Transcription: 024: Albrey Brown: How a Bay Area Developer Fights for Minority Representation & Diversity in Tech

This week I talk to Albrey Brown, who is a programmer and community leader here in the Bay Area. He is currently working as an Enrollment and Diversity specialist at Hack Reactor which is a coding bootcamp based out of San Francisco. Albrey was a student at Hack Reactor and was brought on to the team after he graduated. After noticing the lack of diversity in the Hack Reactor family, he pitched an idea to the founders and founded his own branch of the school called Telegraph Academy that focuses on finding students from underreprestend minorities. Albrey was also recently invited to speak at the White House at the first ever Demo Day about his experience and his belief that industries, especially tech, need to be more diverse. We’ll also touch on his newest project, Progressive Patriotism.




Transcription: 018: Charlie Furman: Organizing and Activism in the Digital Age

This week I talk to Charlie Furman, an Activist and Digital Organizer who creates campaigns focused on creative internet organizing to spread movements quickly and meaningfully over many channels. Charlie was a campaign manager for Fight for the Future and faught hard for Net Neutrality and against the Trans Pacific Partnership and was also a digital organizer for, People’s Climate movement, and Demand Progress. He’s so active and has so many insights into how we take issues we feel strongly about and turn our thoughts into actions. Finally we talk about his latest project, a timeline of how we ended up with Donald Trump as the Republican Presidential Candidate.




Transcription: 010: Hip Hop for Change: Why a GrassRoots Organization Fights to Get Hip Hop in Schools

This week I talk to Khafre and JP of Hip Hop For Change. Khafre is the founder and executive director and JP is the events coordinator. We discuss the inherent problems of corporate media promoting a singular narrative of hip hop and the reason why diversifying hip hop is important for kids in inner city communities. Hip Hop For Change teaches classes about the rich history of hip hop in Oakland schools as well as art classes that help kids deal with PTSD and trauma that they are suffering due to inner city violence. They also serve as a collective for artists. They have teamed up with local MCs, DJs, dancers, and graffiti artists and offer free and low cost studio recording services for artists in the Bay Area.




Transcription: 009: Johnny5: How TURFInc Heals Trauma and Teaches Marketable Skills in Oakland

This week I talk to Johnny5, the founder and director of TURFInc, a company in Oakland that teaches kids turfing. Turfing is a style of street dance that came out of hyphy in the 90s. TURFInc gives them opportunities to make money and helps them stay off the street by learning marketable skills. Johnny5 has worked with tons of big name artists, he’s been featured and finds talent for Yak Films, the premiere dance film company in the world and he’s an all around awesome guy with lots of stories about Oakland.




Transcription: 008: Lily Williams: Informing through Illustration, from Sharks to Women’s Health

This week I talk to Lily Williams about her short film FINconceivable, an award winning informational short about the importance of sharks to our ecosystem. We talk about her upcoming illustrated children’s book called If Sharks Disappear which will be published next year through Roaring Brook Press. Finally, we discuss her newly released web comic that she co-created with Karen Schneemann, called The Mean Magenta. The Mean Magenta seeks to destigmatize periods by providing entertaining comics as well as health resources.



[Narration begins]

Hi everyone, welcome to the Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. A show about young people doing awesome things. I’m your host, Marissa Comstock. The show is located at the Undefined where you can find links to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, with episodes available through Soundcloud, Itunes, and Stitcher.

As always, thank you for listening, I have been getting some really amazing responses lately which is so cool to hear. It makes me feel like I’m doing something worth it. And makes me want to make the show even better so, truly thank you.

This week I talk to Lily Williams. We went to art school together. She is a phenomenal artist, who focused on art direction and development for animation while at California College of the Arts and has since steered more towards her true passion, which is illustration. Her illustrations are super charming but they are not just beautiful to look at, they are also informational. She has created infographics that have gone viral, you have probably seen her work floating around the internet without knowing. Her mission is to create art that teaches people about animals, about the environment, about women’s health, about a number of things close to her heart in a way that is fun and engaging.

This episode we are going to first talk briefly about her work at Sony where she worked in art development for a film called Medusa, then we are going to talk about her viral short film called Finconceivable about the importance of sharks to our ocean. this will segway into her children’s book called, If Sharks Disappear, which will be published by Roaring Brook Press in June of 2017. Finally, we will talk about her webcomic which she co-created with a fellow student Karen Schneemann called the Mean Magenta which is about destigmatizing women’s periods. You will get to hear a fun period nightmare story about little old me. So listen in, I hope you learn lots and enjoy the show.

[Theme music plays]

[Continue with narration]

We are going to quickly talk about Lily’s work at Sony and a favorite director of hers that she got to work with.

[Interview begins]

Lily: I interned with Sony starting when I was 16. So you know, it was kind of a crazy combination of things that just kind of met up in the world and the universe aligned. I went there when I was 16 in the summer and then again, I also just asked to come back. And also that was naive. It was like my first real opportunity with asking and not, like, not knowing that maybe I shouldn’t have asked, but I did. And I was like ‘hey I want to come back! like can I come back?’ and they were ‘like uh, yea sure!’ and I was like cool. I’m going to come back and then I like took them up on it. So I came back again and then I came back again, and again. So I went back four times and then eventually they brought me on after college as a visual development artist and I worked there doing costume design and character design and um, a bit of production design which is like props and stuff for almost two years. So I can’t really talk about too much because we had to sign all these forms but I did get to work on some amazing projects and I did get to work with my career bucket list director. So that was probably one of the coolest things.

I was there for, I was there for like 3 months and they put me on this movie which I was on for most of my time there which was called Medusa. Um and they, Lauren Frost who did My Little Pony as well as a bunch of other amazing things. She’s like super sick, badass feminist, like Hollywood superhero. She was a director on Medusa and, when I saw her I was like Oh my god! I want to work with her so badly! Actually I didn’t even think I thought that, I think thought, I said I want to meet her! I want to talk to her and I was, I did one day, I went up to her and said to her ‘oh my god! I love My Little Pony! It was so cute and so good! and I’m such a fan of yours.’ She was really nice and then, like two days later they put me on that movie.

Marissa: awww, what? aww.

Lily: Yea so it was like me and her and an intern for a while and then it was just me for a few months and then it was me and like the art director/ production designer. So it was, like that movie was just like a whirlwind and it was really exciting and I got to work directly with her for a while and that was like career bucket list and the coolest thing ever.

Marissa: That’s awesome!

Lily: Yea

Marissa: As far as women in animation, I remember, I can’t remember, I was at some conference or event or something and I did a reel review and I got paired with this woman from Dreamworks. I don’t remember her name but I remember just being like, ‘oh my god’ like it’s so exciting like to meet a woman who is doing to the thing you want to do and she was a rigger.

Lily: Oh my gosh.

Marissa: And it was so cool and it’s like really so much more rare than you think to meet women who are working at the level you want to be working at.

Lily: And women who have done it for a while. Like even a women who has been in it more than 5 years is so impressive.

Marissa: Mhm

Lily: I mean animation is just a really male dominated field. Factually, that is just accurate. It is a male dominated field. So to meet women who are successful and thriving at it. It’s just so cool. It’s so inspiring.

Marissa: yea and it’s like I had done other reel reviews with men and it’s super helpful, like whatever. It’s just like this oh. I can do this.

Lily: Yea. It’s like representation.

[Cut to narration]

I’m so excited to get into Lily’s personal work. She is an amazing illustrator. She did a film called Finconceivable while at her school and it went crazy viral. the film is about sharks and their importance to the ecosystem and it’s gorgeous. the style is completely original, appealing, and perfect for an educational short film. It has been in numerous film festivals, won awards, and has been shared up and down the internet and honestly, you’ve probably seen it. and if you haven’t go and watch it at I’m going to have a few clips in this episode. The narrator is delightful.

[Cut to recording of Finconceivable, a young girl’s voice narrating with a ukulele in the background]

Sharks have kept balance in the ocean for over 450 million years this makes sharks older than dinosaurs. Surviving several mass extinctions. Sharks are evolution perfected.

[Continue Interview]

Marissa: Finconceivable. That was your thesis film at CCA.

Lily: Yea

Marissa: That is amazing.

Lily: I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it.


Marissa: totally. How did you come up with the idea

Lily: Ok so summer 2000– actually, like 2013, beginning of 2013, I just, we were given an assignment in one of my classes. I think it was a diversity studio or something and we had to do some project to like talk about some issue that people don’t talk about . um and I had, I had, something about sharks came to my brain. and then I started to do a bunch of shark art that semester. Like tons of shark art and then that summer, I met with a guy who has a um. His name is David Maguire and he runs Shark Stewards which is a non profit out of San Francisco and they actually are the leaders behind the shark fin bans in most of the states. For sure California. He is very vocal and he got that passed in California. He’s a huge advocate for sharks and fights for sharks all around the world. He’s pretty brilliant but I went and I met him at Patagonia the store. I just showed up to this talk because I found it online. Actually, I have no idea how I found it but I found it online. I found him online. I went and I like tracked him down and I was like, ‘hey! I want to do shark art for you!’ like do you want shark art and he was like sure!

Like I don’t even think he understood what I was saying and I was like, no I want to do art for you like let’s talk about this and he was like ok. And we talked about it a little bit. And I think I, actually, I left and I went and interned at Sony that summer so I wasn’t around that summer and I ended up doing a bunch of stuff with them in the fall. But during that summer I spend a lot of time thinking about sharks and trying to do art about sharks and finally after like, collecting all this information, I made these 3 infographics which went viral in certain select parts of the internet. They’ve been like all over the internet. They still are like all over the internet. And um, it was just like from talking to David and just like gathering all of this information and realizing that sharks, lots of them are in danger.

One fourth of sharks are endangered and it’s not something we talk about. We talk about shark attacks and we talk about Shark Week and we talk about, like and I mean people think sharks are like sexy, they’re like cool, they’re trendy. But like no one talks about how we are just like murdering the hell out of them. So, I just got really into that and I decided. I was making this like super sad story, and that was going to be my senior film, like this super mopey film and I was like no. I don’t want to do that anymore. [laughs] I want to do something informational. And I emailed everyone at CCA, all the teachers and was like, I’m going to do this informational, animated documentary. and that was not something that anyone had done yet and so they were kinda like umm maybe. We should talk about it. And I was like no, no I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it.

Marissa: That is what you have to say to people at CCA.


Lily: Anywhere! Everyone, just trust me. it’s going to be fine.

Marissa: Totally

Lily: So I just basically said that and ended up writing it. Many versions of it. I think it took most of the time I spent writing it. Cuz I wanted everything to be factually correct and entertaining. which is like a very hard combination to hit. I had David read it several times, I had several people who interned for David. Girls I became friends with um, I had them read it several times. And then, it like just ended just up turning into what it was after me just like ignoring everyone saying no and just being like no no it’s happening, everyone just calm down. Just deal with it. It’s happening.

Marissa: it’s such a beautiful final product. It’s like, informational, it’s so adorable and it’s just completely appealing and I actually can’t remember, we’re talking about. Like no one had been talking about sharks like that before. and I’m like ok, I can’t remember now if it’s because of your film that I know some of that stuff. I’m sure it is, there’s so much, so many people learned from your video.

Lily: yea I do think that, there has been this really recent wave that I was, just happened to be in. That wave of people getting the information out but I do think no to credit myself, not to credit myself with undue credit but I do think I did help people understand it in a way that maybe they weren’t getting before.

Because a lot of like, people really tried, when I was looking online even to put information out there about it, it’s like there is so much information that is just like gore filled images and like, that’s not, like, that’s a way to get people angry, but it’s not a way to get people to learn. So, yea the film kind of took it’s own life after I pushed it out there and I wanted it to be free and accessible, that was my number one goal. and I wish I could have it in other languages but I don’t have the resources to do that. Or the ability, or the time. and I don’t have that right now. But, um I did reach a lot of people.

Marissa: I want to ask who the narrator is.

Lily: Oh!

Marissa: In Finconceivable. it’s the most adorable voice.

Lily: Thank you! David suggested I get a child. And that, I was going to have my dad do it because he has a very like, he can be like a reporter, that kind of voice. But when David said I should get a child, I was like oh that’s brilliant! Um, but, because I was a student and it was my senior film, I didn’t have the resources to like, pay a child actor, so I asked my cousin if she would do it. She was like 10 and she like nailed it! oh my god. I just paid her with starbursts and she ended up doing so well. I was just like here’s some skittles, here’s some starbursts. and then she was in a recording booth at CCA for a few hours. We did, we ended up recording it twice cuz I made a lot of changes to the script after we recorded it and I listened to it and I was like, no. I don’t like it. So I redid the script and then she rerecorded it and she was such a trooper through the whole thing.

Marissa: And yea she’s so good. She’s like this over the top kids voice

Lily: yea!

Marissa: But it’s so perfect

Lily: Thanks, yea she did a great job.

Marissa: When was the moment when the film was viral.

Lily: I mean, it did pretty well on its own. pretty well for what I was expecting because student films can get a lot of traction online. You know, smaller schools don’t always have the same of traction as the bigger schools. So my film did pretty well for like a smaller school film but mostly just because it was getting shared by all these eco people. And then um, eventually, Upworthy shared it which helped a lot, and then it just like circled around. That kind of like unleashed fury. Unleashed fury in that it went crazy and there was all these random people then coming out of the woodwork to like find it and talk about it. So yea it’s been, yea Upworthy definitely set it off and yea it was on Greenpeace and shared by several other websites but I ended up having to pull it from Hulu on to my website just to protect it from being like pulled and stuff like that. so I made it a little more secure.

Marissa: Yea because I mean like that stuff gets shared and shared and shared and all the sudden the name becomes detached from the original project so have you found that? have you seen your work shown up in places.

Lily: yea it shows up a lot. i think it’s very cool. I’ve become definitely aware of what I want to put out to the world now on the internet. Because you never know where it’s going to end up so. It’s kind of like, if you release something onto the internet you kinda just like to have learn to let it go because you never know where it’s going to end up.

Marissa: And hope it comes back.

Lily: Yea and hope it comes back to you. [laughs] Please come back to me!

Marissa: Can you go deeper into the success you’ve had. it’s been used on panels. It’s been used to pass things in the senate.

Lily: Yea so the numbers are a great thing and you can always judge something by how many numbers it has but also it just depends on where something ends up like if it ends up in the right hands you know that can end up speaking volumes for it without the numbers. So for instance, it ended up in John Mccosker’s hands. Dr. John McCosker, he’s the um, I don’t exactly know how to say his title, so I’m going to butcher this but he’s a PhD and he’s the basically the marine science guy at Cal Academy of Sciences in San Francicso. And he took that and he, I don’t know exactly where it’s been used, because i just don’t. I just has gone places. I know that he’s used it. um, I know David has used it. I know my infographics have been used in many presentations. All over the world. I have no idea where. it has been in a film festival in Scotland. It’s been in one in San Francisco. Montana, like all over. DC. It was in a children’s one in DC which was really cool. It was screened for like a month at every single different public library which is great. That’s what I wanted. I just wanted kids to see it and become as passionate about it as I am. and get involved. Because when kids get involved you can’t help but be involved. You can’t help but be involved because they are passionate and excited about things so that was my goal. I wanted it to be accessible to everyone so by putting it on the internet it has been.

Marissa: And the original guy you talked to David, that you hunted down, what was his response to the final film?

Lily: so um, David, David, said, he’s like the nicest funniest guy. He showed up to the CCA screening. That was where it was filmed, where our senior films were screened. So he hadn’t seen anything. I don’t, thinking back on it, I guess I just didn’t show him, I don’t know why I didn’t think to show him but I don’t think I did. So he showed up and he didn’t really know what to expect. And he was like, wow, that’s so great! we have to use that! and I think he did and again I don’t, I’m not really told wherever it’s been. i know for a fact he’s used it several times. so it’s been used. I love their organization. They do a lot of great work.

Marissa: And you volunteer with them

Lily: I do. Mostly volunteered art time. But I do try to go to as many events as I can and they do have like a bunch coming up in October and November in San Francisco.

Marissa: Cool!

Lily: So they are very active there.

Marissa: And where are the events in San Francisco?

Lily: Um they are doing one with Cal Academy of Arts like a Night Life event um. They do open water swims, beach clean-ups, things like that. he calls it Sharktober, so Sharktober will be all around the Bay Area soon.

Marissa: Totally. Way better than shark week.

Lily: Yea. It’s a shark month!

Marissa: Yea, totally! And a positive spin on sharks!

Lily: Yea!

[Cut to narration]

I want to read this review of Finconceivable from the man that Lily mentioned, John McKasker who is a PhD chair of aquatic biology emeritus at the California Academy of Sciences. He says, “My efforts to educate the public and legislators about why sharks matter were remarkably assisted by the film Finconeivable that was created by Lily Williams that was entertaining, attention-getting, and scientifically accurate. And makes viewers think and care about the worldwide problems of Shark Depletion in ways that no scientists could achieve”

That’s an amazing review, I would be really proud of a review like that. Next we are going to talk about Lily’s children’s book that she is working on. She was contacted while at California College of the Arts to illustrate her own children’s book. The book is also about sharks, titled, If Sharks Disappear and it is scheduled to be published by Roaring Brook Press in June of 2017. Before we get into it, here is another clip from Finconceivable.

[Cut to recording of young girl’s voice narrating Finconceivable]

People are scared of sharks but really sharks should be scared of people. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually due to overfishing. Roughly 30% are killed in fishing by catch the other 70% are killed for their fins in an act called shark finning. In shark finning. Sharks are stripped of their fins and are often tossed back into the ocean where they drown. 98% of the shark is wasted. The shark fins are then used to make shark fin soup. However there is no nutritional value in a shark fin and it has no taste.

[Continue with interview]

Marissa: Ok right now you are working on a book called if Sharks Disappeared. which you are writing and illustrating.

Lily: Yes

Marissa: And the book will be published by Roaring Brook Press and released in Spring of 2017.

Lily: Actually, summer.

Marissa: Summer?

Lily: June, I think the date is June 13th 2017.

Marissa: Ok.

Lily: Yea

Marissa: That is so exciting!

Lily: Yea

Marissa: Can you talk about the book a little bit.

Lily: A little bit, yea. Again the book is about sharks. [laughs] Um it’s about what would happen to the ocean if sharks disappear. Basically, it’s like the tropic cascade and how apex predators hold environments together and how those environments can effect the whole world. So if that environment crumbles what’s going to happen to the environment next to it and bla bla bla. Oceans are like 70 plus percent of our world so if an ocean suffers, or the ocean suffers, like our whole world will suffer so it’s kind of about like, how sharks are like, are uh, I forget a word, how sharks are the anchor of the world a little bit.

Marissa: Mhm

Lily: Yea

Marissa: I can imagine, I mean like, just the imagery from Finconceivable, it’s so beautiful, its just like perfect for a childrens book. I mean did they contact you because of that?

Lily: Um no, I actually started working, so that, like 2013, like August, September was really when everything got kickstarted, and I um, just started working on Finconceivable because it was my senior year and then in August, after my infographics was shared on, I don’t know if I can say this on your podcast, I Fucking Love Science, IFLS. ok!


Marissa: Everyone swears.

Lily: After IFLS shared my infographics a editor from MacMillan, um, from the imprint Roaring Brook from Macmillan, she was looking on I Fucking Love Science and she sends me this email. I actually was in Montana and I was pretty unhooked from the internet and I decided after like two days of being there to like check my um, computer. So I open my computer and was like why do I have all of these likes on all of this stuff and all of these people commenting? I realized that I fucking love science had shared it and I checked my email and I had an email from the editor at MacMillan and she was like, ‘hey! can we talk about writing a book?’ I actually thought it was a joke. because like that is so random, this like a dream come true! this is not real so I was like, Ok sure! so I emailed her back and I was like sure! I’d love to, I’m in Montana, can we talk next week?

But I was like, there is no way that this person was real. This is not a real editor, this is like, some sort of scam but no, it was really an editor and she really wanted me to write a book. So I have spent since August 2013, because it takes a really long time to get a children’s book just right. I have been working on this children’s book. So it’s been a long time and I was working on it while I was working on Finconceivable. And I worked on it while I was in LA and now I’m back in the Bay area so I it has been a long time coming but I have a great relationship with my editor and she is so wonderful and I’m so thankful for her finding me. She is incredible and I have had the best time working on this book.

Marissa: And she is just like sort of a mentor to you to in some way?

Lily: For sure, um, it’s really been quite awesome because when she reached out to me, I ended up reaching out and getting an agent. Um and I have made some amazing connections and have met these great women who have been endlessly supportive and taught me so much about illustration and this world that I knew I wanted to get into eventually but didn’t think I could get into for a long time. and I’ve ended up kind of transitioning my career all because I have learned so much about all these other worlds and this world of books that have been. It’s just been totally a dream come true. and like, this is what I want to do. It’s just like so cool.

Marissa: That is like the end game, illustration, you are going to create your own books.

Lily: Yea, I hope so. I want to create my own um, I mean I am kind of in a transition period right now. I like, planned, I planned my whole life basically from age 10 until recently that I was going to work in animation and do this whole thing and I’m still doing that. I’m still freelancing. I’m still getting that going but I’m so passionate about telling educational stories and I think that needs to be told and I realize, clearly I have the ability to do it an way that a lot of people don’t have the desire to um or the time or the passion for it. It’s like, it’s all there so I need to do it. like, I’ve got this ability so I’ve got to do it. So I want to be able to tell books and maybe short films and I’m not really sure where it all ends up. Comics, stories, anything that’s education and still really fun. it’s, yea, like I’m trying to sort out where all that ends and meets. and it’s just right now a jumble but it’s really fun.

Marissa: Mhm, yea they don’t contact people often to make books when you are a junior in college.

Lily: No, yea, no actually my agent said she’s never, she’s never heard, of that happening to anyone so..

Marissa: mhm

Lily: So as far as I know yea, that doesn’t really happen that often.

Marissa: Working on a book verse working on a film, verse web comics, do you have different approaches?

Lily: Umm, winging it?


Marissa: Yea

Lily: I feel like I have been a novice at everything I’ve done and I just learn from everyone around me and I um, I have this practice where I try to contact people as much as possible so I email people, I call people, I am very consistent with asking people for things and I think that you don’t get anything in life if you don’t. Unless you ask for it. You’re not going to get a raise unless you ask for it. You’re not going to get a job unless you ask for it, you just have to ask people for things. So I spend a lot of my time asking people for their time. Asking them what they do, how they do it, how they approach doing it. Honestly, like, how much money it takes to do things. That’s kind of a taboo thing but you are not going to learn how to fairly make money unless you ask people how they make money um so I ask people a lot of things. So I think that to make a film, I ask people a lot of things. For my book, I’ve read books and I’ve asked people. and to make comics I do the same thing so I think that my philosophy is to ask. because there are so many people in this world who have information and they are flattered when they ask for their information and if you’re polite about it and anyone will respond to that.

Marissa: Yea I think that is an amazing philosophy, people do have so much knowledge, they’re so happy when you ask them.

Lily: Yea, I’m nodding right now. For sure. Everyone, is, everyone wants to help everyone else I think. I mean there are people who don’t and they just don’t respond to your emails but for the most part people want to help other people so I think it is really cool to ask people. Also, just really good practice I think. Also, googling! Everything is on the internet, why aren’t we taking advantage of that [laughs] everything is out there! we might as well go watch all the Youtube videos that are already out there.

Marissa: Totally!

[cut to narration]

We’ll end this last segment with one last clip from Lily’s film Finconceivable because it’s just so adorable and it ends on such a hopeful note.

[cut to recording of young girl’s voice narrating Finconceivable with ukelele in the background]

But there is good news! we can all help save sharks and keep balance in our ocean! Encourage eco tourism. Ecotourism, could be a way to provide positive for shark hunters through licensed shark diving, scuba trips, and vacation spots around the world! Write to a government representative and tell them to ban shark finning. Make sure the fish you eat was caught in a shark-friendly way. long lines and troll caught fish often accidentally catch and kill sharks. Lastly, inform your friends and spread the word!

[cut to narration]

Finally, we are going to get into one of Lily’s latest projects. She co-created, an online comic with another fellow classmate of ours, Karen Schneemann called the Mean Magenta. The online comic is about periods and menstrual health. It’s meant to destigmatize periods and also be informational. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, and relatable if you are one of the 4 billion people on this planet that gets them.

[continue with interview]

Lily: Yea

Marissa: You started the Mean Magenta with Karen Schneemann. Can you tell us about the Mean Magenta?

Lily: Yea, I haven’t really talked about it yet so I’m not really sure if I’m talking about it right or whatever. So Karen and I were talking about it for a while. I had this idea where I decided I wanted to make this webcomic slash online resource for people with periods and Karen was like ok! like let’s do it. and I was like really?! you want to do this with me? and she was like yea for sure, let’s do it. because I definitely think I couldn’t do it alone. And I am a hundred percent accurate on that because it is a lot of work and it is a lot of emotionally exhausting conversations. Karen has been my rock and she has been such a good partner in this. So um, we just decided to do it and we just bit the bullet and we’ve been working on it for while, and like talking a lot about it for a while brainstorming for a long time, writing for a long time, so finally it’s starting and we haven’t talked about it yet. I have yet to post about it on my own social media.

Yea we started the Mean Magenta, it’s a, right now it’s a web comic for people with periods but hopefully eventually it will be like a resource.

Marissa: Cool!

Lily: Yea, so it centers around four girls. Christine, Brit, Abbey, and Sasha. and they are four twenty-ish something women in San Francisco and they all have varying jobs and they all have varying menstrual issues or non issues and just like what it means to be a woman, so it’s kinda like, or not women, because it’s people with periods right, cuz not only women get periods. But it’s just kinda like how different menstruation is for every different person. It varies so much and like, people who do menstruate and we know how to talk about it and we’ve all talked about it with each other but it’s so taboo to bring up to you boss or to bring up to anyone really when it’s such a big part of people’s lives.

Marissa: You just, you spend so much time planning around it.

Lily: Oh yea! I know for me personally my life is centered around mine. It’s such a taboo thing but it’s so hard when your life revolves around this thing. That you almost can’t talk about it.

Marissa: And the times you don’t have it you’re just like sensing your body and you’re like, I think I’m going to get it in two days or whatever. You’re just like aware of this thing all the time

Lily: Sure! yea and you’re like ok I know how I’m feeling right now based on like, what day of the month it is. It’s like such phenomenon that, I mean like what 50% of the population has it and yet we completely don’t talk about it.

Marissa: yea!

Lily: Mhm

Marissa: I had this um, ok I have this thing where whenever I’m on my period, I think it’s a good idea to wear white [laughs] but I don’t know I’m getting it. I’m just like, oh those white pants that are hideous that I never should have bought, I think I want to wear those! [laughs] And I wear them and I get my period and I’m like oh my god! I do this every time. So like, last summer, I wore white shorts to work at Tippett and I was standing at my desk. I have a standing desk and I’m like something’s weird and I’m like I think I started my period.

Lily: Oh no!

Marissa: so I grab my um, gym bag, I go to the bathroom, and I totally had so I like rinse the shorts out and I change into my gym clothes and I’m just like ok I’ll just like, it was in the middle of the summer so it’s super hot. I’ll let them dry while I’m at lunch. So I sneak back to my desk and we have a ladder that goes to the roof. Like I’ll hang them outside [laughs] and my coworkers are super chill so I’m sure they don’t give a shit anyway. They’re like all men. Um, but I just like really quickly like look all directions and like climb up and I throw these shorts outside and then I climb the rest of way and I look and I’ve thrown these shorts into black roof sludge.

Lily: No!

Marissa: So it was just like one and done, these shorts I just like completely destroyed in one day and I had just bought them and I was like, ok this is just like not meant to be it was just like, they wanted to be destroyed.

Lily: Oh my god that’s one of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard.


Marissa: It was just like a work day, so the rest of the day I’m wearing my gym clothes and I don’t think anyone mentioned it to me but it was just like, that was the day.

Lily: Yea and women have so many stories like that. I mean how many women have stories like that and yet like, and we all share them with each other but it’s behind closed doors. Yea, it’s so funny. If you talk to any woman, like a woman has a story like that.

Marissa: Yea and it’s like, that is my rebellion, like, that happened to me today. I can’t cover it up. I’m in my gym clothes now.


Lily: Goodbye white shorts you were never meant to be

Marissa: Yea, never meant to be. oh yea! I really connected with Christine. She’s awesome. I was like, Programmer! and I also got mine in 9th grade and like, go LGBTQ and the whole thing.

Lily: oh yea that’s great ok! so we have not been talking about it too much yet, I have yet to hear people like too much connecting with certain characters. I do know that people connect with Brit so far, um but it’s so exciting, I’m so excited by that! I love that you like Christine.

Marissa: yea totally! and how did you guys come up with the characters?

Lily: Um Karen and I actually joke about that. They’re kinda split. I have two and she has two and they are kind of a combination of our personalities. But also like, if you think about it, you probably are all of their personalities like I look at all of them and I see all of them in me. So we just found certain things within ourselves and made a character for that.

It was a lot of back and forth and just trying to find things that worked. And we did like total writing things where you have like interviews with the characters and stuff like that so we did like exercises. We planned who they were. We wanted them to feel really genuine and unique and neither of us have written comics before.

I did a lot of practicing though like I was practicing with these daily comics I was doing for my own, they’re like about me because i figure, I know myself, or I hope I know myself um so I’m just going to try practicing doing comics. So for a long time I was just practicing doing comics and everyone on the internet very much got into them. A lot people were very bummed when I stopped doing it. So like, I kinda held, it got to a point where I started doing the comics for the Mean Magenta so I didn’t want to overlap all my comicking because it was a lot to do. But so, I was practicing a lot with myself and once I started, I was able to figure out how to talk about myself and then I started working with the characters more. so yea.

Marissa: That’s so cool, yea I remember, um, when you were in LA you were doing a lot.

Lily: yea that was exactly for the Mean Magenta


Marissa: yea! they’re so funny and they’re just personal and cool. I enjoyed them.

Lily: Thank you. Yea, they’re fun because the mean magenta characters are sort of based off of certain aspect of each of us. it’s easy to get into that headspace when I’m drawing them and when Karen and I are writing about them.

Marissa: I think it’s going to be awesome. It’s just like super fun and it’s such a great message and idea. And you know it’s like when you say those numbers too, it’s like of course I know that women are a little over 50%. But yea, 50% of us experiencing something that we can’t like yell to the world.

Lily: Right. Like I even remember like 4 years ago I just remember if someone would post something about their periods I would be like oh my god, I cannot believe they like posted that on the internet. Like woh. And now I’m like totally that person because I feel like liberated about it. But it’s like we shouldn’t be so ashamed about what our body is doing because our body is meant to be doing that thing. I mean granted some of us have bodies that might not be doing something quite right but like still our bodies are doing this incredible thing, getting us ready for like, this incredible thing later in life you know? Like everything has it’s purpose and it’s like so, I mean, I sound like such a hippie right now, but menstruation is so cool! Like, it’s not something to be ashamed of and yet we’re all still, I mean I’m still ashamed of it, we’re all still coming to terms with it because we’ve told to be ashamed about it.

I always think about that. I’m in a room, like you’re in an auditorium, you’re at a concert, you’re at a show, there are people in this room that are like bleeding right now. Like woh. [laughs] That’s cool.

Marissa: yea!

Lily: But also we can’t talk about it. It’s like shhh.

Marissa: Totally! I get so excited like yea, that Olympian, the Chinese Olympian, I can’t remember her name. and I think you posted it and I was like yea!

Lily: Yea, I mean that was so cool. I can’t even imagine what it would have felt like for her to have said that, too. I mean because I think about even, like even talking about it now, it takes, it takes something you have in you to talk about. I think you have to break through something. because we’re not allowed to talk about it. Right? We’re told we’re not allowed to. So just talking about it in any sort of way is really kind of exciting so people should embrace it. Like I can’t imagine how she felt after one of the biggest races of her life. to get up and say that to a news reporter. I mean geez.

Marissa: And to do that race while you’re cramping and just like.

Lily: No, at the level she is doing that, it’s like crazy.

Marissa: And you think like oh yea, they’re human too, they also get their periods.

Lily: Yea, which yea and honestly, I didn’t know because they’re competing at such a high level and I was like, I don’t know if they do. Right? Because a lot of athletes don’t. So that was so exciting. I was like wow! A window into their life.

Marissa: Yea!


Lily: Olympic swimmers. exactly like us! There’s no other difference.


[cut to narration]

That wraps up this weeks episode with the lovely, Lily Williams. You’re listening to the Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. I’m your host, Marissa Comstock. Visit us at sign up for our email list and like us on Facebook if you like listening to the episodes. There’s so many other cool things that Lily has worked on that I couldn’t fit into the show. She volunteers her time and art for different bunny rescue organizations in California and has hosted fundraising drawing events for people to come and do life-drawing of bunnies. The events are attended by lots of cool people and artists including known tattoo artists for example. She posts new art all the time and recently did an illustration series of the woman’s olympic swim team so definitely check out her Instagram and Facebook page. I can’t wait for her children’s book. It’s going to be so gorgeous!

Next week, I talked to Johnny5 of TurfInc. He’s an insanely talented dancer. He’s be featured on and works with Yak films Dance videos, which is the Premier YouTube channel for epic dancers around the world. He’s the founder of TurfInc an organization that teaches Turf dancing to underprivileged kids in the East Bay. It’s a dance style that originated in Oakland and is derived from Boogaloo. He’s a dancer and agent and entrepreneur. He’s spoken at you and councils on how to solve problems in inner cities and he grew up in and knows all about Oakland. He’s awesome. I think you’ll like them a lot. So listen next week! Bye listeners!

[Theme Music]



Transcription: 004: Tia Lebherz: Saving Water, the Fight to Ban Fracking, and the Trans Pacific Partnership

This episode, Tia Lebherz talks in depth about saving water and other threats to our environment. First, we talk about her work at WaterNow Alliance and how WaterNow is bringing together people to find innovative ways to save water on the West Coast. Then we’ll talk about her work for Food and Water Watch as the California organizer and the importance of banning fracking, specifically in California. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a discussion of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement signed in February that poses a serious threat to our access to safe food and water.


[Narration begins]

Hi everyone, welcome to The Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. A show about young people doing awesome things. I’m your host Marissa Comstock. The show is located at where you can find links to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with episodes available through SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher. Thank you so much to everyone who’s been listening and contacting me. It’s been so cool to hear from people and know that you’re all checking out the show and website and most importantly having opinions about what you hear. It’s been super rad.

Also if anyone knows anyone that’s doing something awesome and who you think would be cool to have on the show. Totally send me an email at Marissa and I would love to hear about your friends. This week, I talk to Tia Lebherz who besides being my beautiful kickass upstairs neighbor, is also an environmental activist. She currently works for WaterNow Alliance where she finds innovative ways to save water here on the West Coast. Before WaterNow Alliance, she worked as a state organizer for Food and Water watch focusing on banning fracking in California, and specifically did a lot of work in Monterey County. Tia also helped organize a massive event right here in Oakland last year called the March for Real Climate leadership, which was wildly successful. Over 8,000 people showed up to March. We’ll talk about that more later.

First, we’ll talk about Tia’s work at WaterNow Alliance and the drought. Then, we’ll talk about fracking and her work at Food and Water Watch. Finally we’ll get into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and get to Tia’s input on that. Can’t wait. Hope you like the show.

[Theme Music]

Marissa: All right. So I am here with Tia Lebherz who is a Communications and Outreach manager at Water Now Alliance. So to start, what is WaterNow Alliance and what is the mission of your organization?

Tia: Sure, so hey, good to be here.

Marissa: hey! Yeah. Oh hi.


Tia: I love the setup. Super excited. So I work for WaterNow Alliance where like a brand-new, my boss calls it a start-up nonprofit, which I think is like counterintuitive because we like don’t have Venture Capital funding [laughs] but we are. We’re a really small shop, of like, three people and we are working to bring more water innovation and like sustainable water solutions into communities across the west and we’re doing this by bringing together mayors and city council people and water district leaders. So like Utility Board leaders who have an interest in sustainability and building resilient communities in the face of drought and climate change and kind of groupthink working with them to figure out, you know, what are the barriers to bringing more of these solutions online? And then how can we leverage our collective power to break down those barriers in order to, you know, have this widespread adoption.

Marissa: And are these leaders from these places? Are they from the water companies? Are they from?

Tia: So it’s all public it. So how will they working with publicly controlled utilities? So for example, our steering committees, like the the former mayor of Boulder who’s now, it’s on the city council. The mayor Protem of Fort Collins, Colorado, a city council person from Mountain View, California, also director from the East Bay Municipal Utility District. East Bay MUD. Our district. Yeah, so it’s all, we only work with Public Utilities because there’s some there’s problematic private water issues that we don’t want to get into, so yeah.

Marissa: Yeah, I think actually before this interview I looked up because to me EBMUD seemed private or I had no, I actually didn’t know if it was public or private and it’s public but I am assuming yeah, that’s somewhere private and what issues?

Tia: so it’s crazy, right? This is what I worked on at Food and Water Watch a ton. And is actually one of the barriers that we’ve identified with these Mayors and city council people is that a lot of people, I would say the vast majority of people don’t actually know where their water comes from and don’t understand how water infrastructure works and how their rates are structured and kind of all these important aspects that really play into watershed health and you know affordability and access in those kinds of things. So yes, most public, most utilities in the United States are publicly controlled, so our tax dollars go to it. It’s a rate system. So we’re paying for the infrastructure, upkeep, the delivery. The actual water is like a smaller percentage of what were actually paying for when we pay our rates. But there are private companies also because believe it or not water is something that people feel like they can make a lot of money off of.

Marissa: yeah surprise.


Tia: it’s kind of essential to human life or whatever and so big companies like Suez and American Water buy water utilities. So they’ll like, you know, especially cities that are, so like when I lived in Detroit, for example, the city was almost bankrupt like had a ton of financial issues and so water companies were targeting them and saying hey, we’ll give you, you know, this many millions of dollars to buy your water company up right, out right and then we’ll take over the rates. And so but then the public utilities get the ability to set the rates so they can raise the rates because they’re just worried about profit essentially whereas public utilities, they’re not worried about shareholders, not worried about profits, what they’re worried about is like delivering the highest quality of service at the lowest possible rates.

Marissa: and then you guys are looking to find technology that private companies are working on and then you bring that to the public companies so they can save water. Can you give some examples?

Tia: Yeah. So a good example is like Leak Detection software. Okay. So in California, it’s estimated that we could save three to five million acre-feet of water that’s like 10 times the capacity of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir just by implementing the solutions that exist today. So that means, that and those are all efficiency. So we’re just super inefficient with how we manage and transport and use our water. And so these Solutions exist right a lot of them are being incubated in Silicon Valley. So there’s like awesome new software that helps, you know, it’s like a software app that will go on your phone so you can track your water usage so you can see if all the sudden your water usage shoots up and you’re like, that’s weird. I didn’t do anything different this month. Maybe I have a leak! And you can catch it quicker and save that water and so like Leak Detection software. Grey water systems, you know, water efficient landscaping. Just general software, bringing those things online.

So utilities, you know they’re businesses, too. They’re public but they still can like by these private inventions, essentially and implement them.

Marissa: What is something that would be keeping them from implementing these technologies? Like one thing I’m thinking is and I think you mentioned that at dinner one time, is that you know, where we have to curb our water consumption because we’re in a drought which essentially means less money for the water company. Does that mean less money for them to invest in these technologies?

Tia: Yeah. Yeah, and that’s a big thing from the consumer side, right? Is you and I we have similar water bills because we live in the same house, well different apartments but same structure. Yeah. So yeah, one of the big things that the our alliance members come to us and say is the drought is getting harder and people are conserving which is great. Right? We’ve seen like 25 percent reductions across California that also means that water districts have received 25 percent less money.

But water like I mentioned all the rates are going to upkeep of the infrastructure 80 percent of our water is fixed cost. So 80% of what we pay every month 80% of the money that they bring in goes to just like upkeep of the infrastructure Etc. And so when we use less and then they make less they be there is a deficit, just in the operating in general. So to then ask utilities to invest in these sustainable solutions is crazy because they’re already like well we’re running out of money And so how to pay for solutions, like the two big things that the alliance members talk to us about is they say are two problems are how do we pay for these Solutions? And how do we communicate to rate payers that they that we need to do this? Right? Like how do we communicate and or how do we figure out during a drought, you know, if we have to raise rates, then consumers are paying more for less. and that’s like opposite of capitalism. [laughs] The opposite of what we’ve been raised to believe. But for something like water it’s like kind of a necessity. So how do we like, I don’t know. How do we finesse that I think a big part of it is first talking about like people knowing where their water comes from.

Marissa: Yeah.

Tia: So we’re you know, we’re working on a couple of really wonky projects around that.

Marissa: Yeah. Can you can you talk about any of them?

Tia: Yeah I totally can.

Marissa: Yeah. I want to hear about a wonky water project.

Tia: Hopefully no one falls asleep. [laughs] All right, so there’s this thing called Gasby.

Marissa: I like the name.

Tia: Yea, it’s like Fitzgerald up in here.

Marissa: Oh, yeah.

Tia: It’s a fancy party. Yeah, it’s not.

Marissa: You already have me hooked then.

Tia: Great!

Marissa: Because I want to pay more for less water.

Tia: Perfect. Shut it down. I win. Okay, so essentially how we pay for these big infrastructure projects, reservoirs, dams, pumping stations is we float municipal bonds. So what this means is we essentially like take a loan out. Right and we’re able to amortize that over several years. We pay it back slowly. This makes money more accessible like this makes an upfront cost of fifty million dollars possible. But in order to float a bond, according to Gasby, which is the governmental Accounting Standards Board right now that he’s not a fancy party. So according to Gatsby you have to have an asset to show so that you can like, you know, so when you take out a bond or you take out a loan on something it’s like there’s an asset that’s attached to it so that it’s not just like free money flying everywhere. So for a lot of these like sustainable Innovation things. A lot of It is customer rebates and incentives is the way that you get people to actually put these things in their homes. And so it’s very hard to or I guess it just it’s some districts already do this and they’re able to float bonds in order to invest in sustainable Innovation, but some districts don’t feel like they own an asset. So what we’re doing is actually really cool and sexy. We are asking for a technical clarification on the law not even changing the law just a technical clarification. We just want to make it clear to utilities that they’re allowed to use bond financing to bring in sustainable Innovation because the water that is being saved is technically an asset. The water that’s still the reservoir the water that’s not being wasted is the asset and we I mean we’re working with some fancy lawyers and we’re working with, pro bono, non-profit life!

Yeah, we’re working with all these people who are like yeah. This is totally legit, but when your utilities See when you’re a public utility and your rate payers the like top things you want are like strong bond ratings. You want to clean budget sheet, you know, all your finances need to be in place or else people freak out. And so they don’t want to take the risk. If it’s not technically clarified that they’re allowed to so it’s super, it’s funny because I used to work on like anti-fracking and climate change and like big sexy things that like people totally like feeling, like GMOs, people like feel really passionate about it. And now I’m like we’re getting technical clarification from Gasby. [laughs] But the thing is it has the potential to unlock like hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and save millions of acre-feet of water. And so it’s actually like a huge impact. It’s just very, you know.

Marissa: So and you guys are reaching out to as many people as possible like company’s, leaders Etc. Do you have people who are coming to you who are interested in your organization?

Tia: Definitely, we are like today this really awesome shower head company joined our mailing list and reached out to us.

Marissa: Oh cool.

Tia: They have this great shower head that I honestly didn’t look into it that much. It was like right before I left the office but like Etc. [laughs]

Marissa: There’s one.

Tia: Right. There’s like there’s this great company called Water Smart Software that is doing really cool stuff and like they came to our last summit because okay. So in this big world, right, there’s all these innovators that are doing all the cool stuff and then there’s all these utility leaders who have the power to bring the cool stuff to scale but in California, right? There’s like over 400 separate utilities and the decision makers of all those utilities aren’t talking to each other yet. So if you have a cool invention, you have to go to every single damn utility individually while we’re trying to bring all those people together, so it’s just like right prime market so we have to that’s really exciting. But we also have to be kind of cagey because we don’t want people to feel like they’re just being put in a barrel to be pitched stuff too. So we cut it. We like to vet different innovators to make sure. And there’s a lot of really cool organizations that are already vetting them. They we can kind of latch onto.

Marissa: it’s funny because I remember at the family dinner that we had, you said there was 400 companies, but I think I remember four companies I but like seriously was so fascinating we were talking so I’ve been telling you I’m like, there’s four water companies even that surprised me. That there wasn’t just one like it’s all like a lot of it is the same water source. Is it? or it depends?

Tia: It depends. like San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy. SFPUC is all Hetch Hetchy. We are kind of all over the place.  

Marissa: like Sierra, Nevada,

Tia: Yea, Sierra Nevada, the Colorado River supplies a lot of California. So we do import water like Santa Clara Valley is largely groundwater, so they get their water write out the ground and then there’s big federal and state projects that you know, so yea. More facts. Two-thirds of California’s of water is on the Northern side of California, but two-thirds of California’s population is in the South. Okay and water is hard to move like it’s heavy it evaporates. It’s like it’s expensive to move but we as a state, you know, a hundred and fifty years ago built tons of this like crazy big infrastructure in order to ship the water down south and it goes through the Central Valley and all the farmers use it then it goes to LA. So water is like this, you know, it’s often called the like silent utility. We don’t know about it. It’s not sexy. It’s not something like

You know PG&E just kind of like runs everything in California. Right? But all these water utilities are different and so like Water Board elections are actually really important [laughs] like, you know, all these big statewide water schemes that cost tens of billions of dollars. Really important to pay attention to.

Marissa: Well speaking of that. Like we have the election coming up in November are there measures that we should be looking at that’s on that.

Tia: We did a big water Bond last November. So this November, I don’t think there’s anything that big.

Marissa: There’s like a ban on fracking in Monterey.

Tia: Yeah, fuck yea there is. It’s killer. I helped start that. That’s great. My parents my parents live in Monterey. Yeah, in Alameda County, we’re also working, Well, they now. found anywhere but there’s also a ban. Did you see that Oakland banned coal shipments. Yeah. I did no on it. Yeah so good. Yeah, we’re doing alright in the bay. Yeah. So yeah. But I don’t think Statewide there really isn’t anything. I mean people you should always look to see if your local water board is up for election.

Marissa: Oh! Ok. Another thing that was said at family dinner. This was an epic family dinner.

Tia: It was epic. What did we make that night? It was delicious.

Marissa: I cooked vegetables.

Tia: ohh! That was that massive family dinner where we had so much food.

Marissa: Yea there was mac and cheese.

Tia: Oh yea.

Marissa: I remember you saying, I’m sure these percentages are slightly off, but it was something like 15% of water consumption in California’s from households. And the rest is Corporate. Is that accurate?

Tia: Yeah.

Marissa: Yeah that blows my mind.

Tia: So 80% is AG.

Marissa: Okay. Oh agriculture.

Tia: Uh-huh. Okay, so that’s crazy.

Marissa: Yeah

Tia: And that’s what I used to work on. So. Like I had a big come-to-jesus moment when I went to work on the residential side because I’ve been running around being like fuck saving water. It’s agriculture’s fault like those assholes we could do something about them. Totally legit. I still stand by that but also I think that working on the the corporate side, you know, it’s mostly right. Ag. Ag is the biggest user. We’re shipping a ton of water down South for to grow stupid things like Alfalfa in the Imperial Valley like a desert and we’re shipping a lot of that Alfalfa to China. So we’re like literally just sending our water overseas in the form of alfalfa. We’re growing almonds on the west side of the Central Valley where the ground is so salty it takes four times as much water to grow almonds there than it does in normal almonds climates. So it takes like four gallons per almond.

Marissa: damn crazy.

Tia: Yeah, but I was working on that issue for super long and fracking like, I think not necessarily a huge amount of water, but it’s just like that water is permanently destroyed because it’s full of chemicals. So, but, but it’s hard. I don’t think. I feel like working with WaterNow Alliance is playing this long game of like people need to feel it first in their homes and in their taps and get it and understand where their water comes from and have a better, like, water world view before they’re gonna you know, get all hot and bothered about like corporate abuse of water.

Marissa: Yeah, definitely

Tia: That’s not to say that we shouldn’t also be working on it. But for me, I just felt like it was better to be on this residential piece and save a bunch of water here. But yes, yes. Water in California is crazy corporations use a ton of it.

Marissa: And even though I mean you’re working on like household water consumption right now, like just to talk about the corporate side of it. Like we were asked to curb so much of our water usage this last year. Even though we had like rain, I think they lifted a lot of the hmm restrictions, but our were corporations asked to make any restrictions to their water usage.

Tia: Hmm. So that’s the problem is that when you look at when you try to get like Ag to stop using so much water. What you’re saying and the political world is like follow your fields and lay off your farm workers and destroy local economies. And you know, so it’s like kind of its way harder.

Marissa: Definitely they allocated less water to farmers, but in California more fun disturbing facts about our water. Water, is, groundwater is considered private property. And so if you are on your own land, you can just drill down and pump as much water as you want out of the ground. That’s why the Central Valley is sinking. It’s called subsidence. So the Central Valley is actually like sinking I think a foot a year or something crazy like that. So even if Farmers got less water, they were pumping water like mad out of the ground and ground water takes so many years to replenish. Its like the most precious of things.

[Cut to Narration]  

This next clip is Tia at an event called the March for Real Climate Leadership. It’s an event that she was instrumental in organizing while she was up Food and Water Watch. The march to place right here in Oakland and over 8,000 people attended, making it the largest demonstration against fracking in US history. There’s so much life drum circles every group and ethnicity represented. People really came together to voice their opinion and say to Governor Jerry Brown that there’s no room for fracking in California. I think Tia is work is so inspiring and she did a phenomenal job with her team rallying people together.

[Cut to Recording of Tia yelling to marchers at March for Real Climate Leadership]

We are here today to stand up to big oil. To ban fracking, to move California beyond fossil fuel.

[Continue with Interview]

Marissa: So now let’s get into Food and Water Watch. You were the organizer for California and you were working to ban fracking in Monterey County. What are some of the companies that are fracking in Monterey County?

Tia: So Chevron is the biggest fracker.

Marissa: Fracker?

Tia: Yeah, but they’re, yes. There’s there was this company called Occidental them they sold and they became like California something. There’s all these Bad actors, but Chevron is one of them in Monterey County. He’s this, he [laughs] like I just associate evil with this penetrative, attractive looking like

Marissa: Totally

Tia: like he is a motherfucker [laughs] sorry. So fracking we see like fracking in California. It’s got its a mix of like a bunch of different extreme extraction techniques. So to back up we you know oil used to exist kind of in these like big ponds underground and you would just like poop. Like pop in a little well that was vertical. Could be 50 feet, could be 500 feet whatever and like oil would come up. Not the best because climate change is still real but it was like generally that’s how you got oil. As we started to deplete all those bigger pools. The industry was like well where the fuck we gotta find the oil now and so they started looking at alternative ways to get the oil out of the ground. So fracking is one of those so that’s mixing sand and water and chemicals and injecting it at super high levels deep underground in order to fracture the rock and then the oil flows up through the well. But in California, we also do this thing called acidizing which we just kind of group with fracking and acidizing is shooting hydrofluoric acid into the ground to dissolve the rock. So instead of breaking the rocks you dissolve the rocks with this super nasty chemical and then have the water, I mean the oil flow up and the other way is called cyclic steam and that is heading water up. really intense, high, high heat and injecting that in the ground to loosen up the oil in order to bring it back up.

There is kind of like this triplet situation of so extreme extraction is what we call it. They all have impacts right there all problematic. They’re all happening in different varying degrees and they’re all you know, as oil gets more expensive. It becomes more profitable to do these more like

Marissa: harmful methods.

Tia: Harmful methods. Yeah and these more like intensive methods yeah of extraction so it’s very interesting. But so in Monterey there hasn’t been too much fracking. But in Monterey, the weird thing is and the oil field, San Ardo oil field is in is on the southern part of the county and the Salinas river that runs up to Moss Landing, which is between Santa Cruz and Monterey. It is a North running River. So this River literally runs from the oil field through the underground river through the oil field and then like up and then goes into the Monterey Bay Sanctuary.

Marissa: Okay

Tia: And so for extreme extraction to be happening there and be putting that River at risk, it also flows through like the salad bowl of California where we grow, you know, ninety percent of the nation’s artichokes and strawberries and lettuce so it’s you know, it’s putting Ag and tourism and marine life all at risk. And so like two two and a half years ago. I guess it was I met with like five generally, they’re older white women who are awesome. That’s you generally started and we like met in the living room over tea. And they were like this bullshit. Let’s go to the Board of Supervisors. So we went to the Board of Supervisors and he had all the votes and then industry got wind of what we were doing and they hired like three full-time lobbyists to be in Monterey and they swung one of the votes over and we lost the county people the County Supervisors decided not to move forward with a moratorium or a ban. And that really pissed off everyone in Monterey because they were like what the hell! You know, we thought you were with us. This is clearly a toxic practice. Santa Cruz is already banned fracking. San Benito has banned fracking. Like the to two counties to either side of them. And so they were like, we’re putting this on the ballot, which is awesome big heavy lift. So since then my parents live in Monterey, so I’ve been able to keep up on it. But I haven’t been there. They let an all volunteer effort and got like 14,000 signatures.

Marissa: Wow.

Tia: We only needed seven thousand and they got it on the ballot. And so November they’ll be voting for a ban on fracking.

Marissa: Super exciting.

Tia: Pretty badass.

Marissa: Yeah, very badass.

Tia: Mm-hmm

Marissa: Going into that. Another thing is like Governor Jerry Brown has been touted as being an environmentalist but has not wanted and I like a ban on fracking.

Tia: No.

Marissa: Yeah, and I think his reasoning is that it wouldn’t decrease our oil dependency and we would just be importing oil from somewhere else and like of course there’s that argument but then it’s you know, it’s destroying water which is one of our most precious resources and also now like looking at Monterey County like agriculture Etc. Like how do you weigh economic concerns with environmental issues? Like what comes out on top?

Tia: Totally. I think it’s some point I mean climate change is undoubtably real and here. Right like it’s man-made and everyone, scientists. Yes science community agrees. Governor Brown agrees. And so to say no we need to keep doing this. No and not only in California. Are we doing it and places agriculture but like 90% of the fracking and oil extraction that’s happening is in low income communities of color. This is a huge justice issue in California we’re poisoning communities. And and so, you know, you can say well we’re just going to get it from somewhere else or you can say I’m the goddamn Governor. I’m going to do something to start to transition us to a renewable energy future more aggressively and I’m not only going to tout all these solutions which are great. Right? We love seeing Energy Efficiency goals. We love seeing renewable energy standards. We love seeing you know, solar subsidies and those kinds of things but you can’t just push solutions without addressing the supply side of things. We are, it fluctuates. But at any given day, we’re about the third largest oil producing state in the nation which people, I don’t think realize that. It’s Texas, North Dakota, Alaska and California like we are a oil-producing state. And you know, you can’t be a climage– and if you think about that. America is you one or two, top three or oil producing nations in the world. So that puts California very high on the list of oil producing regions in the world and you can’t be a climate leader while running one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world.

Like that just doesn’t work. You want it like you got us you gotta keep that shit in the ground. Like that is the way to stop climbing. We can’t necessarily stop climate change at this point. But like if we want to start to address climate change in a really meaningful way, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground and this is something that people have been saying for years and everyone said people are crazy and then you know, I’m not not that into Federal politics, but like if nothing else, I think Bernie Sanders really helped legitimize a lot of these concerns on a national level and bring it to this International stage of saying what does keeping it in the ground look like? You know, how can we actually do this? Is it really possible and it is and there’s support for it it just and like it’s gonna be uncomfortable sometimes but is you know, the viability of a livable planet and justice for you know, all people regardless of income or you know, the color of their skin matter? Yeah, it does matter and all these fights are also intertwined.

It’s, I get really really angry.

Marissa: No, it’s great.

Tia: It’s funny too. Cause like in my in my role now it Water Now, you know, Governor Brown is actually pretty good about Residential Water stuff. Like he’s okay. He’s not the best have some some issues with him on some other things that he works. But he’s not my main target. On fracking he was like Governor Brown you’re climate loser! You son of a bitch! Yeah,  so it’s been like a weird transition. So talking about it. Now, I like getting all riled up again.


Marissa: Yeah totally

[Cut to Narration]

The next segment, Tia and I are going to talk about the Trans-Pacific partnership, which is the latest trade agreement signed by the U.S. Between eleven other Pacific Rim countries. One thing I love about Tia is her ability to make broad issues personal and local very quickly. The TPP was abstract thing to me and then I saw this video of Tia hitting the pavement and protesting and I was like damn. All right. I’ve got to pay attention to that. This next clip is Tia being her bad self.

Hi everybody. Thank you so much. Here today. My name is Tia Lebherz. I’m Northern California organizer with Food and Water Watch. We are a consumer advocacy watchdog organization out there every day to protect our food and water resources. The TPP means trouble for our food, our water, and our environment and even though we can’t see it, big oil, big gas, and 600 multinational corporations are writing it for us. Thanks to WikiLeaks. We now know some of the threats that will bring, so in general the TPP will equal less local food, more fracking, sketchy seafood imports, no GMO labeling, and more corporate control of our democracy. Earlier this month, we know Fast Track was introduced. We have to stop Fast Track. So we need everyone calling their representatives being out here today in the streets is a huge step. Thank you everyone for being out here. Please get on the phone call your representatives going to Pelosi’s office. Tell her to vote. No on Fast Track and oppose the TPP for the good of our food, our water, and our environment. Thank you everybody.

[Back to Interview]

Marissa: So this is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a trade agreement and documents about it were leaked on Wikileaks in 2015 and has since been signed. Mmm-hmm this year February 2016 by 12 countries in the Pacific Rim. Can you talk about what the TPP is?

Tia: So yeah. The TPP is like NAFTA on steroids. Okay. I’ll try to explain this right. So this is a trade agreement to free trade agreement between new countries. So we have this between like Canada and Mexico right free trade it’s easier. And so now we’re doing it among the Pacific Rim and so this is essentially it’s trying to encourage trade between the countries but it’s it’s problematic. I would say. Because you know, there’s this thing called harmonization within the trade agreement which is kind of bringing standards down to the lowest common denominator. So when we think about, you know working with or like trading with someone like Vietnam around seafood or looking at child labor laws or looking at you know other kind of GMO labeling, is another one. Right, like food labeling in general. if those can be seen as barriers to trade then they can be arguably like removed and just forgotten about so I worked on the TPP particularly looking at how it would increase fracking and extraction and how it would deal with food safety standards.

And so for fracking and extraction, so Japan is in the TPP agreement. Japan is like one of the largest users of natural gas one of the largest buyers importers. And so it opens up this incredible Market where natural gas exports would be deemed in the public good automatically there wouldn’t be any public review. You could just send send it off. So that’s hugely problematic because that would create a gigantic economic incentive for companies to frack and extract way more. And we know that even if you know, the oil or gas is being burned in Japan we all live on the same planet and so that would still be contributing to climate change. So that was a big a big deal and then I think

For food stuff, right? So I talked a little bit about food stamps safety standards, but you know our borders are already being our border inspection around like things like seafood are already overwhelmed. We already like can’t inspect everything coming in and so to open the floodgates with even more imports, with even lower standards. And then you know through the Free Trade Agreement kind of be able to ignore them. Is you know, it puts a lot of people in danger. [laughs] And so I think it’s yeah, it’s it’s a bummer. It’s like one of the things that I was like a big Obama supporter and I still like want to be as friend. I think he’s the coolest president that we’ve ever had. I think his wife is just the best.

Marissa: Yeah

Tia: But you know, he was on Jimmy Fallon the other day and he was doing an awesome, It was like a slow jams. Have you ever watched Jimmy Fallon? Yeah. And I was just like laughing and dying and then he went on about how great the TPP is and I was just kind of like that’s such a bummer. Can you not? Can you not?

Marissa: Yeah emotional roller coaster. Laughing one second. Sad the next.

Tia: Oh, Obama, you sweetie. Oh, you motherfucker. So, yeah, but again, it’s one of these things like corporate water use like climate change, but it’s like this massive gigantic thing that is so hard for us to be able to wrap our minds around and articulated figure out why it’s important and feel any power over that it’s yeah. It’s a it’s a challenge and unfortunately, we lost and the TPP was signed. So we will that will now exist. So we’ll see what happens. I mean, you know, we just have to keep fighting kind of the whatever fights we feel like we can control.

Marissa: Definitely I mean, how how does something like the TPP get passed because I know that a lot of the members of Congress were upset because a lot of the details weren’t even available to them in Congress. So that’s confusing. Like wow, how does that get through?

Tia: So the the TPP was made in secret. There about 600 corporations that were in on it. I mean, you would hear crazy stories. Like if a congressman wanted to look at the TPP, they had to go down a hallway and like, you know get could go on the room, but they couldn’t take any notes with them and they could just read it but it’s like thousands of pages long and so they..  There’s a thing called Fast Track Authority which essentially gives, so Congress votes and says like we’re going to give the up-or-down vote on the TPP as a whole and we’re going to say that we’re going to Grant fast-track authority to this which means that President Obama can just sign it or not. It means that we can’t negotiate like line items because if you’re Japan or another country, you don’t want the American Congress being able to line item vote on a treaty that you’re trying to get together. Yeah, whenever everyone knows that our Congress is broken. And so anyway, so there’s this thing called Fast Track Authority. So they voted to give President Obama Fast Track Authority.

Marissa: Okay

Tia: So they say like, yes, you can you got this. You have our best interest at heart. You can negotiate the whole thing.

Marissa: And the secrecy around it, you know, like of course they’re going to say something like well, like there’s a lot of things that we need to keep secret so that we can have the upper hand in negotiations things like that. But I mean is that accurate? Is it more to do with who’s involved?

Tia: It’s like a bit. All right, like it’s a bummer because we’re supposed to be a democracy right like representative democracy. Our representatives should at least be able to be involved in a more like I don’t know. I’m a big proponent of transparency. I think that it’s hard and it makes people uncomfortable but in general like the world would be a better place if processes were for transparent. And so, so yeah, like they can say that all they want but at the end of the day, this is something that’s going to impact at people’s everyday lives. And this is something that is happening on behalf of our government. And so we should have more say and we should have more insight into the process.

Marissa: Do do you think that these trade agreements are like fundamentally flawed. Like they’re pretty much always a bad thing or do you think in the future there is a way to get Grassroots movements and things to have more say in them.

Tia: I mean, how candid should I be? I mean, I think our system is broken.

Marissa: Yeah, right.

Tia: I think that as long as corporations are people and money is speech that we will not be able to govern the United States like I want to govern it. You know, I also have some qualms about capitalism in general that’s like economic model. And so I think that it’s a you know, I think that there’s a lot of really big overarching the fights think we need to keep fighting especially on like local and state levels. I think that that’s really where you can you get farther away from federal and I alluded to this earlier and I said, I don’t really like federal politics. I think as you get farther away from federal politics and more localized, you get more power, more people power. More individual empowerment over what’s happening. And so I think that that’s you know, that’s the power of Grassroots right? Like they are on the ground and their Community doing their thing. And so the goal is really to engage people on those local issues. I think the Tea Party did a really good job of this unfortunately. Right? That’s how they were able to elect all of those Congressional representatives and tip Congress into this like weirdo conservatives space.

Marissa: hole that we’ve gone into.

Tia: ya I’m like really divide the country even farther and create this like way more polarizing political scene, but it’s true. I mean, we just you know, like voter turnout is terrible.

Marissa: Yeah.

Tia: It was I think young people turned out like 13% for the Democratic primary.

Marissa: Really? Oh my God.

Tia: It’s something crazy low. Maybe it was 30.

Marissa: It was all just Facebook posts.

Tia: Exactly. Right? People are crazy. Get off your ass and vote.

Marissa: Yeah, yea.

Tia: It’s like the easiest thing you can do. We even have a mail in ballot.

Marissa: I don’t have a mail in ballot, I should look into that but I literally walked one block.

Tia: Yeah Taylor Methodist.

Marissa: It took 10 minutes to vote. Like to go in and come out.

Tia: Yea there’s no line. Girl. So when I lived in Detroit. I lived in Detroit, I lived in a low-income community of color. I was I mean, I should probably should not have been there but I was there and I went to vote for Obama in 2012 and I waited five hours in line to vote.

Marissa: Yea

Tia: Five hours in line to vote. And no one left the goddamn line because anytime someone wanted to leave we would start singing. Yeah and everyone be like, I don’t leave girl. You got this. All right. Yeah, here we go. I took me like two minutes to vote over here and people have no excuse. Just get out and vote. It’s like the easiest thing that you can possibly do.

Marissa: They give you a fucking sticker. You can do tag yourself on Facebook. There’s like [laughs]

Tia: check it out. There’s a sticker on my phone.

Marissa: Oh nice.

Tia: I know. It’s great.

Marissa: Yeah, like what is the best thing for people to do then. Because not everyone’s an activist. What would you suggest like signing petitions or like where

Tia: I mean figuring out like what you can bring to the table like if you. If you believe that some that there’s a cause that calls your name. Maybe it’s giving $5 a month to that cause that makes a big difference. It’s a cup of coffee a month. You can sustain an organization. You can help sustain an organization. Maybe it’s its voting and getting you know five of your friends to vote, too. Maybe, if you’re an artist it’s you know, figuring out how you can work with the local nonprofit to mutually benefit each other. But it’s you know, I think it’s more than anything. It’s like getting informed and I as an organizer I always got so mad at people like, public education has the answer. Well, no, it’s not like people can be educated and still sit on their ass, right.

So it’s like it’s about getting educated and then it’s about figuring out how you can best fit into whatever you want to see how best you can– how best you can create the future that you want to see because there is a role for everybody.

[Cut to narration]

So that wraps up this week’s episode of The Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. A show about young people doing awesome things. Check out the website at with links and pictures of Tia out protesting and doing your thing. Hope you enjoyed learning about how water works in the west coast among many other things. Tia is fantastic and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things will do in the future. Next week. I’ll be talking to my friend Alex Vlahov. I was just in New York and I got to go to his performance. He performs for the New York Neo-futurist. He’s an actor writer and director. He’s been in a lot of interesting experimental theater pieces that focus on social dilemmas, and he’s currently working on a play about a priest that was murdered from our high school. Also I interviewed him in Brooklyn when it was pouring in the middle of summer. So you will get to hear New York Thunder and torrential rain in the background. Super raw. Thanks for listening and see you next week.

[Theme Music]



Transcription: 002: Elizia Artis: Education in Flint, the Water Crisis, and BLM

This episode, I talk with Elizia Artis about what it means to build a community around education. She works in Flint, Michigan for the Crim Fitness Foundation and works with the school and communities there to solve problems effecting the students and parents. Elizia was an AmeriCorps volunteer and now manages other AmeriCorps volunteers in Flint so she’ll give some information about civil service and what some of those responsibilities look like. Lastly, Elizia explores some of her thoughts about issues effecting people of color and the Black Lives Matter movement.


[Narration Begins]

Hi everyone, welcome to the Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. I’m your host Marissa Comstock. The show is located at where you can find links to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with episodes available through SoundCloud and iTunes. I’m still experimenting with format improving sound quality and also improving my own skills as an interviewer. So please contact me with feedback post on social media, whatever. I greatly appreciate any suggestions to make the show better.

This week, I talk to my friend Elizia Artis. She lives in Lansing Michigan and is currently a program manager for the Crim Fitness Foundation in Flint, Michigan. Elizia was one of the first people that came to mind when I had the idea to do the show. I was just so interested in her experience in AmeriCorps and her work. We went to high school together. She attended Seattle University where she received a bachelor’s in international studies before graduating and spending a year working with AmeriCorps with the East African population in South Seattle. Elizia now manages other AmeriCorps Volunteers in Flint Michigan where she engages with the community to create programs and activities and find solutions to their needs. She is instrumental in shaping the education programs in Flint and it’s fascinating to hear her talk about the detail in which they’re working to make schools the pride and focus of community there. First, Elizia will talk about her work and her experience with AmeriCorps, then we’ll talk about the Flint Water Crisis and her take on it. Finally. We’ll finish up with some of Elizia thoughts on recent events, the Black Lives Matter movement, and her thoughts on issues affecting people of color. So let’s get started. I hope you enjoy this episode.

[Theme Music]

Marissa: So first, I’m here with Elizia Artis. How are you?

Elizia: I’m doing well. How are you?

Marissa: I am also doing well. Thank you for doing this interview with me to start you work for the Crim Fitness foundation in Flint, Michigan. Can you describe your responsibilities and explain a little the mission of your organization?

Elizia: So the Flint Flint Community School core is AmeriCorps program that is run out of the Crim Fitness foundation and focuses specifically on rebuilding this model of Community Education in the Flint Community Schools, and I’ve been giving kind of this elevator pitch right now that basically, the notion of Community Education is to turn in education site like an elementary school or high school Into the stereotype of community center. So I get individuals who are interested in doing a year of service paid service to help out with kind of building that model. So they’re creating classes for youth for parents for community members that take place before school, during school, after school, and on weekends that address needs that the community teachers students and parents have identified. So we’ve got people who bring cooking classes like I’ve been talking about onto the campus people. People who have helped do GED classes job placement classes for parents and community members. And then for the kids like one of the schools had a pool that hadn’t really been utilized and she worked really hard to find a swim coach and startup swim classes again after school.

So it’s a really interesting way of kind of integrating all of the needs that a community center what address but bringing them into what really is usually the hub of specific communities the school.

Marissa: And so just to take a step back for a second. You yourself were an AmeriCorps volunteer when you lived in Seattle.

Elizia: Yeah. I did a year at a place called East African Community Services. So those are some of the girls in my little picture

Marissa: and then what exactly is AmeriCorps?

Elizia: AmeriCorps has what we call three streams of service all of which are really having to do with national community service. It’s giving back to your country on the community service domestic level. So the three streams are AmeriCorps Vista, which is Volunteers in Service to America. AmeriCorps State and National which is on the ground direct service programming that a members participate in. And then we have one called AmeriCorps NCCC. And so those are the ones who, by the way, do more of like FEMA related things. So disaster relief. For us, they’re going to be boarding up houses, but also helping out on our steam camp. We call them like the superheroes because they like go to different sites throughout the year around the nation, helping out with different projects. So each of them has their own goal all around, providing services to the United States. Building up professional skills, among usually, the stereotypical age of 18 to like 30 year olds. So really helping them learn a trade or learn how to network, learn in our case, learn how to work in fields of youth development and build curriculum and run programming.

Marissa: Then for you, which stream were you a part of? What was your role when you were in AmeriCorps?

Elizia: I did AmeriCorps state in Washington state in Seattle with an organization called East African Community Services and ran our after-school programs. I did a high school and the after-school probram for elementary and middle schoolers. Did a high school leadership program and coordinated ESL and citizenship classes. And then also recruited volunteers for all of those programs. So one Hefty year for a 22 year old but it was really amazing. I wound up staying there for two more years and just couldn’t shake it to save my life. And here I am now.

Marissa: So your in Flint. You’re working at the Crim Fitness Foundation, working that nonprofit life. How do you get parents and students involved with these programs you’re introducing?

Elizia: So it started out really small with just sports and I think that’s because that’s the easiest thing to get people to rally around as a community hub. Like hey, like this part of town is playing that part of town, Let’s all go to the sports game! like classic Americana basically. But has expanded to be like, hey, Mom and Dad, If you’re at the sports game, did you know that on Monday mornings you can also take a Zumba class here or did you know on Thursday evenings you can do a cooking class with your kids? And just expanding from there. So the cool thing is that Community Education really does touch so many different aspects of like rebuilding Flint.

Marissa: It definitely sounds like your organization is really growing and feeding off the needs of the community. How has the program been received by the community?

Elizia: I think they’re being received pretty well. We had the opportunity at one of the schools right now we’re at.. we’re expanding to 11. Just got the official word on that. So that was pretty cool. At one of the schools that were at this year, one of the parents was like oh this is really great. You’re just feeding my kid after school, teaching them all. We were teaching them about the safe route. So it was kind of this like mini lesson on like urban planning and what makes a route to school safe. What doesn’t. What can you do about potholes? Who can you contact if you see something that’s unsafe? And so one of the one of the parents that we were talking to was like yeah, this is really fascinating. I mean on one day my kids in a swim lesson the next day my kid is learning about like how to effect change in there see and like the next day they’re getting tutoring from someone. And its really it relies on word of mouth. We’re only as good as the last student or family that feels engaged or successful from our programming because we need them to tell their friends, their neighbors, their other parishioners at the church that they go to. We rely on satisfying their needs in order to continue our programming.

Marissa: So what does the area around the school’s you’re working with physically look like I know that there is a lot of issues with blighted houses. And for people who don’t know a blighted house is a house that can no longer be lived in it just needs to be torn down. So yeah, like what what is that area look like?

Elizia: So it’s really interesting. I’ve been alluding to this thing that we called a walking audit and I can kind of give like a little bit of background on that. It’s basically what we did for one day at the four campuses was take students on specific routes that they may take to school if they decide to walk or ride their bike.And have them say out loud what they see and whether or not what they’re seeing makes them feel safe. So a lot of the things that they noted were, oh that’s an abandoned house. I don’t feel safe walking next to that. And the houses, you know, sometimes they are still in kind of the first stages of not being inhabited. Some of them have some broken windows. A strangely ajar door, which you know in my adult imagination makes me wonder if there’s people potentially squatting in there and you know it for any kid who’s watched Sandlot and all those types of movies, like that just looks terrifying. And then they also looked at, you know, just how big some potholes were and whether or not that was also causing cracks on the sidewalk so they couldn’t bike to school if they knew that they were running late. They weren’t going to try to bike fast down a certain street because they would most likely flip over there bike because there were so many cracks.

There’s still a lot of difficulties with people disposing of their trash properly. So there are certain areas either vacant lots where houses have been demolished or these blighted properties were people also throw their trash. So unfortunately, you know, these there’s kids being like I don’t really want to walk by like a bunch of broken glass or on my end. I’m like side-eyeing like condoms and other nasty things. So we take all that information back to the city of Flint and we say, hey. I mean if we want more kids walking to school. If we want more kids from their neighborhood who may not even attend that school coming to our sports programs. And if we want to see a community that is actually just buzzing around these beacons that we’re trying to create we have to do cleanups. The great thing is is that there’s actually just another program that can help us do that. And then these NCCC members, the National Civilian Community Corps coming in this summer to work specifically on a radius made by the city around these schools based on what the students themselves noticed.

Marissa: And I’m sure taking into account people in the community’s very specific suggestions for how to improve something and then actually doing it really builds trust because they see that you follow through and actually want to make those changes

Elizia: Exactly. I went to a community meeting where on the real the only complaint was this grass being way too high and I kid you not for the rest of the week my coworker and I were like, so what about that grass? Has someone dealt with that grass yet? Like they wouldn’t tell us any other community issues until they got that grass cut.

Marissa: And it got cut?

Elizia: It got cut the Saturday before we did this massive service project. And because we were trying to get, we were trying to get other ideas for the service project. And I even started to word as: if we cut the grass tomorrow and came back tomorrow, what would you say? And they’re like, nope. The grass is not getting cut tomorrow. We don’t believe you. It was like, okay, I can see where that’s coming from. We will get the grass cut and for good measure. I mean you don’t, if you have a like an unkempt campus just on like the grass level, it shows a kid that that’s like about all they’re worth.

Marissa: And then I’m also just wondering Flint I think has a high percentage of people who are, higher percentage of people who are low income and in poverty that would be the type of place that would have more AmeriCorps workers, right?

Elizia: Yes. So we have something called the Flint AmeriCorps accelerator, which does celebrate the fact that we have a really large amount of AmeriCorps members throughout the city doing everything from what we call Urban Safety Course making like a specific corridor of the city more safe by cleaning up tearing down blighted houses, working with local police that can’t stretch themselves as thin to make sure that certain areas are walkable and safe throughout the day and the evening. We’ve got members like ours who are on school campuses And then we’ve got members doing like economic development members doing specifically reading intervention like we’ve got our members at the Red Cross. So it’s it’s a really large group of folks hitting all of the like the focus areas that are needed to really help the community but also to empower the community because almost all of those positions involve a volunteer worker so that once this person is done with potentially one year of service these things don’t just disappear.

So so much of all of their service involves sustainability. I think that’s besides my question of like, how are you doing are you eating? Well, did you watch this thing on Netflix is what are you doing to make your program sustainable?

Marissa: So you’re jumping right from Netflix to Serious Business.

Elizia: I know. Yeah, like great Orange is the New Black? Check. What are you doing to make this sustainable?

Marissa: So moving into the Flint Water Crisis something I really want to ask you about. So the Flint Water Crisis began in 2014 when Flint was almost bankrupt and switch their water supply from Detroit to the Flint River. People noticed immediately that they were issues with the water and yet it wasn’t until 2015 that that it was declared a national state of emergency for insanely high lead levels. What was it like working in Flint seeing that whole thing unfold?

Elizia: So, I mean the craziest thing is we have an amazing public radio station like through NPR I guess but that had been reporting on it since 2014 and even in the summer of 2015 while it was starting to get more traction at least in the state, you know, there was another election for their mayor and he got kicked out because of it people voted him out. I mean and on our end were like oh this is starting to get really serious. But I didn’t, I mean there was a moment where I guess I probably didn’t even realize that the rest of the the nation didn’t know about this because I felt like we were hearing about it daily.

Marissa: I think one of the things that I found most just insane was from the pot the reveal podcast that you sent me to listen to. The cooking staff at one of the schools noticed that the water was gross and went to the principal and the principal started buying bottled water for the school to cook with and then you have General Motors who wouldn’t even use the water to work on their cars. So it’s like people were using their own money to not use that water and still no one’s listening to that complaint.

Elizia: Yeah, like if the water is so corrosive that the people who like need that water to build aspects of your car aren’t using it. Like it shouldn’t go into children’s bodies. But for some reason those those can those complaints were just coming off as like, oh, it’s just the Growing Pains of this new water system or people are always going to find something to complain about. You know, there’s so many days where I’m just wondering like how on Earth do you build a cohort of people to change the fact that like Americans aren’t just these big complainers. Like if people are if people truly seeing something wrong in their community what steps are to be made for the government to actually start listening to people again. And then now the big thing is really what steps is the government doing to prove that that they deserve any semblance of trust.

Marissa: And I guess that would be my next question is I mean, the people’s level of distrust must just be through the roof?


Elizia: Oh man. So I was fortunate enough to see Barack Obama speak and the first person to introduce him was the Governor Rick Snyder. He got through about two minutes of a very ill worded speech before just basically booed off the stage. The thing that he said that was incorrect and that even if even if in one way, shape, or form could be deemed correct because I won’t try to get too political but what really hit people hard was that he said that this was a short-term issue and people just went wild because I mean, it’s not it’s a systemic issue. It’s an issue of how you use the notion of capitalism to govern people and how money saving outweighs the cries of human beings saying my water is messed up.

Marissa: So that kind of brings me to the whole emergency manager concept. An emergency manager was brought in when Flint was going bankrupt and he was the person who ultimately decided to switch the water supply from Detroit to Flint. Can you explain a little bit what an emergency manager is?

Elizia: I feel like I had a nightmare about an emergency manager recently.

Marissa: Yeah. It seems like two words that shouldn’t even go together.

Elizia: No and they don’t fit well in like regular Democratic American society because they’re unelected officials. So I’d say probably the most shocking thing is that the gentleman responsible for really ushering the water switch in Flint, Darnell Early, left and was kind of, I mean, he was kind of kicked out. But definitely just left that situation and didn’t look back and moved directly to become the emergency manager of another crisis that our state is known for the Detroit public schools. Which is like crumbling schools in the city of Detroit. So basically when a city or then in Detroit’s case of school district declares itself bankrupt, an individual is brought in, you know, much like a closer at a corporation. To say okay. Here’s what we’re going to cut and it’s going to save you money immediately and they usually have no connection to the community that they’re making these cuts over. They have only a connection to money-saving policy. It’s just the fact that like yeah sure. There definitely are moments in which city council representatives and other individuals could have done better jobs for a lot of these bankrupt situations within the state, but in all reality having an unelected official to kind of quote unquote clean up the mess economically. Really just makes it so that those who are actually affected by this bankruptcy have no way of having representation when these problems are quote unquote solved.

Marissa: So now the water has been switched back to Detroit but there’s still lingering health issues and problems like that. How are people recovering?

Elizia: And yea, so like the great thing is, is that Obamacare has been expanded to all children and pregnant women in the city of Flint. So we have we have public health workers at all of the Community Schools even through the summer.To still help people sign up for that expansion. I mean that’s that’s one one bite out of this giant like mess that’s going on right now. I think the harder thing is just like I was saying earlier is just the fact that like, yeah, like what does low performance mean? What does a difficult child and a difficult teenager and cognitive issues for a teenager or young adult look like who’s been affected by lead? Like we don’t know yet. So like we don’t we don’t know how many like specialists some of these high schoolers are going to need in the next five to ten years. We don’t know what type of job training is going to be needed in the next 10 years. And we don’t know, you know, we don’t know like on like the policing end of things if there really is going to be an influx of mental illness. You know, how can we guarantee that there’s enough funding to then retrain some of the police in the city to deal with an influx of mental illness on the streets?

So that’s that’s the really difficult part is just just the unknown. That’s the part that really I think also just scares parents the most like all I was trying to do was provide a human right of water to my child. And now I’m left wondering is their life going to be harder than every other child’s life in America.

Marissa: So I think that wraps up that part of the interview. I just want to thank you so much again for agreeing to do this and it’s just been so interesting hearing about your work.

Elizia: I mean for what it’s worth. I don’t think I could have ever asked for a better job, even though it is super stressful and even though I am a rule baron. And yeah, I mean, I think it’s really really flattering that you reached out to me to actually ask me about it. Because I mean, I don’t know. I feel like sometimes I’m speaking in the same people about it all the time and I don’t it’s really cool to just get to like blab on about the things that scare me, inspire me, and motivate me in this position.

[Begin Narration]

The last segment of this interview is a reaction to the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. Alton Sterling was a CD salesman from Baton Rouge and Philando Castile was a public school employee in st. Paul Minnesota. Both were black. Both were carrying guns and open carry states and both were killed by police using excessive force. Meaning that they were shot multiple times. Most everyone in America has probably seen the videos of these killings and many of us were shocked yet again by the police capacity for violence in situations that didn’t warrant it. We also saw a vigilante gun down police in a peaceful black lives matter protest in Dallas needless to say the country is reeling and trying to make sense of where we stand on civil rights issues. I asked Elizia to speak with me one more time to give her thoughts on these latest events a week after we did the original interview. Elizia is a woman of color and has been outspoken about these issues and I was really interested to hear her thoughts. These are those thoughts.

[Continue Interview]


Marissa: So to start this has been a heart-wrenching week. I know I’m having a hard time making sense of it. How are you feeling?

Elizia: Tired. I think is, I waver from tired to exhausted at this point. It’s unnatural to feel like this sad and worried and you know, try to make sure that those things never fade into fear and anger and I think I never knew that it would take so much like physical and mental willpower to just continue on with my life as if, you know as if this was America as usual because it is hard. It’s, It’s I don’t know I would never have expected this in my adult life. I think but at the same time, I guess I should have. I’m not sure. That’s kind of part of it too. I think the whole the wavering back and forth of I guess this is how it’s always been to this is how it should never be and just kind of having to place yourself in the middle of that. Just been taking a toll.

I just I feel like playing dead is almost like the best metaphor for how I’ve been for almost a week now. I just kind of am floating through this

Marissa: It’s hard to see these events and know what to think and know what you should do next.


Elizia: I feel like sometimes I’m doing the most. Sometimes I’m wondering if I’m doing enough. Sometimes I’m wondering why is it still my job to be doing anything at all? And it’s very difficult because you know, as like a really normal American, born in 1989 just kind of trying to like live a life that is promised to me in this myth of an American Dream. Why on Earth is it my responsibility to continue to ask for my rights and to continue to ask for my safety and to continue to promise that I’m not a threat.

Marissa: Absolutely and I think at least one positive thing is that people are rallying together and protesting and creating awareness and The Black Lives Matter movement has really gained traction in many cities in the U.S.. Can you talk about the Black Lives Matter movement and your involvement?

Elizia: I was first introduced to Black Lives Matter like many people after Michael Brown’s shooting and interesting enough, that was those original protests in Ferguson were happening while I was actually driving to Michigan to now live here. And what’s so interesting. Is that it, it really struck me because, it was, a really struck me because it’s very just naturally manifested into a very fluid like intersectional movement in which dealing with so many different types of discriminatory practices against you. And there’s a group of people who are now out there and totally different cities to say nothing. This is not this is not the way that anybody deserves to little to live their life, let alone have their life taken away from them. So I started to follow it a lot more especially last year with Baltimore, but within Michigan itself, we have a little Black Lives Matter kind of like chapter. So every now and then there’s everything from memorials to little like get-togethers. Like they had like a basketball tournament and it was this adorable protest.

Growing up knowing so much about the civil rights movement and like, protesting the Iraq War when we were in high school and stuff like that. It immediately was very alluring to me because I’m like, yes, like speak up! speak out! But what’s been really great is that, they’ve used all of these tactics that force people to pay attention to them. And I get it. To some people that’s either annoying or threatening or quote unquote not the right way to go about things. But I love that they disrupt your normal day eating brunch in New York now could involve a sit-in or you’re forced to pay attention to the fact that there is a disproportionate treatment from law enforcement of black Americans specifically black males. And for me, I don’t feel like this one mentally disturbed individual in Dallas has taken anything away from the fact that this has been a very peaceful movement that is full of so many good intentions. Mainly to make the United States aware again in to wake people up and say, you know, this is this is really the reality for a large portion of this population.

Marissa: It’s interesting to see the really polar opinions of the movement because for me it’s a civil rights movement, but people are against it. And I’m like are you okay with the status quo? Do you not see room for improvement in any of our systems. And I don’t know people are just really uncomfortable.

Elizia: I know I think it’s because like, yeah, I guess it’s bizarre to think that the normal United States has already given x amount of respect and beauty standards and scholarships to white people. So, you know, nothing’s that now things have to change a little bit. I think that people are like, but why?! I’ve never never spoken about myself highly. I’ve never demanded to be the center of attention. It’s like yes individual human being maybe you didn’t but on my end it is about me feeling like a valued individual. On your end, it’s about you like really entering into this like, melting pot, salad blah blah blah of a nation that we were all told we were part of an elementary school. It’s your turn to step into the same ring that we’re all in.

Marissa: I feel like the word progress is kind of loaded because on the one hand. Yes, we’ve come a long way and we’re working for something better. And on the other hand. What is that mean to someone who was just executed by a police officer? But what would be progress and do you see progress?


Elizia: There’s one hand where you know, I’m super stoked that I can vote and they can have a job and you know people aren’t, there’s no like literacy test for any of the paperwork I need to be like a mobile Citizen and to express myself and all of that. But at the same time I don’t for one I think that there’s been a lot of laws repealed in the past few years that I’ve definitely reminded me that it was like law enforcement like not the definition as a police person, but like the the fact that like voting laws and non-discrimination laws existed that have really kept the nation progressing. Not necessarily, you know, individual human mind sets or family mindsets or organizational mindsets. It’s really been the fact that like it is against the law to treat me differently and as some of those laws, especially, when the voting rights, I think of the Voting Rights Act was repealed. That’s when you can start to see like, oh no, this really, this really, there hasn’t been that much human change in 50-60 years and that’s it’s scary. And it’s disproportionately scary. Then throw on the fact that like we have this incredibly bizarre just violent history that always creates like an us-versus-them mentality. And that it’s only been 20th century laws that have tried to smooth that over. And then people are actively working to repeal those laws now. Proving that think I have no idea what on Earth like, I’ve no idea what the next steps are going to be. I don’t know, you know, depending on who wins the election. I don’t know who’s going to be them the ninth person on the Supreme Court, like just all these, all these bizarre things that kind of put me back and check up like is progress something that needs to be mandated in order to work. Like individual and systemic bias really plays a larger part in my life. Then you know laws that are meant to keep me safe and and make me feel equal.


Marissa: One of my takeaways from our last conversation was the importance of voting and the effect it has on these very local issues. I think we were talking about the Flint Water Crisis and water crises that are happening around the nation in general and you are saying that things are getting fixed. And now that it’s a nationwide issue people are paying attention and giving attention to fixing it, but it’s so contingent on who is elected or re-elected and if people will continue to fix things things or if that progress will just disappear. So it’s so important to vote and especially this November

Elizia: Exactly, exactly. This is about to be the opposite of like, on the same spectrum of historical but in such a weirder way. This year’s election, it means so much for whether or not anything that’s happened in the last eight years matters and you know, not in the way of like we’re getting out of a recession this time folks and it’s Barack Obama. It’s like, okay like are people who have mental illness or you know are still living through a lead crisis or so many other inflections. Are they still gonna have healthcare come January 2017? And unfortunately, like a lot of those people are, you know, not in the middle class. And when you close your eyes and think of who’s not in the middle class. I know that in all reality, it’s not, It’s not a poor black person. I think the reality is it’s like a I don’t actually know I think it’s like I think it’s a poor white person but it still is it still is within within like your own spectrum of imagination to realize that it is going to be a lot of a lot of poor black people who just get screwed this election season. And now live in some states where historically and by historically, I mean like for 50 years haven’t had to have like this large amount of documentation behind them to prove that they’re an American citizen.

Marissa: I’m just going to take a step back from the interview for a second and explain what Elizia is talking about. Many states in the last few years have passed laws to make it difficult for people to vote in elections. More and more states are asking for some form of photo ID claiming that they’re trying to fight voter fraud. Maybe the sounds logical. Yes, you should be able to prove who you are when you vote. The problem is that millions of registered voters in our country are low income or poor and they do not have the means to get a state or federal issued ID. And this is because they do not have the other documents needed. So what happens is with every state that votes to require ID for voters. We are not allowing millions of people to vote millions of people whose voices need to be heard most. And now back to Elizia.


Elizia: So out of nowhere like there’s grandmas who just straight up or like how do I get a driver’s license when I don’t know where my birth certificate is because I was born under like severe oppression or I was basically born to a family of sharecroppers. How am I supposed to find any of that identification that you deem necessary to let me vote? So there’s so many people that might just not be able to express their voice at a time though really matters.

And I mean, for the historical, we, like black people marched hard. They fought hard. They lost their lives so recently to make it so that it was easier to express yourself at the polls. And to take it away from some of those specific people. It just blows my mind.

Marissa: I’d like to go back again and finish up with the Black Lives Matter movement. The whole thing is so much more than a movement against police brutality and violence. At its core, it really is about identity.

Elizia: Yeah there really is a it’s a it’s a great way to express the fact that you don’t you don’t need to be living your life in a corner. And, you don’t need, for aspects of my own upbringing, like I think that I grew up thinking that I had to be insanely smart and poised and just kind of like ready to be put in some sort of like intellectual ring at any given moment. And that’s great. That’s definitely helped me in my own college and career life. But at the same time the fact that I could you know see a younger kid and be like, you know that you can just be you. Like there’s no there’s no need to, there’s no need to strive to put yourself above anybody else so that you can be smart for a black girl or pretty for a black girl or well-spoken for a black girl. You were amazing for a black girl and that that aspect I really do appreciate about the movement as well.

It’s been great to follow. It’s been great to participate when I can and and I mean they do so many so many things have branched off of that but just, you know helped with this fatigue from time to time. Like I love black all magic. I love that. I got invited to this like little selfie group on Facebook. It’s just black selfies.

Yeah, I love that there’s. I love that there’s. It hasn’t had any given moment taken away from the fact, that while we’re fighting for our rights and we’re fighting for ourselves, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be celebrating ourselves too. So, you know, there’s like this notion of black excellence and all these things that really, you know, just put us back in the perspective that like all were fighting for is the beauty that we’ve already seen in ourselves.


So that’s the conclusion to this week’s episode. I hope you enjoyed Leelee’s account of her life in Flint. She’s so passionate and so involved in the communities. She’s helping to educate. It’s so inspiring and interesting for me to hear. I hope it was for you, too. Too check out more from The Undefined. You can visit our website at with links to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and we’re available on Soundcloud and iTunes. Also, please contact me with ways to improve. I would absolutely love that. Next week’s episode, I talk to my friend Eric Garcia. He started his dance company Detour Dance his junior year at San Francisco State. He works with tons of different dance companies in the city. He works his ass off to get grants so his company can put on these amazing local performances and then a few times a year, he does these awesome niche drag shows. He’s hilarious. So listen next week. Bye listeners!

[Theme Song]



024: Albrey Brown: How a Bay Area Developer Fights for Minority Representation & Diversity in Tech

This week I talk to Albrey Brown, who is a programmer and community leader here in the Bay Area. He is currently working as an Enrollment and Diversity specialist at Hack Reactor which is a coding bootcamp based out of San Francisco. Albrey was a student at Hack Reactor and was brought on to the team after he graduated. After noticing the lack of diversity in the Hack Reactor family, he pitched an idea to the founders and founded his own branch of the school called Telegraph Academy that focuses on finding students from underreprestend minorities. Albrey was also recently invited to speak at the White House at the first ever Demo Day about his experience and his belief that industries, especially tech, need to be more diverse. We’ll also touch on his newest project, Progressive Patriotism.

If you liked this interview, I think you'll enjoy my interview with educator, Elizia Artis

This episode, I talk with Elizia Artis about what it means to build a community around education. She works in Flint, Michigan for the Crim Fitness Foundation and works with the school and communities there to solve problems effecting the students and parents. Elizia was an AmeriCorps volunteer and now manages other AmeriCorps volunteers in Flint so she’ll give some information about civil service and what some of those responsibilities look like. Lastly, Elizia explores some of her thoughts about issues effecting people of color and the Black Lives Matter movement

You may also like my interview with activist, Charlie Furman.

I talk to Charlie Furman, an Activist and Digital Organizer who creates campaigns focused on creative internet organizing to spread movements quickly and meaningfully over many channels. Charlie was a campaign manager for Fight for the Future and faught hard for Net Neutrality and against the Trans Pacific Partnership and was also a digital organizer for, People’s Climate movement, and Demand Progress. 








Comment below with some of your favorite moments from the interview!




018: Charlie Furman: Organizing and Activism in the Digital Age

This week I talk to Charlie Furman, an Activist and Digital Organizer who creates campaigns focused on creative internet organizing to spread movements quickly and meaningfully over many channels. Charlie was a campaign manager for Fight for the Future and faught hard for Net Neutrality and against the Trans Pacific Partnership and was also a digital organizer for, People’s Climate movement, and Demand Progress. He’s so active and has so many insights into how we take issues we feel strongly about and turn our thoughts into actions. Finally we talk about his latest project, a timeline of how we ended up with Donald Trump as the Republican Presidential Candidate.

If you liked this interview, I think you'll enjoy my interview with activist, Tia Lebherz

Tia Lebherz talks in depth about saving water and other threats to our environment. First, we talk about her work at WaterNow Alliance and how WaterNow is bringing together people to find innovative ways to save water on the West Coast. Then we’ll talk about her work for Food and Water Watch as the California organizer and the importance of banning fracking, specifically in California. 

You may also like my interview with former Peace Corps volunteer, Karen Chiang.

I talk to Karen Chiang, a former Peace Corps volunteer who was stationed for over two years in a small town in Senegal. Karen was a economics and international business major at UCLA and used her skills to help the community implement a business model that made their plastic waste into something profitable and sustainable. She talks about the culture, the people, and her overall experience as a Peace Corps volunteer








Comment below with some of your favorite moments from the interview!




009: Johnny5: How TURFInc Heals Trauma and Teaches Marketable Skills in Oakland

This week I talk to Johnny5, the founder and director of TURFInc, a company in Oakland that teaches kids turfing. Turfing is a style of street dance that came out of hyphy in the 90s. TURFInc gives them opportunities to make money and helps them stay off the street by learning marketable skills. Johnny5 has worked with tons of big name artists, he’s been featured and finds talent for Yak Films, the premiere dance film company in the world and he’s an all around awesome guy with lots of stories about Oakland.

If you liked this interview, I think you'll enjoy my interview with the Oakland community organization, Hip Hop 4 Change.

I talk to Khafre and JP of Hip Hop For Change. Khafre is the founder and executive director and JP is the events coordinator. We discuss the inherent problems of corporate media promoting a singular narrative of hip hop and the reason why diversifying hip hop is important for kids in inner city communities.

If you liked this interview, I think you'll enjoy my interview with the Lindy Hop dancer, Ellen Huffman.

I talk to Ellen Huffman, a Lindy Hop dancer based in San Francisco. Every year she organizes a Lindy Hop and Jazz Workshop called Fog City Stomp where she invites experts, live bands, and DJs to come teach, perform, and judge competitions. She’s danced for many troupes and currently runs the Someday Sweethearts. We’ll get into the history of swing, some influential members of the community, and fashion!








Comment below with some of your favorite moments from the interview!