For the past few months CCAN has been boldly going where we have never gone before (excuse the star trek references) into a massive federal campaign! For about the same time we have started the Upside Down podcast and have been introducing you to our staff (albeit slowly) and today I am beyond excited to be talking with our new Federal Campaign associate Quentin Scott.
Quentin Scott joined CCAN in January 2021 as the Federal Campaign Associate working to build political will for groundbreaking climate justice policies in the Executive Branch and Congress. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, he got a first-hand look at the two Americas and sought to bring the two Americas closer together through advocacy. Quentin’s passion for math and science landed him at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Instead of using his skills for engineering, he uses his knowledge to build data-informed campaigns. Before joining CCAN, Quentin was chief of staff for an Illinois State Representative and a legislative correspondent in the US House of Representatives, and has led numerous issue and candidate campaigns across the Midwest. In his roles he has stood with neighborhood advocacy groups to hold industrial polluters accountable in communities of color and looks forward to bringing that fight to the federal level. Quentin enjoys exploring new places and has been to 36 states. When he is not traveling you can find him engaging in some form of competition, whether that’s video games, board games, or on the basketball court.
Check out the full transcript here:
Charles Olsen 0:06
Hi, my name is Charlie Olsen. And this is Upside Down, the podcast from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
For the past few months CCAN has been boldly going where we have never gone before, please excuse the Star Trek references, into a massive Federal Campaign for about the same time we started the Upside Down podcast. And we’ve been introducing you to all of our staff albeit kind of slowly. And today I’m beyond excited to be talking with our new federal campaign associate Quentin Scott. Quentin joined CCAN in January 2021, as the Federal Campaign associate, working to build political will for groundbreaking climate justice policies in the executive branch and in Congress. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, he got a first hand look at the two Americas and sought to bring the two closer together through advocacy. Quentin’’s passion for math and science landed him at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. But instead of using his skills for engineering, he uses his knowledge to build data informed campaigns. Before joining CCAN Quintin was Chief of Staff for an Illinois State Representative and a legislative correspondent in the US House of Representatives and has led numerous issue and candidate campaigns across the Midwest. In his roles, he has stood with neighborhood advocacy groups to hold industrial polluters accountable in communities of color and looks forward to bringing that fight to the federal level with CCAN. Quentin enjoys exploring new places and has been to 36 states. Quite impressive. When he’s not traveling, you can find him engaging in some form of competition, whether that’s video games, board games, or on the basketball court. Quentin, how are you doing today?
Quentin Scott 1:50
Well, thank you for that introduction, Charlie. I really appreciate it. And I am doing really well, it’s an exciting time here at CCAN.
Charles Olsen 1:57
It’s really good to have you. It has been a pleasure to have you on the staff- all of this federal work that we’ve been doing is really exciting. It’s kind of upsetting that both of us have started at CCAN in the work from home remote world. So we’ve never actually met in person. So that is a whole nother dynamic to add here.
Quentin Scott 2:19
Yeah, I’m looking forward to finally crossing that off the list of things to do. I think I’ve only met Mike and Jamie in person. Yeah, it’s everybody else.
Charles Olsen 2:28
The see can happy hours are lackluster, until we’re done. That’s for sure.
I’m very excited to get to know you a little bit more. But I’m even more excited for our listeners to be able to get to know you and the awesome work that you’re doing. Your background and advocacy stretches back up quite a ways. Can you just tell me how you got your start in climate advocacy?
Quentin Scott 2:55
Yeah. So just taking a little step back I know, about 10 or 11 years ago, you know, I didn’t know anything about politics, or, quite frankly, didn’t pay attention to it. And then all of a sudden, you know, I come back home to Chicago after college. And I didn’t recognize my neighborhood. There were vacant properties, there was, you know, seems to be police officers on every corner patrolling. And so I just didn’t really recognize what had happened in the four years that I left Chicago. And so I decided to dive into policy and advocacy and in solution dive into know those spaces, you quickly realize there are a lot of intersection between so many different issues and climate and environment became one of those and you see it all the time. On the south side of Chicago, when we have a major snowstorm or rain that thunderstorm. You see streets flooded and infrastructure, not capable of withstanding these super storms. And then you trace that back to, you know, the fossil fuel industry and everything around climate. So, you know, I didn’t really get into climate for environmental reasons I got into it because of racial justice issues. But once you get into those spaces, you quickly realize that so many other aspects of our lives are affected by climate. And, you know, that’s a space that I didn’t see too many people of color in my community I occupy. So I took it upon myself to occupy that space and bring more attention to climate issues, environmental issues, and the black community of the Southside of Chicago.
Charles Olsen 4:47
Could you take a moment to highlight some of the work that you did while you worked at the state level and in the House of Representatives before climate policy, just to give us a sense of some of the stuff that you’ve worked on?
Quentin Scott 5:00
Yeah. So a lot of it was as Chief of Staff, we had inside the district is the Port of Chicago. And so we dealt with a lot of dredging issues. And there are a lot of factories along that area that dumped a lot of pollutants, quite honestly, on neighboring homes. So constituents would come into our office and, you know, complain about how, when they wake up in the morning, there’ll be a thin layer of like, soot on their cars, and things of that nature. So I worked closely with the Illinois EPA, to, you know, investigate those claims and to, you know, put stronger standards on our corporate partners and industrial partners in those neighborhoods. So I did a lot of, you know, at the state level, making sure that we’re enforcing policies and writing letters and helping organize hearings and meetings down in Springfield, and make sure that the voices of our constituents were heard. And so really, I just made sure that I made my boss a partner to environmentalists in our neighborhoods.
Charles Olsen 6:15
Thank you. I want to come back later, to your experience in Chicago and the work that you did there. But you’ve talked in the past about the importance of data informed campaigns, and I’m not quite sure what that means. Could you enlighten me a little bit?
Quentin Scott 6:34
Yeah. So data informed means that we are taking the time to use science to help inform the messaging in our strategy, we don’t want data driven campaigns, because then that’s taking it a step too far. And I’ll give you one prime example. In 2016, the data suggested that Hillary Clinton did not need to go to certain Midwest states of Wisconsin, and Michigan, because historically, the data suggested that there was no need for a Democratic presidential candidate to go there. And now we know the results of that 2016 election. But a data informed campaign would suggest that we use resources more wisely. And as we used to always say, it’s about reels, not fields, because sometimes you feel like something is a big issue within the community. But when you really do the data, you realize, oh, only one or two people are impacted by this thing. And we want to make sure that we’re using resources that influence the entire campaign and move voters in the most effective way.
Charles Olsen 7:52
Can you tell me how this applies to the climate work that you’re doing now?
Quentin Scott 7:56
Yeah, absolutely. So I know, taking data and making sure so for example, we’re doing a lot of work in West Virginia. And so with this climate movement, we want to make sure that we’re now doing polling, and we’re doing listening sessions. And we’re gathering up all this data to help inform Joe Manchin and Senator capital of West Virginia, this is what their constituencies want. As well as that gives us a little insight of where we need to do more work. Where do we need to do more education? Where do we need to do more organizing? So we’re gathered up all these different data points, so we can sort of plan out our work and use that those results to ultimately influence those two senators,
Charles Olsen 8:46
You’ve already kind of touched on this in a variety of different ways. But what role do you see yourself filling in the climate movement at large?
Quentin Scott 8:58
So for me, I pride myself on being a team player and versatile. And so not only do I bring sort of this data, analytical perspective to things, but also I have a lot of organizing experience. And so use my diverse background. You know, I see myself as filling in those gaps, where we need somebody to learn a skill or become an expert in a certain area and not do that. For example, with CCAN, we’ve been pushing Biden’s American jobs plan, and part of that there are a lot of jobs coming out of it. And so for CCAN I’ve played this role as a job expert, so in the last six weeks, I have read everything I could get my hands on in terms of how much does will be created for individual states. The White House actually released the report today, breaking down how jobs will how the investments in jobs will go to each of the 50 states and sort of dive into even those numbers, but so it’s for me, I just want to make sure that I’m feeling with ever to spaces needed connecting people to whatever communities that need to be connected to. So I just want to be a versatile advocate and flow between roles and, you know, take on whatever challenges when needed.
Charles Olsen 10:20
Can you tell me a little bit more about your organizing experience? Are there any moments from that work that you’ve done that stand out prominently in your mind?
Quentin Scott 10:32
Yeah, absolutely. One of my first projects I ever worked on was the fight for 15 in Illinois. And so I spent the summer of 2014 going around to communities across the Chicago land area, collecting petition signatures, and asking for small donations to support, you know, raising the minimum wage in Illinois to $15. And I know those were some of the toughest conversations I’ve had at doors with people. But it was also very rewarding to sort of like engage with somebody who was a small business owner, and they are pushing back on, you know, why the $15 minimum wage wasn’t good for their business, and then sort of laying out all the different reasons why it was important, and how it was doable for their small business. And then at the end of that five to 10 minute conversation, they signed the petition in though and donated like $5 to the cause. And so like getting those, it takes some time to get those victories. But those conversations were well worth it. And ultimately, Illinois did pass, you know, raising the minimum wage, and so to see sort of the star on the front end of that fight, and persuade some folks who might not be natural allies to that fight, and then ultimately passed it into the law was something that, you know, I was very proud to sort of be on the ground floor, so to speak, of the 15 fight in Illinois,
Charles Olsen 11:58
From that experience, how, how does that influence the way that you tackle advocacy in your work now?
Quentin Scott 12:05
So I think that that experience taught me, number one, to sort of meet people where they are. And sort of, it’s really important to listen, because the easiest way to turn someone off is to just sort of like blow past their concerns, and not sort of like acknowledge that you hear them. And I acknowledge that that’s a legitimate concern. But there’s also a solution to their problem. I think that’s very important in this in the climate work that we’re doing this year, and right now, is that now where as we make that transition from fossil fuels to renewables, there’s a lot of know coal miners and fossil fuel workers who are getting very concerned about their livelihood changing, and so that it helps me in West Virginia to have a difficult conversation with coal miners, in terms of I have to listen and appreciate where they come from, and understand that, you know, I’m not a coal miner. That’s not my experience. I’m not from West Virginia. And that needs to come in and be respectful of that. And to help move the conversation along and it’s not just one conversation is being patient and having multiple conversations. So I feel like that those are lessons I learned very early on in my advocacy work. And I’ve seen this be successful throughout. And so and what we’re having probably the most important conversation of this century, right now, I’m able to sort of draw on those experiences and be effective.
Charles Olsen 13:34
Well Quentin it sounds to me from what you’ve said that you are a natural bridge builder, between people who need information and you going out of your way to learn everything you can about it and provide it to them. So I’m going to echo the Twitter trend: Quentin Scott, you are infrastructure.
Quentin Scott 13:55
I appreciate that.
Charles Olsen 13:58
I want to hear more about you now. I know you grew up in the south side of Chicago. And I grew up in New York. So naturally, I’m sure this debate is going to be had for for decades, centuries to come, but I got to know pizza man.
Quentin Scott 14:21
Oh, I knew that was coming. Um, I’m gonna be honest. I am not really down for the Brooklyn style slices, you know, folding it up. I’m not for that. But on the flip side, Chicago is known for deep dish, but that’s more of a tourist attraction with anything. Chicagoans don’t eat deep dish as much as the world thinks we do. We’re in between with like, you know, your natural sort of thin crust. We just don’t do the whole folding thing.
Charles Olsen 15:00
Okay, I can respect that. That’s like in New York, there’s a bunch of dollar pizza slices that are all the fake dollar pizza slices. Yeah. Okay. I respect that. Back to a more serious note, you have talked a lot in your bio, about the two Americas in your experience of that. Can you explain what that means and what that means to you?
Quentin Scott 15:31
Yeah. So the two Americas are, you know, acknowledging that we live in the same country, but the systems and institutions that we interact with, treat us vastly different. And you don’t even realize it because your whole life you live in one or the other America. And only in certain moments, do you realize that there’s actually another side to this coin. And I think that college was the place I first realized that to be true. As you said, in my bio, I went to Embry riddle Aeronautical University. The student population is I think, 93%, white. And so you know, all my friends, and my classmates are people who know where I had come from. And so those four years really showed me this the different way, they think the different way that because I spend, like, spring breaks with my roommates, families and different vacations, and it really just showed me just how there’s just different approaches to America. And then, so that was the beginning of that process. And then as I started to venture out more into America and experienced more of the workforce and different other aspects of life, I realized that the Chicago that I grew up on in the south side is not with a lot of people experience. And that there are other options, because so many boats that I grew up with think that this is how things are. And I remember distinctly, my mom is a fourth grade teacher, well she was a fourth grade teacher at this time. And I, when I moved to DC, herself, she was telling her students that I’ve moved out to DC. And so their first reaction was, oh, why did he move out there? Because he got some woman pregnant? And my mom just thought that- that was why would he move somewhere? Because he got someone pregnant? Why couldn’t he have moved to DC because he was doing a job or had opportunity. And that just shows you sort of the mindset of some of the children that come from the south side of Chicago, that everything is that people don’t move from Chicago, because of opportunity, they’ve moved because they’re running from something or running to something, you’re, like I say, running away from something. So that’s just just really sort of highlights sort of, why don’t they think that they had these opportunities in front of them? And I think, quite honestly, that’s a lot of work that we’re doing right now. And I think what environmental justice is, know, providing these opportunities that historically have left communities of color behind that these jobs and opportunities that are going to come with Biden’s plan are jobs and opportunities that historically people communities of color haven’t had don’t think that they are entitled to. And we know and I want to change that narrative. Because that, you know, we are as American as anybody, and we should be able to have access to resources and opportunities. And we don’t have to think that, you know, we aren’t capable of doing these things.
Charles Olsen 18:49
I appreciate you sharing that experience with me. You spent a lot of time working on more local level politics. And I’m just curious about what made you take the jump from the more local politics where you were more into the community to federal big picture work.
Quentin Scott 19:09
When I made the decision to get into policy and organizing work. I honestly didn’t know what that meant and where that started. And so that’s why I was doing a lot of stuff at the local level, because that’s just the only entry point I knew how to get into. So that started with me volunteering for my alderman. And working for things like rainbow push in the Chicago Urban League and places like that. But in my personal life, I always paid attention to what was happening in Washington DC. And so I finally started working for my alderman, who was in I guess it’s okay to say her name now, ultimately Sandy Jackson, and she was the wife of former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. So once I started working for her, I then started making connections to his office. And so after about 10 months working there, you know, I reached out to his office and, you know, inquired: How do I go about, you know, doing more. And because I, you know, it’s one thing to have an impact in your neighborhood where you grew up in, or on the south side of Chicago as a whole. But I started thinking more nationally, like, I want to impact communities in Chicago, and Philadelphia, and Houston and Oakland, and DC. And so how do I do that? The only place I could think of was at the federal level. So that’s why I started asking those questions and plotting out my plan to go to work in Congress. And, you know, in 2012, I ended up there, and that was a great year because of Obama’s re election, there’s a lot going on. And so I got the opportunity to really, you know, work on the appropriation bills and see how the house operating worked and how legislation is passed. And you realize that what they teach us in civics isn’t exactly how it happens in actuality. So, you know, it was a very good experience, and you’d learn, you know, if two things kind of happened, one, I learned the process, and it’s very exciting to pass legislation, and you realize how powerful the Capitol building is, like impacts not just this country, but globally, like it changes the course of like history when they do things right there. But that’s also the depressing part is that when they choose not to pass meaningful legislation, or, you know, it doesn’t get out of one chamber, and it’s just like, we’re wasting years and time, you know, and so, you know, most days you feel really great about the work that you do. And other days, you just feel like, man, like, how do we not do that? And it’s all because maybe one or two senators or whoever it is, and I feel, I think that what I felt in 2012 has gotten worse. And we all sit here in 2021. And we can all see those things. No, the hyper partisanship is at an all time high. And, you know, we’re sitting here debating, should we do something about climate? When we all know we do? Well,
Charles Olsen 22:22
Well, now you’re working on it. And that is, that’s my next question for you. You have been since you jumped in at CCAN working on our first big Federal Campaign. Can you give us the explainer, what are you working on here right now?
Quentin Scott 22:45
Yeah, like I said, at the very beginning, exciting, exciting times at CCAN, we’re doing some big things. And we’re part of some historic legislation or trying to push them to historic legislation. So in short, we are working on a clean electricity standard by 2035. And so the goal is to have 100% renewable energies being the source of our electricity for our country. And so right now, there’s several different policies that get us there. But basically, if we can get 80% by 2030, which is the next 10 years, it puts us on the pathway to get to 100% by 2035. And so we’ve already seen the House of Representatives get on board with this, they introduced the clean future act last month that has 100% 2035 standard. And then last week, Biden and his American jobs plan also announced the same standard of 20 100% by 2035. So we have the house, we have the White House, now we’re working on the Senate. But to get it passed, Biden has attached a lot of investment to it. And that’s actually the key to it. Having a standard alone does not get us to 100% by 2035. Having investments in tax credits doesn’t get us there either. We have to have both the standard and the aggressive investments to get us there. And Biden has promised $400 billion in direct investment for renewables, and then another 100 million to upgrade our electric grid soakin. We can connect all of the solar and wind generation to the grid that we have also include battery storage. So we’re talking about millions of jobs to do all this work over the next few years. next decade, I should say. So it’s exciting times and a lot of money. And so we look forward to helping carry that war for Biden.
Charles Olsen 24:57
So it’s a pretty big deal for the climate.
Quentin Scott 25:00
Yeah, pretty big deal. A little bit like $1 trillion, big deal at the end. And when it’s all said and done, it’s gonna be about a trillion dollars spit.
Charles Olsen 25:10
So most people, when they hear that that’s, that’s a pretty big number to them. But I know from conversations that you and I have had, and from our previous episode where we had the economist Stephanie Kelton, for our first federal webinar, we learned that a trillion dollars for the US federal government, isn’t that big of a deal. Can you kind of explain that for our listeners?
Quentin Scott 25:37
Yeah. So I think this kind of goes against conventional wisdom of what we’ve been talking about econ 101. But we have to remember that the federal government’s budget does not work, like your budget that you make for the grocery store, and all of that, because the US government is his own sovereign nation with his own currency, they can essentially print as much money as they want. Now, you have to kind of worry a little bit about inflation. But particularly in this moment, the argument is that this money would not give, it would not create inflation, because it’s not necessarily printing more money than we need. It’s just replacing and allocating resources to places they’re already gaps. And the thing is, we’ve already done this, and there was no inflation. We all know about the bank bailout that was just under a trillion. And there was no inflation after that. And, matter of fact, we had, like, record high growth in the economy. So it has been done in the past. We know that we can do it again, especially since it is replacing money, not necessarily just overflowing the economy with new dollars. So I think that, you know, I suggest everybody check out Stephanie Kelton. She’s way better at explaining it as one of the foremost economists in the world. So check it out. Stephanie, Dr. Stephanie Kelton, or our webinar where she can go into more detail about it, but we do have the money, and we should spend it.
Charles Olsen 27:24
So this is a pretty big investment. You started talking about the jobs, can you tell me a little bit more about the impact that CES will have on people across the country?
Quentin Scott 27:37
Yeah, so it creates jobs, simply because there are a lot of technological advances we need to make in order to make this a reality. So we need to build batteries that could store all of this energy that we’re going to be creating, we need solar panels installed, we need windmills installed, we need to just upgrade the grid which generally hasn’t been upgraded since the 1950s. So there are a lot of ways to plug in jobs. Because right now, China and Europe are leaders in all of these areas. And we have like one battery factory in the whole country. So we obviously need more. And there are a lot of rare metals that go into batteries and solar panels that we have to bring in from other countries. But we have those resources right here. And we don’t have any Korean mines that mined for these rare metals. And so they’re mining jobs, they are battery building jobs or installation jobs. They’re like, like Biden’s plan suggests there are millions of jobs that need to be created just first to catch up to what the rest of the world is already doing not to take a leadership role, but just to catch up. So we need to make that investment because otherwise 15 years from now, when we have no choice but to make these changes, we’re going to be so far behind that we won’t even dictate how those industries play out.
Charles Olsen 29:10
How can people listening get involved and help us get a CES pass this year?
Quentin Scott 29:17
Yeah, so you heard me mentioned that the house is on board. Now that White House on board. We are lacking some support in the Senate. There’s about 45 senators who we feel confident are going to vote for this, but we need to get to 50. So we need to put pressure on the Senate to pass this reconciliation. Sure. That’s some words that if you don’t know what it means, at least you’ve probably heard it because reconciliation seems to be the only way we can pass things in the senate these days. In short, the reconciliation is sort of the workaround to the filibuster is a special budgetary instruction where you only need to get to 51 votes. To pass anything through, but it can only focus on budgetary and taxes. And so we can do a lot of the budgetary investments to see reconciliation. But that still means we need every democrat in the 50/50 Senate to vote for it, including Joe Manchin in West Virginia, including Cinema in Arizona. And so those are two standouts that we want to make sure that we’re putting pressure on them. And to be honest, put pressure on all the other rank and file democratic senators, because the best way to influence other senators is to get their colleagues to influence them. So we want to make sure that we reach support, and Tina Smith, who’s leading this CES fight in the Senate, we want to support her and keep reminding her that she has our support back here in the States. So she can when she’s engaging in those difficult conversations with Manchin, she doesn’t necessarily have to give that much back, as we were actually having a conversation in an earlier meeting, that in order to pass this $2.2 trillion bill, at some point, the administration is going to have to give 10% of the bill back to Republicans. But we want to make sure that the 10% that they give back, it’s not the clean electricity standard. So we want to make sure that we put pressure on all the senators that they hold the line on 100% see as by 2035. So yeah, reach out to your Senate.
Charles Olsen 31:32
Great. And we’ll include links in the show notes, of course, to ways for people to do that. Great. And I have one last question for you. Before I let you go today. And this one has been burning, since I started prepping for this episode. In your bio, you said that you love to play strategy board games. And so do I. Okay, what’s your favorite board? game?
Quentin Scott 31:57
Risk is definitely at the top. Oh, we got to play. Okay, you look like a risk guy. We definitely like risk. Very much. So yeah, yeah. And then sort of like equal to that. Have you ever played Go?
No, I haven’t.
Go is basically a strategy game, a Chinese strategy game, it’s about how to occupy the most space with the fewest amount of stones. And so it’s a lot of complicated sort of placement and how to like defeat your opponent. But it’s, it’s similar in some ways to chess, and which is another one of my favorite board games. So just go and risk. Any of those I’m down to play,
Charles Olsen 32:44
we’re gonna have to play, you’re gonna have to show me how to play go. Is there any wisdom from that game that you take into your work? You know, how to take up the space?
Quentin Scott 32:55
Absolutely. I think it helps really, with planning out your work, right? So you want to because we have a finite amount of time that day to get anything done. So it’s like, how do you plan out your work? And where are you going to place your piece on the board? So what am I going to do every day, that’s going to lead to me dominating this board. Because ultimately, you want to dominate the climate space. So in using the least amount of time possible, so I think go is a really good way of developing the sort of priority skills that you need.
Charles Olsen 33:29
Awesome. Well, Quintin, thank you so much for talking with me. I’m super grateful that you’ve shared your experience, and I’m really excited to continue all the federal work.
Quentin Scott 33:41
Charlie, thanks for having me. It’s an awesome time and I look forward to coming back here.
Charles Olsen 34:00
Thanks for listening to Upside Down. This podcast is produced by me, Charlie Olsen, with incredible support from the entire CCAN staff. Check out the show notes for links to all the things discussed in this episode. If you want to know more about how you can get involved with seeking in the climate fight, check out our website at Chesapeake climate.org. If you want to get in touch with us, follow us on instagram and twitter @CCAN. And if you enjoy the work we do, why don’t you share us with your friends. Sharing the show is a super easy way to help spread the word about the work we’re doing in the fight of bold climate actions. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next time.