Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen

Beth Zemsky - Saying What's True to Us

July 19, 2021 Scott J. Allen Season 1 Episode 79
Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders with Scott Allen
Beth Zemsky - Saying What's True to Us
Show Notes Transcript

Beth Zemsky MAEd, LICSW comes to her work out of her continued commitment to engage people in learning activities that move them to understand critical social and cultural issues. Building on best practice approaches, Beth specializes in intercultural organizational development with organizations working towards racial justice, social change, and structural transformation including foundations, non-profits, educational, health, faith-based, and social change organizations. 

Beth has over 35 years of experience working as a consultant, community organizer, psychotherapist, educator, and organizational leader including serving as the principle of Zemsky and Associates Consulting, a psychotherapist at Family & Children’s Service, founding Director of the LGBTQ Programs Office, Supervisor of the Diversity Institute, and Coordinator of Leadership Development & Organizational Effectiveness at the University of Minnesota. She also served as former national co-chair of the Board of Directors of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, certified clinical trauma professional, and certified workplace mediator.

Beth was chosen to be Grand Marshall of the Twin Cities LGBTQ+ Pride, and she was awarded Quorum's Lifetime Achievement Award and OutFront MN’s Legacy Award for service to the LGBTQ community. In addition, Beth was awarded a Bush Leadership Fellowship to study organizational development of social change organizations, and she was the recipient of the 2016 IDI Intercultural Award for commitment to social justice. 

Quotes from This Episode

  • "I'm Jewish, and there's a piece in Jewish mysticism called 'Tikkun Olam...Tikkun is 'to heal or repair,' and Olam means 'the world.' So the quote literally is "to heal the world." And so this is a super important concept for me...there's is sort of a perfect crystal of God and godliness in everyone and everything. And that when the world was created, that perfect crystal of God was fragmented, in everyone and everything. And our job is to find that perfect crystal of God and godliness and everyone and everything and bring the world back into wholeness...even when somebody is in opposition. And back in the day, it was Anthony Fauci, who was in opposition, that we needed to convince to be a leader on HIV ( it's funny how things cycle). Even when people are in opposition, how to know that they have that little fragment of godliness in them. So it's never seeing somebody as an enemy."
  • "What does that mean to have activism that is centered on love, passion, commitment, and authenticity? And how do I connect with other folks? "
  • "I talk a lot about is this sort of concept of "universal design." So universal design from the disability rights movement is the idea if you sort of hold the people who have the least access at the center of your transformational change, you actually create something better for everybody. "

Beth's Website

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

About The International Leadership Association (ILA)

  • The ILA was created in 1999 to bring together professionals with a keen interest in the study, practice, and teaching of leadership. 

Connect with Scott Allen

Note: Voice-to-text transcriptions are about 90% accurate. 

Scott Allen  0:05  
Good afternoon. Good evening. Good morning, everybody, this is Scott Allen, and you're listening to Phronesis. Today I have Beth Zemsky. Beth, before I formally introduce you, I told you I was going to surprise you a little bit before we started so are you ready? 

Beth Zemsky  0:19  
I'm ready! I'm ready!

Scott Allen  0:21  
Okay. I was so excited to read in your bio, that you've taught in the Family Social Science program at the University of Minnesota. That was my degree. That was my undergraduate degree. Yes. So I teach in a college of business, but my undergraduate degree was family social science!

Beth Zemsky  0:44  
You know what? I think that makes perfect sense. I do. 

Scott Allen  0:47  

Beth Zemsky  0:48  
It makes perfect sense! So to your listeners, you've got my bio, they haven't heard it yet. But I used to work as a clinician, I used to work as a psychotherapist. And I do or get I do intercultural organizational development now. And Scott, here's a little piece, my clinical specialty, was working with, like a lot of therapists about abuse, but I work with perpetrators of violence, right? And so my ability to be completely comfortable with conflict in systems completely, enhances my organizational development mark, because the stuff we learn in family systems, helps in organizations.

Scott Allen  1:29  
Exactly, exactly. So my parents had been through a divorce, and I got to college at the University of Minnesota, and I really liked some of the psychology classes, and I really liked some of the sociology classes, but I didn't, you know, completely resonate with either one, I was a little bit of a lost soul as to what I was going to do. And so some of my so a friend of mine, I was working at Northrop Auditorium. It was probably a night when john Denver was playing, and I was speaking with another usher, and she said to me, Well, you know, there's this family, family social science program you could look into, it's on St. Paul campus, and you can explore that. And I fell in love. It was an incredible degree. It was an important degree for me. And I mean, it was just a wonderful couple of years, I believe it is that I was in those specific courses. But I had my Social Work courses, and I loved those. But you are exactly right. I mean, I see family systems theory, right? I mean, it's small group work. It's dialogue. It's conversation. And so I was so excited to see that. So you were surprised, weren't you?

Beth Zemsky  2:41  
Yeah, I was. Thank you for that conversation, right, because I would otherwise have not talked about my clinical background, or that I learned about violence and conflict from working with abusive folks. Right? And I just think it's such an important piece of being able to work in systems is that we're comfortable with conflict, we understand where it comes from, and we understand systems. 

Scott Allen  3:08  
Yes, but I'm so excited for our conversation today with our listeners, Beth Zemsky. She is she's many things. She is an individual who is doing work and has done work in a lot of different contexts. So I'm going to share a little bit about her and I will, I'll have more about her in our show notes so that you can explore and connect with her. But she comes to her work out of a continued commitment to engage people and learning that moves them to understand critical social and cultural issues. Building on best practice approaches, Beth specializes in intercultural organizational development, with organizations working towards racial justice, social change, structural transformation, and she works with any number of different organizations, foundations, nonprofits, education, health, faith-based organizations focused on social change. She has, as we've discussed, she's served as a psychotherapist, she has worked at the University of Minnesota doing leadership and organization development. She is an educator, and she is a consultant. And Beth, you received an award in 2015. And I was poking around the internet. And that's a wonderful thing about the internet. And I came across a, it was a theme for the night it was Out Front Minnesota was the organization and you had received the Legacy Award. And there was a quote, kind of, as I understand it, framing the evening and it just really stood out to me and I would love for you to react to this quote a little bit. It's from Audrey Lorde. And she said, "when I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I'm afraid." And for me, oftentimes, even on this podcast, you know, leadership can be framed as warm fuzzies, chocolate bars, and strolls through the tulips. And it's not at times it's stressful. It's scary. It's frustrating. It's incredibly difficult. And so how do you think about that quote, and how do you think about your work in relation to that, quote?

Beth Zemsky  5:32  
Thank you for bringing Audrey Lorde into the beginning of this. She's she was such an inspiration and so powerful as a poet and a writer. So I want to give you another not gonna quote it exactly right. But another Audrey Lorde, quote, as a way to begin to answer your question, Scott. So Audrey Lorde had cancer and she wrote a book called The Cancer Journals. And the basic premise of The Cancer Journals was that it was not her words, as a black lesbian writer, a poet that was going to kill her. So she basically said it was not our words are going to kill us. It's our silence. And as I think about my own life, and my work as to whether it's a clinician or an organizational leader, or an activist, which is the context of what that award was about, is it's really about how do I speak as a leader, as a member of a movement? as somebody who's a follower, how do I speak my truth? How do I make space for other people to speak their truth? How do we sort of lean in with authenticity to the complexity of experiences? So that's a really important piece for me. And, Scott, if I may tell you a little bit about my history with that be helpful.

Scott Allen  6:53  
Please, please. Yeah,

Beth Zemsky  6:55  
so I was trained as a psychotherapist, right. And there is a way you know, you talked about your family getting divorced, you know, there is a way this funny way in which like, those of us who go into clinical work, were like working on our own family issues. But, you know, that aside, so I thought I was gonna be a therapist. And I, you know, as I said, did the work therapists do, I was working on rape and sexual abuse, domestic violence, chemical dependency, you know, the work that brings people to therapy, and I moved to Minnesota, where I live now in 1986. And I was hired explicitly to work in a sliding fee scale therapy organization to work with folks in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. This was the 80s. So there were not a lot of services around. And it was the mid-80s, just as HIV was beginning. And I had been reading Audrey Lorde, I'd had the good fortune of meeting Audrey Lorde, I'd read the cancer journals, I was deeply thinking about how it's not our words, it's our silences, just as HIV hit. And we didn't have the language back then, of intersectionality. Like that, that's a word that Kimberly Crenshaw and others, both activists and academics have given us to understand the intersection of identities and systems of oppression. But in the early days of HIV, that's what it was. It was about men who had sex with men who were all represented as white, IV drug users who are represented as black, and Haitians, who were back in the day thought of as effectors of infection. So it was sexuality, race, and immigration. Sound familiar? It's kind of the stuff we're dealing with now. Right? And, I thought maybe I was even a pretty good therapist, but I was kind of sending my clients back out to the trenches of a systemic battle, we were desperately losing because back in the day, the president at the time, Reagan didn't even say the word HIV till 1986. Till over, well, over 100,000 people had died. So there was like, no attention. So this is not my first pandemic. Right. And so, I thought, you know, even though I'm doing direct practice work, I need to sort of think about what is the systemic battle, that the people who are coming into my office, I could patch them up, I can help them feel empowered, I could help them, anchor, in their identities. But what were the systemic battles of oppression I was sending them out to? On a personal note, at the same time, my twin brother was diagnosed with HIV in New York City. Yeah, so he died on September 1, 1990. So on a personal level, I was deeply engaged around health crisis, systems, not working, homophobia, racism, that were literally killing us. And the slogan of Act Up which you might remember was "Silence Equals Death." So it was literal, that silence equals death. So part of that quote from Audrey Lorde was just like, what is it? Really? Are we not going to speak? Are we not going to say what's true to us, when our very lives are dependent on like, this wasn't an academic kind of understanding of the quote, it was a very visceral, physical, watching my brother and a number of his friends in their late 20s and early 30s die from silence from the institutions that were supposed to be protecting us, or at least serving us. So that was a long answer to your question.

Scott Allen  10:46  
No, it's a beautiful answer. I mean, it's a beautiful answer. So, again, if we go back to that, quote, where she says, "service of my vision," that was super clear for you, super clear for you that vision. Is that accurate?

Beth Zemsky  11:05  
Yeah, and there's another layer to that I'm gonna get all spiritual with you for a moment here. Because this is something I talk a lot about with my clients, but also other activists, like not just the organizational clients, but activists. I mean, because Scott, I imagine this might be true for you listening to some of your other podcasts, but I have my work. And I've had the really good fortune, I mean, so incredibly good fortune to get paid for the things I care about. But whether or not I did, right, I have my work and I have my life work. And it happened in my career is that when my work did not serve my life work, I left the job, not the work. Right? So, the spiritual part of that is, I'm Jewish. And there's a piece in Jewish mysticism that you the word you might have heard of called "tikkun olam," which essentially means to heal. Yeah, tikkun is to heal or repair, and olam means the world. So the quote literally is to heal the world. And so this is a super important concept for me, because it's Jews drop, actually, everybody's job to like, the idea is, is that getting all mystical spiritual on you that there's sort of a, that there is sort of a perfect crystal of God and godliness in everyone in everything. And that when the world was created, that perfect crystal of God was fragmented, in everyone in everything. And our job is to find that perfect crystal of God and godliness and everyone and everything and bring the world back into wholeness. So, the piece for me around the personal mission was not just about speaking, but also about as a change agent, even when somebody is in opposition. You know, it back in the day, it was Anthony Fauci, who was in opposition that we needed to convince to be a leader on HIV. Funny how things cycle. It was even when people are in opposition, how to know that they have that little fragment of godliness in them. So it's never seen somebody as an enemy.

Scott Allen  13:29  
And that framing, through all of that work, has also been a central, a central piece in how you approach everything. 

Beth Zemsky  13:37  

Scott Allen  13:39  
Yeah, it's a beautiful way. Because I mean, it that that has to be so incredibly difficult when you're getting triggered when you're working against, to your point, systemic issues that are by design, completely unfair, and immoral, and inappropriate, and doing incredible damage to whole factions of people. Right?

Beth Zemsky  14:04  
Yes. And, and what I know from my experience, and I've worked hard on this in my life, is that not coming from a place of love...Not like a superficial "Oh, I love you because you hate me." But that there is something in that person's being in that heart that they care about, that they are deeply committed to it might be very different than I am. But if I don't come from a place, sort of more expansive kind of love, the hate will eat me up. It will bring me to a place that, you know, my nervous system will get overwhelmed, my cortisol levels will be high, I will get diabetes and heart disease like, you know, so many folks with marginalized identities, when we're not able to process stuff it lands in our bodies and we have health impacts. So it's, it's partly an organizing strategy, like how do I try to meet people where they're at, and bring them along towards sort of a shared vision of how the world can be different. But frankly, it's also survival. You know, I'm not going to take on their hate and have it metastasized my body, or my family, or the people I love.

Scott Allen  15:27  
That's beautifully said. Beth, as you think about because you had mentioned it was 1990, when your brother passed away, correct? So as you think of the last 30 years, in the last 30 years, because that's, we're talking a little bit before, before we were recording, and, and you said, "Well, now what part of my work do you want to talk about?" It's multifaceted. And, and so I, I said, I want to kind of focus on this activism piece, I want to speak with someone who's done the work. And I want to speak with someone who's been engaged in that work for, you know, a period of time. And what reflections do you have? Are there two or three reflections? I mean, you in some ways, just stated one of them about how you frame the work and how you think about it. And because I think that's that was beautifully said. Are there other things that come to mind for you, as you think about the work? And specifically around the activism and equal rights and tackling some of these systemic issues that, again, are doing great damage to whole factions of people?

Beth Zemsky  16:39  
Yeah. One of the things in this my tie along, you know, one of the things I said in that speech, which really, I feel so I, you know, people often talk about folks with marginalized identities about how hard our life is, and one of them, I don't know, benefits or one of the strengths that I think I've gotten from being out as a lesbian as a queer person since 1977, so it's been over 40 years that I've been out as lesbian is that there was I kind of had to throw away a lot of the conventions of what I thought my life was going to be. Like, all of those things I grew up that I was supposed to be were not going to work. And there is there's as sad and challenging as it was, for a while, there's also a tremendous benefit in that. It's like, if I'm not going to fit any of those boxes, what do I want my life to be? And that that coming out process that really was like, oh, how do I live an authentic life that is centered on love, passion, and not, I'm not just talking about sexual passion, but passion for like the world, love, passion, and commitment, right, which is what it really takes to do the coming out process and live with authenticity. Those are things that would drive my activism, like what does that mean to live? Have activism that is centered on love, passion, commitment, and authenticity? And how do I connect with other folks? So that's something that I've learned that connects the other thing, that I'll say that movements, and if folks are interested in this stuff, my website about these movements are not election cycles, movements happened in 20 to 40-year arcs. So they're about long-term change. And one of the things I've learned about movements is that we often focus on movements in terms of policy. Did we win this election? Did we win this campaign? Do we not win this campaign? One of the things I've learned about movements is that it's not the policy. It's the narrative change. It's the cultural change. It's about how do we talk about our lives? And do people see us through the way we see ourselves? Right, so the shift for LGBT folks from being sick, sinful, criminal, and crazy, which is everywhere. to folks that have, you know, when we were talking about marriage, we were talking about love and commitment, where people who have love and commit we were shifting the narrative, that activism is not what we're against. Right? We know what we're against motivates people to join -  movements, marches, what keeps people for the long term, and movements as hope and vision for a better world that we can create together.

Scott Allen  19:37  
talk more about that. talk more about that, because I that was beautifully framed. What keeps people committed long term, right. Would you talk a little bit, maybe even tell a couple of stories?

Beth Zemsky  19:49  
Yeah, I mean, and this is talking about the LGBT stuff. This is probably the easiest story to tell. I was chair of the national LGBTQ task force, when we lost marriage in 17 states, there is leadership for you. Right, there were 17 campaigns in 17 states, and they weren't about giving us the right to marry, they were about putting constitutional amendments in so we couldn't get married. Right? And we lost 17 of those. And, you know, smart people, not just me - I was like, you know, they are but like, you know, we're, what we were doing was talking to people about, "we should be able to get married because we should have access to 1039 rights and responsibilities that you as heterosexuals have. And there's a right to marry." Yeah, like, that didn't work. And then, you know, smart people said, you know, what, first of all, heterosexuals don't think of their marriages as rights and responsibilities. And that's an intellectual argument. Right? It doesn't really say what we're for. And so what, what is a powerful narrative, that is true, it can't be made up about what we're really after. You know, we're really after a world in which people who love each other and are committed to each other are able to support their families in that love and commitment with a bucket of social benefits that we get through marriage. I mean, it's like, it's like, Oh, right. Like you have to have we want to live in a world of love and commitment. And another one, I live, I live in Minneapolis. As you know, I live about a mile and a half from where Mr. George Floyd was murdered. I live in the neighborhood. You'll recognize this from being in Minneapolis. I live right near Lake/Hiawatha, which is, for your listeners. We are most of the fires were those first few days of the uprising. It's where the third police precinct was with Derek Chauvin used to be an officer. So this year, you know, impact around the racial justice in a right in a very intimate kind of way. And I've spent, you know, some time at George Floyd square. So the reason I give you that context is that we've, those of us, you know, I've been doing racial justice work racial equity work for a long time. And it's one thing to say we are committed to anti-racism. So that's an anti message. Right? And, yes, bad racism. Bad. We're against it. Right? People can join out of anger, about watching Mr. George Floyd get murdered, they can say we're against police brutality. But what are we for? So the framing of Black Lives Matter is actually brilliant. Because what would it really mean? If we had every single one of our social policies say that Black Lives Mattered? Not that they were tolerated? Not that we're accepting of people who are racially different? But what if we absolutely had policies and practice said, your life mattered. And it's not just that all lives matter because everybody's life matters. But if you sort of, say this country was founded on 400 years of slavery, and these folks' lives didn't matter, and it's encoded in law that these folks' lives didn't matter. What would it mean to say they did matter? I mean, there's beautiful framing. And let me just say one other thing about that. One of the things that, that in my work I talk a lot about is this sort of concept of "universal design." So universal design from the disability rights movement is the idea if you sort of hold the people who have the least access at the center of your transformational change, you actually create something better for everybody. So that concept of the disability rights movement is like the curb cut was made for people in wheelchairs. Like who benefits everybody,

Scott Allen  24:40  
Everyone? The elderly!

Beth Zemsky  24:43  
Right when your kids were little Scott, and you're using the stroller?

Scott Allen  24:50  

Beth Zemsky  24:52  
So if we know and we've got so much data on this, that racial disparities typically black folks are the folks who are most marginalized by school policy, health policy, and we hold black folks at the center of our planning using a universal design strategy, we actually develop something better for everybody. Because what happens is white folks, like me are like, "Well, what about us? Our Lives Matter?" It's like, yes. But if we put these folks who have been most marginalized at the center of our planning, you're gonna benefit too. So that was a very long answer to your question.

Scott Allen  25:35  
No, it's so so I had not heard of that concept or even thought of that in that way, and so I very, very much appreciate it. I really do. I had a wonderful conversation, probably before this episode will be a gentleman named Robert Livingston, he's at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. And, and he too, was, you know, framing things in ways that were so powerful that because I think one of my favorite quotes, and I've said it on the podcast before is "every system is perfectly designed for the results that it achieves." 

Beth Zemsky  26:09  
I use that quote too

Scott Allen  26:10  
Here we are. Yeah, right. I mean, so you know, Planet Earth, we can look at it at that level, here we are, that's great. But we can also look at it, you know, Scott's at about 215 right now doesn't want to be that system, I got a perfect system in place. For 215, I got to get down to about 185. But when we talk about some of the systems that we're speaking of right now, here we are, and what do we need to shift alter, and how and what I love about how you're communicating right now, Beth is, is how do we need to frame a future, and frame some of these things? Because I think oftentimes, they're framed poorly, so that they create walls in the minds of the people we're trying to influence, does that make sense?

Beth Zemsky  27:02  
Totally, totally. I think, you know, there's such a scarcity mentality, right? Rather than sort of, and that's one of the things I've also learned as an organizer is that we come at trying to make transformational change with a scarcity mentality rather than abundance, peace. It just reinforces and a "us versus them," it's like as if there was a pie, and now these people are getting the piece of my pie, and I'm going to get less and unfortunately, without getting too into, you know, electoral politics but the narratives of the last, not just four years, but the last 20 years has been this, us versus them. The pie is not big enough kind of narrative, and it really gets in the way of the phrase I use, Scott is it "colonizes our imagination?" It's like, we're in the mindset, that it's us versus them, there's a scarcity of resources. And then, and this is part of what the anti-framing does. I'm against this, right. And as soon as we're in that space, it colonizes our imagination, and we can't think outside that box. So this is part of every system exquisitely designed to produce the result to get if we've got a scarcity mentality, that system is designed for us not to think transformationally - you know, we think transactionally about the kind of changes that are possible, and our imagination gets colonized, and then limited.

Scott Allen  28:36  
What other themes or lessons or, or even questions do you keep coming back to?

Beth Zemsky  28:43  
We've got a lot of challenges right now. And I have a lot of questions about what, how to be an elder to the next generations of activists. And what I mean by that is not like here, I was a leader, let me tell you what you need to know. That's not what I mean.

Scott Allen  29:05  
I don't I don't take it that way. But yeah,

Beth Zemsky  29:07  
But I think sometimes that's what we think is like, Oh, they don't know, when we need to tell them, you know, we have left them or world or leaving them a world that has both advanced in particular ways and is really screwed up in other ways. And so as somebody of my age, I just turned 62 just like kind of amazing - so somebody is my age and I've been in a movement and one way or another since 1980 - really thinking about Okay, what have I learned but how am I going to get out of their way? You know, there's that song and Hamilton that Burr and Hamilton sing to their kids, where they're like, you know, we've fought and died for you. We're going to you know, you're get coming of age in this. You're going to come of age in the country we made and you're going to blow us all away. I think about that, like for young LGBT folks, they're coming of age in this world that when I was coming up, I could not even have imagined, no could not even have imagined that we'd be able to get married, that people are putting pronouns in their signature lines that the Supreme Court would have a positive decision about our...totally outside my imagination. So they're coming of age in this world, right? And they're going to blow us away. So for me, the question is, how do I support them not get in their way and pass on information that would be helpful to them? I sit with that a lot. That question.

Scott Allen  30:45  
So what are you thinking?  What are some of your intuitions?

Beth Zemsky  30:50  
Well, I think it's really important to be in cross-generational relationships. First of all. Like relationships, not like, I'm in front of the room, and I'm going to teach you but relationships.

Scott Allen  31:05  
Yes, yes. And I agree strongly with that only because, you know, as I work with, with students, you have to, but my friend, Tony has a quote, "I don't know better, I no different." And I love the spirit of that quote, because it's, if you enter the space of a classroom, or working intergenerationally, with that spirit, even for some of my mentors who are in their 80s, it's, it's "I don't know, better, I know, different." And that spirit opens and keeps a lot of possibilities in place. Right?

Beth Zemsky  31:42  
Totally, totally. And part of that is then how it's like, I know, different. And then how do I take responsibility for my power? As I'm in those relationships? Right, whether it's power that is around age, or degrees, or about race, cross-racial, cross-generational kinds of things, like how do I, it's about really being, you know, for me, trying to take responsibility and be accountable for that stuff. Yeah, you know, I think that's an important piece. Let me, let me just share with you, if I can go off on a slight tangent around this. There's this. I'm kind of a geek about social movement theory. So I was an activist for like, 25 years before I knew there was such a thing as social movement theory in sociology, right? And if you've run across this stuff, and you're soc stuff, but there's this thing in social movement theory called political generations, so it's not just age. But one of the things that political generations theory says is that whenever you came to political consciousness and political with a small "p" not like party politics, meaning that you understood that your life and things about your life occurred in systems like that, policy systems, political systems, whenever what was going on at that time, in terms of how people understood power and their relationship to it kind of impacts how they think about power and their relationship to it in different parts of their life. And just by example, I used to teach an LGBT social movement class, LGBTQ social movement class at the university. And I used to do this exercise where I asked my students, so what was going on in the world when you first understood that your life... there were systems and policies and politics that influence life? And this was a while ago, and there were some people in the class and they were only like, the difference in like five years of age. But for some people it was Columbine. Right? And, yeah, that was what it was. They were young, and it was Columbine, for other folks in the class. It was Obama's first could tell this was a while ago. Right? And so we then asked, I then asked him, so what did you learn about power and people in power? from those experiences, the folks who came of age where Columbine was their defining experience, said, the world screwy, it's dangerous. People in power are here to keep us safe. And you got to listen to what they say. It was more complicated than that. People who came of age were Obama's first election. It was people in power, screwy...and we've got to take to the streets and we have the power to change things. They're only five years difference in age.

Scott Allen  34:40  
Yeah, yeah. And it's framed so differently, right?

Beth Zemsky  34:48  
Yeah. So I think about that with this generation who's coming of age during the racial justice uprisings. Like what are they going to learn about power, versus the folks who maybe came of age in 2016 as Trump was being elected, like, what did they learn about? So these are the kinds of things I think about.

Scott Allen  35:07  
That's so interesting to think about. I guess I don't even know how I'd answer that question. What's its, say the question again, and I'm going to try and answer it from my own self.

Beth Zemsky  35:21  
So what was when what was going on when you first came to consciousness that your own life or situation was impacted by systems of policy/politics, that there was something going on in the greater world that impacted you?

Scott Allen  35:40  
Yeah. I'm 72. I was born in 1972. So what came to mind? The first thing that came to my mind was, you know, nuclear war, the fear of nuclear war in the late 70s. And the early 80s of the Russians could bomb us. Right. So that that, for some reason came to mind for me. Yeah. 

Beth Zemsky  36:03  
And so how did that impact you, Scott? If at all, what do you think? 

Scott Allen  36:10  
Well, I don't, I think I had a pretty sheltered existence, and so it felt far away. Certainly, it felt far away. But it was also somewhat scary in the sense that, you know, there are these things called nuclear weapons, and we have them and they have them and we could annihilate one another. And so for some reason, that's the narrative that comes to mind for me. But yeah, I think it's, I think it would be because it was that whole era when, and as a Minnesotan, you can at least appreciate I don't know that you were living in Minnesota at the time, but the lore around, you know, the US hockey team beating the Russians, and that was a big conflict. And a bunch of those people was from the Minnesota area and Boston and but it's so interesting how those frame, how those, how those experiences, kind of impact our life. What was it for you? Was it Vietnam?

Beth Zemsky  37:14  
Yeah, it was Vietnam. And it was this idea that you know, we could take to the streets, we could do stuff, we could make a change. Yeah, I was, I was talking to somebody this morning, actually, I was doing I have a little bit of a history of doing some work in Norway. And I was talking to a colleague in Oslo this morning, that the miracles of zoom. And we were actually talking about this because we were talking about sort of fear and anxiety that is about COVID, but also how close they are to Russia. And she was talking about similar, she's about the same age, you're around coming of age during that time in Norway, and knowing that, you know, where the missiles were coming from, and that he's really aware of a certain level of anxiety right now, as things heat up with Putin again. And she was thinking about how did that impact her work? So I mean, it was, it's just interesting, you know, about how much fear versus empowerment gets into our sense of what change can we make in the world?

Scott Allen  38:23  
Yeah, well, even my children who are 11 and 13, twin girls that are 11, or sons 13. You know, that the COVID experience that's going to, I mean, it'll it'll shift their course of life, it just will, 

Beth Zemsky  38:38  
as will climate change. 

Scott Allen  38:41  
Right as well. Climate change? Yes. Yes. 

Beth Zemsky  38:46  
So that's what I mean by we, we've left them a world that has some strengths, and it's kind of screwy. So anyway,

Scott Allen  38:56  
We have left an imperfect system. Oh, well, okay. Question for you. So, what have you been reading lately, or streaming or listening to, consuming that has caught your eye? You thought, "Oh, wow!" And it could have something to do with what we've discussed today. It may not have anything to do with that. But is there anything that stands out for you?

Beth Zemsky  39:20  
Well, I've listened to a few of your podcasts lately. The part of the way I've gotten through COVID and frankly, the Trump years is there is a podcast, listen to called doing a shout out for them - Gastropod. Which is a podcast about the science of in the history of food, and they completely talk about it through a race and class lens. It's...I cook, and it's one of the ways I stay sane. And so I will be like on Zoom for five or six hours a day talking about racial equity, and then I walk my dog along the Mississippi, right, you know, I live right near West River Road. And I put my earbuds in like, listen to an episode of Gastropod completely got me through.

Scott Allen  40:12  
So there's so interesting. It's so interesting how our lives have those. I mean, I love in your bio, by the way where you talk about eating too much kale.

Beth Zemsky  40:20  
Yeah, totally. Totally. A ton of Kale! Yeah, we don't have a garden. We have a small farm. Yeah. 30 tomato plants, just saying. And the other thing I have to say that has gotten me through is I am a total Star Trek geek. I mean, like, there, there's a station in the Twin Cities, there are five hours of Star Trek on every single night. It starts with original goes to Enterprise, goes to Deep Space Nine, goes to Voyager, like all of them. And then like, there is Discovery and there's Picard. There are like seven versions of Star Trek you can watch right now. And then there's something...yeah, you know, it's good. sci-fi is good. You know, it. It's meaningful because it's sort of like, what is the vision for a future that could be different than this? Right?

Scott Allen  41:25  
Well, I mean, we could get into a really fun long conversation about it. There was a beautiful film. Oh, my gosh, her name is escaping me right now. She played Uhura. The actress 

Beth Zemsky  41:37  
Nichelle Nichols

Scott Allen  41:39  
Okay. Have you seen that documentary about her? 

Beth Zemsky  41:41  
No, I haven't 

Scott Allen  41:42  
Recruiting for NASA? NASA commissioned her to really help them recruit a diverse population of astronauts because they were all white men. And NASA approached her and said, Look, we need we know we need to recruit in different ways and get to different communities. And she was incredibly instrumental, and really helped NASA do that. It's a beautiful documentary. There's a small Documentary Film Festival in my town. And so we took our kids to watch that. And, you know, in the, in the documentary have talked about how she was one of the first, if not the African American, who was featured on a weekly episode of a television show. And if you look at the spirit of Star Trek and the diversity of the many different characters, working together with their different strengths, and at times having conflict and misunderstandings, but no I very much connect and resonate with Star Trek.

Beth Zemsky  42:58  
Years ago, there was a panel at the University of Minnesota that Louis Gates, "Skip" Gates was on and there was a young person in the audience who, you know, screwed up, you know, all of his courage. And he raised his hand is and asked a question of Skip Gates, right. I was like, "wow!" And he raised his hand, he said, it, pause and he said, I just want to get a picture of what you're talking about, like, "what kind of world are you saying we could live in? All I can think of is like, the bridge of the Starship Enterprise? Is that what you're talking about?" Skip Gates looks back and said, "Actually, yes!" That's about because you know, you think about Uhura and you've got, you know, Chekov, and you've got like, you know, the Vulcan and you also have the Prime Directive, which is we are not going to screw with somebody else's culture. Like we are going to respect it. It's like a Skip Gates. It's like it this exactly what I'm talking

Scott Allen  44:00  
Yes. Oh, that's wonderful. One of my favorite films growing up was, you know, Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock. You know, I was talking with an individual the other day about it, because, you know, there's the Star Wars in the Star Trek, people have a thing sometimes. And I'm just like, can't we all just enjoy both because they're both special in their own way. But I very much, and again, a lot of the next generation was when I was in college. So we would sit around and watch the Next Generation.

Beth Zemsky  44:34  
Well, they're all on Netflix and prime right now which is nice. So that's what I do - I listen to podcasts about food and watch Star Trek.

Scott Allen  44:50  
You know, it was funny, because before, before we started, and you said, Oh, I have to go back and look at that speech that I gave because I pulled some content from that speech, that quote, and I was going to say to you, but I didn't say it. I was gonna say I'm not going to go Star Trek on you and ask you about paragraph four in scene three. Remember that skit on Saturday Night Live where William Shatner is like "get a life of your parent's basement!" Beth I am so thankful for our conversation today. It's a great way to start our well for us and listeners, you will be in the future. But for us, it's the fourth of July weekend in the States. It's a long weekend for many people, and so it's a great way to start the weekend. And I thank you for the work that you do. And thank you for just such a wonderful conversation. And I'll put all of your information in the show notes so people will know how to get in touch with you and connect and just thank you so much.

Beth Zemsky  45:57  
I appreciate that. It's been fun. It's been fun. And you know, this is happening at the tail end of Pride Week. So it's great. It's all good.

Scott Allen  46:06  
I love it. I love it. Okay, be well

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