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On Building a Liberation Economy: An Interview with Solana Rice

Our BlackHer Shero of the Week is Solana Rice, co-founder and co-executive director of Liberation in a Generation, a national movement support organization building the power of people of color to totally transform the economy. Rice and her co-founder, Jeremie Greer, are bringing together economists, advocates, community organizers, and other proven and emerging leaders of color across the country to build a Liberation Economy, within one generation.

Solana, I’m so excited to catch up with you to learn more about your new work!  What is Liberation in a Generation? How does it work? 

Liberation in a Generation is a national organization to support movement organizers.  We believe that transformative changes for people of color are going to happen at the federal level through policy changes. We have to get lawmakers to shape budgets and pass liberatory policies to make a way for the next generation. That means that we have to:

  • Have policy analysis at hand when policy windows open. For example, because of police murders, the health pandemic, and a looming depression there is a window of opportunity to address all kinds of systems: decarceration and the abolition of police, addressing real economic security for people of color, and more. 
  • Have people to support these policies. As a movement, our power is in our people, not buying policy change.
  • Have alternatives if policymakers aren’t meeting our needs.  We have to generate or have options.  

Policy, people, and the ability to “primary” – that’s the game-plan.  

I got an email from you all the other day and the subject was, “Respond, Reimagine, Restructure.”  I love that you are thinking about the present and also urging us to reimagine the new economy.  But how do we do it?  What does it look like to “reimagine” when so many of us are focused on securing the basic necessities?

For me, reimagining is about undoing many systems that don’t work for people of color. And it includes having the space and time to reimagine on an individual level. A few years ago, I never would have imagined that I’d be starting a new national nonprofit. I was going through some personal challenges and setbacks. My husband and I were trying to adopt a child and several adoptions fell through.

It was through that hard experience and other circumstances that I realized that I have to take risks. And the risks I take may or may not work out, and that’s fine.  

I have the privilege to take risks in my life, many in my family do not. For example, I had the resources to leave a good-paying job and start a nonprofit. Sometimes I feel guilty about that.  But then I realize that one of the reasons that my grandparents and parents worked so hard was precisely so that I could take risks in my life. I don’t want to squander the work they did for me to have this freedom; and I want to use it in service of people of color. I want to create spaces where we can do this reimagining collectively. 

I love the name of your organization – Liberation in a Generation. Can you tell us more about what you are doing to build a Liberation Economy.

We know the data on racial wealth inequality. At my previous organization, Prosperity Now, my colleagues and I helped create some of this research, which shows that Black and Brown wealth will be zero by 2045 if we don’t do something about it. Jeremie Greer, my co-founder and co-executive director, and I are both connected to so many amazing thinkers in this space.  For us, part of what was missing was a place to coordinate and collaborate.  It’s been a big shift to move from, “How do we characterize the problem of racial wealth inequality?” to “How do we thoughtfully collaborate with other groups and create change based on what we collectively already know?”

Your goals are bold. How do you stay centered?  

Regular self-care.  I do a lot of breath work and yoga and meditation and journaling.  I make time to think and reflect and process.  I have a coach with whom I do spiritual work.  I take energy breaks.  

I’ve found that doing the work of structural change is lonely.  I often feel out-of-step with what is happening.  Clearly, we need to respond to what is happening at the moment.  But we also need to devise a strategy to put all of the puzzle pieces together.  Achieving liberation is a long-term play and part of that means having the stamina to plod along. 

I’m a baseball fan.  I love the St. Louis Cardinals and one of the things I love is how they stack up runners on the bases.  They go for one hit at a time vs. home runs and there is a lot of hand-off work.  That’s the work of liberation.  It takes strategy, teamwork, and time.

That’s beautiful and it makes sense and I know what you mean.  I often feel like it’s an act of privilege to suggest that we should or even can be focused on policy change and overhauling systems when people are trying to figure out how to pay the rent. 

When I think about what is happening in Minneapolis right now, I wonder what comes next.  What happens after the protests?  Who are the protestors handing the policy baton to?  Which folks will lead the next phase of the reform work that is so necessary.  For example, who is poised to make decisions and influence police budgets? I’m not insinuating we don’t know what to do to achieve abolition, there are many, many people who have been working at it. We need space and time to bring together people’s experience and thinking to develop local, state and federal approaches.  

The long-term stuff is also the work of liberation.  Unfortunately, playing for the long-haul is sometimes seen as counter-cultural.  Sometimes having perspective is a luxury.  But for those of us who have this luxury of time and a structural point of view, it’s an asset that we can use. 

Jeremie and I met with our advisors early on in the formation of LibGen and someone said, “Y’all need to liberate yourselves.” It rattled me and I hold on to that advice dearly.  At the time, we were still stuck in our old ways of thinking and doing things. But just because we’ve done policy building and policy advocacy work one way, doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it that way.  

After that conversation, I realized that sometimes what you’re doing is not what is needed.  

Amen.  

When we work with organizers and advocates we are hoping to create a space where people can reimagine together.  It takes a lot of introspection.  

We invite organizers to think about themselves and the narratives they hear or have heard all of their lives.  We want to know about what doesn’t make sense.

Reimagining is about taking apart assumptions that have been forced on us.  

Can you give me an example?

Sure.  During one of our workshops, we asked folks to share things that they had heard about the economy that didn’t make sense.  

One person talked about the “invisible hand” and the idea of a “free market.”  She said, “my mom has four jobs, I don’t even understand what people are talking about when they say that.”  

Everyone knows more than they think they know.  We, as regular people are experts on the economy because we are building it!  We can interrogate assumptions about how the systems are set up and operating.  

You’re right. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that our reality is not real and that others know better.  

That’s right. Liberation in a Generation is saying we can have an economy that is built on other assumptions.  For example, our economy can ensure that everybody’s basic needs are met.  

The reason we developed our policy platform is not to tell folks what is right or true but to give them a menu of options to wrestle with.

Solana, talking and listening to you is validating and soothing.  You are talking about reimagining the economy but it sounds like you are also sharing spiritual guidance.  

This work is very personal.  

When we do retreats, one of my favorite things is to do ice-breakers.  At a retreat in Ohio, we asked folks to share a saying or phrase that they grew up with, which oriented them to the world.  

Everyone shared a version of a similar story.  We were all told, “no matter how hard you try, don’t expect to get ahead.”  I’m convinced that this narrative has influenced how we, as Black people and people of color connect with the economy.  

That said, I don’t want to leave the impression that the project of liberation is about “changing our mindsets” or  “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.”  It’s not.  

We’ve talked a lot about your theory of change and the process of your work but what are you imagining right now.  What is the Liberation Economy you see? 

We think about this in two ways.  First, for example,  we need to dismantle oppression by not criminalizing people of color, by curbing corporate power, and ending our dual financial system which strips people of color of their wealth. Then, we need to build a Liberation Economy where all people have their basic needs – clean air, water, food, etc. –  met. Where everyone has access to health care, safe affordable housing, and a basic income.  It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  We start by ensuring that everyone’s basic needs are met and then we can all move toward self-actualization.  

What does self-actualization look like in your framework? 

We’re all included, all people of color belong.  Black, LatinX, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American people are all valued and compensated for our contributions to society and the economy.  

Let me ask you the miracle question.  You go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow and it’s June 2021 and a miracle has occurred for Black women.  What happened. 

We belong. 

Jocelyn

 

 

 

To learn more about Liberation in a Generation and their policy platform to completely redesign and restructure the national policies that hold up our economy, visit their website.

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