TechCrunch Justice taped interview w/Rep Lee
6:59PM Feb 27, 2021
congressional black caucus
Congresswoman Lee, thank you so much for joining us today.
I'd be with you. Thanks, Grant.
I want to start off with the current Congressional Black Caucus, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. And it's it formed with 13 members, and you are one of its 58. Members. Now, can you talk to us about the importance and the significance of the caucus to the country?
Thank you very much. Because this is the 50th year it was founded in 1971 13. Members of Congress then were African American included our beloved the late rondelles, I had the privilege to work for it, I didn't actually start working for him until, let's see the summer of 74, as an intern, then went back in 1975, to DC to head up his office. And so I saw the Congressional Black Caucus grow, but also as a Stanford, but I also saw how they weren't truly the conscience of the Congress, because these 13 members of Congress on each and every issue, they push the envelope for justice for racial justice, yes, for the African American community. But in their initial founding statement, they said for all marginalized communities in this country. And so if you fight for justice for African Americans, you're fighting for justice and equality for everyone who has been left out of this country's promise of the American dream. Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman and she was one of the founders. And she mentored me, and she was the first person that got me actually registered to vote and to get involved in politics. And I saw how Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm had to fight just to have a seat at the table, she had to fight just to be heard. This was with the men in the black caucus and everyone on the hill, but she wouldn't back down. And she just said, I'm here. And I'm here to stay. And she fought through all of the sexism and racism. And finally, I'll just say when you look at the Black Caucus, his agenda then and now you'll see that we're still following in terms of our fight on the legislative level, organizing around the country for a racial equity, equity, economic equity and justice for the African American community for poor people, low income people of color.
We do talk about access to the American dream and all of that. And so the caucus A few years ago, you and a few others went to Silicon Valley, and you sat across the table from CEOs from big companies like Apple and and you met with Tim Cook, you met with jack Dorsey, and you talk to them about the lack of diversity in tech. And in specific plans around equitable hiring all about how satisfied are you with the progress if any, that has been made since then?
Well, let me say we've made many trips to Silicon Valley, and to New York and have met with tech, the tech sector. over and over and over again, we see a glimmer of hope, but not much. When you look at the numbers of the workforce in terms of employees, I think we're looking from maybe as as it relates to African Americans, but maybe from two to about 7%. If that. When you look at the retention numbers, cultural hostility in many respects that tech sector employees tell me they were faced once they're in, they don't stay a long time, because the culture has not been a culture friendly for African Americans and Latin x individuals. And so it's a it's a problem. And we're gonna keep pushing I co chair tech 2020, which we started five years ago. And we've heard so many excuses from tech sector. But I'm gonna give you one example. We're pushing also for C suite. Individuals who are black before executives, level employees, or board members, or contracting suppliers, the whole nine yards. And so one year, we went to one tech company. And they said, of course, oh, the Blackboard is full, but we don't have any openings. But the next openings we have, we will certainly try to identify African Americans for the vacancies. We went back. The next year, there had been a four vacancy, not one African American was appointed. And so it's just kind of stuff over and over and over again. And we've got to crack that culture. And I'm telling you, we've got to do before we exercise our regulatory reform, and I'll stick because there's no way in America, any tech sector, any company should have only an especially in California, only two to 7% of African Americans in the in the workforce.
So what is that regulatory plan?
Well, we're not going to talk about that yet. But all of us including Congresswoman waters with me and she handles the financial services. I handle appropriations. We have the members who are on the Energy and Commerce Committee. We have members who are with us on the Ways and Means Committee who have changed. So we have black members everywhere on key committees that are conducting oversight and making sure that the tech sector, especially those many received federal contracts, and they're required to comply with executive order 11924. And they just don't they get away with it. And so no, I'm not satisfied. I think we made some progress, we see more diversity officers and more human resources, officers who are African American, and I work closely with them. And I know the challenges that they're faced with it. So I tried to help them from the outside to make those companies respond in a more adequate and in a fair and equitable manner. Well, I
suspect one of the excuses that you hear is the issue of the pipeline problem, which it's been proven, it's a myth, and people are doing research on it. So what do you say to that, to the people who use that as an excuse?
It's a total myth. First of all, we have I know African American engineers, African American professionals who, quote qualify for these jobs. But I do know there's unconscious bias, ie racism in the companies. And so a lot of the companies have developed these anti racist policies and programs where they tried to do the deep dive and try to help people understand unconscious bias and what have you, but they don't take the results and implement them. And so it's just really, you know, it's not good. When you look at the tech sector jobs, I believe it's about 40% are non tech related. And so you can't tell me that we don't have African American accountants, and, you know, auditors, African American communications firms, all of the services that they buy, they don't contract with, and the non tech jobs they don't hire black people for. And so it's a shame and disgrace, but we're gonna keep pushing. And the pipeline is, it really is not an issue. I mean, I have that in our public schools, we don't have access to a science and technology for black students and low income students. So when President Obama was in I worked with him on his computer science for All initiative, I have legislation that would require funding for K through 12. For Computer Science, for low income kids, girls, and people of color girls, children of color, well, the legislation is moving, but in the meantime, isn't appropriate, I put up to probably in his call for 250 million, I think we put about 150 million in the accounts that would allow for this. So now we haven't that department of education that hopefully, would use this money to send to the school district with direction on what we say that should be done. So we're hitting it off for us, but they're using that as an excuse, we're not gonna let them get away with it. We're circling the wagons and, you know, we're gonna make sure that this glass ceiling is broke.
It's great. The, you just mentioned your the bill going through the through the Congress on when one of the things that the caucus focuses on too is is the is the issue of digital divide. And so when you have the stone, the access to STEM education, there's another issue when there's a lack of access to computers and broadband. So what is what is what do you what are your thoughts on that and addressing the digital divide issue that's been around since the mid 90s?
Yeah, it is magnified during COVID-19. I mean, when you look, even in my district, which is a very wealthy district, in a very poor district, it's a tale of two district, young people didn't have access don't have access to broadband. So they can't do distance learning during the pandemic. And so we had to work to get access or young people to get computers left, you know, iPads, access to technology and broadband, even in my district next door to Silicon Valley. It was it's mind boggling. And this is not only in my district, but it's around the country. And so in our COVID package, we have funding to help, you know, provide funding for the infrastructure necessary for access to broadband, so kids can have the equal educational opportunities during a pandemic. But we're going to put forth an infrastructure bill very soon. And it's not going to be just brick and mortar, it's going to include broadband as an element or a component of our infrastructure bill. Because when you look at mean it's really tragic. What what has happened, which I knew, but you have parents who are essential workers, and they're working to provide essential services to keep this country going. And much danger. They go home to themselves. Their children don't have access to broadband, and they're navigating all of this. And so everyone is following way, way, way. Behind if you're low income, if you're black, you're people of color and your essential work is and we have a duty and responsibility to make sure these kids and senior citizens so much now is like, you've got to apply online. I know just with the COVID vaccinations, I'm trying to help develop strategies to get to those who don't have access to the internet to figure out how they get appointments to go get their vaccinations. So this is a critical justice issue that has to be rectified, because it's magnified now with COVID-19 Coronavirus. And seeing as so many people have been like,
yeah, we you mentioned, you mentioned your district and and Oakland and Kapor Capital just got $125 million in funding just last week. And so I'm curious what you think about what the what that means to Oakland, not only Oakland, but also what it means to the tech industry as a whole, as you just referenced Oakland having basically been next to San Francisco and Silicon Valley during the rise of the tech industry. And so what is a place like a Portland that funding mean to
say Thank God, for Kate, for their hidden genius project, all of the work that they've done has been around racial equity. It's been about young, young people of color, having access to the opportunities that this country provides. So I'm so excited that they're continuing with this work. And they're located in my freedom and Mitch skateboard, they're, they're not only smart people in terms of their their work, and the work that they do in terms of access in the staff that they have. But they're also committed to racial equity and racial justice. And in terms of their venture capital strategies in terms of how they seed firms to begin to enter into this space. What they do all over the state in the country is remarkable. And I'm so proud that they are in Oakland, because Oakland, I think, is a microcosm of all of the possibilities, but all the challenges that we as African Americans and people of color have in America,
for sure. We only have a few minutes left, and I want to spend them talking about cast. You are on the cannabis caucus. And you know, obviously, we all will know that there remains a disproportionate number of blacks incarcerated due to due to minor drug offenses. And the state's continued to legalize marijuana, most recently in New Jersey, what what are your thoughts on the fact that the disproportionate number of blacks are able to take advantage of the capital that is now out there in the cannabis industry, which is growing?
Yeah, you know, I co chaired the cannabis caucus. And the reason I was asked to coach here several years ago is because it was all white males, and it's a bipartisan caucus. And so I get it comes Barbara Lee, co chairman. And so they, they have to look at racial equity and racial justice as part of our cannabis reform legislation. And they did. And so we have got, I have bills that actually were incorporated in what is known as the more act, my marijuana Justice Act, which expunge the records of all those convicted, then these word laws develop through this war, drug, war on drugs that incarcerated and put so many black and brown people at risk of never being able to move forward in their lives because they have conviction on their record. So we want to expunge all the records, we want to make sure that marijuana, cannabis is d scheduled, because until it's D scheduled, even when states pass recreational and medicinal. The federal government can come in and vamp on these dispensaries and shut them down. So we've got a D schedule and not make it illegal at the federal level. So my bill does that, as well as making sure that we create a fund for restitution in many respects, a community development fund that provides for job training, education, housing, all of the aspects of what it means to move forward in this this country. And so, restorative justice is extremely important. These individuals were caught up in the war on drugs and unfairly, were incarcerated and arrested. I also have legislation is called the respect that which is about equity in the industry, the licenses. Now we've been as of last year is only maybe 1%, or less than were granted to African Americans. We have to have, this is a trillion dollar industry. And I don't want to see what happened. I don't want to see what's happening in the tech sector happening in the cannabis sector now. So we're at the beginning of this. So we have in the more action in my bills, requirements, to set up offices of equity and how you bring companies and help companies I know in my own business We have an Office of Equity to help them weed through the bureaucracy to get their licenses, but also access to capital, sometimes it's three to $500,000, just for a license. So we have to make sure that that access to capital is not exclusionary so that people say, well, you're eligible, now show us where the money is. And so there's a lot of legs to this, but I am determined, I am determined that we're going to see those who have been most affected by these these horrific draconian war on drugs get access to the to the industry into the benefits, these jobs, these industries, this industry creates jobs, good paying jobs, they create economic opportunities, and they create community reinvestment opportunities, and so why not? And we've got to move forward. And we're making a lot of progress. We got the more act off the floor Last time, we didn't make it through the Senate. But senator Harris, Vice President Harris was carrying it in the Senate. So we're starting all over again in the house. We'll get it to the Senate. And let's see what they do and get it to the Biden administration. But fine, let me just say legislation takes a long time. So we're working with the finance administration now, to try to do some things. I mean, we sent them a letter suggesting they just go on and give pardons to those who have been unjustly or clemency and convicted. We got a note back from the White House saying that, well, at least they're making little progress for those who work with the federal government and who have especially young people who have been caught up and got caught, you know, smoking marijuana, that they would try to make sure that that's not a gang on their record. So that is incremental with bioneers. Administration, but we're making it bold, we're pushing hard. We want them to move forward in support more and D scheduled cannabis.
What about federal control beef, it'll be legal federally at all, whenever.
That's what the schedule is listed as a controlled substance on the list of controlled substances. And in my bed, we say D scheduled cannabis, which means taken off that list, which means it's legal.
Wait, so we have a couple more minutes. I just wanted the Congressional Black Caucus just announced this 100 day plan. What How can you talk about that?
Sure. And we've been working very closely with the White House. And I'm really, really privileged to co chair the domestic Council, part of our CBC plan with Senator Booker. And so a lot of this plan is working with the Biden Harris administration to address the lives and livelihoods of those who have been, you know, impacted by the the Coronavirus, which means targeting resources. And I've been working on legislation for the CDC and funding, which we're making progress on to resources to black and brown communities for testing, tracing, contact tracing and vaccine vaccine distribution that's a high priority for the CBC also livelihoods in terms of saving lives and livelihoods, what we're doing is we're putting more resources to actually into this last package that we passed last night for community development, financial institutions for access to the loans and grants for black and minority owned businesses, because the first go around, they were totally shut out. So we're trying to fix that as part of the CBC strategy. And we're working to make sure that the George Floyd, justice and policing, it gets passed. We put that up and working on that we're working on my truth, racial healing transformation permission and reparations to try to make sure we get that done. And we're working also on the Voting Rights Act. We see states now that are just moving forward and double down on, you know, voter suppression efforts. So the john lewis, voter Voting Rights Act, we've got to pass that. And so we have a whole 55 of us who got a lot of work to do, but thank goodness we have vice president Harris and President Biden.
100% Well, Congresswoman, we thank you so much for joining us. It was an honor to have you here.
Thank you. My pleasure. nicean
think I think she has a machine