Ever wonder how a country where most people support abortion access keeps passing such ugly abortion bans? Renee and Regina have answers! And they promise to talk about gerrymandering without putting you to sleep. In this episode, they explain the link between voter suppression, racism and abortion bans—and then LaTosha Brown of Black Voters Matter joins us to explain what’s really happening across the country, and what we can all do about it.  Plus, in There Are Other Books, we’re reading Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl González.

LaTosha Brown: This whole notion of, “Well, if you didn’t vote in the last two elections, then we’re just going to purge you from the vote.” That’s like telling someone, “If you don’t drive your car, we’re going to take away your driver’s license.” Where they do that at? Where does that happen? Do we take gun licenses because people don’t shoot?

Renee Bracey Sherman: Hello and welcome to The A Files, a secret history of abortion. I’m Renee Bracey Sherman.

Regina Mahone: And I’m Regina Mahone. Renee and I are friends who talk about abortion.

RBS: A lot, and today we’re pivoting from all abortion all of the time and moving to why we have to talk about all abortion all of the time.

RM: Okay, but where do we begin?

RBS: So, often I share the data point that 80% of the country supports abortion access, right? And people are like, “What? That doesn’t make any sense. Why don’t we have access?” And the reason is twofold. One, I remind them that we’re told it’s a touchy subject that we can’t agree on, even though we are agreed. The reason number two is because of gerrymandering.

RM: Ah, yes. Good old gerrymandering. Want to tell the audience what that is?

RBS: Yes. Gerrymandering is what it’s called when our political system is absolutely fucked six ways from Sunday. Make sense?

RM: Seriously, what is it?

RBS: Whatever. That was clear, but fine. Okay, so it’s this way in which voting districts are redrawn or broken up to favor one political party over the other. That’s how politics seem to get redder and redder, more conservative, right? But the nation itself and pop culture get more and more liberal. They break up districts, packing, and cracking, which means they pack one type of voter, let’s just say Black voters into one district, so they get one vote in Congress rather than allowing them into multiple districts, which could create competitive races overall. Cracking is where they break up districts with, let’s just say a lot of voters of color, and move them into other districts, so they’re now dispersed among conservative voters, diluting their vote.

RM: But wait, let’s also talk about how gerrymandering relates to voter suppression because I think a lot of people hear these terms but aren’t always clear on how they’re connected. Although gerrymandering is a form of voter suppression, voter suppression is the umbrella, so to speak. And gerrymandering is one spoke of that umbrella. Or as our guest, LaTosha Brown will later describe it, a three-legged stool. Gerrymandering is a form of voter suppression like voter ID laws, or the disenfranchisement of incarcerated people, or formerly incarcerated people who can’t vote. Or, Renee, did you know, even the days when elections are held is a form of voter suppression?

RBS: Okay, actually that does make sense because Tuesday is the most random day of the week.

RM: So random. And not to mention we don’t even get that Tuesday off from work, but that, of course, is by design. Not to mention just the emphasis on presidential elections over state and local elections, but we get into that in even more detail in our conversation with LaTosha. So let me get back on track here. The point is that conservative politicians want to make it as difficult as possible for people to exercise the right to vote. That’s what voter suppression is all about.

RBS: So Regina, to get specific, do you remember in the early 2010s, when all of a sudden there were a ton of abortion restrictions popping up all across the country? It was like state by state, it seemed unending.

RM: Yeah. How can I forget?

RBS: Well, that didn’t just happen. It happened because gerrymandering happened. After President Obama was elected, Tea Party conservatives worked out a strategy to take control of the state houses during the midterms, specifically with an aim of redrawing the districts in their states after the 2010 census. They did it, which enabled the state legislatures to pass these really extreme laws, even when the majority of people in those states didn’t agree with them. And some of the very first laws they passed were abortion restrictions. But one really frustrating thing is that the mainstream pro-choice movement didn’t always understand how much voting rights and abortion rights were connected. When I was a baby in the movement, I remember the way that Planned Parenthood and larger abortion organizations reacted to Mississippi having both abortion rights and voters rights measures on the ballot. Do you remember that?

RM: Yeah. In general, the pro-choice movement has a terrible track record when it comes to holding both the need for abortion rights and voting rights at the same time. But this election in 2011 comes up a lot, because the pro-choice activists did more harm than good. In the end, the personhood ballot measure was defeated, and national reproductive rights groups celebrated that win, calling it a huge victory for the movement. But dear listener, remember they didn’t do the same organizing against the voter ID law that was also on the ballot. And guess what happened? That measure was approved, which was a huge blow to voters in the state who are already disenfranchised. And it was the reproductive justice folks who had to remind the pro-choice activists that a total victory in this election was not for the people of Mississippi.

RBS: This is just another reminder of why we need reproductive justice, because it’s about our whole lives.

RM: Exactly. A reproductive justice lens also creates this space for everyone who’s been disenfranchised, like people who are criminalized. And surprise, it’s Black and Brown people. According to the sentencing project, around 4.6 million people with felony convictions cannot vote in this country. And it’s no surprise that this country has set up a system in which Black folks are heavily criminalized, given they also make up the core of the Democratic Party.

RBS: 4.6 million. That’s more votes than Trump, I guess, won the election by. My goodness.

RM: Lots of air quotes there, but yes, exactly. Other folks who are disenfranchised at the ballot box include the millions of people who physically cannot access voting booths or polls. LaTosha gets into this in our interview, but the Republican Party has been intentional about reducing the number of ballot drop-off boxes. If you don’t have access to a car or other transportation to get to the closest box, you’re not able to exercise your fundamental rate as a US citizen.

RBS: It sounds like the abortion playbook. If you can’t get to a clinic, you can’t get the abortion. Wow. The similarities are wild.

RM: And one last affected population I’ll mention before we turn to our interview, is survivors of abuse. Kylie Cheung writes about this in her latest book, Survivor Injustice, and specifically how abusers can directly block survivors from voting by preventing them from leaving the house or gaining political information that would inform their voting decisions. And with cuts to domestic violence services, which is a policy decision, they’re being directly affected by voter suppression. In our society, we don’t talk enough about the interconnectedness of these issues, but they are connected, and it’s all designed to keep folks who are in power, in power, and make our country’s leaders look less like the folks who are actually in our communities.

RBS: Yeah, I’ve been on panels with Chase Strangio, who talks about this intersection a lot. He talks about how a lot of white gays were super excited when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage but didn’t pay attention to Shelby v. Holder, the case that stuck down voting rights and fucked us to where we are right now. It was the same week. This is why we have to have an intersectional approach to this issue because the exact same people are attacking our rights from different angles.

RM: One person who really understands the importance of approaching voting rights intersectionally is our guest, LaTosha Brown. LaTosha is the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, which was instrumental in securing progressive wins in big Senate races like Alabama’s in 2017 and Georgia’s in 2020 and 2021. She’s also a jazz singer, and you’re going to find out right now about that.

LaTosha Brown: (singing) My name is LaTosha Brown. I am an activist and freedom fighter, and I am co-founder of an organization called Black Voters Matter. I started with a freedom song called Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, because I’m a native of Selma, Alabama. And it is in Selma, Alabama that is known for being the birthplace of the voting rights movement. And so I grew up in a small town that was very instrumental in protecting democracy and being the cornerstone for the voting rights movement. And that’s had a major, major impact and influence on the shaping of my life. And now a core part of what I do is I fight for voting rights.

RM: We are so, so thankful for you being with us. When we knew we were going to do an episode about gerrymandering, about voter suppression, we knew we wanted to talk to you, so we just appreciate it so much that you’re here. To give our audience some background, one of the things that was key to destroying Roe was the decade-long strategy of passing laws restricting abortion access and voting rights across the country, which really came to a head during the Tea Party backlash to Obama’s presidency. Elected officials affiliated with the Tea Party took over state houses, and then rewrote legislative districts, gerrymandering our nation all to hell. So could you just walk us through what gerrymandering is, what happened, how we got here?

LaTosha Brown: Gerrymandering has been a tool for those who have been empowered to draw congressional districts, to draw voting districts in such a way that they have an unfair advantage. We saw that, a most recent example of that, I think is from my home state of Alabama. For years in the state of Alabama, there’s only been one competitive district for African-Americans to be able to send someone to Congress. Now, the significance of that is 25%, 26% of the population and Alabama are African-Americans. So it has a sizable Black population, but the districts have been drawn in such a way that it’s almost impossible for Black voters to have a significant impact other than in the 7th Congressional District.

And they drew districts, intentionally gerrymandered districts in such a way to prevent there from being a second competitive district for African-Americans to actually have a sizable influence and voting block in that district. And so that particular case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Now, just gather this, we have one of the most conservative supreme courts in modern history as it relates to not just some of the political issues we’ve been seeing, but particularly been voting rights. This has not been a court that has been friendly to voting rights, right?

RM: Right.

LaTosha Brown: And so it was so egregious with what the Alabama Republican-led legislature had done, the US Supreme Court said, “You all have lost your mind. Go back and draw the district. This is blatant racism. You really got to go back and draw districts.” And it went back to the state of Alabama. They redrew the districts in pretty much the same way. And so now it has actually gone a step further and the DOJ got involved. And there is likely to be a special master, someone, a third party to come in to really draw the district, because the elected officials in that state refuse, even under an order from the highest court in the land, refuse to draw a district in such a way that would make it competitive for African-American voters. So when you think about political gerrymandering, that has been a tool that has been used quite frankly by political parties, and not just Republican parties.

RM: Right.

LaTosha Brown: It has been used by the Democratic Party to give their party, their candidates, or who they deem should be the voters, an unfair advantage by drawing a district in such a way that it dilutes the power of particular voting blocks.

RM: Right. And so we’re talking about gerrymandering, which of course is a problem unto itself, but it is also one form of voter suppression. For the listeners, can you just give a brief rundown of other forms of voter suppression?

LaTosha Brown: I always say that voter suppression is like a three-legged stool. There’s always been the legalization of some policy to undermine, dilute, or marginalize voters. Let’s not forget we’re in a country that the enslavement of human beings used to be legal. There’s always been this vehicle around using the law and policy to be able to create barriers to make it very difficult for people to vote. Some of the examples of that is right after the Georgia 2021 election, people know that in the last few years, Georgia has basically shocked the nation.

A state that has been traditionally a very red, very Republican state, in the 2020 presidential election actually was flipped and went from Republican to a Democrat state where President Biden won. That was a significant difference. And part of that resulted in communities of color and young people, people who normally had been marginalized and pushed out the process, there had been a lot of work done on the ground, what I call by third real groups, groups that actually are democracy groups that are not tied to any political party, and their interest is making sure that we have democracy for communities of color.

And that particular race, what we saw is this major influx of new voters in the process. Right after that, it was a special US Senate race, which was a highly, highly contested race in the state of Georgia, one of the most expensive races ever in the history of this country. That particular race, you saw people do it again. They came back out, and that seat that had traditionally been held by a Republican was flipped to a Democratic seat, two Senate seats, which was an enormous feat. And as a result, what we saw, and we see this politically in this country, every time there has been a progressive movement forward, there’s always been a backlash.

Every time there’s been Black progress, there’s always been white backlash that is historic. And this is not atypical to what happens in America history, that ultimately, immediately, after the 2021 election, what we saw was legislation to come up, a bill in Georgia called SB 202. And essentially what that bill basically did, is it sought to discourage, to create barriers, to make it more difficult for people to vote by eliminating drop boxes. Now, instead of having the number of drop boxes where people in rural areas, folks with disabilities, people who may not work conventional hours, that instead of being able to mail to vote, have the access to mail-in ballots, that now they have the drop boxes where they’ve actually moved them in buildings. So if the buildings are closed and you don’t get access to it, which it, one, restricts access, they cut the boxes down until I think you only have a box of every 100,000 voters. So they cut down the capacity for people to have access.

In addition to that, what you also saw is a full-fledged attack on organizations that had been helping people to vote with this SB 202 bill. They made it a felony, a felony offense for organizations such as mine and other nonprofits, that what we had done to really be able to offset that, there were so many restrictions and barriers that have been created for people to vote, where they would go, and they would show up, and their name wasn’t on the roll, or their precinct had been moved, or they had combined the precinct. So instead of there being, where there had been 10 precincts, now there were five, which means that now you’ve got crowds.

I need folks to understand. People were waiting in line as long as 12 hours in Georgia to vote. That’s just how egregious and bad it is. What we would do in other organizations, we would provide water, we would bring chairs so that the elderly, or those who were tired, or those who may have had a disability could actually have a seat. We would provide pizzas and provide food for people standing in line, because we didn’t want people to leave. We were not encouraging them to vote for a particular candidate. It was simply to be able to make the pain a little bit more palatable, because it’s actually ridiculous. And so this bill basically sought to criminalize and make it a felony for someone like me to be able to give a bottle of water to someone who may be standing in line for hours. Those are some of the things that we saw as barriers.

The second leg in this voter suppression stool has been around fear, to create an environment of fear that would discourage people from participating. There’s always been a strategy to put fear in those, fear in people, for them not to participate. I’ve seen things like flyers go out to say that, “If you show up to the polls, we’re going to arrest you.” It’s not true, but the whole notion is to use fear as a tactic.

And then the third piece falls in what I said initially around weaponizing the administrative process, that the laws that are currently already on the board to use those and distort those in such a way that it also creates a barrier. An example of that would be in the state of Georgia, where even currently, as we speak, there are 125,000 thousand voters that are going to be purged from the voting rolls. This whole notion of, “Well, if you didn’t vote in the last two elections, then we’re just going to purge you from the vote.” That’s like telling someone, “If you don’t drive your car, we’re going to take away your driver’s license.” Where they do that at? Where does that happen? Do we take gun licenses because people don’t shoot, that they don’t hunt? At the end of the day, it’s another strategy and another barrier to make it that much more difficult for people to participate in the process. So those are the three core ways that we see voter suppression plays itself out in this nation.

RM: There’s so much emphasis put on presidential elections, but from my understanding, a lot of the changes that happen around gerrymandering are at the state level, local level, and specifically on these off-year elections, who’s getting elected, and the primaries, all the elections that we’re kind of convinced not to pay attention to. So could you talk a little, because again, there’s so much focus on the presidential election, which of course is important, but a lot of other stuff happens in all of these other elections.

LaTosha Brown: That’s a wonderful statement that you raised, a wonderful issue that you raised, because I do think that that is the biggest misconception, that whenever you take, I remember my first year in college, my first poli sci 101 class, the first thing they teach you, all politics are local. But we operate as if that’s not true, when in fact that is very, very true, that what we see is a lot of these national fights, that the seeds of those fights start on the local level. And oftentimes the people who can actually do more about, in terms of policy or create the most harmful policy, are the ones that are closer from the local level, and the state level, and the federal level.

And so that’s why I always frame, “When do you not need your paycheck? If you’re a worker, when do you not need your paycheck? Do you not need your paycheck because the first of the month, do you not need your paycheck because there’s the end of the month?” Okay. You might argue that, well, there’s some times that I’ve got to pay my bills, but I need my paycheck. I don’t know about everybody else, but I need my paycheck all the time. I need money all the time. There’s not any time that I don’t need money. There are times I get money and leaner times than others. My point being, when do we not need power?

RM: Right.

LaTosha Brown: Do we only need power every four years when there’s a presidential election? When do we not need protection and policies that protect us every four years? The truth of the matter is we have to really look at elections not just at being an end in itself, elections are a means to an end, that I, as a human being and as a taxpayer, as a mother, as a grandmother, as a family member, I have responsibilities.

And anytime that there are policies that are passed that impact me and my family, I should be a part of that process. Because when I pay more taxes, that’s more money that comes out of the mouths of my family, when I actually don’t have access to the best schools, and the schools in my neighborhoods are not funded, that means that my grandchild or my niece cannot get quality education. When I don’t have healthcare, or when my family, or when my aunt can’t get Medicaid, that means that she is not going to get the kind of care, that she cannot literally afford her insulin or the medicine that she needs. We need power on the local level, on the state level, and the federal level. There is never a point in time in any election that we can allow our power not to be centered.

RBS: You’ve described state laws criminalizing abortion in the South as not just a tax against reproductive rights, but a tax against democracy. To you, what role do voting rights play in the broader struggle for reproductive justice?

LaTosha Brown: When you take a poll, the polls now say that in terms of Americans across the board, regardless of religious ideology or affiliation, that 72 to 74% of Americans actually believe that abortion should be a right. And so how is it that you have almost 75% of the population, the overwhelming vast majority of people are saying that this should be a fundamental protected right? And we’re in a time where abortion, quite frankly in many of the states, is illegal, and that there’s federal statute that supports that. That happens when we’re not engaged. When you don’t have a robust democracy where people may feel a certain thing but they don’t have the power or don’t utilize the power to change it, this is how we get to this point. We have gotten to this point around this attack on abortion.

And let me say this because it’s much greater than we put it in the framework of attack on abortion. But who really has the right to tell any single person, and particularly, this country got a lot of nerves to tell Black women or women in general what to do with their bodies. How dare you. But what to do and what decisions you can make about your body. That’s just a fundamental human right. And we have to recognize it and see it as such. And there are those who have actually been very manipulative and exploitative of attaching this issue to something other than what it really is, which is quite frankly, a person’s right to have authority and autonomy over their body.

And so what we see, though, is we’re seeing, we’re in this battle because voter suppression has had an accumulative effect in our communities. Voter suppression in those three ways that I talked about, the intimidation and the fear, the weaponizing of the administrative process, and the legalizing of barriers to make it more difficult, it has had an accumulative effect, that half the population in this nation are not voting, which means that you have a substantial part of the population that we’re not literally creating policies that are shaped by their voices or by their values. But the bottom line is literally the fundamental idea that a person should have authority and autonomy over their body and be able to have the full right and faculty to make those decisions about their particular body. The overwhelming vast majority of people in this country actually agree with that. Yet, here we find ourselves here, not just because I would love to say, “Blame it on the boogeyman.” I would love to say, “Yes, it has been the Republicans” and they have.

RM: Right.

LaTosha Brown: On the policy front, yes, they are solely responsible. This falls into their lap. But they’re not the only ones responsible for this. We’re sharing some of the responsibility because we’ve not showed up, and we’ve not demanded power, we’ve not organized ourselves, and we’re not utilizing the fullness of our power as citizens in this nation to say, “You cannot continue to pass public policy that does not look out for the interest of the people. And so we find ourselves at this moment because we have not been good stewards of being democratic participants, and we are literally funding a system that we are actually supporting to hold them accountable.

RM: A while ago you wrote an article for Rewire News Group, where you argued that mobilizing Black voters, “Wasn’t about helping the Democrats gain more power, but it was about Black voters sending a strong and clear message to America that we know our collective power.” What do you mean by, “Our collective power?” How can we continue to harness it, stay hopeful in the times that we’re in?

LaTosha Brown: Not a single aspect of our lives is not impacted by policy, public policy, nothing. If you have a family member die, in order to collect the insurance, you’ve got to have a death certificate. That is regulated, that is a public policy that created that process, to be able to collect social security when you retire, that’s a public policy process. To be able to actually get your employer to pay you minimum wage or whatever, the agreed upon contract, that’s a public policy issue. To make sure that you are not discriminated against or to be able to bring a lawsuit to those who have discriminated against your business, that comes from public policy. My point being everything around you is regulated from your lights, to your utilities, to the gas you put in your car. Everything is actually regulated.

And so my philosophy is real simple. If there is anything that is going to impact me and those that I love, I need to be a part of that process. I’m the first to tell you that I don’t think that voting is the end all, going to be all. I’m the first to tell you that I don’t think that voting’s going to solve every problem we have. What I do know is I do know that not voting can put people in place, make an impact collectively, where we vote as a voting block and put people in office that, if no other reason, to reduce, to stop, or to slow down the harm happening to your communities.

You don’t get everything you want and a bag of chips, at the very least, we also have to employ what I think is a harm reduction strategy, and I also think it’s a strategy to send a strong message when people are operating against your community, that when people operate against your community, you have to use that power as a voting block to move them out the way. They’ve got to go. That there has to be consequences when people are not being accountable to community or they’re doing that are harmful to our communities.

RBS: In every episode, we’re asking our guests to give a call to action to our listeners. So what resource do you think people listening to this podcast should absolutely check out or contribute to?

LaTosha Brown: My call to action is please come join us and join our movement, You can go to our website, We have campaigns throughout the year. We’re getting ready to launch a big campaign for 2024, and we need volunteers. If you can contribute $5 or resources, you could buy cool t-shirts, because we got cool t-shirts and cool swag, or come and roll with us. We have the Blackest Bus in America that we ride around throughout the country, spreading love and building power. And so there are three quick things I would say. Please join us and support our work and our movement, you can go to our website, you can go to our social media, you can follow me on social media, Ms. LaTosha Brown, M-S-L-A-T-O-S-H-A Brown, and really be able to lift up this work, because it makes a difference when we’re able to lift up this work.

The second thing is find a political home. If you do not have a political home, you need a political home, whatever organization that is. It can be the ACLU, it can be a civic group, it could be a local group. But unfortunately, right now, I meet too many people that, when I’m talking to them, they sound like only the CNN or the Fox headlines because they’re getting all their political ideology in their political position from mainstream media, who has a different kind of interest necessarily than you, may have a different interest than you. And so I think it’s really important that you put yourselves in this era, with what we’re experiencing with the political division, with the just extreme racism and the polarization that is happening, it is really important that you join or you become a part of some organization that can help feed you information to help shape your political ideology from a place that aligns with your values.

The third thing that I’ll say is real simple. I’m going to need you to vote. I deputize you a voting ambassador. You should see yourself as responsible of at least five other people, of getting them to vote, whether that’s getting them registered or just simply making sure that you call and you get them to vote when an election is coming up, that we have to really see that we are our own communications and information networks, and we can’t just depend on the media, which has a different kind of incentive of what information they’re giving us. And so that would be my call to action. It is time to work. Let’s get in. We got to fight, we got to fight back.

And what gives me hope is that we’re at this period that I really believe that part of the political tension that we’re experiencing, part of the attacks that we’re experiencing is because we’re winning. That what you’re seeing right now, you are starting to see a more representative and reflective democracy. You’re seeing more women in Congress that have ever been in Congress before. You’re starting to see people of color be in public office. You’re starting to see younger people actually go to Congress at every level of government. We have an America that is younger, that’s more diverse, that’s actually more progressive. And there are people in this nation that are afraid of that and doing everything they can to try to suppress that. And so I would just say rise up, mighty people, rise up.

RM: Thank you so, so much.

LaTosha Brown: Thank you.

RM: I knew LaTosha was an amazing singer, so I was hoping she’d sing, and when she did right out of the gate, I was just so excited.

RBS: Yeah, she is just amazing. Her voice is angelic. She’s truly an amazing organizing force when it comes to getting people out to vote. And so I’m so glad that we were able to have her on the podcast today.

RM: Yeah. And I really liked what she had to say about how we always need power and how it’s not enough to just be reacting to all of the bad policies coming from the right. We really do need to be actively organizing even when it’s not an emergency. Anyway, I think it’s time to move on to our last segment, There are Other Books. Renee, do you want to introduce this segment?

RBS: So There are Other Books is our segment where we take some time to talk about another book, any, any, any other book that includes an abortion but is not The Handmaid’s Tale, because we’re really tired of hearing about The Handmaid’s Tale, and also there isn’t an abortion in it, so we want to talk about books that have abortions and protagonists of color, too. So what’s our choice this week, Regina?

RM: We are talking about Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez, which was published in 2022.

RBS: I love this book.

RM: The book mentions abortion a couple of times, and while only briefly, you and I have talked about how it’s just incredibly impactful, but we wanted to talk about it in the context of gerrymandering in particular, because the book really impacts the colonization of Puerto Rico, and how it’s rooted in capitalism, and also the way Puerto Ricans are fighting back against these systems of oppression. So the main character of the book, Olga, she’s a 40-something wedding planner with ultra-wealthy clients. Her brother Prieto is an elected official, first a city councilman, then a congressman. They’re the children of parents who met as organizers with the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican revolutionary group in New York similar to the Black Panthers.

Their father died from AIDS. Their mother left them at a young age with their aunt to play a major role in the revolution in Puerto Rico. And so there’s a lot of parenting themes and dynamics that are happening in the book. But the abortion comes up when Olga mentions supporting her brother, who’s going through his own reproductive healthcare crisis, and she mentions how she just wants to be there for him in the same way that he was there for her and her abortion. And I really love that community care aspect of it, again, because it was such a small part of the book, but it had such an impact, I think, for people to see there are ways you can show up for people who have abortions, and that’s one of them. What did you think of the book overall, Renee?

RBS: I really loved this book. I could not put it down once I started reading it. I learned so much about how Congress today and in decades prior has really had a control on Puerto Rico, and how them not being able to have a clear representation in Congress, and clear voting rights, and all of that in the continental US because their colonization status impacts their ability to rebuild, but also to have a free Puerto Rico. Do you want to talk a little bit about that from the book?

RM: Yeah, so those issues are really explored in the context of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island. And because of the way the United States others Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, the response to the disaster wasn’t like it is or can be in other states when disasters strike. Puerto Ricans, also, as you mentioned, don’t have full representation in Congress, despite being citizens, and that is another form of voter suppression, right?

RBS: Yeah. I truly came away from this book just loving the story of what Olga went through and just how disaster capitalism, and white supremacy, and voter suppression and colonization are all interlocked in one, and the author just does such a great job.

RM: Yeah, disaster capitalism happens all of the time. It’s often when, for example, what we saw during COVID, corporations are raising the cost of basic services, things like fuel, housing, and they’re also seeing record profits. So it’s not like they have to do those things, but they’re doing it because people are vulnerable and they’re taking advantage of them. It’s disgusting. And the author, Xochitl Gonzalez does such an incredible job of just weaving all of these threads together in a book that is not Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and includes an abortion.

RBS: It is not. One thing just for readers to note, just a trigger warning, there is a rape scene and a discussion of rape towards the end of the book. Personally, I don’t think it was actually necessary, and I know a couple of my friends didn’t think either, but just so folks know that that is in the book. But otherwise, it is a fantastic book and we hope everyone reads it. Well. that’s it for this week’s podcast.

RM: Our next episode will be the last one of the series.

RBS: Boo.

RM: Time flies when you remote record a podcast with your friend.

RBS: As always, links to any articles or books you mentioned today will be in the show notes and on our website at

RM: Thanks for listening.

RBS: Say, “Abortion.”

RM: Vote. Bye.

RBS: The A Files is produced for The Meteor by LWC Studios. Our hosts are me, Renee Bracey Sherman, and Regina Mahone. Our executive producers at The Meteor are me, Renee Bracey Sherman, and Regina Mahone, Cindi Leive, and Tara Abrahams. At LWC Studios, our executive producer is Juleyka Lantigua, Paulina Velasco is our managing producer, and our producer is Anne Lim. Kojin Tashiro is our sound designer and engineer.

RM: This podcast is produced with support from The Meteor Fund, The Meteor’s non-profit initiative. Additional thanks to Pop Culture Collaborative for their support. You can subscribe to The A Files wherever you get your podcasts. And please take a second to rate us five stars, please, and leave us a review. It would mean a lot.

RBS: For links to any resources mentioned in this episode or for more information, visit our website at You can follow us on social media, @rbraceysherman on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter and @reneebraceysherman on Instagram for me. For Regina, she’s @byreginamahone on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter and Instagram. And you can follow The Meteor, @themeteor on all platforms. Thanks for listening. Thanks for saying the word abortion. And remember, everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion.


Bracey Sherman, Renee, and Mahone, Regina, host. “Voting Rights, Gerrymandering, and Fixing Our Politics .” The A Files, The Meteor and Lantigua Williams & Co., February 14, 2024.