'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, December 7th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
December 7, 2013
Guest: Khalil Muhammad, Marcus Mabry, Marc Morial, Amy Goodman, Joel Berg,
Avik Roy, Phillip Agnew, Otis Moss, Mark Quarterman
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, my question -- are
Republicans in denial about the country`s growing inequality?
Plus, job numbers shoot up dramatically. But so too the demands for
a living wage.
And a tactical shift in the ongoing fight for immigration reform.
But first, understanding the intricacies, impact, and importance of
President Nelson Mandela.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: I pledge to use all
my strength and ability to live up to expectations.
We are going forward. Our march is freedom is irrevocable. We must
not allow fear to stand in our way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. And the world lost
one of its greatest leaders and the agents of social change with the
passing of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95 on Thursday. Madiba, the clan
name by which Mandela was affectionately known, transcended the boundaries
of South Africa as it became synonymous with the country`s greatest
struggles and triumphs. Mandela meant many things to many people,
including President Obama, who offered this tribute shortly after Mandela`s
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: For now, let us
pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived, a man who
took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: No one can deny the indelible contributions and sacrifices
that Nelson Mandela made for the people of South Africa and ultimately the
world. But often when a great leader passes on, what we think we know
about that person and the truth become two different things. After death,
the legacies of great leaders are often usurped and purged of any
imperfection. This is exactly what happened with Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. His contributions are often confined to racial equality battles when
his message was, in fact, much larger than that. Remember, it wasn`t just
the march on Washington. It was the march on Washington for jobs and
freedom. King`s own economic message of a radical redistribution of wealth
was not well received, and at the end of his life, King was not a national
hero. He was reviled. And in his family life, King was far from perfect.
His interpersonal failings and infidelities and at times intellectual
dishonesties are well documented but frequently expunged from public
memory. King`s image, his word and his legacy, have been appropriated by
those whose policies he would have opposed and even those who stand firmly
in King`s tradition. For them the tendency is often to remember the man
and the movement of which he was a part as sanitized and glorified rather
than as messy and complex and human.
The story of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been misremembered in the
U.S. context is a cautionary tale this week. In the wake of Nelson
Mandela`s death, it is important that we remember him as a man, as a human,
and not as a myth. He is not an icon free of imperfection. And to insist
on transforming him into one is a disservice to Mandela and to ourselves,
because we cannot learn the lessons of Mandela without knowing his story.
What made Mandela great is his humanity, and humanity is messy. Always.
While the popular narrative only includes Mandela`s adoption of change
through nonviolent methods, before he was arrested, Mandela himself
wrestled with nonviolent direct action versus armed insurrection against
the evils of apartheid. In the 1961 interview with the ITN, before he was
arrested, Mandela had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON MANDELA: There are many people who feel that it is useless and
futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence against the
government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless
people. And I think the time have come for us to consider in the light of
our experiences in this stay at home whether the method which we have
applied so far are adequate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That struggle between armed and unarmed resistance was a
sentiment that he echoed both during his 1964 trial and once he was
released from prison in 1990, when he spoke about the ideal of a democratic
and free society.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANDELA: It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if
needs be, it is an ideal, for which I am prepared to die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And during his brief but historic tenure as president,
Mandela proved that South Africa would not simply automatically follow the
whims of the global community. It would set its own course. In 1997 he
told Washington leaders that their desire to influence African foreign
policies was arrogant and racist. And he said Libyan leader Moammar
Gadhafi, an international pariah at the time, was his friend. So Mandela
went right ahead and visited Gadhafi in Tripoli. Mandela was also friends
with Fidel Castro. Mandela visited him after he was released from prison
in 1990 and embraced the Cuban leader because of his support to end
apartheid even while the rest of the world shunned Castro for his communist
In 2003, Mandela joined those who were against the U.S.-led war against
Iraq, and not only called it a tragedy, but said "What I am condemning is
that one power with the president who has no foresight, who cannot think
properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust." For those
who will only see Mandela as the gentle saint, remember, it was he himself
who said, "I am no angel." Instead, he was complex, imperfect, and human,
and we do Mandela`s memory more justice when we remember the entire man.
Joining me this morning, Mark Quarterman, research director for the Enough
Project, which works to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Amy
Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now, Khalil Muhammad, who
is director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and
Marcus Mabry, who is the editor of the Breaking News blog, the lead for
"The New York Times" who formerly served as the Johannesburg, South Africa,
bureau chief for "Newsweek." Thanks so much to all of you for being here.
Mark, I want to start with you because you actually spent some time living
in South Africa before the end of apartheid and then sometime thereafter.
And it seems to me that when we think about Mandela, there are sort of at
least five Mandelas, I want you to go through all of them. But there is,
you know, there is Mandela before Robben Island, there is the Mandela of
Robben Island, there`s Mandela of 1990, there is Mandela as president, and
then there is the Mandela after the presidency. If you can just sort of
think about that trajectory. What are the key things we need to know about
that Mandela in terms of the context of the South African struggle against
MARK QUARTERMAN, RESEARCH DIR., ENOUGH PROJECT: Well, I think you made a
really good point before about how we defang or maybe make into teddy bears
these great leaders and pick out one or two things. Mandela`s
reconciliation when he became president, for example. And then act as if -
- secondly act as if that one great leader was the person who did that.
And we have to understand that the African National Congress was based on
non-racialism. I mean, it`s core document, the Freedom Charter, the first
thing it says of, South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and
white, and no government can justly claim authority unless based on the
will of all the people.
So, when Nelson Mandela became president, it wasn`t as if he decided either
as a warmly humane person to reconcile or as a savvy political leader
realizing that the only way to do it is reconciliation. He was following
the Freedom Charter from 1955. He participated in the conference, but he
wasn`t the leader of it. He embodied the ANC`s approach, the ANC`s
principles. But he wasn`t the only one. And during my time in South
Africa, especially in the late `80s, when apartheid still existed, I met
any number of South Africans, leaders, rank and file, who had been through
terrible injustice. Fellow graduates of Robben Island, for example.
People who had been tortured or under banning orders. And almost to a
person I heard similar words from them that we heard from South - from
Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison.
And in many ways my love for South Africa and my inspiration from South
Africans came from those years when Mandela was still in prison, when we
didn`t even know what he looked like because there was only one old
picture. He was the leader. He was the "avatar" of the movement. But
there`s much, much more, and he was standing on a firm base, firm
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it`s been surprising, Mark, you know, on the one
handle, this effort to sanitize Mandela that we`re seeing now, that, you
know, that again, that I was trying to make this kind of play around king,
and yet also -- and this is maybe even more surprising to me this week,
this desire to go back and say, well, you know, at one point he talked
about violence. I mean he was thinking about violence. I mean violence -
and I`m thinking - we are talking about resistance to apartheid. Violence
was true. And he was talking about whether or not there should be armed
resistance or unarmed resistance, but violence was already being
perpetuated by the system.
KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD, DIRECTOR, SCHOMBURG CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN BLACK
CULTURE: Right. We often think of violence as the problem of the
oppressed, not the problem of the oppressor. And what`s interesting about
Mandela, to come back to an earlier point about his evolution, is that he
was in some ways accidentally privileged by being able to get a missionary
education, and he started out life essentially with a tremendous sense of
self-confidence inspired by his local community. And to take him from that
position which makes him an aspiring lawyer, by his early 30s he`s already
rising the ranks of the ANC, only marks the ways, in which he evolved as an
individual. And I think we have to hold that in place, because he lived so
long that he was able to draw on so many strains of thought. So, yes, he
went through a period where he embraced Africanism or Black nationalism to
a point where the notion of race first in a tradition of a Marcus Garvey in
the United States, for example, this notion that black people have to
solidify. And yes, the ANC, there was tension there.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is such a great point, that he lives to be nearly 100
years old. His trajectory for change is very different than that of a King
who was assassinated while still a young man. And I ask you one quick
question here. And that, I promise, we`ll do more after the break. Not
only do we misremember Mandela, we misremember ourselves in relationship to
Mandela. We now say, oh, America always embraced the anti-apartheid
movement. What are the parts of our own story that we`re getting wrong?
AMY GOODMAN, HOST AND EXEC. PRODUCER, DEMOCRACY NOW: And Melissa, that is
a key point. I mean the U.S. devoted more resources to finding Mandela to
hand over to the apartheid forces than the apartheid forces themselves. It
was the CIA that actually located Mandela and he was driving dressed up as
a chauffeur when he was stopped and he was arrested and ultimately serves
27 years in prison. That is the key point. I mean, just as the U.S.
government is surveilling today, they were surveilling back then. And then
-- and we`ll talk more about grassroots activism -- how important was the -
- ultimately the U.S. supporting Mandela and the ANC came so much later.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.
GOODMAN: In 2008 he was taken off the terror watch list. This was 14
years after he was president of South Africa. He`s taken off of the U.S.
terror watch list.
HARRIS-PERRY: That point I want to return to as we come back because I do
think we have also sanitized sort of our notion, oh, of course, we were
always against apartheid. When in fact, not true. Marcus, I promise, I
will get to you as soon as we get back. But right now we`re going to take
a quick break. And up next, why one of the most important things that
Nelson Mandela did was the thing that he did not do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANDELA: The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to
bridge the chasms that divides us has come. The time to build is upon us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Nelson Mandela during his 1994 inauguration speech.
Marcus, what did Mandela see as his key role, his primary responsibility in
MARCUS MABRY, NY TIMES BLOG EDITOR: He saw it as reconciliation. He saw
it as transitioning South Africa from this country that could have exploded
into a violent racial all-out war, civil war, to a country that was
actually feasible, a country that could actually be a part of the world
community, a country that could actually stay together. He knew about the
resentments. One of the things you were saying earlier about how we defy
Mandela at his peril and our own, and indeed at history`s peril, he - it
was not that Mandela wasn`t a bitter man. He was very bitter. He was very
hurt. He was very angry.
Mandela realized, however, that leadership was not about what he felt or
how he felt. It was all about the struggle and about the legacy. We never
saw what he felt. One of the few times I remember when I was bureau chief
for "Newsweek" in the country and he was president, one of the few times we
saw what he felt and talk about how human it was, was when he was in the
middle of his divorce from Winnie, Madikizela Mandela, and when he got on
the stand, he said, explaining his request for the divorce, that he had no
physical affection from his wife after he`d left prison and how he was the
loneliest man in the world.
This is not a deity. This is not someone above all human emotion. But
that`s the only time we felt the reality of the personal feelings of
Mandela. It was never about that. He felt that was indulgent. So you can
imagine, you know, you are talking about great leaders, right, and the
difference between some of our more contemporary American leaders and
Nelson Mandela, who believed if you deny the personal, that`s what
leadership is about.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this - I want to push on this a little bit. Any of you
on this one. So, this is interesting to me that this man, who sees himself
as not the key or central issue, even as you were saying, Mark, that he`s
part of this tradition, and yet sees reconciliation as the primary goal. I
wonder if there`s a missed moment there. So on the one hand, like, my
heart leaps at the idea of truth and reconciliation. But then I also think
to myself why not have the primary goal be radical economic redistribution
for the evils of apartheid. What would that agenda have looked like?
MABRY: But I think Tutu answered it best, because Tutu said, when I talked
about the truth and reconciliation process itself, where people revealed
the horrible things, and there were some - many of the horrible things they
did during apartheid to mostly keep Africans down and horrible, disgusting
things we couldn`t even imagine today that were part of that system that
were unseen until the truth and reconciliation process, what Tutu said was,
when people - talking about how people didn`t find that fulfilling, the
victims of apartheid said, but no one`s going to pay a price. This person
who did this to my family or to my child will come forward, give the facts
and then not be criminally indicted for it.
MABRY: Tutu said the point was we didn`t win. This was a truce. We
didn`t win. And I think that is the key to it. You couldn`t have all
those other things because they didn`t win.
QUARTERMAN: That`s an absolutely fundamental point because from the time
Mandela was released the ANC was unbanned until the election. There was a
negotiation process. And one of the calculations that F.W. de Klerk and
the National Party made was that they could win the negotiation process and
maintain a degree of white control for a longer period. And one of the
ways they set it up was a pre-constitutional negotiation that had all of
the homelands there and their leaders represented, the African National
Congress and others and the National Party, and the ANC was outnumbered
there. And I actually sat in on a number of those sessions. And yes, the
homeland leaders almost all went with the National Party in the beginning,
but it was really interesting. There was a shift around `93 when the
homeland base for the National Party began to crumble, when it was
absolutely clear that the African National Congress represented the
overwhelming majority of the South African people.
And the negotiations broke down to basically the two big parties, the
National Party and the ANC working things out. And de Klerk and his
advisers realized that they weren`t going to be able to bum rush some sort
of mild transition.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hold on because I want to get to de Klerk as soon as we come
back. I want to talk more on de Klerk and more on the question of what
this transition looked like.
HARRIS-PERRY: After 27 years in prison during a brutal regime of
apartheid, this moment at Nelson Mandela`s inauguration in 1994 where F.W.
de Klerk grabs his hand and it`s raised in victory may have seen otherwise
impossible just a few years earlier. Yet in spite of their distrust and
dislike of one another, the two men were able to come together in a kind of
compromise that ushered in the end of apartheid. And so, Mark, you were
telling this story, which I think is always important to remember about
founding moments. We tell those stories later as, oh, everyone agreed.
But in fact, it was a set of political machinations and imbalances. And in
the break you were saying and there`s another group that we have to
remember in the context of all this.
MUHAMMAD: Right. So, in the mid-1980s, a thousand people a year are dying
in South Africa due to direct action, protest. They are young people in
the streets who are no longer willing to accept any of the rhetoric coming
from either the ANC or from the National Party. And this is the process
that begins the negotiation between Mandela and the National Party.
Interestingly, the National Party ministers reflecting on this period later
says our greatest fear was the high expectations of the youth. We did not
want to make Mandela a permanent martyr. So Mandela becomes the only
person who can stand between potential race war that Marcus describes
because of a symbolic nature. But it`s those young people, not terribly
different than the role that SNCC plays, against SCLC at a crucial moment
in the civil rights movement, those young people will pose a fundamental
challenge to the possibility that white Afrikaners can walk away with an
economy and with the privileges that they had before all of this began to
HARRIS-PERRY: Amy, it feels important - could you come back to the point
that you made earlier that those young people are not only those people --
the young people living in South Africa who are bearing the brunt of this
violent regime and are willing to go to more - even more extreme lengths to
make sure that apartheid crumbled, but also the solidarity, then, with the
international group of young people who make apartheid their fundamental .
GOODMAN: And that was such a key point that all over the world -- and when
we talk about immigration and when we talk about the fast food movement.
We have to look right now at the movement that ultimately took down
apartheid. It was especially young people on college campuses, workers,
not on college campuses, the Polaroid workers who said we`re not going to
be part of the company that provides the photos for the passbooks in South
Africa. And it was this economic threat, both from the more radical young
people and from young people all over the world -- I mean, that campus
movement in the United States was immense, and very threatening to
establishment institutions here. That was key in changing South Africa and
freeing Nelson Mandela.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me ask a question to follow up on that, and that is
- there a way in which, for the generation of young people President Obama
in that generation, you know, obviously me at the back end of that
generation, who find our first footing in the question of the anti-
apartheid movement, isn`t it in part because we thought we`d already fixed
the U.S. or was it because it had a kind of policy orientation that was
clear, whereas the inequality is still persisting in the U.S. at that time
or maybe harder to get your hands around as a matter of policy and protest?
GOODMAN: I think, you know, the `60s is a movement, the years of civil
rights movement, the `80s, South Africa, anti-apartheid activism, I mean I
think there was both, but it was so riveting. It was so real. Even when
you are back to Sharpeville and the killings of 69 people, and then the
kids in `76 in Soweto. There are high school and elementary school
children who are gunned down.
GOODMAN: It`s also the power of the images. You know, you talked about
Nelson Mandela. We did not see Nelson Mandela for decades because they
forbid his picture, his voice from being heard. But now we have the
pictures from South Africa. When you have children being gunned down, that
is very hard to answer to.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want to talk about one last aspect of
this remembrance, and it is what happened when Ted Cruz tried to remember
Nelson Mandela this week. And why radical agents of change are sometimes
seen as villains long before they are heroes, and then even after.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you go to our website, mhpshow.com, you will see a
brilliant piece by MSNBC reporter, Adam Serwer. And Adam writes, "The
point of remembering all this is not mere point scoring. It is to remember
that sometimes the radicals are correct, that in the heat of the moment
movements for justice can be easily caricatured by those with authority as
threats to public safety, and those seeking basic rights and dignity as
monstrous villains. And then after the radicals win, we try to make them
safe and useless to future radicals by pretending our beloved secular
saints were never radical at all." And so, on the one hand you have Adam
pointing out how we sanitize Mandela. On the other hand, you had Ted Cruz
who in an attempt to sanitize sort of says, oh, you know, things, you know,
Mandela has passed on. And the responses of folks to Ted Cruz were pretty
stunning, saying things like "Go home, Ted, you`re drunk." "He, Mandela,
was a communist terrorist who targeted people for no other reason than
being white." Saying "Stunned to see you support this scumbag, Mr. Cruz.
Mandela was a murder and a terrorist, not to mention a communist. He was a
huge supporter of abortion." And then putting him in the same language as
"Stalin, Hitler and FDR, who are also all dead and don`t deserve a eulogy
either." What does that tell us about the generations now reflecting on
MABRY: Well, those are shocking comments.
MABRY: And those were the Facebook page that Ted Cruz has set up in
memorial to Mandela. These are Ted Cruz`s ostensible supporters.
MABRY: How incredibly disturbing must it be for Americans to read that, to
say this is -- this vein of political thought, however large or small it
is, exists in our country.
HARRIS-PERRY: I hope it`s disturbing to us.
MABRY: I hope so.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean because part - I mean I`m mostly disturbed that maybe
it isn`t disturbing to us.
MABRY: Obviously, Americans who agree with it, are out there, but how
scary it is. I can`t imagine it`s a very large population, but it says a
lot about, you know, people have asked for a long time what`s the racial
perspective of Tea Party members. Unfortunately, this is the at least the
racial perspective of some of them.
MUHAMMAD: Well, let`s also remember, where you started this conversation
about Dr. King, I was radicalized partly, and that`s radicalized in a
student protest context.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right.
MUHAMMAD: But radicalized or at least politicized by the fact that I
opened a newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 to read a lead
column about Dr. Martin Luther King saying he was a communist. And I was,
like, oh, wait a minute, and that he should not be honored at the
University of Pennsylvania and that it was a terrible sham that the
university was playing political correctness to satisfy the multicultural
brigades. So, that strain of thought not only gave birth to Ted Cruz and
his supporters in this contemporary moment, but is a core value in this
country about what we make of people who challenge racial inequity, who
challenge unfairness and class inequality in this country.
QUARTERMAN: It`s also a commentary, I think, on where people get their
QUARTERMAN: And I have to say, it`s a clich‚ now to talk about the
conservative echo chamber or the Tea Party echo chamber, but I doubt that
any of those people who posted would believe mainstream media sorts of or
historical or scholarly or even read sources that might have another view
of Nelson Mandela or if they do they`ll discount them because of their
trusted sources of information. And so I don`t know if information is more
Balkanized than before, but at least in this instance on these sorts of
issues it`s absolutely vulcanized.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, of course, that`s certainly a problem on both the left
and the right. But the notion that Mandela targeted people for being white
is sort of empirically false, right, so as much as there may be ideological
ways of reading there`s also just sort of reading. Khalil Muhammad and
Marcus Mabry, Marcus, you should know, has a piece in "The New York Times"
on the cover - on this morning. You should take time to read it for sure.
It is about the generation born after apartheid and how they see Mandela`s
fight as history. Marcus, thank you so much for being here.
MABRY: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mark Quarterman, I want to see you in the next hour. But
before we change topics, I again invite you to visit our webpage,
mhpshow.com. In particular, please take a look at MSNBC reporter Adam
Serwer`s fantastic piece on the radical histories of Mandela and MLK. I
begged to just read it on air and my producer said no.
Up next, President Obama echoes a key message of Nelson Mandela`s. Is
inequality in America the defining issue of our times?
HARRIS-PERRY: Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela called for a better
country. For a country based on equality. He inspired a generation, not
just in his nation, but in ours as well. Inspiring activists including the
American president now in the White House who this week reissued his own
clarion call for a better country. In his speech on Wednesday, President
Obama described growing income inequality and lack of economic mobility,
calling it the defining issue of our time. He promised that it would be
the core fight of his next three years in office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the
wealthiest nation on earth is heartbreaking enough. But the idea that a
child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent
education or health care or a community that views her future as their own,
that should offend all of us. And it should compel us to action. We are a
better country than this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The numbers show that the reality, what President Obama
called the fundamental threat to the American dream, has been growing
increasingly dire for decades. The richest Americans have steadily taken a
bigger share of the country`s income. Now, the wealthiest ten percent make
more than half of all income in the United States. And it hasn`t always
been this way. Just take a look at this chart. For decades what you are
seeing there in the `50s through the `70s, in those years the rich earned
about 30-some-odd percent of the nation`s income. But now, now the income
share of the richest ten percent is the highest that it`s been in at least
And those initial high points of inequality that you see there on the left
when it was nearly as high as it is today, those were the years leading up
to and during the Great Depression. And it`s not because Americans aren`t
working hard. Hourly wages have slumped along, growing at about ten
percent since the early 1970s. But the productivity of those workers has
increased by 80 percent. You see those two lines, productivity and wages?
They used to run together in the early `70s. They, however, diverged and
now they are barely even related.
Of course we wouldn`t be talking about income inequality if everyone`s
wages have stayed low. The people at the top are making a killing.
Average CEO`s compensation at the nation`s top 350 firms in 2012 was $14.1
million. That is 273 times what is the average worker made. That means
CEOs are making more in a single workday than the average worker makes in
an entire year. And once again as you can see the disparity has grown much
worse over time.
In his speech on Wednesday, President Obama offered a path forward to
reverse the trend, rebuild roads and bridges, spend government money to
spur economic growth while reforming the corporate tax code, offer high
quality preschool to every child, encourage low-income students to attend
college, enforce collective bargaining laws, raise the minimum wage and he
challenged Republicans, who opposed those policy proposals to step up and
offer their own.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, not
just what you`re against.
OBAMA: That way we can have a vigorous and meaningful debate. That`s what
the American people deserve. That`s what the times demand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But here`s challenge. For Republicans to offer proposals of
their own, they would first need to acknowledge that the growing income
disparity in America is in fact, you know, a real thing, and they`d have to
decide if ideologically it`s an issue worth addressing. And if so, if it
is the government`s problem to fix. Joining the table now is Marc Morial,
president and CEO of the National Urban League and former mayor of my city,
New Orleans, Joel Berg, the executive director of the New York City
Coalition against Hunger, and Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the Manhattan
So, I want to ask Amy just quickly, if you have a sense of whether or not
the issue here is that the left and the right disagree that there is a
problem or if the left and the right simply disagree about the solution to
the problem, because the latter feels to me like appropriate in a
democracy, but the first feels like climate change denialism, right, that
there is just no inequality problem.
GOODMAN: I don`t even think this is a left-right issue.
GOODMAN: Because there are a lot of people who are not very well off on
the right as on the left. And just to make these numbers even more real
that you just read, just because I was out at the McDonald`s protest the
other day covering it at 6:00 in the morning and covering the Walmart
protest. Look, just talking about six members of the Walton family, you
know, Sam Walton founded Walmart, they have amassed an estimated combined
fortune of between $115 billion and $144 billion. These six individuals
have more wealth than the combined financial assets of the poorest 40
percent of the U.S. population. Six people. 40 percent of the U.S.
I think when we start to see this in the streets, just like Mandela was
part of a movement, people across the political spectrum do care that these
very extremely wealthy families are getting huge tax breaks and they are
relying on tax subsidized help for their workers because they need welfare,
they need SNAP.
HARRIS-PERRY: Avik, is there any reasonable either ethical or empirical
economic reason that six people should have a wealth that is that much more
than everybody? Like just that number alone, does that simply - is there
some way to explain that, that it makes sense?
AVIK ROY, SENIOR FELLOW, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: Yes. So, I mean let me go
back to the original question you asked, which is, is this empirical or is
this philosophical? It`s both. So, there`s a dispute between liberals and
conservative progressives and conservatives about what the solution is.
Conservatives would say that it`s economic growth and private sector
activity and employment. And then there is a disagreement also about the
philosophy, which is to say that where conservatives are -- and they say,
and they don`t always live up to this and address it with as much
vigorization, but what they say is, we should have equality of opportunity,
the result is up to you. But the real issue is, let`s make sure that the
opportunities are equal. And we can have a debate about what equality of
opportunity means, but that`s fairly different from the idea that well,
income inequality, you know, as it is, is obviously always wrong. You
know, in America we generally don`t have a problem with, say, Mark
Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs getting rich because we feel like we`re
benefitting from it. We - the cost of our lives goes down when
technological innovation or other innovation - Walmart, the fact that
Walmart is so successful means that a lot of people can buy goods that are
really inexpensive. That makes their lives better.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Avik, it`s interesting because actually what you`ve laid
out there, although I may have some real disagreements with it, I actually
think that those are relatively consensus positions. So, Mark, I mean,
there was a time even in the context of the civil rights movement, when the
Urban League was critiqued because it held precisely these views in the
sense of saying economic growth, right, equality of opportunity. In fact,
I can`t think of someone on the left making an argument for equality of
outcome instead of equality of opportunity, right, or somebody who`s not
saying what we ought to do is grow the economy.
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT & CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: So, it`s far
different to mouth the gospel of economic opportunity, the gospel of
economic growth, and not to advance policies that ensure that that
opportunity is meaningful and real or that that growth is shared by all.
This is what we`re talking about. So you`ve got economic growth taking
place in the United States in the post-recession era, 2 1/2 to three
percent. A stock market improving. All of the financial indices
improving. Yet you`ve got job creation that is focused and centered on the
lowest wage workers. And you`ve got an aberration, an aberration and that
is that productivity and wages are no longer aligned, OK, and that`s a
departure from a fundamental economic principle.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right, right. If we work harder and produce more,
but we don`t earn any more.
MORIAL: Number two, number two that the minimum wage, which creates a
basic floor, a basic floor, a basic fundamental floor, has not kept pace
with inflation. It`s departed from inflation. And those of us who have
advocated for an increase in the minimum wage, and this has been our
position for a while, we want to keep it aligned with inflation. Because
we think that that is the best public policy. So it`s good and I embrace
the idea that people say growth and economic opportunity. But it`s got to
be more than a set of talking points. It`s got to be a set of public
policies that ensure that that`s meaningful, it`s real, it`s substantial.
And that`s the debate we have to have because this is really about the 20th
century America, which created a strong working and middle class now
beginning to see our inability to create a strong working and middle class
with more people stuck going this way and a lot of people whose fortunes
have risen, a portion of the population, 20 percent.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And this is exactly where I want us to come back to -
and Joel, I`ll let you in as well, because that debate that you just
suggested, in fact, sort of broke out this week between President Obama and
Rand Paul and we want to look at what they said. For those of you who may
not know President Obama, in fact, sat down with "Hardball" host Chris
Mathews this week. And when we come back, I want to show you a particular
part of what the president said in that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: How do we do those things that reduce inequality in our society and
broaden opportunity? And government can`t solve all of that, but
government can`t stand on the sidelines when we`re doing that. And without
some faith in our capacity for collective action, those trends are going to
get worse. So we`ve got to -- and the young people in particular have to
understand government is us. Government`s not somebody else. Government`s
us. We have the capacity to change it. And voters have a capacity to
change it, members of Congress do as well as the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama in the interview with my MSNBC
colleague Chris Mathews explaining that government is not the other,
government is us. And that`s a fundamentally different view than that held
by many conservatives, especially those with a libertarian bent. Listen to
Senator Rand Paul in Detroit yesterday explaining his proposed economic
freedom zones that he says would jumpstart sluggish local economies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R ), KENTUCKY: Economic freedom zones will remove
government obstacles to success. They`ll provide a generation of citizens,
students, workers and job creators with a new bargain. Your government
will get out of the way. It will treat you like an adult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joel, is the thing that we mostly need is for our government
to get out of the way?
JOEL BERG, EXEC. DIR. NYC COALITION AGAINST HUNGER: No. If we did there
would be no public roads or public sidewalks for Senator Paul to even get
to that event. The problem is that we`ve replaced opportunity capitalism
with crony capitalism. Look, my grandparents came here with the hope that
they could build a better life for themselves and their grandchildren and
they knew if they worked hard and played by the rules by and large they
could get ahead. The real engine of economic opportunity is hope and we`ve
demolished hope in America and we have less upward mobility than virtually
every one of our serious economic competitors.
HARRIS-PERRY: Look, that point, Avik, just feels hard to deny, that we are
not the country that we once were, that we have an American myth about
economic mobility that that economic mobility has dissipated and it has
dissipated at the same time that corporate profits have increased
dramatically. Why would we need more corporate profiteering, lower taxes,
and less government investment?
ROY: So I think also there`s a consensus position around the fact that
government should be involved in building roads and post offices. Nobody`s
objecting to that, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, some of the libertarians are.
ROY: I mean, not really. I mean like if the only thing - if the only
thing the government did was build highways I think libertarians like Rand
Paul would be very happy. Right? But that`s not the only thing the
government does, that`s a fraction of the federal government, right?
MORIAL: That`s why we can`t get the transportation bill passed.
MORIAL: Traditionally, that -- I think he`s correct in this sense. That`s
traditionally been the position I think of a lot of mainstream
conservatives, I think. But what I`ve seen as a departure, a departure
from the idea that we held in this country that it was a combination of
government and the private sector, not government versus, government
against and we had a debate about the degree, the extent, the roles, the
responsibilities. I see a different kind of debate where either the
government is all friend or all foe or the private sector is all friend and
all foe. I just tend to reject, you know, that point of view because that
point of view is not the kind of point of view that helped us achieve a
greater degree of economic mobility, a greater degree of income equality in
the `50s, `60s, and `70s as your chart mentioned.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Avik, is there a better balance then? At this point,
that there could be some balance between that conversation. Because it
does feel like Paul is suggesting this massive disinvestment of the
ROY: I think even Rand Paul would agree that economic mobility is the
priority. The question is, again, what policies will achieve economic of
mobility. So, and this is one thing that to your point I think Republicans
-- Republican intellectuals and Republican thought leaders have long talked
about the need to improve the degree to which that is the priority of
Republicans. The Republican base is less passionate about that sometimes,
and that`s sometimes the tension between how the GOP advances these issues.
But having said that, certainly among the leadership of Republicans, among
conservatives, you read "National Review", you read "The Wall Street
Journal," there`s a lot of talk about what we can do for education, for
example, where we see from the conservative point of view that there`s a
tension, a progressive movement between teachers union and poor children,
School Choice, the Obama administration is fighting School Choice in
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, no, they`re not. They are - I mean - it`s - look, come
on, now. You know, this is one of the places where my president and I
deeply disagree in part because there really are much more conservative
than - they are not the Obama administration`s education policies have not
bolstered public education for the most part. They have mostly been
voucher-based policies or charter schools-based policies or what we think
of as school choice policies. But that`s if we look at it - I just want to
not miss what it is that Rand Paul was suggesting with these economic
freedom zones, right, this significant decrease in taxes and basically
spaces, zip codes where people can do business without even a minimum wage.
How is a lower minimum wage bad for Detroit?
MORIAL: Freedom zone. It`s not a new idea. It`s a new twist on an old
idea. Jack Kemp created enterprise zones, Bill Clinton had empowerment
zones. This is a new twist on an old idea.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, stick with me. We`re going to stay on this
question of the old ideas and new ideas and whether or not we really are a
better country than this.
Because coming up next, the movement demanding better jobs is growing
exponentially even as the unemployment numbers are falling dramatically.
We`re going to talk more also to Amy about these fast food workers debates.
There is, as always, more "Nerdland" at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Income inequality is finally getting its due in the political
spotlight. We`ve got Pope Francis redefining what it means to be pope, and
sneaking out of the Vatican at night to minister to the homeless and
declaring that to not share your wealth is a form of theft.
We have President Obama saying income that inequality and a lack of
economic mobility is the defining issue of our time and of his presidency.
And most importantly we have people taking to the streets. On
Thursday, demonstrations were held at fast food restaurants in cities
across the country, More than 100 cities according to organizers.
Protesters demanded higher wages for employees at McDonald`s, Burger King
and their competitors. The demand for a higher minimum wage is one
supported by the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know that there are
airport workers and fast food workers and nurse assistants and retail
salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely
above poverty. And that`s why it`s well past the time to raise a minimum
wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman
was in office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: This is all against the backdrop where even good news
about the country`s economic recovery is always tempered. Take Friday`s
job report, 203,000 jobs created in November and an unemployment rate that
fell to 7 percent, the lowest level in five years. That`s good news.
But the percentage of working age Americans participating in the
labor force has remained practically static and has even dropped a little
in the past year. That means too many of the people who have given up on
finding a job are still not seeing any reason to get back in the game.
Many of the jobs that have been created since the recession, most according
to an August 2012 report of the National Employment Law Center, have been
low wage jobs.
Now, even as debate raising the minimum wage, Congress is on the
verge of letting long-term unemployment insurance expire to suddenly end
benefits for 1.3 million people. Oh, right, just after Christmas.
At the table: Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban
League and former mayor of New Orleans; Amy Goodman, host and executive
producer of "Democracy Now"; Joel Berg, the executive director of the New
York City Coalition Against Hunger; and Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the
Amy, why is $15 so important?
AMY GOODMAN, HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW: First, they were chanting in the
streets before the sun even rose on Thursday in Times Square, "We can`t
survive on $7.25." Right, the federal minimum wage.
I was talking to a woman named Evelyn (ph) who walked out of
McDonald`s. She worked there for six years. She makes $7.50, one raise in
six years. She got one raise in six years. She can`t support her child on
Then we played on "Democracy Now", a recording that Nancy Salgado, a
woman who works at McDonald`s in Chicago made, when she called the
McDonald`s McResources Line and said, "I can`t make it."
They said, "Have you heard about the federal program? There`s a
federal program that goes with your salary called SNAP." She said, "Oh,
then, could I take my kids to the doctor on that?" They said, "There`s
another program. It`s called Medicaid."
This goes to the issue of conservatives and liberal when you say,
well, just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get another job and get
another job. The fact is that there isn`t an outcry by conservatives or
some there is when the very CEOs of these very corporations are being tax
And let me give you an example, because this is an amazing story that
came out from Sarah Anderson at the Institute of Policy Studies called fast
food CEOs rake in taxpayer subsidized pay.
So, use the example of Yum Brands. They own KFC. They own Pizza
Hut. They own Taco Bell. They paid CEO David Novak $94 million in fully
deductible so-called performance pay. That`s outside of the salary, over
the years 2011, 2012. That works out to a $33 million taxpayer subsidy to
Yum just for one executive`s pay, $33 million.
So, we are subsidizing workers at these low-paying corporations
because they have to get welfare, they have to get SNAP, they have to get
Medicaid, and then we subsidize these massive CEO pays because they get
these loopholes like performance pay.
MARC MORIAL, URBAN LEAGUE: One of the things that`s interesting to
me is that I was in Seattle and I think last week there were two news
report, one in Seattle where the Seattle City Council is considering its
own $15 an hour minimum wage. Montgomery County, Maryland. You have local
ordinances now and you`ve got a number of states that have created minimum
wages higher than the federal minimum wage. That`s a response to federal
MORIAL: The best approach, the best way is for Congress to set a
reasonable minimum wage and tie it to inflation. We have local governments
and state governments taking matters into their own hands because this is a
problem. They`re hearing it from their constituents. They`re hearing it
from people across the nation.
Look, in New Jersey, the voters, the voters passed a higher
subminimum wage, put it in the state Constitution, which is remarkable in a
sense that it`s a response to federal inaction.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, at the same time, they`re electing Chris
Christie, right? This is indicative of this possibility that some sense of
economic justice might, in fact, transcend sort of our most narrow partisan
And it does feel to me like part of the argument that Amy made, Joel,
is if you want to legitimately want to shrink the social safety net, right,
if you`re not a bad person and want people to go hungry, you say, hey,
look, I think there are too many people on these various government
programs. It seems the most standard basic way to do that is to make
living wages in which people can purchase their own food and housing.
JOEL BERG, NYC COALITION AGAINST HUNGER: Absolutely. If you look at
the polls, even the majority of Republicans in America, support raising the
minimum wage. I say the conservatives. If you`re against government
spending, then you should be for higher minimum wages. It doesn`t take a
penny of government spending to say we`re finally going to reward work.
I spoke at a campus recently and student was insistent he learned in
class that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. I said it`s been done
dozens of times, it`s never happened. If you had a professor who told you
turning water down to zero degrees will never make it freeze, if you turned
it down 32 times and it froze, maybe the theory is wrong. Let`s look at
the facts. Minimum wage creates jobs because it gives people more
HARRIS-PERRY: And people who are at the margins who are going to
spend that money right away.
BERG: On wasteful things like food and clothing.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Avik, you made a point earlier I want to return to
on this question, which is there`s the conservative intellectuals and think
tank folks. There`s people running for office, and there`s a base, right?
So, talk to me about the politics of what it means to be a conservative
lawmaker running against the minimum wage, running against -- like what`s
the political calculus that says it makes perfect sense for me to run
against an increase in the minimum wage, to run on a slashing of food
What are the political realities on the ground that are making
conservative lawmakers think that makes sense?
AVIK ROY, SENIOR FELLOW, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: There`s shall we say
two sets of issues, issues where there might be tension between the base
and the intellectuals and those are things like prioritizing equality of
opportunity, really focusing on things like education reform and all that
sort of thing. When it comes to the minimum wage, there isn`t tension
between the base and the intellectuals because there is a consensus in the
conservative world that the minimum wage -- raising the minimum wage is
BERG: Based on what?
ROY: Well, I`ll get to that. So to your argument, Amy, about how
well the CEOs making all this money and that`s why people have low wages,
well, these are --
GOODMAN: No, no, they are taxpayers subsidized. One thing if
they`re paying their fair taxes, these corporations but a $33 million
taxpayer subsidy for the head of Yum?
ROY: But the CEO does not pay the wage of the worker at your local
McDonald`s. That`s a franchise that`s owned by a franchise owner. And
that person is paying the wage.
GOODMAN: Why should this corporation get a $33 million tax rebate?
ROY: Let me try to explain how this works. So, if you double the
wages of a person who works at that McDonald`s, then if that person, if
that franchise owner doesn`t have bags of money hiding behind the potato
fryer, then he has to do one of two things, he has to hire less people or
he has to raise prices for consumers.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that franchise argument, which I actually -- I
respect the franchise argument in the sense of for actual franchise owners,
they are facing some real constraints. But that`s precisely why the
corporations set the process up in this way. I mean, it`s not as though in
order to run a McDonald`s or a fast food corporation, you would necessarily
have to franchise in this way. This is precisely developed so that it is
the front line sort of small business owner, you know, McDonald`s owners
operators who have to take the hit.
Why not, in fact, force a new situation where the corporations at the
top who are getting these enormous tax subsidies at multiple levels have to
pay their workers a fair wage?
ROY: Because the result would be higher costs and less hiring.
HARRIS-PERRY: How could there be less hiring?
ROY: If you want to address income inequality, the way to do it is
not to make it more expensive for companies to hire people. It`s to
actually have a direct transfer through things like the earned income tax
MORIAL: I want to respond to that because I think the more important
point, and you sort of made this point, and that is -- and I`m trained in
economics. So, economic theory versus economic practice and economic
So the history of the minimum wage, particularly in these types of
times, demonstrates that when you raise it, the people who are the
beneficiaries will spend it back in the economy and it has a demand
stimulative effect. That offsets, if you, will the negative side of simply
raising the wages across the board. The other point is --
ROY: That`s if the money is idle before --
MORIAL: The other point is, and this is really a critical point, and
that is that the safety net system, whether it`s CHIP, Medicaid, whether
it`s the earned income tax credit program, across the line, are subsidizing
low-wage jobs because a large portion, maybe 40 percent to 50 percent of
low wage -- we talk about working people, many of them women, are also
their families participate in these safety net programs because they don`t
make enough money to sort of be ineligible for the program.
So, if you`re talking about economic self-sufficiency -- so we`ve got
to understand this in the context of pragmatism, reality, and history. And
too much of this debate is dominated by theoretical and ideological
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, speaking of ideological, when we come back, I
want to talk about the fact that as the rich are getting richer, the rich
members of Congress are actually debating how to take away from the poor,
how much. The Democrats are talking about how much should we cut in what
poor children eat right here in the richest nation in the world. Congress
is poised to take food out of the mouths of children. I`m not being
dramatic, I`m telling you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the farm bill is still in negotiation by House
Republicans and Senate Democrats. One of the things they must reconcile is
how much to cut from SNAP, that`s the food assistance program, that helps
feed 47 million Americans a year.
At this point, it seems unlikely that SNAP, which saw a massive all-
at-once $5 billion cut at the beginning of November, will escape more
reductions. In fact, the nation has reported that according to a source
close to negotiations, the conference committee is ready to cut another $8
billion to $9 billion from the program over the next ten years.
Joel, I was writing questions after sort of doing the research and my
question literally says, Joel, WTF. I mean, like, how is this possible?
How is this where we are?
BERG: It`s possible because low-income Americans are disenfranchised
from the political system. They don`t have campaign contributions to give,
corporate agribusinesses donated $600 million to federal campaigns over the
last decade, and it`s possible because one side is evil and the other side
is spineless. This is the first time a democratically controlled house of
Congress in U.S. history has proposed their own farm bill with massive
Senator Gillibrand from here in New York has been leading the
opposition to these cuts and we still hope we can kill them. The president
spoke out more forcefully about SNAP this week than ever before as
president and I hope he threatens to veto this large amount of cuts.
HARRIS-PERRY: Your point about evil and spinelessness, I mean, Amy,
we just took a poll asking Americans about their belief about government`s
role in addressing inequality. And 82 percent of Americans say it is
important that the federal government grow the economy, 70 percent say to
increase opportunity, but a minority, only 46 percent saying that it is
important that the federal government take a role in reducing the income
This in certain ways comes back to what Avik was saying, it`s tough
to get eve than discourse of inequality in front of Americans to say that
politically, right, these members of the U.S. Senate who are Democrats
should be held accountable for wanting to cut these programs.
GOODMAN: I mean, that`s why it`s so important that we see what`s
happening in the streets. The whole discussion is changing now in this
last year as both the Walmart protests have grown around the country, I
think this year Black Friday it was something like 1,500 big box stores
were protested, and the fast food worker strikes in over 100 cities.
I think it`s very hard across the political spectrum when you see how
hard people are working. People experience it. They go into the stores
and see back-breaking work people there that they not only get paid so
little but that we then subsidize. And that`s the point here.
It`s not just a matter of what`s fair for them. It`s what`s fair for
all of America. Why should the rest of America pay for these corporations
to make the kind of money they make at both ends, subsidize the CEO`s pay
and subsidize the worker`s lack of pay?
MORIAL: I think you`re going to see Pope Francis`s words, his
advocacy really change the thinking because when the leader of the Catholic
Church speaks on this it creates and gives it a moral fabric versus simply
a political fabric. And I think that is what -- when we talk about cutting
a basic necessity of life, food assistance, something tells me that that`s
a moral issue and it`s not just a political issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: Marc, we were talking about is morning. I was
reminded of the moment during the 2008 election cycle when Joe the Plumber
encounters then-candidate Obama and gets him on record in what is
supposedly a gaffe. I just want to watch that for just one second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you`ve got a
plumbing business, you`re going to be better off if you have a whole bunch
of customers who can afford to hire you. Right now, everybody`s so pinched
that business is bad for everybody. And I think when you spread the wealth
around, it`s good for everybody. But listen, I respect what you d and I
respect your question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, in 2008, candidate Obama, before he becomes
President Obama, talks about spreading the wealth around. That little clip
goes viral, oh, he`s this redistributor.
But now as you point out, Pope Francis is, like, yes, spread the
wealth. Like I was having this imaginary acclimation in my head where Joe
the Plumber asked that same question of Pope Francis and Pope Francis said,
no, seriously, you have to spread the wealth around.
BERG: Well, another radical, radical Christian had that idea, Jesus
HARRIS-PERRY: That Jesus guy.
BERG: Look, every major religious tradition, I grew up in the Jewish
tradition, Muslim tradition teaches this, too, that social justice is
beyond charity. It is making sure that if you`re working hard and playing
by the rules, you can get ahead. And those people who are disabled, those
people who are seniors, those people who are senior, and that is two-thirds
of the food stamp SNAP caseload that you should be able to eat.
This is not some radical idea. This is a mainstream idea that people
like Bob Dole and Richard Lugar, conservative Republicans, advanced for
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Avik, this is not a small point. There have been
conservative Republicans -- there was much more of a consensus around this
kind of fundamental right to a social safety net floor.
And I think for a lot of Americans who are observing this moment,
what they look at from the Joe the Plumber moment on is this consensus has
fallen apart because this is an African-American president. And I have
various feelings about whether or not I think that`s empirically true, but
it certainly seems that at this moment the failure of the consensus to
believe that ordinary working, hardworking poor people, children, the
disabled, the elderly, should have sufficient food on the table that we are
no longer in a place where we can have consensus about that does feel
motivated by something that was changed in the American moment.
ROY: The best engine ever created by man in the history of
civilization for spreading the wealth around is free market capitalism.
That`s why South Korea is much richer than North Korea. It`s why West
Germany was richer than East Germany. It`s why China today is eradicating
poverty at dramatic rates. It`s why the United States has been the richest
country in the world.
That is how you generate wealth for a lot of people. I know that`s a
disagreement between the right and the left but --
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not a --
MORIAL: Free market capitalism, we embrace it. But free market
capitalism is imperfect because human beings are imperfect. And even Adam
Smith in his "Wealth of Nations" recognized a role for the public sector in
education and in jobs.
I think one of the things we had with Dick Lugar and Bob Dole and
that generation is we had a generation of leaders who had the experiences
of the Great Depression, of World War II, of the civil rights era in their
DNA. I think we have a generation of leaders all too often now for whom
growing up more prosperous, better off --
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s interesting.
MORIAL: -- is what they know and what they understand. And I ask
them all the time, where did your grandfather or great-grandfather start?
Were they, you know, someone that lost their job in the Great Depression?
Were they a veteran that got a house through the V.A. or the FHA?
I think we see a leadership class in this country that may not have
the personal experiences that helped to define an earlier generation. It`s
why they thought the way they thought and why there was a general consensus
that there needs to be a reasonable safety net. We used to debate about
the type and size of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: I really that idea, the experience of living through
the depression shapes who people are forever around the question of want.
I certainly know it was true for my grandparents, even for my parents who
came at the end of that depression era.
My next guest has had no food for four days this week, but in this
case, it was by choice. From Tuesday through Friday, he consumed nothing
but water all in an effort to be heard. We`re gong to hear from him next.
Love that pope. Washing feet.
HARRIS-PERRY: In his interview with Chris Matthew on "HARDBALL" this
Thursday, President Obama expressed his continued frustration with
Republican intransigents, especially when it comes to issues all sides seem
to agree on, like the need to fix our immigration system.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: My argument to Boehner and McConnell and everybody else up
there is let`s go ahead and have big arguments on the things we disagree
about, but why don`t we go ahead and work on the things we agree about?
And a classic example of this is immigration reform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Activists were given new hope earlier this week that
congressional Republicans might finally bring immigration reform to the
floor next year. When news broke that Speaker John Boehner hired John
McCain`s ex-chief of staff, who is an expert on immigration policy.
But when he was asked specifically whether the House would finally
get it done in 2014, Speaker Boehner punted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Listen, I`ve learned
a lot ting ago from this podium not to make a lot of predictions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: While that was happening, children of immigrants were
on Capitol Hill as part of a protest by the reform group Keeping Families
Together, singing in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor`s office, outside of
Speaker Boehner`s office. And on the Mall, activists were fasting for
The Fast for Families movement began on November 12th and has
received support from the highest Democratic leaders in the country,
including the president and first lady. Joining us from Washington, D.C.,
where he just ended his fast is executive director of Dream Defenders,
Hi, Phillip. Nice to have you.
PHILLIP AGNEW, DREAM DEFENDERS: Hey. Thank you for having me. Good
HARRIS-PERRY: So start by telling me about what the Fast for
Families movement is and what it hopes to achieve.
AGNEW: Yes. So, for 26 days fasters have been on the Capitol, at
the Capitol, in a tent, pushing lawmakers to do something, to make a move
on immigration reform. There`s no food. There`s just water. And it`s a
wide group of people when they`re determined to stand in solidarity to deny
those basic needs to ourselves so that other people can have a pathway to
citizenship in a country that says that it`s the land of opportunity for
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Phillip, the use of fasting and of hunger strikes
to bring about policy change is one that has a deep, even international
tradition. But it`s often one that is tied so very specific interests so
that you know when it happens in part because people`s lives are on the
line here if they`re not eating. So tell me what are the very specific
aspects of immigration reform that you and other activists are asking for
in this moment?
AGNEW: Well, we`ve been asking for Boehner to allow for a vote to
happen. And he`s consistently said, even this week he cavalierly said he
wouldn`t make a prediction on the issue, but this is a pressing issue. As
you said, when people are doing a fast, there`s a level of urgency. You
see it in their faces, and it has moved a number of Democratic leader and a
very few Republican leaders to come down and visit with us. But Speaker
Boehner has continuously punted and moved the ball down.
We want them to allow a vote. As President Obama said, this is
something they agree on and something you see in the tent the large number
of constituents from around the country believe in. I`ve heard numbers of
70 percent of Americans believe in a pathway to citizenship for immigrant
families in our communities.
So, we want something to happen and we want it to happen now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Phillip, stay with us for a moment. I want to ask you
about this effort, Amy, because that sense of urgency that Phillip just
talked about, the idea that people are willing to go without food, to try
to move forward a vote on which both parties agree strikes me as sort of
evidence of just how far we`ve broken down in terms of our ability to do
GOODMAN: And yet how positive grassroots action is. People like
Phillip and Eliseo Medina, who also fasted, who goes back to fasting with
This is reviving when we`re talking about state to state and
demanding federal policy. When there`s a complete breakdown in Washington.
I mean, the do-nothing Congress, right. The House has done, passed fewer
bills, never in history.
So, people are taking these kinds of actions in their own hands. And
I think that`s extremely positive. It shames the so-called leaders and
brings in new ones.
HARRIS-PERRY: I was stunned this week when the staff -- a staffer
from Kyrsten Sinema`s office, Erika Andiola, actually quit her job in the
office in order to focus full-time on her mother who is an undocumented
immigrant and is in danger of deportation. And I guess something I found
stunning about it is I thought, wait a minute, you work for a member of
Congress and yet you feel that the work to be done has to be done outside
GOODMAN: That she had her hands tied there. That`s what she felt.
It is absolutely astounding that she didn`t think she could achieve this in
the place where people make policy. And so the policy is now being made in
the streets. Marc was talking about Seattle City Council, SeaTac area,
Seattle-Tacoma, the airport, they have passed $15 minimum wage, so people
are taking it, like gay marriage, step by step, state by state.
And, you know, the Congress members will come around.
HARRIS-PERRY: Phillip, you recently met and talked with Erika
Andiola, the staffer from Congresswoman Sinema`s office.
AGNEW: I met with people working with her. And as Amy said, it is a
pity that somebody has to leave the halls of Congress where an issue like
this should not be an issue and go to save her mother.
And so, we see thousands of families being deported daily. If you go
to the capitol lawn, there are crosses signaling or symbolizing the amount
of families that have been deported since the fast started. And this is
not the country that any young person wants to live in. I`m an African-
American citizen of this country.
And if you look at the issue of immigration, it`s important you talk
about mass incarceration, racial profiling, and these are issues that
African-Americans and Latinos in this country have been facing and the
immigration question is one of the defining issues of our generation and it
is a pity that you have to leave your job and go to save your mother from
being deported from this country.
BERG: You know, we talked a lot about the minimum wage here, but we
ought to note how many Americans are working at the subminimum wage, and
most of them are immigrants. Fairly reforming immigration will
significantly reduce hunger and poverty in America. That`s a very
important point that`s been missed in this debate.
HARRIS-PERRY: And stimulate the economies in the ways we`ve talked
about a stimulation that happens from raising the minimum wage. Also,
putting those folks on the books, earning minimum wage positions, right,
and without the kind of wage that we see and paying tacks.
Phillip Agnew and Avik Roy, thank you both for being here.
Phillip, thanks for your point about the kind of coalition building
that is part of this strategy. I greatly appreciate it. I`m glad you`ve
had the opportunity to break your fast and thank you for your contribution
to this effort.
AGNEW: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: And thank you, Avik, for if being here.
I hope you come back. We always like an economics debate between
Marc Morial and you.
ROY: It`s an honor to be with Marc.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s high Nerdland activity.
When we come back, Nelson Mandela`s first visit to the United States
after his released from prison and how he touched American lives both then
HARRIS-PERRY: In June of 1990, less than five months after his
release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela arrived in the United
States for a world wind tour that included a presidential visit, a concert
by the biggest pop stars of day, and a show of gratitude by millions of
people inspired by his fight against apartheid.
Over 12 days he kept a grueling schedule, visiting eight cities --
Miami, Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Oakland. And his
first stop, New York City. Back in 1990, Tom Brokaw, anchor of NBC`s
"Nightly News," reported on the historic visit.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS (voice-over): The man who spent 27 years in
prison was given a hero`s welcome. Governor Mario Cuomo calling him a
symbol of the indestructibility of the human spirit.
The 71-year-old Mandela seemed tired, not quite ready for it all.
Jesse Jackson gave him a hand with his tie.
Mandela urged the United States to maintain its tough policy against
South Africa as blacks there struggled for equality.
MANDELA: And the only way in which we can work together on this
difficult road is for you to ensure that sanctions are applied.
CROWD: Mandela! Mandela!
BROKAW: Mandela and his wife, Winnie, stopped by a Brooklyn high
school. They were greeted by 10,000 people.
Then, New York City honored Mandela as no other city can -- a ticker
tape parade up Broadway. Mandela said he knew he had friends in New York
but never dreamed he was so loved. The key to the city from Mayor David
Mandela then talked of unlocking the shackles of apartheid.
MANDELA: We want our new South Africa to be a country which banishes
forever racism in all its forms. South Africa shall be free. The struggle
HARRIS-PERRY: For many young Americans at the time, including
President Obama, a number of my guests today, heck, even for me, Nelson
Mandela`s struggle was our struggle. It was the first real chance to
agitate for global change, our first real chance to see the power of our
protest in action.
So, when we come back, how Nelson Mandela`s inspiration shaped an
HARRIS-PERRY: President Obama on Thursday afternoon recalled how he
started in politics. Not his first race and not his first phone call on
behalf of a candidate. The moment he became political.
For that moment the president thanked Nelson Mandela.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from
Nelson Mandela`s life. My very first political action, the first thing I
ever did that involved an issue or policy or politics was a protest against
apartheid. I would study his words and his writings. The day he was
released from prison, he gave me a sense of what human beings can do when
they`re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The president isn`t alone. For many of us of a
certain age who grew up here, American activism against apartheid was the
signature civil rights awakening. The wordy "divestment" entered our
political lexicon as companies, universities, and even entire cities and
states were urged to pull their money out of apartheid South Africa.
The purpose of that activism wasn`t merely to bankrupt the racist
regime, but to use finance to expose to the world just how morally bankrupt
Joining us now from Chicago is Reverend Otis Moss III, senior pastor
of Trinity United Church of Christ who began protesting against apartheid
in South Africa when he was just 14.
Also back with me, Marc Morial, president of the Urban League, Amy
Goodman, host and executive producer of "Democracy Now", Joel Berg,
director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and Mark
Quarterman, research director of the Enough Project, which works to end
genocide and crimes against humanity.
Reverend Moss, thank you for joining us from Chicago this morning.
REV. DR. OTIS MOSS III, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Thank you
so much. It`s great to be on the show, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me a little bit about your own efforts and
sort of becoming politicized in the context of the anti-apartheid protests.
MOSS: Well, I first want to just acknowledge what a powerful leader
President Mandela was. He`s our noble, prophetic prince and moral voice
not only for South Africa but for the world.
I became politicized through my parents, through Operation Push, and
learning about divestment. But the first time I protested without my
parents was at 14 to protest against the investment in South Africa through
British Petroleum and was thrown out of the British Petroleum office in
It was a great moment for myself, for my own agency and studying the
words of Nelson Mandela and learning from my parents about what South
Africa meant to us as a community and how there was solidarity between what
we were doing in the U.S. and what was happening in South Africa.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that solid --
MOSS: And -- yes. Go right ahead. I`m sorry.
HARRIS-PERRY: That sense of solidarity is institutional. You are
not the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, which is one of
the first institutions to clearly indicate its position around divestment.
MOSS: Absolutely. It was in 1979 I believe that my predecessor, Dr.
Jeremiah Wright, Jr., placed a "Free South Africa" sign in front of the
church and people didn`t even know who Nelson Mandela was.
But the church helped to not only radicalize but to communicate to
the wider community the importance of the solidarity with South Africa.
Not only Trinity United Church of Christ but the Progressive National
Baptist Convention under leadership of J. Alford Smith and Charles Adams,
also took a position in reference to South Africa.
And then, Ron Dellums in 1972 was pushing for divestment. It didn`t
happen until 1986, but every year was pushing it forth until William Gray
was actually able to put forth the bill that Ronald Reagan vetoed, but they
were able to override and the United States then joined with this great
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Marc, I don`t want to miss that point at the end,
that Ronald Reagan, of course, tried to override there, right, that notion
that in fact we did not have support that these were truly grassroots
activism and that, in fact, much of the national leadership of the U.S.
wanted to stay invested in the South African apartheid regime.
MARK QUARTERMAN, RESEARCH DIR., ENOUGH PROJECT: That was an
interesting divide between the political leadership, at least the
administration, and grassroots activists and other activists on the left
and really the U.S. Congress. I mean, overriding a presidential veto is a
pretty extraordinary act. We haven`t seen it for a very long time.
Democrats controlled the House and the Senate at that point, didn`t control
the White House, and pushed through a significant bill that the
administration completely opposed.
GOODMAN: It had never been done in foreign policy ever.
QUARTERMAN: That`s right. And the administration was carrying out a
policy of constructive engagement in South Africa. It was still a Cold War
ally with the recognition that Cuban troops were fighting in Angola, that
Angola and Mozambique were Marxist countries.
And so this was very much a part of the entire --
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t want to miss this. For many of us, for
Reverend Moss, for me, for President Obama, part of this was about a racial
identity that was about the African work identity. But that it was also a
movement that crossed racial lines.
BERG: I felt then and I feel today I`m not free if everyone`s not
free. That`s the bottom line.
And for all the talk how about evil conservatives were on this, and
they were, let`s remember the complicity of good-minded liberals -- I went
to Columbia University. Most of the people running it consider themselves
liberals and they were vested up to their elbows in apartheid money. And
we took over the administration building for a few weeks to force them over
time to divest from South Africa.
HARRIS-PERRY: You have 30 seconds, Reverend Moss. Give me the moral
and ethical piece here. What it is that we learned from this movement not
only about political and economic global strategy but what it takes to e
create a moral international movement?
MOSS: Well, one is the solidarity between not only South Africa and
the United States but of people all across the world. You only get a
leader as much as Mandela once a generation, a Mandela, a King, a Gandhi.
But also the recognition that if I am not free, then you cannot be free,
that kind of coalition.
The other thing that is powerful about the South African movement,
that it was multiracial, but also raised issues around gender, also raised
issues around class. And so, if we are to build a global movement, we have
to recognize that what happens in one country also affects us in another
country. And the decisions that we make, whether they are financial or
political, affect someone outside of the U.S. we`ve got to move from being
just local but recognize that our local communicates an affects globally.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Reverend Otis Moss in Chicago. I hope at
some point you`ll have time to join us at the table in New York.
MOSS: I would love to.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
And thank you to Marc Morial, who I always love having at my table,
and who promises to come back and talk with me about community policing at
Thank you to Amy Goodman, who is always brilliant at my at my table
and put up with man explaining today, which I appreciate. Thank you.
Thank you to Joel Berg, who is always a moral conscience at our
And thank you to Mark Quarterman for his international example and
global awareness in the world.
Up next, I have a letter. I just work here. Up next, my letter.
HARRIS-PERRY: Normally when I send an open letter it`s with the
expectation it will come to the attention of the intended recipient.
Except today, I know the person I feel most compelled to directly address
will not be there on the receiving end. I believe a note of thanks is one
of the best ways to show genuine appreciation for a gift.
So, I`m sending a thank you letter to the man who dedicated to his
people one of the most precious gifts of all, his life.
Dear President Mandela, it`s me, Melissa. To the many words that
have been spoken and written in your honor to mark the moment of your
passing I would like to adds these two. Thank you.
Thank you for the preservation of humanity under the most inhumane of
conditions. No one would have begrudged you the vengeance that would
rightfully have been yours after at appalling circumstances of your
imprisonment. But instead, you emerged from the darkness as a light. Your
example was a beacon, not just for your people, but for the world.
In you, we found a model of humanity that showed us who we are, need
not be constrained by the conditions in which we exist. When finally you
walked free, you wasted none of the precious years ahead of you mourning
the 27 you had lost.
There was simply no room for self-pity because you were too full of
the spirit of ubuntu, exemplified as you once said of the story of the
village who gave food to a hungry traveler. You were the embodiment of
ubuntu, that Pan African concept of collective uplift guided by compassion
and empathy, the idea that I am because we are.
Amazingly, incredibly, you expanded that we to include the very
entity that refused to extend that same embrace to you. After all, it was
the South African government that was the instrument of your oppression and
the oppression of your people, a government that you had every reason to
resist and reject after your release, but you sought a place at the head of
that state, driven by your deep belief in self governance.
It is not hard today to find failed attempts at the Democratic
project, but when you pursued and won the presidency of South Africa, you
proved the possibilities and the power of democracy. And you gave the
world another reason to believe in it for you. And for that, I thank you.
Thank you for sharing yourself with all of us because while you are
unquestionably a son of South Africa, you have always embraced your place
as a citizen of the world. Even as fought inequality at home, you extended
your battles beyond international boundaries. As an ally against injustice
abroad, in particular, the special kinship you cultivated with the black
civil rights movement in the United States. You embraced us as your
sisters and brothers bonded by a shared struggle but also by refusal to be
defined by it. Though our ancestors may never have set foot on African
soil, in you, we found a home.
And so, thank you. Thank you for holding on, for not heading the end
of your presidency be the end of your public life, for walking along with
us, offering your wisdom and your service, long after your body was telling
you that your own journey was nearing an end.
And even then, even at the very end when we were still not quite
ready to let you go, you held on just a little bit longer, giving us all
time to adjust to the idea of an unfamiliar world in which Nelson Mandela
no longer lives among us. Now, that sad day has come.
Beloved Mandela, we let you go with hearts that are heavy, but also
filled with gratitude and though these words will never each your ears, I
hope your spirit is at peace knowing this. For your courage, for your
endurance, for your generosity, and your vision and your grace, for all
that you were and all that you continue to be to us, sincerely, thank you.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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