Stories of Community Engagement: Anne Price, President of the Insight Center

There’s a long history in the United States of the impact that economic crises have on low-income communities. Today, this impact is being seen and felt more than ever in these communities thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Insight Center for Community Economic Development is one group working to fight these injustices by connecting research, narrative change, policy advocacy, and movement building.

At the helm of the organization is Anne Price who serves as President of the Insight Center. As the first woman President, Anne has lead the charge to examine narrative change in addressing race, gender, and wealth inequality.

Her career as a researcher, advocate, trainer and leader includes over 25 years of working in the public sector on issues such as child welfare, hunger, workforce development, and more. She’s a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and as a national thought leader, she has been featured in the New York Times, The Nation, The Washington Post, O Magazine, and many other publications. She recently co-authored an article in Time Magazine and helped lead a webinar hosted by the Economic Policy Institute.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to interview Anne on her work for our Stories of Community Engagement Interview Series, where she shared her approach to public engagement, why narrative change is crucial, and the importance of looking at the root causes of inequality in order to ensure that all people can participate in the economy.

Jessica Califano: So I’ve been asking everyone the same question as the first question. When was the last time you felt like you were an engaged member of a community? It can be any type of community.

Anne Price: You know I actually have kind of a spiritual practice with women. And it’s formal. But I think that that community is just one where the beauty of it is women sharing about their lives, and what they’re facing, and people being vulnerable to really talk about issues that affect women specifically. So, that’s my community that’s keeping me going during COVID for sure. It’s just very supportive and you feel that you can be yourself. So that’s my community that I’ve been engaged in and it means a lot.

JC: That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that. So before we get into your work at the Insight Center, I’d love to hear more about the time you spent working in the public sector. I read in your bio that you’ve spent over 25 years working on issues like child welfare and hunger and workforce development. And so, maybe you can share a little bit about your work and how you engaged with communities to help them advocate for fixing those issues.

AP: Yeah, I’ve been fortunate to work in the public sector all my career, both with nonprofit organizations, and in city government. And I would say that the biggest way that I really engaged with communities came in Seattle. I actually wanted to embark on a very different community process. And this was money that we get from the federal government and we have to have a plan. Usually people just go to the motions of having a meeting where like three people show up and that’s their public engagement and public comment. 

But I really wanted to do something very different and even kind of drawing from public health engagement. I think about people who did early work in AIDS and how they engaged the community. And so I found local leaders from various communities both where they live, and ethnically. 

I had meetings with the Vietnamese community, with the Eritrean and Ethiopian communities, and communities that suffer from mental challenges—which people said, ‘You can’t get their input.’ But I did. I worked with someone who worked with them and set up some visioning sessions with them.

We went to laundromats and nail salons and public places where people gather and really just engaged with them about their economic lives. And people were willing to talk about how much money they made, how they were worried about the future, whether they could stay in Seattle, and how they were going to take care of their family. But it started me down a path of robust, authentic, community focus and engagement.

JC: Yeah, definitely. I like that you met people where they live, instead of trying to ask people to go to a meeting somewhere else, where maybe not everyone could make it. Actually going out and talking to people, where they’re at during their day, I think is super important to get a real sense of what their lives are like.

AP: Yeah exactly. We went a lot to where people live and where they naturally go to other kinds of meetings. So if they go to a meeting and do that regularly, we just asked if we could join for part of the meeting and worked with trusted leaders. Which is really important. Working through people that ordinary folks trust and know makes a big difference.

Working through people that ordinary folks trust and know makes a big difference.

JC: Building trust within the communities so that they’ll be able to share truthfully and honestly with you is so important. Was bringing in community leaders really helpful to that process?

AP: Yes, most definitely. I think it’s important that there’s a line between just wanting something from people like, you’re here to give to me. I know one community in the South that said ‘we’re tired of being objects of knowledge.’ Where people just come and ask us all these questions and our lives don’t fundamentally change.

So I think it’s really important to say why are you doing this? What will someone else get from it? How will their voice matter? What am I gonna do with this information? It’s something that’s really important for people to know. 

It’s also important to make them feel valued. You’ve gotta compensate people, you’ve gotta feed people. They’re really giving you expertise. I think it’s really important because people are also, you know, suspicious. We’ve worked in communities where for example, people with certain types of debts, run into these things where people say ‘hey you just won a TV, come down to the Holiday Inn!’ and then they arrest them.

So through knowing what communities are facing you learn why trust is so important. There are a number of things that people are dealing with, and you’re just one more thing. But I also know that from the lived experience, why people are suspicious and have had negative experiences.

JC: Absolutely. So, what lessons did you learn during your time there that you take into your work today?

AP: A couple of things. I mean, obviously trust is important. Truly coming in with a level of humility is really important to me. 

I also think allowing people to use their voice who have been invisibilized and seen as unimportant. So there were times we went to some places where people said, “When are you gonna come back and talk to us more?” Like some of it almost turned into therapy sessions! And it just told us so much how, as much as people don’t think that ordinary folks are not engaged, that people have a lot to say, and they want to talk to you. 

So I just learned about trust, about humility, and about really respecting place. It could be in the same place I worked in, in Lynchburg, Virginia, that two adjacent neighborhoods are very different in their beliefs, and how they thought about their young people. They might have only been blocks apart, but they were worlds apart. And so just really respecting and honoring that.

JC: That listening piece is something that everyone I’ve interviewed for this series has mentioned. Just giving people a voice and saying, “Hey, tell me what you’re going through. We’re here to listen, we’re not going to make any judgments.” That seems to be in such an important part of building trust.

AP: Oh, yeah. You know, for people to say things that may have happened in their lives and trust that they can say them, I think it’s really important, right? No judgement.

JC: So maybe now we can move on to talking a little bit more about the mission of the Insight Center and the types of projects that you’re working on there.

AP: So the Insight Center is a national racial and economic justice organization. Through advocacy and research, we focus on issues of income and income support work and wealth at the intersection of those. And our work really is to change policy, change laws, to improve people’s lives, and to maximize investments that are made in disinvested communities. How can we be putting forward solutions that will actually do that. Even through research could you take investments in the direction where they should be? The lived experience is really an important foundation for that.

JC: One thing I thought was really interesting when I was on the insight Center website was the approach that you take—connecting research to narrative change to policy advocacy to movement building. And I was curious, how did you develop that approach? And was that something that was always core to the mission of the insight center? Or was that developed along the way as work progressed?

AP: Yeah, I mean, we started off as a legal entity, and we were one of the first organizations out of the war on poverty to think about housing and joblessness and Community Economic Development—the kinds of organizations that exist today that were started at that time. And through my presidency, I really want to shift the order back to those roots in a bit. We’re not the legal organization that we were. But certainly I really wanted to think about what is at the root cause of economic inequality and disparities, and why aren’t certain communities thriving. 

So for us, the narrative change work, which started about eight years ago, was really about understanding that narratives shape how people think about solutions. And we can’t ignore that when we’re going for a policy change. Sometimes the narrative alone is a true driver of why we have the policy in the first place. It might not be based on true lived experience, or really about the facts of the matter. So we think that that’s just integral to doing policy work. We think it’s integral for changing people’s and transforming people’s lives, particularly those who are the most marginalized. It is narratives about poor people that are so foundational to the way that we help people. So you just can’t ignore that. Our narratives around deservingness are so deeply embedded into our American psyche. 

It is narratives about poor people that are so foundational to the way that we help people. So you just can’t ignore that. Our narratives around deservingness are so deeply embedded into our American psyche. 

And so we really just started to believe that that has to be front and center for our work, which does probably make it different from other orgs. Not that people are coming to really understand narrative work, but we see it as really integral to our work. So all those things come together—doing a lot of qualitative work and some of the analyses and and also just kind of like looking forward. We want to be cutting edge in how we’re thinking about the economic future of this country and of different places.

JC: Why is narrative change so important? And how do you change narratives effectively?

AP: That’s an art and a science. I think first you do have to know what people’s mental models are, how they really think. It’s really the way that we all process and make sense of the world. So understanding why there’s certain narratives particularly around deservingness, where that comes from, and that you just can’t you know, rationalize it to death. You think if I just provide this rational argument or if I provide this data, then people will come and understand my point of view, right? And it just doesn’t work like that. So understanding that sometimes facts bounce off of people’s frames, and they become more entrenched in their thinking. It’s like the one of the things you’ve got to understand—how people make sense of the world. That’s the first thing.

Then you’ve got to be able to speak to people’s values and do it in a way that speaks to some of our common values. And then create a counter narrative that you try to normalize. Think about the early narratives around gay marriage, and why that probably initially failed. To some extent from a narrative standpoint, when people said “gay marriage” it came across as another kind of marriage. Something different from a “normal” marriage. But when they shifted to saying “marriage equality”, people began to understand. Should you be there with your partner and make their final health decisions? Should you be able to have a will with this person? People strongly believed in that. Even more religiously conservative folks. It was this other idea. 

So this whole thing is about creating something in that way so that in people’s mind it’s different. It’s another kind of thing. It’s about understanding how people think, not repeating the harmful narrative itself, and then figuring out what your counter narrative is. What you want it to be is normalized to the point where like, when you say fork, everyone knows what you’re talking about. 

It seems like a basic thing. But there’s certain things that we have—I always called them the films we have in our head. And you want that to become a standard and some of those things are harder than others. And then you embed that. You embed that into the work that you’re doing, you see how that’s played out, you test it, you see who it worked for, why it didn’t work, and you refine and you keep going. I think that’s how we actually change change narratives. We have evidence of how that can change over time just using the one example I gave about marriage equality.

JC: Yeah, definitely. Can you share some of the narratives that you’re working on changing and the counter narratives that you’ve developed?

AP: We’ve been working with the fabulous coalition Debt Free Justice in California. We’re awaiting signature from the governor on a big bill that would eliminate fees that counties put on top of criminal fines. For example, you’ve got to pay every time you have your electronic ankle bracelet removed, and there’s a fee on top of that. Local governments did this to get money after the Great Recession short fall. 

And so we frame this as not just a racial justice issue, but as a wealth stripping mechanism. For Insight specifically, talking about wealth stripping and resource stripping, and plunder—that’s the way we’ve tried to change the narrative around this. We’ve seen over the years that it’s caught hold a bit more, particularly when people weren’t thinking about this as a wealth issue. 

I would say the more difficult one we’ve worked on is what’s called state sponsored child support debt. It’s not like a married couple who divorces; this is when someone is receiving a public benefit. It’s just negative things about dads. Deadbeat dad, we know that narrative, right? Everyone knows that narrative. It’s such an ingrained narrative, that it makes it hard to change policy. And this is deeply racialized too. Very racialized towards black men specifically. That they’re absent fathers, despite what research says about black men being more engaged with their children than other fathers, which people just don’t believe is true. That’s one fact that bounces off of frames. 

So we’ve done a lot of work over the years to humanize fathers. To talk about them in a certain language. Change it into talking about dads and their kids and their daughters and sons. Sounds very basic, right? But this one is a very deeply embedded narrative. We’ve been able to talk about this as a racial injustice, which then people have started to see. But also to humanize fathers of color, who have very negative narratives around them. 

I’ve seen all sorts of things in our work with culture and the arts too. Some folks like Color of Change, they work in Hollywood, they work with writers in that industry. We’ve done things like art installations and dialogues. We’ve embedded that in the language of the advocacy that we’re doing. We’ve published op eds with that language, a series of things, and then you just want an echo chamber for that to be amplified until it’s actually in people’s minds. Which you know, can take years and sometimes it does. But changing narratives about deservedness are harder. Personal responsibility, the bootstraps narrative that you just work hard and pull yourself up by the bootstraps—those are like, foundational American narratives that are harder to overcome.

JC: Right. And you have active people who are furthering those narratives in the media, at political rallies, everywhere.

AP: Yeah, all you gotta do is say something like, cheats or scoundrels in reference to a public benefit right? It doesn’t have to be racialized or genderized—you just say that and people automatically know what you mean. That can really reinforce those narratives that somehow someone is trying to get something for nothing, which is a very tightly held narrative. 

For example, universal basic income pilots that were giving people $500 a month—the first thing people say is “what are those folks gonna do? What if they buy alcohol with that money? They won’t know how to spend this money.” So you know that those are things that you’re dealing with, and you’re really trying to use everything, even the moment of COVID. Now that people have had to use food pantries, and now that people have lost their jobs, maybe this will change some of the narratives that we’re seeing. It might be an entree, you know, it’s hard. 

JC: The Insight Center’s website mentions that you work with on the ground groups as a means of centering your work on the lived experiences of communities you advocate with. Can you tell me about some of the groups that you’re working with and what you’re doing?

AP: Certainly in the Debt Free Justice coalition, there are people who are both like legal folks that work with clients and actual people themselves who’ve experienced these types of fees. Same with the child support debt actually. You’ve had people, children of folks who’ve had an order who said, “Well, I didn’t know how the system worked. I thought my dad didn’t want to pay us or give us money”, but the system actually takes the money from the father and doesn’t pass it on fully. So we have worked with those types of groups. 

We’ve worked in Mississippi with organizations like Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative. We’ve worked with One Voice, an organization that comes out of the NAACP but has the same focus on health, human rights and other issues. We have worked with mainly organizers who have a base. In our work, we try to bridge both academia and activism. So that can mean contributing to someone’s campaign, or certain types of research. We’ve done that on the issues that I named. 

So we’ve worked with a number of those groups. Sometimes we’re working more in coalition with a number of groups that are coming together on an issue. That’s mainly been how we’ve focused our work with on-the-ground groups. It’s mainly in service of the work that they need. And to provide greater support, whether that’s advocacy or whether it’s something like supporting research. 

JC: That’s amazing work. You had mentioned before looking at the root causes of racial and gender inequality within workforce systems and institutions and not just looking at the problems themselves. How did you decide that’s the right approach and how is that different than the way these issues are typically looked at?

AP: I think for us, particularly when you think about poverty and low wealth levels, a lot of times we see that people are working on the symptoms of those issues, but not what is actually driving the inequality in the first place. And so we just wanted to do structural change, to really  go beyond the programmatic, to actually try to solve some of these problems. If we’re not getting at the root of it, the problem still continues, right? It still manifests, because we haven’t really nipped it up at the root. 

…when you think about poverty and low wealth levels, a lot of times we see that people are working on the symptoms of those issues, but not what is actually driving the inequality in the first place.

In the workforce, for example, a lot of times people think the way to solve this is to just give people training. But training is not the root cause of why people don’t have jobs or why they don’t make middle class wages. It’s not training. It’s much more deeply structural, where people are segmented into certain types of jobs. We see that we know that now with women. Women are in care jobs and those care jobs, because they are mainly done by women, are paid less. That insecurity that that family feels is because of the structure of those kinds of jobs. It’s not that women don’t need to be trained. It really is a structure. 

So we’re pushing the question of how these narratives play out—because we feel like that’s a root cause. We hear that a lot. We talked to employers. We talked to workforce folks and people say, “you know what, if people just wanted to work they would go the extra mile,” and then on the other end you have people just desperate for work, desperate to care for their families. Desperate to figure out, how am I going to make childcare work? And should I put my child in jeopardy? We heard people make those tough choices. But then there’s talk about how people just need training. That’s not at the root. 

So how do we change those narratives about laziness? That’s a root cause. How do we think about structurally getting women into a range of different jobs that have pensions, that have middle wages? There’s been work done in getting them into manufacturing or into trades and construction jobs. That’s getting more at why women tend to do worse economically. 

We’ve been trying to solve some of the same problems for a very, very long time. And people have made a number of investments in this issue for years. And then we see the needle is not moving. So this is longer term work, it’s slower. But when it happens, we want it to be transformative. Like, is this going to mean that someone now doesn’t have the precarity of trying to cobble together three jobs? So that’s what we mean by asking “Can we go deeper to think about more of the drivers of inequality, the drivers of why people are left out of our economic systems?”

JC: You mentioned that this is long term slow work. Is that something that is ever kind of frustrating? These are problems that have existed since the formation of our country, so how do you keep up the hope that things can change?

AP: I think when you do this work, especially when you think about inequality, people often come out with very depressing statistics. And you know, it’s hard to hear. People say, “do you feel hopeless,” and I’m like, never! I think there’s so many opportunities.

You know, place matters. It’s really hard to make policy change in Mississippi. Like it’s super hard. But the work in California, if the governor signs this bill, he’s gonna wipe away $16 billion of debt from people in three counties. This is huge, right? We would be the first state in the country to do it. These counties have done it, you know, LA did it. That’s $1.6 billion from them alone. So in two years time, that’s amazing. It’s incredible work. It speaks to every single person in that coalition and the work they did. So it is possible. 

And it’s sometimes possible at different levels in different places. I think there’s a number of places that are really trying to experiment and push the envelope on the work they’re doing. Localities, even though some have limited control, are also some of the most innovative and pushing the envelope the most. And then other people take up work that’s being done all across the country. And then you get to scale and you can say, “Can this inform national policy?” 

So yes, it can be slow. And people I know have worked on things for, like 20 years. I think it’s a mixed bag. And I think that it’s important to have wins, things that people can hold on to when you need to keep going and then things that you know you’re in there for the long haul. If you take up this work—if you’re doing social and racial justice—this is your life work and your life work never ends. But I think there’s quite more possibility, not just because we live in California, then is often touted. Some pretty amazing things are happening all over this country in places where you think it can’t happen. 

JC: You talk a lot about the power of the local level. I read one of the pieces you co-authored about finding hope in local power. That article was published around the end of March. So that was kind of the beginning of this COVID pandemic. Do you still see that thread of local power that’s being leveraged now, as we go into six months of this?

AP: Yeah, I do. I think there’s a number of things happening. Certainly how people are thinking about mutual aid, which has been very interesting, and has played out in very different ways. Certainly, some of the work we’re doing in New Orleans, that is at the center of how people are surviving. It’s been interesting that it’s not necessarily local governments, but you see local organizations or even local foundations investing in those groups. This idea of supporting small businesses or supporting laid off workers—I do think that’s where innovation is going to come from. 

Chart from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development’s report on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on workers in the city of New Orleans.

Certainly I’m deeply concerned, if states and localities do not get any more federal help. This is a very serious situation for their budget shortfalls. We know too what happened last time when cities had budget shortfalls. They shifted some of those things onto poor people. 

So, yeah, I still think that’s a leverage point. I think that it’s weakened. But I think that people are scrambling. I mean, certainly when you think about local rent moratoriums, and that kind of thing you do see that there are places that have really tried to figure out how to manage locally or statewide. Even to give undocumented folks who didn’t get stimulus checks something—that’s a local decision, a state decision. So, I do still see it. What will come out of this will be interesting, but I think innovation and creativity in the way that localities will be thinking will have to be there to manage the rebuilding of our economy.

JC: Definitely. And I think that speaks to, you know, a bottom up approach that,ideally, these localities can come together to solve these issues that will then like, sort of spur a larger movement nationwide.

AP: Ideally, Yes, exactly.

JC: So I had a question about the webinar that you recently did with the Economic Policy Institute. It was fascinating. You had mentioned that the investment infrastructure is not in place for nonprofits to be able to work together to solve issues across communities. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and what you think the right solution is? 

AP: Yeah, I mean, I think that, certainly nonprofits compete for limited resources. And so everyone wants to have that great next idea and to have that funded and to elevate their work. And sometimes it’s not done in a cooperative way. It’s not done in a community. Certain types of grants ask, who are your partners and people put folks down as their partners or organizations, but I think what we’re really missing is untapped potential. When I’m in side conversations with people, there’s amazing ideas. When you hear about what people really hope to do, what’s top of mind, and when people come together organically, there’s some amazing ideas that get circulated. Done collectively these ideas could move the needle on some of the issues we care about. But that’s not necessarily funded, right? It’s not necessarily seen as a model. 

I think innovation and what that means in social justice is not nurtured enough. I’ve worked with people where we all have gotten a grant from a funder, and we’ve done things like, in some ways shared money. For example someone’s like, “I can’t get to that presentation there. I don’t have the travel money.” Well, I paid for them. And another time they paid for me to do something. It’s amazing how cooperative it can be. 

I think innovation and what that means in social justice is not nurtured enough.

So it’s a very interesting dynamic. And there’s not a structure for that, right? It’s kind of like what you do on the side. That probably has some great outcomes in and of itself that are not recognized. So there’s not much of an investment in that kind of collective work. There’s not that much investment in really feeding innovation and doing that collectively. And so I think, particularly on social justice issues and racial justice issues, they operate somewhat differently. It takes away from what’s possible. It’s really stifled. I really feel like we need a radical reimagination of how we operate. That’s why people want, like, core support money. I know I’m getting in the weeds here, but  these are the ways in which we’re going to actually be innovative. The idea has to be seeded and kind of done a little bit before someone will give you money. But how do you do it without the money? Yeah, we have a ways to go there. But I think there’s a lot of untapped potential.

JC: Absolutely. Especially when there’s multiple groups working to solve the same problem. Maybe the money is being spread out across all of them, but why not bring them all together if you’re all trying to hit the same goal?

AP: Yeah. I’ve been in situations where we’ve helped fundraise for other people, particularly in places where there’s not a lot of infrastructure, even though we need to be fundraising. It’s not really heard of, and you think about huge organizations like the Sierra Club, sitting on goo gobs of money, and never distributing that money to environmental justice groups of color, for example. I mean, it’s just holding us back. I believe it’s holding us back. Absolutely.

JC: So we’ve gone into COVID a little bit, but I’d love to hear what the pandemic has done to affect the work that you were doing prior to this and has the focus changed in any way? Or are you starting to add on new focus areas?

AP: Well, we certainly see that there’s a lot that we have to think about coming out of COVID. For example, household formation, how has that shifted? How we distribute resources, how we think about economic well being in a household formation—what’s that going to look like when this is over? How’s it looking now? There’s so much we don’t know. 

So from a research perspective, the only way we’re going to know this is to wait two years when other datasets come out, but also try to build off of what people can tell us, especially with something so fluid as what we’re seeing now. So, for example, we started talking to hospitality workers and other workers in New Orleans, which has been hit pretty hard by COVID in multiple ways including weather and climate, to really understand how people are managing, what they’re doing, and how they’re thinking about how sectors of the economy might shift. So, there needs to be a lot of research now, and a lot of good research questions now built in real time, with real people. We rely on big systems, we rely on the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). So we think that’s one thing. 

I think the bigger thing is that there is a little bit more focus on racial justice. There is a lot of talk about racial reckoning, of course. Some of these things we were saying before—we really talked about anti-black racism or anti-blackness as a foundation of some of the policies that we have in place. So some of the issues that we raised before have more salience now. Some of our work today seems a little bit more timely at this moment. But I think the fundamental things that we care about, like where will people come out of this in terms of wealth, are the same. I have no idea how people are managing. Are they draining savings or not making mortgage payments? This is what we’ll care about after. We think about our workforce, just the system itself, what is this going to look like? What is working going to look like for people? How will that affect certain communities? How will that affect women specifically? So those are the things that we cared about before, that we care about now. We need to ask ourselves a number of really good questions and start to dig in on what this means. We can’t afford to wait until 2022 when we get the data from what happened this year. So that’s what’s top of mind for us for sure.

JC: Absolutely. It seems like there’s just so much to learn, and so much to dig into right now in this moment, but also probably for a long time afterwards, because the effects of this are going to be lasting.

So I want to end on a positive note. Can you tell me about some of the accomplishments that the Insight Center has achieved? Maybe one that you’re really proud of, and really excited about.

AP: Yeah, I mean, I’m gonna talk about the two things I’ve talked about, because I’m very excited about them. Certainly, if the governor signs this bill, and eliminates $16 billion worth of debt—the peace of mind that will give people! And some of those people really could never pay that debt. Not all of it was collectible. When people say, “I am free from this hanging over me,” or from having to think about getting a second job, that’s big. One person said, “I have $200 more a week”. I mean, that’s a lot of money and that really affects people’s lives. That’s huge, right? So that is a huge win for us. 

We’ve had some other wins with child support debt, which is what a noncustodial parent pays into for their child or children. That money doesn’t all go to that child. It goes to the state and to the system. California has a huge interest rate. People can’t pay this debt. It’s one of the highest in the country, and it has a $50 pass through. So if someone pays $300 their kid gets $50. So that’s what people mean when they say I can’t take care of my child because of the system. Like you can’t say here’s some school clothes or whatever—it doesn’t count. Got to pay into the system. 

So the governor has put in a lot more of that. But we want all of the money to go to the children. That would mean much more money in people’s pockets. That is like real money. That’s food money. So those series of changes that we got made in child support debt for the poorest of the poor in California is really huge for us. Those are two of the most recent wins.  

We’ve also done a lot to think about local ways to think about payday lending. We did some work in the South Bay with really young folks who were talking about how payday lending and even how casinos were working to like ensnare people. Calling them on the phones saying come here, but also just payday lending schemes that are really hard to overcome. And California just can’t do it statewide because that’s a very, very powerful lobby. So to be able to do some local payday lending moratoriums has been really great for us. Not just here, we also helped them do it in Birmingham. That was really helpful. 

All of it is just about how we can keep money in people’s pockets. We’ve done stuff even with affirmative action. A lot of places and state governments say we can’t help folks because of affirmative action and just giving them tools to show them you can still help people and still abide by the rules, but also find ways to actually help marginalized folks. So it’s small things like that, that we do to facilitate more investment or to open up opportunities to these bigger things.

All of it is just about how we can keep money in people’s pockets.

This is more of a new thrust since I’ve been president to really dig in and just focus on one or two big policy issues. We’re not lobbying for or advocating for a ton of fabulous bills. We’re just going in on ones that we think intersect wealth, work, and income. We focus on those intersections where people can’t get to work because they have a debt, or their license was suspended, or there’s just mechanisms to extract.

We’re really focused a lot on extraction, because it’s so, so huge. So small things, sometimes they’re problematic. Sometimes they’re in a particular locality. And sometimes they’re bigger. So that’s really the work that we do.

JC: That’s amazing. Those small things may seem small, but to the people that you’re helping, I’m sure they seem very big.

AP: Yeah, I mean, working in California always gives us a scale of work. You know, as people say, California is the nation before the nation is itself. We believe in the power that California can have in helping to do work across the country. Because things that are possible in Fresno are possible in anywhere, like the South. So, we just think of it as an important place to test and to push on economic security, especially in a state that has so much economic inequality. 

JC: When will we find out if the bill is passed?

AP: Well, we’re just waiting any day for the Governor to sign. 

UPDATE: Assembly Bill No. 1869 was approved by the Governor of California on September 18, 2020. Congratulations to Anne, the Insight Center, and all those who worked to help get it passed!

If you enjoyed this interview, make sure to check out part 1 of the series with Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew, VP of Community Affairs at the State Fair of Texas, and part 2 with James Leitner, Founder of MissionCleanWater.

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