What I would just offer from an abolitionist perspective and transformative justice perspective is like, we hold our heart open to all the possibilities and we courageously ask for what we need. - Episode 10
Freed from prison in 2018, Richie Reseda is a producer and abolitionist-feminist organizer. He founded Question Culture, a social-impact record label; Success Stories, a transformational feminist program for incarcerated men chronicled in the CNN documentary "The Feminist on Cell Block Y;" and cofounded Initiate Justice, which organizes people directly impacted by mass incarceration to change laws to end it. He works closely with Black Lives Matter, Inspire Justice and more, to transform narratives and upend systems of oppression.
Connect with Richie
- Question Culture
- Success Stories
- The Feminist on Cellblock Y
- Initiate Justice
- Defund the Sheriff
- Inspire Justice
- BLD PWR
- Reform LA Jails
Liz Wiltsie: Welcome to What's Leadership? I'm Liz Wiltsie. The more I learn about leadership, the more I'm convinced there's not a one size fits all solution. So I am on my own learning journey and I invite you to join me. EbonyJanice reminds me that being open about my journey is important. Each episode features someone I admire with actionable insight to share. So please join me as I ask what's leadership?
Welcome to What's Leadership? My guest today is Richie Reseda and Richie was freed from prison in 2018 is an Abolitionist, Feminist, producer, and organizer. He co-founded Question Culture, a social impact record label; Success Stories, a transformational feminist program for incarcerated men chronicled in the CNN documentary, The Feminist on Cellblock Y and co-founded Initiate Justice, which organizes people directly impacted by mass incarceration to change laws and end it with Taina Vargas-Edmond. He works closely with Black Lives Matter, Inspire Justice and more to transform narratives and up end systems of oppression. Thank you for being with me, Richie.
Richie Reseda: Thanks for having me.
Liz Wiltsie: So I asked you because I really wanted to talk about abolition and what the lessons are from the modern abolition movement. So let's start there.
What do you think are some of the biggest lessons for this moment right now?
Richie Reseda: Yeah. The first thing that I would say is that everything built on colonial structures is bullshit. And therefore that includes corporate leadership structures. Right? And I say this as a marketing major. I say this as somebody who went to business school, and was trained formally in that way.
And I say this as an abolitionist. Everything that was built on this stolen land and by stolen and exploited labor is inherently exploitative and seeks to serve the few at the expense of the many. And the Abolitionist Movement, albeit the main focus is abolishing systems of, state sanctioned violence and revenge, it also, I think, is built in a larger, anti-capitalist context that offers us new methods for leadership that are not based on exploiting the many for the benefit of the few.
Liz Wiltsie: And I know you run your own business. You run a for profit business, you run some non-profits, you do all of the above. But let's talk about Question Culture: how do you hold that when you're trying to run a business, make money, and not be exploitative?
Richie Reseda: Yeah. So I think the key is when people hear us say that we're anti-capitalists, I think they imagine that we mean we're anti market economy and that we're therefore communists and for a controlled economy.
And that's not the case for me. I'm not trying to speak for every anti-capitalist in the world, but that's not the case for me. I'm talking about capitalism, the spiritual idea. I'm talking about capitalism, the spiritual mandate as given to us by Adam Smith, that said the purpose of the economy is to enrich oneself to the highest extent possible.
And that somehow when we're all doing that, we are then benefiting everybody else. Now we know that to be a lie. And, so in building Question Culture, we seek to build a company that doesn't use the economy or our primary purpose is not to just enrich ourselves to the fullest extent possible.
That's not the place from which we make our business decisions. So when we're making a business decision, an investment decision, a project decision, a hiring decision, we're not just thinking about how does this affect our "bottom line". We're taking everything into account. We're taking the communities that we're affecting into account, we're taking the talent and how we're investing in their lives and how's this going to benefit them? How's this going to affect culture? You know, Question Culture. We make music and films mostly now doing clothes. So we were always thinking like, what effect is this going to have on culture?
What effect is this going to have for the movement? We have to take a more holistic, beyond just like social responsibility capitalism, but like literally the place from which we make artist decisions is how is this going to affect the world? So to be specific, how we do that in Question Culture is every artist that we sign, we bring on as a partner in the LLC.
So there's nobody who's not working for their own equity. We work that into the deal. Not, I won't get into the weeds. It's actually two separate contracts, but it's one deal. If that makes sense. Also every major project we release is followed by an action campaign or somehow connected to an action campaign.
We just did the Defund the Sheriff album with Reform LA Jails and JusticeLA. And that was an action campaign before the album. They came to us with actions that were happening on the ground and said, how do we make a piece of art that will amplify this? So, those are just, yeah, those are two examples of ways that we try to lead a non-capitalist business in the market economy.
Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. And it seems like there's this conversation that says like, you can do good with a non-profit or you can be exploitative with a for-profit company. And we're seeing more folks that we know, right? Inspire Justice is one as well. BLD PWR is one as well. Right? Who
Richie Reseda: I didn't know BLD PWR was a non-profit?
Liz Wiltsie: I don't know if they are an organization that is run in the movement, so they might not be. They are non-profit. Are they non-profit?
Richie Reseda: I think they're a non-profit.
Liz Wiltsie: Okay. They're still, also really great. So we should talk about them. Inspire Justice is for-profit and then Question Culture is for-profit. My company is for-profit. We're trying to sort of say, what does this look like in this sort of world that the movement can exist.
Richie Reseda: Yeah, I actually really. I think it's really good that we're starting to realize that myth is not true because there's hella non-profits and the non-profit industrial complex itself, that are, that's exploitative as fuck.
And there are for profit companies that are doing really good for the world. And I think it's because it just, it all comes down to equity. I think it really all comes down to equity. And in non-profits there, "is no equity." so you think automatically, therefore, no one can get exploited, but that's not the case.
And in for-profits, as long as the equity represents the labor that took to create the equity, then no one is being exploited. But that's what a lot of for-profits have a hard time doing because we're taught to use, you know, "human resources." To use people as a tool to build our own equity.
And that's when we get to be exploitive. Sometimes I say exploited, sometimes it's exploitative. Sometimes I say exploitative, I don't know.
Liz Wiltsie: And then when I try to spell it. It all goes so badly. I think that's an interesting thing. One of the things, that I try to pay way more attention to in this moment than in others, is the amount that our language is talking about human resources. And is talking about the value of labor and like people having a price tag and really trying to be like, no, we are not doing that.
Richie Reseda: Yeah. I mean, people, we have to pay people for their work and pay people well. But yeah, I think we just need to be thinking about the collaborative economy.
Like I think we can really learn from nature and see the way that nature works. No one is building equity off anyone else, you know? And I think that's how we, that's how we have to build our economies as well. So yes, there will be people who are paid for a thing, who don't necessarily get equity in the thing. But I think that depends on what kind of work they did.
I certainly am not saying that a business owner who did the hard work of starting a thing should therefore water down their shares as they hire more and more people to the point where they have just as much equity as you know, the person who just got hired yesterday.
But we should be thinking about those things, I think is more, what I'm saying is like, what is the equitable way to do this? As opposed to just assuming this is mine and now all of you work to enrich me.
Liz Wiltsie: And do you think there's a corollary there? If you just are somebody's boss, like how, where do you think this sort of, making sure it's equitable works? If you don't run your own company, like where do you think people can sort of carve out some space for themselves and the people that work with them in that way? Or do you think there is o
Richie Reseda: That's a good one. I mean, in abolition, right. And in transformative justice, we're always thinking about relationships. And the complexities of them and not writing people off and holding ourselves open to all opportunities and all possibilities. So from that perspective, I think someone who is already within a corporate structure, how do you build equity within it, just for you and the folks maybe directly supervise?
I can offer that as a posture of heart. Like look for those opportunities. Don't assume that your company is bad and will always be bad. Push. But it takes courage. It takes the courage to say, you know, to the folks higher than you, or the folks that you're sitting down at the table and you're getting ready to make a hiring decision.
Hey, what are we paying this person? Why are we paying them that? Is that equitable? And holding yourself open to the possibility that hopefully they'll do the right thing. And also the possibility that they won't and just understanding where your boundary is. I hope that helped answer the question.
I never sought to work for anyone else. So it's hard for me to think about it in that way, but I think what I would just offer from an abolitionist perspective and transformative justice perspective is like, we hold our heart open to all the possibilities and we courageously ask for what we need.
Liz Wiltsie: Yeah. And I think people forget, they can ask for what they need at work. I think that's a big piece as well.
Richie Reseda: Yeah. It's designed to be like that. It's designed to make it seem like I'm doing you a favor by "giving you a job." So shut up and take it. And work can feel scarce and there can be, you know, real needs and demands that needs to be met: kids that need to be fed, rents that need to be paid.
And sometimes we're kind of trapped because of capitalism into places where we're not being valued. And that's real too.
Liz Wiltsie: So last question, Richie, what are you grappling with right now in any way?
Richie Reseda: Something I've been really thinking about, is the way that I feel like this movement started out so strong and so abolitionist and we weren't giving fake corporate bullshit any play.
And I feel like it's been seeping back in. The like diversity, the DNI efforts and the, whatever we're going to, we're going to take the current capitalist corporate colonial structure and black it up a little bit, or queer it up a little bit or woman at up a little bit. And we're going to say it's okay.
Like when this, when the uprising first cracked off in may, we weren't going for it. We were like, hell nah defund the police period. No, I don't care about you painting Black Lives Matter in the street. No, I don't care about you, whatever, putting more black TV shows like defund the police and fucking decolonize this land, period.
And I think that as time has went on, more corporations have been getting, being able to get away with performative shit that doesn't actually decolonize their structures. And that's what I think I'd really want to leave people with, who want to do good within business is to really understand that the nature of most corporations on Earth are exploitative. Either to the earth or people or both. And it doesn't matter how multicolored your boardroom is or how multicolored your C-Suite is. If you are exploiting people and resources to enrich yourself or your shareholders without taking into consideration every single stakeholder then you are a colonizer. And luckily you can change that behavior right now.
Liz Wiltsie: Mic drop. Thank you, Richie.
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