Pete Buttigieg on Equitable and Empathetic Transportation – SXSW 2021 Keynote [Video]

Once the Democratic presidential candidate from South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg is now the 19th U.S. Secretary of Transportation. He sat down with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jonathan Capehart for a Keynote conversation to animate the future of transportation during SXSW Online 2021.

Buttigieg begins by sharing his story of being not only the youngest Cabinet secretary but also the first openly LGBTQ+ Cabinet member in U.S. history, illustrating how many glass ceilings are left to be broken. The conversation delves into the importance of getting people to vaccine sites during Covid-19, the emergence of what Buttigieg calls a "transportation decade," and then lands at the heart of his Keynote: how to create and build a more equitable transportation experience for America.

"I think we’re close to the beginning of what I’m going to call 'infrastructure season' and if we do it right this is going to be an infrastructure decade."

With an important reminder that "good intentions won’t be enough," Buttigieg defines his transportation plan, striking with practicality and confidence:

  • Fix and improve what we’ve already got.
  • Prepare for our climate future.
  • Understand that a better transportation system includes equity.
  • Compete globally to be cleaner, greener, and safer.
  • Sounds good, Mayor Pete! But what does an equitable transportation system really look like? He emphasizes that communities who have been cut out due to the building of highways, or the lack thereof, need to be reprioritized. Building up a business labor base that reflects the community living where transportation projects are happening will be key.

    "We need to do a better job of counting up who wins and who loses when a transportation decision is made."

    To make this a reality, the people making plans must exhibit empathy. Buttigieg brings it home with a call to action, reminding us that "anything good comes out of our ability to identify with the interests of others." And the best way to understand others is to interact within shared spaces, likely on a train, bus, or sidewalk.

    He prompts us to consider how empathy is not stirred by data or by proving that you’re right and somebody else is wrong. Empathy is aroused through stories, finding ways to see one another, and by creating shared experiences.

    "Everybody that’s moving has a story of why they're moving."

    The dream is to make people’s daily journeys to work, school or home that they will repeat thousands of times in their lives better and more whole even in the smallest of ways.

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    By Hailey Hess