Reimagining Anti-Monopoly Activism Through Racial Justice — feat. Liberation in a Generation’s Jeremie Greer

Rebecca talks to Jeremie Greer — co-founder and co-executive director of Liberation in a Generation — about the case for centering grassroots leaders of color within the anti-monopoly movement, and reimagining the antitrust movement’s work through a racial justice lens. Subscribe to Off-Kilter on iTunes.

“The year 2020 was painful and demanding for almost everyone, and it brought distinct darkness and despair to people of color. A global pandemic, which has killed people of color at an alarmingly higher rate, forced “essential workers” of color to risk illness and death to keep the gears of a sputtering economy churning. In spite of this suffering and sacrifice, the future for predominantly white corporate monopolists has never been brighter. Between March 18 (the unofficial beginning of the pandemic in the US) and November 2020, 644 U.S. billionaires increased their combined wealth by $931 billion dollars (from $2.95 trillion to $3.88 trillion, or a rise of 31.6 percent). This occurred even as poverty deepened and the October unemployment rate hit nearly double its pre-pandemic low.”

So opens a recent report on anti-monopoly activism by Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice, cofounders of Liberation in a Generation. For this week’s pod, Rebecca sat down with Jeremie to talk about the case for centering grassroots leaders of color within the anti-monopoly movement, why challenging unchecked corporate power goes hand in hand with nearly every other fight, from climate justice to economic justice to disability justice and more; and why he and Solana argue for reimagining the antitrust movement’s work through a racial justice lens.

This week’s guest:

  • Jeremie Greer, co-founder/co-executive director, Liberation in a Generation

For more:

TRANSCRIPT:

♪ I work and get paid like minimum wage

Sights to hit the clock by the end of the day

Hot from downtown into the hood where I slave

The only place I can afford ’cause my block ain’t safe

I spend most of my time working, tryna bring in the dough…. ♪

REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome back to Off-Kilter, the show about poverty, inequality, and everything they intersect with, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m Rebecca Vallas.

“The year 2020 was painful and demanding for almost everyone, and it brought distinct darkness and despair to people of color. A global pandemic, which has killed people of color at an alarmingly higher rate forced ‘essential workers’ of color to risk illness and death to keep the gears of a sputtering economy churning. In spite of this suffering and sacrifice, the future for predominantly white corporate monopolists has never been brighter. Between March 18th (the unofficial beginning of the pandemic in the U.S.) and November 2020, 644 U.S. billionaires increased their combined wealth by $931 billion dollars — that’s billion with a B — (up from $2.95 trillion dollars to $3.88 trillion dollars, or a rise of 31.6 percent during that period). This occurred even as poverty deepened and the October unemployment rate in 2020 hit nearly double its pre-pandemic low.”

So opens a recent report on anti-monopoly activism by Jeremie Greer and Solana Rice. They’re the co-founders of a new organization called Liberation in a Generation. Beyond laying out the case for advocates and activists across issue spaces to take up the mantle of anti-monopoly activism, the report makes a powerful call for centering grassroots leaders of color within the anti-monopoly movement and for reimagining the heavily white-dominated antitrust movement’s work through a racial justice lens.

So, for this week’s pod, I sat down with one of the report’s authors, Jeremie Greer. He’s one of the co-founders and co-executive directors of Liberation in a Generation, which describes itself as a national movement support organization, working to build the power of people of color to totally transform the economy. The report is titled Anti-monopoly Activism: Reclaiming Power Through Racial Justice. And of course, you can find a link in show notes. Let’s take a listen.

Jeremie, thanks so much for taking the time to come back on the show.

JEREMIE GREER: Hey, thanks for having me back.

VALLAS: So, before we get into the report — and there is so much to talk about in this report — you co-founded Liberation in a Generation with Solana Rice, as I mentioned, up top. Talk a little bit about the organization’s vision, its mission. You talk a lot about an oppression economy and a liberation economy being the goal that you’re working to build towards. Talk a little bit about why you co-founded the program.

GREER: Yeah. Thanks for having me, and thanks for that question. Yeah, Liberation in a Generation, it’s really kind of a culmination of Solana and I (Solana Rice, my co-founder) and I really working. You know, originally, both of us have a similar background. Mine is in doing community organizing in the early part of the 2000s, but then also doing a lot of national work at the policy level for kind of Washington think tanks. And it really was birthed because we were really dissatisfied with the model at which a lot of national advocacy organizations were taking to how they were doing racial and economic justice work. And our kind of governing theory of change is that one, the ideas are not bold enough to actually deliver on changing the problems that we were seeing, that the story that we were telling about why these problems were created was actually just wrong, and that we weren’t working with the people that were building the type of political power that’s necessary to make that change. So, we launched Liberation in a Generation.

And what we hope to do is to dismantle what we call the oppression economy, which is an economy that is built on an uncomfortable truth: that racism is profitable in our economy, that institutions can build their wealth, that people can build their wealth based on the existence of systemic racism. And that happens by criminalizing people of color, by operating a dual financial system that extracts from people of color, that our political system and all of its inequalities is meant to prop up this racist economy that we operate in, and that corporate power has too much of a hold over the well-being of people of color in our economy. And that what we need to replace it with is a liberation economy that does real basic things like provides for everyone’s basic needs, creates safety and security, that compensates people for the value that they bring to the economy. And our economy has too long excluded people, but we need an economy that ensures that all people of color belong. And that has to be grounded in a set of economic rights that everybody has and holds and can be entitled to. And that, again, leaders of color that are doing grassroots power building and community organizing are the ones that deliver it. So, that’s who Liberation in a Generation partners with to deliver that future.

VALLAS: Well, and hearing you mention that you’d experienced, and I think very justifiable, dissatisfaction with the way that some of the kind of traditional Washington-based think tanks work on these issues, right? Often it’s about cutting poverty or reducing homelessness, right? And just the contrast with some of what you at Liberation in a Generation and Solana and the team that you guys are building there are, the things that you’re pushing for, right, are just on a different scale. And in some ways, it’s about helping people understand that maybe we can imagine a different world rather than just tinker at the edges.

I want to read another paragraph from this report. You write, “Imagine a world where the unemployment rate for people of color is zero, the unhoused rate for people of color is zero, a world in which 100 percent of people of color have quality healthcare, a livable wage, quality education. We at Liberation in a Generation,” you write, “believe that this is possible if we strive to create a liberation economy where all people of color have their basic needs met, are safe and secure, are valued and fully belong, including people of color who are immigrants, formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ, and have a disability. You finally write, “In order to get to this liberation economy, we must dismantle the oppression economy that monopoly power has colluded with the government to maintain.” And this gets us into really talking about the topic in this report, which is anti-monopoly activism.

Start with a little bit of a primer of what we’re facing. I mentioned a couple of stats up top in the intro helping put sort of a recent and updated lens on how good it is to be a monopolist these days, right? By contrast to everybody else who’s living through this pandemic and not experiencing billions and trillions of dollars of wealth increases. Start with a little bit of a primer of what we’re facing: the rise of unchecked capitalism and monopoly power such that we’re essentially living in a new gilded era, as the report argues.

GREER: Yeah, and just, I mean, you have to, to fully understand the power of, monopoly, you have to understand it through the lens of people of color who have to deal with it. So, in Iowa, and, you know, there’s folks with People’s Action that are organizing people in rural communities around the threat of monopoly. But if you’re looking at Iowa, a corporation like Tyson Foods has managers who are sitting around on the floor (and this is documented in the media) making bets about what worker was going to get sick and die from COVID. Like, the inhumanity of that, I think, is just appalling. But it just shows the dehumanization that monopolies have created for workers, for consumers, for small businesses, and everybody that’s impacted.

And the reason why is because at the core, monopoly power is about exactly that: power, who has it and what they do with it. And what we have when you have monopolies, it’s not just about the size of the firm. There’s a lot of focus on the size of the firm. But what it’s really about is does that firm have a disproportionate amount of power, and what are they doing with that power? And what monopolies today are doing — Amazon, Moderna, Pfizer, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Facebook, Google — they’re taking the power that they have around consumer prices, around workplace conditions, around wages, around the impact that they have in community, and the influence that they have on government, and they’re using that power to profit off of blatant systemic racism that is falling down upon Black and brown workers. And that is, for us, the real fight that we feel when you look at monopolies. And that the current system in which we use to try to govern monopoly power is totally inadequate in dealing with the kind of impact that the monopolies have on Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian-American people in this country.

VALLAS: Now, folks who are listening probably all assume that they know what a monopoly is. But I’m going to sort of poke a hole in that and say, you may think you know what a monopoly is. But Jeremie’s got a slightly broader, and I think, more updated definition that’s used in this report. How do you define a monopoly for purposes of what you guys are doing in this work? And why do you propose a somewhat broader definition?

GREER: Yeah. So, you’re right. The current kind of anti-trust definition of a monopoly really focuses on the impact that monopoly power or corporate power has on consumers, and particularly on consumer prices. So, will you pay more for a product because of the monopoly power that a company has? And as I mentioned, we believe that that’s totally inadequate to really understand the full breadth of what a monopoly is. Monopolies have, yes, they have incredible control over consumer markets and prices. And we see that in healthcare, you know. So, the price of insulin is much higher because of the monopoly power that a company, that pharmaceutical companies hold.

But monopolies also have power over worker wages, the working conditions in which workers show up to work and have to live through. They have incredible power over small businesses. All across the country, we see small businesses being crowded out by monopoly power. They have the political power to almost dictate to local communities how much they’re willing to pay in taxes, which means the crowding out of essential services that are provided to communities. And what we observe in the report is that too often, the impact of that monopoly power falls squarely on the shoulders of people of color, whether they’re workers of color, consumers of color, whether they’re small business owners of color, or whether they’re just people of color living in communities that are looking to their local government to really help them navigate life in the economy.

VALLAS: And I want to quote you, because you offer, I think, a really, really smart definition here in the report. You say, “We define monopoly as a corporate entity — a single corporation, or a group of corporations — whose sheer size and anti-competitive behavior grant it disproportionate economic power and governing influence.” And as you’ve been describing, you say, “This negatively affects the well-being of workers, consumers, markets, local communities, democratic governance, and the planet.” That’s a somewhat broader definition than maybe the sort of technical antitrust definition of monopoly. But for all the reasons you’re starting to get into, you really, you argue in this report that it’s necessary that we think a little more broadly and a little more functionally about who’s operating like a monopoly, and therefore where we need to be thinking about challenging unchecked corporate power.

You’ve already started to delve into the link between unchecked corporate power, monopolistic behavior, and the numerous types of racial injustice and structural racism that run rampant throughout the U.S. economy and our broader society. But you have a very powerful way that you phrase this in this report. You say, “Racial wealth inequality,” and you specifically are talking there about racial wealth inequality, “is the consequential disease caused by the oppression economy.” I can’t remember reading another publication about monopolistic behavior and the need for an anti-trust movement that draws such a direct causal link between monopolies and the ways that they operate, and racial wealth inequality and structural racism. Talk a little bit about how monopolies are contributing to the immense and historic levels of racial wealth inequality that folks are maybe more familiar with, but not aware of that link.

GREER: Yeah. No, thanks for that question. And what I think of an important distinction around the framing there is that, yes, it is driving, monopolies are driving racial wealth inequality. And yes, monopolies are a product of an oppressive economy that is, you know, where racism is baked into the design of the economy. But they’re also a profit tier, they are gaining profit from the existence of that oppression economy. So, it is in their interest to sustain it and maintain it and to keep it going. And an example that we draw out in the paper that I think is so important and I think really illustrates this is, as we mentioned, one of the pillars that holds up the oppression economy is the criminalization of people of color. That people of color as criminals, or defined as criminals, and mass incarceration, the over-policing of Black and brown communities is something that upholds this oppression economy. And then when you have a company like Amazon who purchases the Ring Corporation —

And for those that may not be familiar, Ring is a product that’s provided by Amazon in which they provide surveillance and home security to everyone. You can get a little Ring doorbell where someone rings the door. You could be at work, you can open it. It’s like, “Oh, cool. Leave my package there.” That’s how they market it. But what that does is that that Ring device pulls in a lot of data. And what we have is cameras in homes all across the country that can be used to surveil people. And what we know is one of the things that police do is they over-surveil Black and brown communities, which leads to the type of mass incarceration that we’ve seen in this country. Well, Amazon has contracts, in fact, 770 contracts with police departments so that they can get the data from those Ring devices. So, I think that really illustrates that not only are monopolies driving racial inequality through the low wages that they pay workers, through the way that they crowd out Back businesses, from the way that they treat immigrants at the workplace, but they’re also actively doing things to prop up and uphold this oppression economy because they are profiting from it.

VALLAS: And I really want to encourage folks to read the report, especially activists and advocates who I know we have lots who listen to the show, folks in grassroots-based work who I think are really going to find this report very much geared towards them. That’s another really, I think, significantly unique aspect about what you guys have done here. This isn’t the kind of think tank report that you traditionally read, right? In a lot of ways, you actually really wrote this for, and almost to, grassroots leaders of color as sort of a primer on anti-monopoly activism, but also as something of the beginning of a tool kit that really could help people start to take this on as part and parcel of their work. I’d love to get a little bit into kind of why you structured the report this way, why you took this somewhat different approach in writing, not just for the media and for policymakers and for the Washington elites, but actually for grassroots leaders of color on the ground.

I’m going to quote you again. You write, “This paper aims to contribute a major step in the long journey of bridging the divide between anti-monopoly researchers and policy advocates and grassroots leaders of color.” And you write, “The first step on that journey is knowledge.” What does the current anti-monopoly fight look like? And why do you believe, and Solana as well, why did you guys prioritize bridging this divide?

GREER: Yeah, so, as I mentioned in my opening about Liberation in a Generation, we believe that the leaders that are going to lead us into having a liberation economy and dismantling this oppression economy that we’ve been talking about are grassroots leaders of color who are building power in communities. And the reason why we believe that is one, they are closest to the people who are experiencing the pain and harm of systemic racism. They are in there with them, they understand, they hear their stories, and they’re organizing them for change. The other thing that we believe is so important is that they are in the business of building the power, the political power, of those people. They’re not there to serve them, which there’s people that do that. And there’s a reason for that, and it’s important. But they see their role in helping those people build power so that they can have the agency to force their government, whether it’s a local, state or federal, to act on their behalf.

And we believe that if one of the government’s roles is to curb corporate monopoly power, they should be the ones driving that change. Because they will come with experiences, which we try to reflect in the report, of how monopoly power is impacting communities. You know, how a Amazon distribution center in the Inland Empire in California is impacting not just the economic life, but the quality of life of people in those communities. They could speak to that in real terms. And that not only does the advocacy need to be informed by that, but also the policy making needs to be informed by that.

So, what we did was, with that kind of assumption, we went to groups like the Athena Coalition, who is organizing people against Amazon across the country. We went to Color of Change, who’s an organization that is focusing on curbing the power of big tech: Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple. We went to ACRE: Action Center for Race and the Economy. And they’re doing a lot of work focusing on big banks and the corporate and monopoly power of big banks. And we said, you know, what is holding the kind of grassroots movement back from really diving in, into this anti-monopoly issue? And they came up with, there was a lot of reasons, a lot of varies they identified, and some of them that we’re working with them to solve.

But one of them was, you know, we don’t have kind of a global understanding of how monopoly power impacts people of color in particular. We understand it through the lens of a particular firm, Amazon, Bank of America, like that. But we don’t really have a good grounding in how it happens globally. Therefore, our policymaking doesn’t have kind of an eye towards how could we globally and kind of more broadly address this problem in a way that impacts people across the economy? So, that’s what we hope that this paper would do: would provide that kind of grounding for grassroots leaders so that they can begin to build the type of strategies that kind of have that massive economy-wide impact for people of color.

VALLAS: And it might be eye-opening for grassroots leaders who are learning about this issue, who are exploring whether this is something that they can get involved with. But it’s also potentially eye-opening for people who already think they know the antitrust movement or the anti-monopoly movement, given that it is incredibly rare, as you point out, for conversations about the economy to really discuss human impacts. They’re often extremely technocratic conversations, right, that have lots of facts and figures and jargon. But something that you really make a point of doing in this report, which I can’t say I’ve ever seen in a report on monopoly power or anti-trust, is you really walk through the human impacts on people of color as workers, as consumers, as residents in local communities, as small business owners and entrepreneurs, and also as subjects of surveillance, similar to the Amazon Ring concerns that you were raising before. Share some of the examples in the report of those kinds of human impacts on people of color who can obviously be more than just one of those things in that list of categories.

GREER: Yeah, I’ll share a couple. There’s one that really, I mean, really broke my heart when I first read about it was Alec Raeshawn Smith, whose mother — and this is something that’s in the media. So, it’s not as if I’m violating any confidentiality here — but Alec Raeshawn Smith, whose mother, he aged off of his mother’s insurance plan. And this is a story we heard a lot during the ACA kind of debate and the debate around universal healthcare. But he aged off of his mother’s insurance plan, and he made this diff-, had to make this difficult choice about whether he continued to allow his mother to bear the burden of his insulin medication that he needed to regulate his diabetes, or whether he would try to do it kind of on his own. And he determined, he decided to do it on his own. And it’s a hard decision that people have to make every single day, but the cost of that insulin was so high that he was rationing it, that he wasn’t taking what the doctor prescribed. And he passed, and he died from his diabetes.

And this is the type of story that we see all too often. You know, his insulin costs were $1,300 a month without insurance. And we see that a corporation that can control pricing of pharmaceuticals for a lifesaving drug like insulin is how this plays out in real life. And we can get into a law, you know, you can get into a law classroom or into a debate on Congress, and you can start to forget about the real lives that are impacted by these policies. And the reason why we wanted to talk about these stories is because that is what organizers are dealing with every day: They’re working with people that are on insulin, you know. They are working with people who are working at a Amazon fulfillment center. They’re working with people who can’t get a bank account because Bank of America has all these fees on their credit cards and their checking accounts and things like that. So, bringing these stories out is what is going, and this real human impact, is what is going to mobilize, we believe, the type of effort that’s needed to fight back against monopoly power.

VALLAS: And I think we’ve got time for a few more examples, because it just, it isn’t the part of the conversation that usually gets any airtime. And it’s part of why I wanted to have you on the show is really to put a human face on some of the impacts. Share a few more examples that really, that popped for you as you were pulling this report together.

GREER: Sure. I’d love to talk about John Ingram, who is a Black farmer in Jackson, Mississippi, and he’s a chicken farmer. He grows chickens, and he sells his chickens to Koch Foods, K-o-c-h Foods. And they are the fifth largest poultry company in the country that provides food to places all across the country. But the model which they work with John is very much in the model of the sharecropping model from post-Civil War and on into the Jim Crow era. You know, they determine the way in which John must run his farm, like to how much he feeds his chickens, to the types of facilities he keeps his chickens in, all the way to the price that they will pay to buy his chickens. And what this does is create incredible power over Black farmers like John. And what you have is — And this is pretty much allowed to take place by the USDA.

He had complained, and Black farmers, many Black farmers complained to the Obama-era USDA. And because of the power of those poultry monopolies — you know, I mentioned one in the beginning, Tysons and Koch is another — they really didn’t do anything. And what we see across the country are Black farmers being forced out of business because of the power that these monopolies have.

Another example that I think is really good is also in Mississippi. There’s a Nissan plant that was built in Canton, Mississippi. They relocated there. And they had gotten there because they had gotten a lot of tax breaks from the local government, from the state of Mississippi. And they did so with the promise of good jobs. They talked about jobs would be between $26 and $26 an hour. Well, the type of jobs that they provided were called perma-temp jobs. And these are basically permanent temporary jobs, which I can’t really wrap my mind around what that is, because those are conflicting. Like, what is something that’s permanent and temporary? But they created these jobs that were permanent and temporary, which basically meant that they could at will fire people from their jobs.

So, these aren’t real sound jobs. The wages were low. They did not get great benefits. So, a lot of the promise that was offered was not delivered upon. And that these were primarily the jobs that were provided in this part of Mississippi, despite the millions in tax breaks that Nissan got from, again, the state of Mississippi and the local government there.

VALLAS: And there’s so many more examples throughout the report. We’ve got a link and show notes so folks can go in and can sort of page through. It’s written in an incredibly accessible way, right? So, I want to just make that point. You intentionally set this up so that you don’t have to be a lawyer to read this. You don’t have to be a deep antitrust expert to be able to read this. This is actually really for people who might be a little bit newer to the issue.

And one of the big kind of frames of the report as well is you spend a lot of time discussing how, you know, hey, we know folks are busy. We know folks are fighting a lot of fights right now and probably don’t feel like they’ve got one more to take on, space for one more to take on. But you really make the point that for folks who are working on, say, advancing the Green New Deal or the Homes Guarantee or other policies within the social and the economic and the racial justice advocacy sphere, you really make the point that challenging monopoly power is actually a prerequisite to succeeding in those other fights. What’s your message to advocates and to activists and policy folks, anyone who’s listening or who might read the report, what’s your message to them about why they should see the anti-monopoly fight as their own, even if they feel like that’s not the space that they work in?

GREER: Yeah, I mentioned Action Center for Race and the Economy. Mo BP-Weeks, who is a co-director there, often says, You just have to follow the money.” And I think organizers know that when you follow the money, you usually find exactly the targets that you need. And there’s a section in the report called Monopoly Power Is Corporate Power Magnified and Maximized. And we believe, and I think that we’re right, that if you focus in on and treat these monopolies like corporate entities, you can begin to see change in a lot of the transformative movements that people are having, for example, the Green New Deal and efforts to create a more equitable and healthy environment and to curb climate change. You know, the targets are Big Oil and Big Energy. And those institutions, while they’re large, still operate like corporations. They have a CEO, they have Board of Directors, they have shareholders. And all of those people have some stake in the company and have some culpability to the issues that you are trying to solve. So, it becomes another tool in the toolbox.

We believe that anti-monopoly advocacy is just another tool in the toolbox that could be used to curb corporate power so that you can begin to get wins on other issues that you may be focusing on, whether it is the environment, whether it is affordable housing, whether it’s creating higher wages for workers, whether it is to create a safer community free of police violence. We think that by focusing on curbing the monopoly power of the corporations that are causing that pain is just another tool that can be used in the advocacy for those broader kind of movement priorities that we hear a lot about.

VALLAS: Now, one of the things that you and I have talked about a good amount before, and something that we actually get into a lot on this podcast, is the narratives that are out there that we’re often sort of fighting against that might be invisible, but that shape people’s views about, say, the economy and economic policy, even if they’re not aware that that’s the sort of lens that they’re looking through or the pair of glasses that they’re looking through. It’s also something that you really spend a lot of time working on. And it’s very, it’s central, really, to a lot of what Liberation in a Generation is advancing, is narrative change, right? Especially dismantling, for example, the neoliberal narratives that are really at the root of so many of the social injustices that folks who listen to the show are out there fighting every day.

You talk about government, in the case of the anti-monopoly fight, as a villain and as complicit with corporations in allowing unchecked corporate power to do the damage that you’ve been talking about, that we’ve been discussing up to this point. But you actually talk about them in the context of the anti-monopoly fight government as the villain who could turn into the hero. Talk about why you think it’s so important to construct a narrative with a villain, with a hero. And we’ll get back now into kind of the policy conversation of this, why government has the potential to turn from being a villain to being a hero in this context.

GREER: Yeah, I mean, it’s really, when you look at the history of anti-monopoly advocacy, you see that there once was a time where the government was an active participant in curbing corporate power and was doing so on behalf of workers. You know, you see there were passages of transformative legislation like the Sherman Act or the Clayton Act or the Federal Trade and Commissions Act. And these were all passed in the early 20th century. And they were meant to curb this kind of corporate monopoly power in, you know, back in the Gilded Age when we saw the trust corporations, the railroads, the Carnegie steel industry. And there was this active role of government doing this.

But what we’ve seen since then is, as corporate power grew, begin to influence government more, a real devolution of that activist role the government played. And what we began to see really, you know, and probably the heyday of this for the monopolies began in the 1980s and continues on today, was actual collusion between the government and these monopolies. And that what we saw, what we see today is there have been, there were more mergers and acquisitions under Obama administration than any other administration before it. So, we’re at the point now where the government is really seen as a, it’s really a collaborator in building monopoly power.

What we need to get back to is a place where the government is playing its role in making sure that not just the, it’s not just about the size of the company, but that the company’s power is not getting to the point where they’re bringing down the standard of living for workers, particularly Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian-American workers. That consumers are seeing the type of prices so that they can afford the things that they need to live a daily life. That small businesses, particularly Black businesses, are not being crowded out. And that that is a role for government. So, government can be the hero, and it should be the hero because it is our government, you know.

We are a democracy. We should have say, each and every one of us, in what our government does, and our government should be working on our behalf, not on behalf of Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, or Elon Musk. We should be expecting the government to play that active role, and not just recognizing that it should be done for all workers, but ensuring that workers of color in particular and people of color, households of color in particular, are being protected against the tyranny of monopoly power.

VALLAS: And one of the later chapters in the report really offers kind of a primer in some of that early 20th century history that you were just summarizing around the time when government in the U.S. actually did take action to rein in monopoly power. You mentioned the Sherman Act and the Clayton Act and the creation of the Federal Trade Commission, all of that, I would encourage folks to go in and read. And there’s probably a lot that folks don’t know about that era following the gilded era, that really was the time when the federal government in the U.S. did actually take action to check corporate power. Who are the key players with power in the federal government to do something about this? And what are some of the existing solutions that are being advanced?

GREER: Yeah. So, today, I mean, it’s your Congress, of course, has a lot of power. Because there’s an, I believe, there’s a need for new kind of legislation that new powers be created, new constructions of how we regulate monopoly that only Congress could do by passing laws. But under our current laws, the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for responding and kind of being the first, the cop on the beat to make sure that companies aren’t violating any of our current antitrust laws. They can issue criminal and civil penalties, and they are the ones who are in charge of enforcing those kind of monumental legislation that we’ve talked about.

The Justice Department also has a important role in moving legislation forward. In fact, they are the entity that when you hear about breaking up corporations, the Justice Department is the one that usually does that. And they’ve done it in the past. You know, they did it. They broke up the big railroad monopolies of the past, and they broke up AT&T in the 1970s into what they call the Baby Bells. And they currently have a lawsuit today against Google to look at Google’s monopoly power. And in the lawsuit, there’s a call for breaking it up into smaller pieces. So, there’s that.

And then there’s other agencies, you know. As it relates to banking, it’s the Department of Treasury with the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Agency, the CFPB in banking. In agriculture, it’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In energy, it’s the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Each of these industries kind of have their own government entity that is responsible for regulating the work that they do. And they play a role in curbing corporate power. And one other one that I’d mention is states. State Attorney Generals also have a lot of power to curb corporate power, because one thing that’s little known is that states are the ones that incorporate corporations. And so, they have a lot of ability and a lot of power to regulate agencies.

As far as solutions go, there’s a lot of solutions that are kind of out there. And what this report does not do is propose to put forth a particular solution that would work for people of color, because we actually think that that’s the work that grassroots leaders of color should embark on in the future, is designing and developing those particular solutions. But some of the solutions that we have in our toolbox today are, for example, breaking up large corporations. That is something that we can do today. We can also regulate, tightly regulate corporations using the existing tools in the toolbox. The CFPB and what it’s done in the banking industry is a good example of that.

But one idea that’s been batted around, and I think Elizabeth Warren proposes for big tech in particular, is new enforcement agencies that are more in line with the realities that we see in the economy today and the way in which monopolies form. A lot of our laws are meant, were developed to regulate railroad and steel monopolies, and those aren’t the monopolies that we’re seeing today. So, there is a group of folks out there talking and saying that there’s a real need to think about new agencies with new authorities that could regulate monopoly power.

VALLAS: And of course, it’s not exactly a pie-in-the-sky idea to think about creating those new agencies. Elizabeth Warren, who you mentioned, right, was the godmother of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the CFPB, which is pretty young as far as federal agencies go. It was created during the Obama years. Although that may feel like a different lifetime at this point in a lot of ways.

We’re going to run out of time. But the last couple of minutes that we have, I’d really love to spend delving into the recommendation that really is, in a lot of ways, the kind of central call of this report. A lot of it is really addressed to grassroots leaders, and for the reasons you’ve discussed, right, about bridging that divide. But it’s also addressed to the existing anti-monopoly tent: the folks who are already working within research and advocacy spaces on these issues. And you say very pointedly, “The anti-monopoly movement, within research and advocacy spaces especially, should embolden grassroots leaders of color to deliver anti-racist policy solutions aimed specifically to curtail monopoly power.” So, there you’re describing that agenda that you think grassroots leaders really should be centered in developing. But you continue. You actually, you sort of raise the ante with this call. You also say, “It’s not enough to speak virtuously about racial equity and economic justice. We have to intentionally center people of color in the development of policy change.”

And you call explicitly for a reimagination of this movement through a racial justice lens that broadens the tent and intentionally makes this work more accessible and more human-impact focused so that it’s not just about bringing folks in and centering the work differently. It’s actually about doing the work differently, entirely, so that it’s not just that technocratic and sort of small-tent D.C. elite approach to changing these policies. Talk a little bit about what that actually would look like. You have some pretty specific ideas that, I agree with you, would actually transform the anti-monopoly movement in ways that would reimagine it and approach the work differently. Get concrete. What would that actually look like?

GREER: Yeah, and thank you for this question, Rebecca. You know, I mentioned that history. And I think what we know about public policy and the history of public policy in the United States, whether it was this antitrust movement in response to the Gilded Age, whether it was the New Deal, is that when it’s done in a race-neutral way, it doesn’t just leave people of color behind — Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Americans — it also harms people of color. And what we need to do is, of course, what we can learn from that history is that we should not repeat it. And we should not repeat it, by centering people of color as the core beneficiaries of the policy. Because we believe if that is done, not only will they be served, but we will all then be served because we’re ensuring that we’re not leaving anyone behind, and we’re not intentionally harming anyone. And we think that that’s so critically important in this kind of new era of antitrust policy that could come forth.

You know, we talk about this renaissance of antitrust back in the early part of the century, but at the time, many Black people could still not join a union. Many, many Black people could not get jobs in these new corporations that were being formed by the railroad, by the breaking up of the railroads. So, we have to acknowledge that the implementation of policy and ensuring that all people are a part of it are critically important. And we believe that no one is better at that than people that organize, that are in fellowship, and work with people of color every single day closest to the problem can do. And that that knowledge that they have, that expertise that they have in those folks’ lived experience, is exactly what policymakers need to craft the type of policies necessary. It is what the think tanks in Washington need. It is what the policymakers on Capitol Hill need. It is what the entire advocacy apparatus needs. And we would like to see that being applied to this area.

But what that means is not bringing people to the table in a kind of like, you know, tell us what you think, and then we’ll get back to you. We actually believe that those folks should be leading those conversations. They should be leading the crafting of that policy. And that the role of the think tank or of the policymaker or the antitrust lawyer should be to support them in that endeavor, but with them at the helm. And we think that that is critically important in all areas of policy, but especially in this one that has been so technocratic, so legalistic, so academic, and really devoid of many of the lived experiences that people have navigating the economy and fighting back against these monopolies.

VALLAS: And you’ve got some really, really, really concrete and tangible recommendations in there that I feel like if researchers or Hill staff or think tankers are listening — and I know that’s a lot of the folks who listen to this show, too — there’s stuff in there that folks can just literally put on their to-do list, like creating measures that actually assess impacts on Black and Latinx and Indigenous and Asian and Pacific Islander people, right, as they’re actually thinking about how we evaluate solutions.

GREER: Right.

VALLAS: Or you also call for just using less jargon and less abstraction and focusing maybe a little bit less on just like the markets and the efficiencies and all of those terms, right, in favor of talking a little bit more about the impact of corporate decisions on people, human people, right: the folks that are actually at the core of why we need to be challenging corporate power.

GREER: Think bold. Think big. We need to think big. We need to think boldly. We can’t get caught up into the minutia of what can get done today. We need to think big about what could happen tomorrow. So, yeah, that’s another one. Mmhmm.

VALLAS: So, Jeremie, in the last minute or so that we have, where would you suggest folks go if they’re looking to learn more about Liberation in a Generation, if they’re looking to understand more about your work broadly? Maybe folks are going, “All right. I’m going to check out that report in show notes. But it sounds like there’s other stuff that they’re working on that I’m interested in.” What else would you want to share about what Liberation in a Generation is working on right now and how you’re working with other groups that might want to get in the game?

GREER: Yeah. So, you can go to www.LiberationInAGeneration (In a Generation).org. wwwLiberationInAGeneration.org. You can follow us on Twitter. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, all of those places. What we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be really beginning to build some fellowship with organizations that are doing this anti-monopoly work, some of them, some of the more traditional organizations that have focused on it from a marketplace standpoint, some of the think tanks, things like that. But we’re also going to be working in close fellowship with institutions that support organizers, in particular organizers of color on the ground who are fighting against these monopolies. And some of those groups, if you download the report and go to the second page are on the Advisory Committee groups, like I mentioned some: Action Center for Race and the Economy, Athena Coalition, the Color of Change. But then also some of the think tanks like American Economic Liberties Project and the Open Markets Institute, Aspen Institute, and others that kind of focus on this work from a think tank perspective. And then we’re also going to be working with folks hopefully in philanthropy that want to work at tearing down these walls of corporate monopoly power in the effort to advance racial and economic justice. So, we look forward to anyone that wants to join us kind of in that struggle. And you can find us online and in the social media universe.

VALLAS: And we’ll have all those links in show notes to make it easy. Liberation in a Generation is a national movement support organization working to build the power of people of color to totally transform the economy. I’ve been talking with Jeremie Greer. He’s one of the co-founders and co-executive directors of that organization. And his co-author and co-founder, co-executive director who deserves all the shout-outs is Solana Rice, who we need to have on the show at some point, too. Jeremie, thank you so much for your incredible work and for taking the time to come on the show and share it with us. I look forward to having you back soon.

GREER: Yeah, thanks. And I’ll come back any time. I love Off-Kilter. I love what you do. Thank you so much.

VALLAS: And that does it for this episode of Off-Kilter, the show about poverty, inequality, and everything they intersect with, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m Rebecca Vallas. The show is produced by Will Urquhart. Find us on the airwaves on the We Act Radio Network and the Progressive Voices Network, and say hi and send us your show pitches on Twitter @OffKilterShow. And of course, find us anytime on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. See you next time.

♪ I want freedom (freedom)

Freedom (freedom)

Now, I don’t know where it’s at

But it’s calling me back

I feel my spirit is revealing,

And now we just tryna get freedom (freedom)

What we talkin’ bout…. ♪

Off-Kilter is the podcast about poverty and inequality—and everything they intersect with. **Show archive 2017-May ‘21** Current episodes: tcf.org/off-kilter.