any of what I just said, and probably would not think of tribes as being influential in many instances, but they actually surprisingly are. One of the core ways in which I see Indian Country as continuing to build power, and one of the things that I think that I'm personally very invested in is through that power through the narrative and power through media and journalism.

Quinn:

You're so spot on with media being the lacking point because it's for the past, since Fox News and everything else has spring up around it and social media, there's at least almost a pre Cambridge Analytica, but pre everyone getting their news from Facebook in that Fox News period, at least. And still today, there is almost no air in the room for anything else, much less a specifically marginalized indigenous people to be able to break through there. It seems like now with, like you said, the buzzy campaigns that start from the ground up like Deb for Interior, you hope to see that that's something that can be built upon so that there is more of a voice to match, like you were saying, the giving and the voting that have actually made some significant dents in politics. Now how do we get that out to a broader place? Because, again, like you said, most people have no idea about any of the stuff you just said, and that's a problem, obviously.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, and I think that problem runs really deep. My personal view is that, and this is probably shared by a lot of folks in the native studies and indigenous studies realm, is that at its core, this country has an amnesia with respect to its first peoples. In part, because we often invisibilized the acts of colonization and assimilation, and in some specific instances, genocide that were perpetrated against native people. To claim the land and the things taken from indigenous peoples on behalf of settler society, those acts and that history had to be purposefully forgotten and set out of mind. The continued existence of native people and our demands for rights and self-governance and land are a reminder of the history that this country has been very good at forgetting for hundreds of years.

Quinn:

Yeah, and nothing is apples to oranges by any stretch. Look, guys, men who, again, for hundreds of years look like me designed the genocide of first peoples from this country and Canada. They built the Atlantic slave trade and designed the industrial revolution that caused climate change, and we were very bad at, purposefully, very bad at looking back and paying these debts. You wrote an article a few years ago, which feels like 100 years ago, for the Guardian about when you got arrested in New York for protesting the Dakota Pipeline.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Oh, yeah, it was a long time ago.

Quinn:

I thought it was really wonderful, and thank you for sharing that four years later. If folks haven't read it, we'll put it in the show notes. You wrote about chaining yourself together with your arms with, I think, it was like 1500 other young people and having this feeling of generations of ancestors and inspirations, all those people you've talked about today of your back. You're feeling all the pain and the anger and feeling what you thought was prepared for that moment until you got arrested. You went into this system we've designed, and coming to terms with being in the cell and getting called out two by two and having no food and no control and all that stuff that comes after and all the paperwork for your community service.

Quinn:

There seems to be a broader swath of Americans volunteering to participate in these acts of defiance that indigenous and other marginalized people have had to do for centuries here. The data you're calling for progress requires everyone, not just those with most to lose. In your mind, a few years after being arrested and everything that's happened since, how can people like me be more involved in a way that supports movements led by indigenous people and people of color and women, and choose Asian Americans and Muslims without co-opting what's already there and what makes them important without making the same mistakes? And just rebuilding these exact white supremacist systems that got us to where we are today.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I don't know, this might sound simple, but I think just being a reasonable and thoughtful and compassionate person counts for a lot. I think one criticism I have of progressive culture is that at times we can look and talk down to people who might otherwise be persuaded to be part of our project for not necessarily being hip to the latest way to think and talk about the many social challenges and injustices that we face. I feel pretty strongly that the best way to build support is to meet people where they are and to politics is a game of addition. So it's about bringing more people in. I think one problem that we often face in activist circles is that we are often keeping people out just as much as we are bringing people in.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Then on the other side of that I think that we started this conversation talking about communication and collaboration, and the other side of communication and collaboration isn't talking, it's listening. I think that, that ability to listen is even more probably important than the ability to speak and represent and give voice. I think the key ingredient to journalism is not being a great writer necessarily, it's being a great listener. I think the key ingredient to organizing and bringing people together and creating solidarity and community and plans of action and all that stuff is listening. It's the ability to hear out various voices and perspectives and to create points of alignment and agreement from there. Also, to understand where people disagree.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think listening is really important for that as well. I don't know, this sounds a little trite, I guess, or a little simple. But I think that listening is just really, really important. Listening to try to build understanding I think is really what we need, and sometimes that requires humility on the side of white folks, and sometimes I think that, that also requires patience on the side of people who look and think more like me.

Quinn:

Well, that's thoughtful. I do appreciate it. I think a lot about the social media thing and how easy it is to just throw out one's opinions as much as we make super social media nerds can make fun of people who just lurk and listen. But there might be something to that assuming you've curated it and the algorithms let you be exposed to folks who might be a crowd you didn't know you were interested in, or you could be a part of. But also a hard truths of folks who have it much more difficult and are doing the work every day. Hopefully, we can use tools like these for good, in that sense. Obviously, it's a little difficult for people to get together right now to do any listening, so I'm just trying to find ways to be as effective as we can be.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, the platforms also aren't the best for listening all the time. I don't think that they were necessarily built for that. I think they were built to addict us and sell us things, not for any high-minded notions of human connection and collaboration, unfortunately.

Quinn:

I don't know what would give you that idea.

Brian:

It would have been nice to have that way to go about it.

Quinn:

They would have been bankrupt immediately.

Brian:

Yeah. I love that. I just want to say I just love that answer. You said a couple of times maybe it's simple, but be compassionate and listen more. Those two things could solve all of the problems if people would just fucking enact them like truly.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think there are some places where there just are fundamental disagreements where no amount of listening is going to resolve that. There's clearly a vocal minority of white people in this country who don't want it to be a country that is multi-racial and diverse and welcomes in immigrants and takes action on climate change. At the end of the day, that might be a irreconcilable difference between another worldview that is maybe a little bit more enlightened. But I think beyond some of those differences, I think that there are a lot of differences that can be, at least, where there can be more mutual understanding if not bridge to some synthesis and consensus.

Brian:

Sure. On top of all those things for patients and humility and listening and compassion on, and from both sides, I'd love to know any specific steps that our listeners can take to support you? We love getting to this point near the end of every podcast so we can really give our listeners something to do, specifically. So we like to break it up into two little things, what we can all do with our voice and what we can do with our dollars? Starting with voice, what should we be asking, actionable specific questions, should we be asking our community and our representatives that would help support you and your mission?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I think that it's really important for people to make sure that their voices are heard by their elected representatives. I think that people should be... There's this incredible coalition called the green new deal network that is organizing actions around the country related to the American Jobs Plan and a progressive, not alternative, but a more progressive version of it called the THRIVE Agenda. I think folks should learn more about that, get involved with it, call their representatives, tell them that they should pass the American Jobs Plan or pass a more progressive version of it that invests in our economy to tackle climate change, to create good jobs and promote racial justice.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

There's pretty compelling evidence that suggests that people flooding their members' inboxes with calls related to the Affordable Care Act, for example, saved a lot of people their healthcare. I think that those kinds of grassroots lobbying actions which everybody has the power to do are incredibly important, and they're especially important if you are voter in a place like West Virginia, let's say, or Arizona or Colorado or Montana. Beyond that, I think there's a lot of really great organizations out there that are part of the progressive movement and ecosystem. A number of them that are organizing people. I think the Sunrise Movement is doing incredible work.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Then there are organizations like that for progress that are playing an infrastructure and service providing role to those organizations and movements by helping them make the case for the most progressive options via research. I think that, that piece is also really important, and I think small dollar donations to all of those organizations do have an impact and also just engaging with their work in whatever way that people have the means to do. Whether that be participating in actions or protests or signing up for mailing lists, reading and engaging with research. I hate social media, but I do a lot of it and engaging with these things on social media. All of that stuff, there's research that shows that each of those things can have and does have an impact.

Brian:

Awesome.

Quinn:

That's awesome. We're actually an endorsing organization of THRIVE. I love what they're doing there, so on top of all those other awesome groups you did, we'll definitely put all that stuff in the show notes so folks can check it out. Would you say that those are the same places where folks should be, you said, talked about smaller dollar donations?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Or you feel like those are some of the most effective places out there for folks to help move things along?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, I think if your orientation is to legislative and policy change. There's lots of other organizations out there that are doing mutual aid and things like that, that are also very important during the pandemic. I think those are very worthy causes as well. Services do need to be provided. People need food on the table and money in their pockets and all that stuff. But I have chosen to engage through the avenues of legislative and policy change. Yeah, I think those are the ways that I've tailored my responses. But I don't want to take anything away from all the folks that are doing really essential other forms of solidarity building out there.

Quinn:

This is one of the-

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

You got to do it all.

Quinn:

Yeah, that's one of the things of the system being broken is that you have to help people who are hungry right now while simultaneously supporting the groups and the folks that are trying to actually change the system itself. But, again, like you said, there's some amazing groups out there doing all that stuff, so thank you for supplying those. Brian, why don't you take us home here?

Brian:

Let's do it. Yeah. Well, we've kept you for an hour, that's pretty good. Thank you, first of all, very much again for doing it. We do have a last little bit, a few more questions. It's not a lightning round, but if you can hang out for a little bit longer.

Quinn:

What do we have? Three minutes?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, two minutes. You guys have two more minutes.

Quinn:

Deal.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Two minutes. Okay, let's do it.

Quinn:

Hey, Julian, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

My mom.

Quinn:

That never needs an explanation.

Brian:

Moms rule.

Quinn:

Moms do rule.

Brian:

That's so great. Julian, what's your self care? What do you do when it's Julian time?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Oh, I'm obsessed with tennis right now. I picked up tennis during the pandemic.

Brian:

Tennis, nice.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I'm addicted to it.

Brian:

Tennis is so fun.

Quinn:

Like from a cold start, you just thought tennis?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I knew the basics of how to play and stuff, but I didn't like it competitively growing up or anything.

Quinn:

That's awesome.

Brian:

It's so fun, single's great, double's great. You're out there with some friends. What a good time.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, I'm a big physical activity sports person.

Quinn:

Awesome.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Got it.

Brian:

Julian, what's a book you've read this year that has maybe opened your mind to a topic that you haven't considered before, or has just changed your thinking in some way?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I read David Remnick's Tomb about the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of the Soviet Union. It was called Lenin's Tomb. It was his first book. I read it in part because I wanted to understand what makes him a good non-fiction writer, but it also opened my eyes to a lot of history and events that had happened that I actually did not know all that much about. Also, I think some of the... I'm pretty far on the left in American politics, but also there's a pretty significant story of socialist societies maybe not panning out so well that [crosstalk 00:59:12]-

Quinn:

That's a very gentle way of putting it.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah. So I really like that book.

Quinn:

That one is amazing. I think there was one of Pulitzer at one point.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

It did [crosstalk 00:59:21]-

Quinn:

Yeah, Russian history is one of those ones that you start diving into it, and it's incredible what's in there.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Wild stuff.

Quinn:

Go back to World War II and look at, what did they lose? I think something like 26 million people over the course of the war, something like that. Just it's truly wild. That's a good one. I will have to revisit that. Awesome, man.

Brian:

Rock and roll.

Quinn:

Well, we've got a list on bookshop of all of our guests recommendations, so we'll throw that one up there as well.

Brian:

It's such a good, it's crazy, I want every single book that was recommended. It's such a good list.

Quinn:

You've read two of them.

Brian:

Yeah, but working on number three.

Quinn:

Yeah, Julian, last thing, I know you said you're not the world's biggest fan of social media, but you are very good at it. Where can our listeners follow you on the internet?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

I'm only on Twitter, so my Twitter is @jnoisecat, and you should also check out the data for progress account, where we are constantly tweeting out new research. That's @dataprogress.

Quinn:

Awesome. I love the work you guys have been doing lately with Evergreen, which is really my brand of super nerds. Those guys are great.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Yeah, they're the best walks around in my opinion.

Quinn:

It's pretty awesome. Julian, thank you so much for your time today, man. We really appreciate it.

Brian:

Thank you.

Quinn:

I know you have a million other things to do, and that book's not writing itself.

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

As I'm learning all too well, yes.

Quinn:

Yeah, it's just the worst, man.

Brian:

Hey, we didn't hear the washing repairman once. So I hope everything's great though?

Julian Brave NoiseCat:

Oh, awesome. Yeah, I closed the door and I think it went all right.

Quinn:

It's either you're really good or not great.

Brian:

Yeah.

Quinn:

Well, thank you again, man. Really appreciate it. Best of luck with everything. Thank you for all the hard work you're doing out there. It's inspirational and we will continue to do our best to support it. Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dish washing or a fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:

And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp. Just it's so weird. Also, on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant, Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. Please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this, and if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn:

Please.

Brian:

You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:

Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening. Finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:

Thanks guys.