December 28, 2013
Guests: Ari Berman, Sherrilyn Ifill, Kenji Yoshino, Phillip Agnew, Amy Hagstrom Miller, Christine Owens
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning, my question -- who
wants to go to Colorado and get high for the new year?
Plus, the year is over and Eric Holder is still standing.
And NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker is coming to
But first, how 2013 reminds us of the enduring truth. The struggle
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. I don`t have
to tell you, 2013 has been an emotional year. It`s actually kind of
ridiculous how many times I`ve cried on TV in 2013. At this point, I`m
basically John Boehner, but, you know, with braids.
Look, time and again I have sat at this desk and told you about the
struggles of progressive movements great and small.
There were the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina which attracted
thousands of people to protest a Republican legislature`s agenda of cutting
federal unemployment benefits, making it harder to vote, and refusing to
expand Medicaid among other things. Hundreds were arrested.
We visited the statehouse one Monday in June, and the movement`s
leader, Reverend William Barber, explained why so many were risking arrest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REVEREND WILLIAM BARBER, MORAL MONDAY: What do you do when you have
insurance and you see people making it harder for people to get insurance,
harder for children to get educated, harder for people out of work to get
some help, but easier for people to die, easier for schools to be
resegregated, easier for the unemployed to go into bankruptcy and easier
for people to get guns?
What do you do? Do you sit on the sidelines?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: The Republican majority passed their initiatives anyway
and went home for the year. But the Moral Monday protests have continued
around the state. As Reverend Barber and others call for a special session
to expand Medicaid and undo other anti-poverty legislation passed this
A thousand miles away in Austin, Texas, demonstrators packed into
legislative chambers to try to prevent lawmakers from passing a law that
would shutter many of the state`s abortion clinics. They watched as
Democratic lawmakers tried to run out the clock.
State Senator Wendy Davis spoke for 11 hours, vaulting herself into
the public eye. She`s now running for governor.
And as time was running out, it was Davis` colleague, State Senator
Leticia van de Putte (ph) who brought down the house with a parliamentary
inquiry and is now running for lieutenant governor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE (PH) (D), TEXAS STATE SENATOR: At what point
must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the
male colleagues in the room?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, those cheers that you heard, they went on for 15
minutes. A thunderous shouting that went on until the session ended,
preventing the vote from taking place.
Governor Rick Perry, of course, called another special session and
although the protesters turned out in force they were unable to stop the
bill from going forward successfully.
We also saw fast food workers and retail workers risk their jobs to
demand a living wage. We saw young people occupy the Florida governor`s
office for days, forcing him to meet with them at the state`s "Stand Your
We saw a moving commemoration of the March on Washington for jobs and
freedom held 50 years ago in August, and listened as Congressman John Lewis
was the only original speaker to take the microphone again this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GA.: I got arrested 40 times during the `60s.
Beat and left bloody and unconscious. But I`m not tired! I`m not weary!
I`m not prepared to sit down and give up! I`m ready to fight and continue
to fight! And you must fight!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And of course that moment, the 50th anniversary of the
march, came just weeks after we saw the Supreme Court gut the Voting Rights
Act, one of the movement`s greatest legislative victories.
So how are we going to remember 2013? There was no presidential
election to unite disparate political interests. And for progressive
movements there were defeats after unthinkable defeats.
But this was not a wasted year. In fact, we may look back at 2013 and
remember that this was a crucial year, that this was the year we laid the
groundwork for the battles to come. So, yes, 2013 mattered.
Let`s not forget, it was not only defeats and tears. The movement for
marriage equality saw real triumph this year. The Supreme Court struck
down the Defense of Marriage Act and allowed California`s Proposition 8 to
fall. Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii, Illinois, all passed laws
allowing same-sex marriage.
New Jersey dropped its appeal of a court order to allow same-sex
marriages. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in December that same-sex
couples in the state could legally marry and the most recent and stunning
development a federal judge in Utah ruled that the state`s ban on same-sex
marriage is unconstitutional.
And hundreds of couples have gotten married since that ruling came
down on December 20th.
The state is appealing the decision but for now the weddings are
happening; 18 states in the District of Columbia have marriage equality
now, and the federal government recognizes those marriages as legal. It
was less than 10 years ago that Massachusetts became the first state to
allow marriage equality. Now that`s at least something to celebrate for
the new year.
Joining me now is Kenji Yoshino, The Chief Justice Earl Warren
professor of constitutional law at NYU School of Law; Trymaine Lee,
national reporter for MSNBC.com; Ari Berman, contributing writer to "The
Nation" magazine and author of "Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the
Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics" and also Sherrilyn Ifill,
president and director of the Council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Nice to have you all here at the end of this year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to start with you, Kenji, because it did feel
like a year of a lot of defeats but the one bright moment was maybe these
decisions around the marriage equality. Will this ultimately be seen as a
watershed year in LGBT rights?
KENJI YOSHINO, THE CHIEF JUSTICE EARL WARREN PROFESSOR OF
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW AT NYU SCHOOL OF LAW: Absolutely. No question about
it. I was actually in the studio when those decisions were handled down so
that was a great privilege last June.
What we learned last June was that it was kind of a split decision,
that the federal Defense of Marriage Act got struck down, but the Supreme
Court really punted on the issue of whether these state bans on same-sex
marriage were constitutional or not.
What`s happening now and what happened most recently in Utah, and one
of the reasons why that is also such an important decision, is that the
Windsor decision, the federal decision, is now being used as a precedent in
order to knock out the state bans on same-sex marriage, and that`s exactly
what the Utah judge did.
SO I think we`re going to see a cascade. The momentum is undeniable.
Nine states had same-sex marriage at the time of the Supreme Court ruling
last June. Now it`s 18 and the District of Columbia, as you just said. So
we`ve doubled in a really short period of time.
So one concern here, Melissa, to put the dark cloud inside the silver
lining, is that this could reach the Supreme Court as early as next year.
And that may feel like it`s too soon. So a lot of same-sex marriage
advocates are slightly concerned about that, but on the plus side, the
momentum of going from nine to 18 in such a short period of time suggests
that the Supreme Court may be ready by the time it gets there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you about that question of readiness,
Sherrilyn, because when we look at U.S. support for same-sex marriage
overall, it is dramatic the changes that we have seen in such a short
period of time.
Just from 1996 to today, those are the lines crossing there. We see
them cross right around 2,000 or so, where all of a sudden now there`s a
majority of Americans, not a majority of states, but a majority of American
who say if they had an opportunity to vote for same-sex marriage they would
vote yes for it.
Does this suggest to you that the court may actually look out at the
cultural milieu and say, you know what, we are ready?
SHERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF THE COUNCIL OF THE NAACP
LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Melissa, I think it`s really important. One of the
things the court really showed us I think is they don`t want to get out
Even the justices who are called the liberal justices, don`t want to
feel like they`re getting out ahead of the American people, and that`s why
the figure Kenji talked about is so important.
When we were up to 18 states, it was nine states when those cases were
being argued earlier this year. We`re up to 18 states that now allow same-
sex marriage. The court is able to see the shift in the American public.
And I think it`s clear they`re looking for that.
We heard even Justice Ginsburg talk about her concerns and misgivings
about Roe versus Wade, getting out ahead of where the states were and where
the American people were. So it`s critically important and it will make a
I think that Utah case is headed to the Supreme Court, probably will
get to them, they`ll be making a decision by 2015 and I think it will
matter to all of the justices, even the justices who are otherwise inclined
to support same-sex marriage, to see the momentum of the country shifting
in that direction.
HARRIS-PERRY: In part this question of momentum always leaves me a
little bit cold. And I think the Utah case -- Kenji, I want to come back
to you on this -- is part of it.
If there isn`t momentum in Utah, which I suspect there may not be
momentum in Utah around this, should that suggest then that the court ought
to decide differently?
There`s something about the inherent civil rights that feel to me,
like, well, if the people aren`t ready, maybe the people should just get
YOSHINO: Yes. It`s going to be such an interesting case study
because you look at the polling data, you showed national polls earlier,
but if you do it state by state, Utah is always in the bottom five with
respect to how much it favors same-sex marriage.
If there`s a backlash against the judicial opinion in any state, it
will be Utah. Given it was done on federal grounds, there`s nothing the
voters there can do about it short of calling for a constitutional
But it will be interesting to see where the backlash occurs. There
are two theories that we`re bandying about here. One is I want to hug you
whenever you say, like, rights (ph) should not be put up for a popular vote
so the judges are there to be kind of majoritarian (sic) and brave and let
the skies fall and they should do what`s right.
So whenever you say that, I want to give you a hug.
On the other hand, what Sherrilyn is saying, you`re absolutely right.
When Justice Ginsburg did her tour around the country last year talking
about Roe versus Wade and how the court had moved too far ahead of the
country and how abortion right would have been on firmer ground today if
the court had waited or at least been more parsimonious in the way it
handled down that decision, she wasn`t talking about abortion. She was
talking about same-sex marriage. The writing was really clear on that.
There`s, I think, some room between those two (INAUDIBLE) alternatives
where we can be pragmatic on the one hand a la with Bader Ginsburg, but
also be principled in the way that you describe. We need both voices.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with us. What I want to do when we come back, I
want to bring the two of you in as well, because I want to go deeper on
this question of really where we`re going because there was actually last
night breaking "Duck Dynasty" news.
When we come back, the quack is, in fact, back. I want to talk about
how what we have seen over the course of the past couple weeks tells us
about where we are in our culture around questions of LGBT equality.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, Nerdland. If I asked you to assess whether 2013
was a good year or a bad one for struggles for LGBT equality, what would
We`ve been talking about issues of legislation and court decisions but
sometimes it`s our popular culture that measures our halting or
Take the recent controversy about comments made by Phil Robertson, the
A&E reality TV series, "Duck Dynasty."
Are his comments evidence of the discriminatory attitudes gay men and
lesbians still face or is his swift suspension a sign of a new pro-equality
Or is the backlash against the suspension emblematic of how
marginalized gay Americans still are?
And what about the breaking news that we had last night, that A&E has
reinstated Phil? Yes, the "Duck Dynasty" patriarch will not miss a day of
The network said in a statement last night, "We at A&E Networks
express our disappointment with his statements in the article and reiterate
that they are not our views -- they are not views we hold, but "Duck
Dynasty" is not a show about one man`s views.
"It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family,
a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many
episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity and tolerance
"These are three values that we at A&E Networks also feel strongly
So what do you think? Is the "Duck Dynasty" brouhaha about our
expanding notions around LGBT equality or our contracting ones?
TRYMAINE LEE, NATIONAL REPORTER FOR MSNBC.COM: I think sometimes, and
I`m going to speak for black people here --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of us?
LEE: -- you`re always concerned that there`s a white person out there
that you really like is going to say something really horrible and never
even think about it.
And so as he`s talking about gay people in one particular way, on the
other side, you have Jay Z and Macklemore (ph), you said it Rocky (ph),
coming out in support of gay marriage. So I think we`re starting to see
people throwing back into their camps. The support of course is coming
from those same sectors.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s interesting that there maybe are some funny new
coalitions that are getting -- and yet, Richard Kim, my editor over at "The
Nation," wrote that this is a bit of a fake outrage machine, like when you
look at "Duck Dynasty" and the kind of show it is and the sort of folks
it`s meant to be presenting, like the notion that all of a sudden we are
outraged to find that Phil Robertson may not be a supporter of marriage
equality to say the least does feel a little bit like ginned-up outrage.
ARI BERMAN, CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO "THE NATION" MAGAZINE AND AUTHOR OF
"HERDING DONKEYS: THE FIGHT TO REBUILD THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND RESHAPE
AMERICAN POLITICS": Of course. Anybody who watches "Duck Dynasty," and I
like watching the show, knew that Phil Robertson held extremely
What I thought was interesting in revealing about this exchange, his
comments about gay marriage got a lot of press and rightly so. But what he
said about Jim Crow, the fact that blacks were, quote, unquote, "happy and
singing during segregation," got almost no coverage.
I thought that was reflective of the debate we`re having. Remember,
the Supreme Court`s decision to overturn Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act
happened a day before they then overturned DOMA.
And the DOMA decision, which was a great victory for equality, really
overshadowed the Voting Rights Act decision. The Supreme Court, I think,
the concerns in the Supreme Court, have this twisted notion that there are
-- there is a need for expanded rights for some people, at least Anthony
Kennedy had this definition, but not for other people.
So basically say, OK, well, gay rights is a thing of the future, it`s
fine to be progressive on that, that but rights for blacks and Hispanics,
that`s a thing of the past, that`s a protection we don`t need, and I think
that`s twisted because you think rights are rights. We should have
protections for all people. But the Supreme Court doesn`t seem to think
HARRIS-PERRY: Sherrilyn, this is fascinating, especially if we
connect it back to what Trymaine was saying about the notion that we
actually saw in 2012 and 2013, some really interesting new coalitions being
built around prominent African-Americans taking pro-marriage equality
stances, particularly in spaces where they hadn`t previously, for me the
moment when Phil Robertson is talking about experiencing African-Americans
laboring next to him as happy read to me more as -- I mean, that`s
strategic on the part of black folks living in the Deep South. A lot of
times we present happiness or contentment when in fact we`re mad because
it`s not really safe to like roll up on white folks and go "I`m mad about
Jim Crow." Like that`s a bad idea.
Yet I do wonder if there is at least in the reaction, like in the
public reaction, a sense that racism or racial angst is not meant to any
longer be addressed but questions around LGBT equality are and if that then
starts to divide a coalition that is only just nascent in coming together?
SHERRILYN IFILL, PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF THE COUNCIL OF THE NAACP
LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: The good news is LGBT activists have been standing
with us on the voting rights piece, which has been extraordinary.
In fact, many people spoke very eloquently in the LGBT community about
the kind of muted celebration, frankly, they felt when the Supreme Court
decided the DOMA cases because of what they had done the day before in
I`ll give you a really stark example. The day of the Shelby decision
I`m standing outside the Supreme Court, I`m being interviewed in front of
the kind of bank of microphones with reporters, and, you know, marriage
equality decisions hadn`t come out yet.
But the two lawyers who argued those cases, David Boyce (ph) and Ted
Olson (ph), come out of the Supreme Court because they`re not getting the
decisions today, they`re walking down the stairs and literally we`re
crushed. We had this terrible decision from the Supreme Court.
Literally half of the reporters got up and followed the two lawyers.
The decision hadn`t come out yet. They just wanted to follow them and find
out what these two celebrity lawyers were going to say about the DOMA cases
that were yet to come.
It was kind of a stark moment where this devastating thing had
happened not just to African-Americans but to Americans where the Supreme
Court had essentially, you know, opened the floodgates to what we`ve seen
in the last few months in terms of limiting democracy.
It`s a strange kind of contrast between these two things. The good
news that`s come out is the willingness of LGBT activists to stand firm
about their support going forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to put a peg in the reminder there`s not black
communities and gay communities, that LGBT communities and community of
Interestingly enough, in popular culture we saw that this year.
"Orange is the New Black" was this moment in which Laverne Cox, an actual
trans woman playing a trans woman with a certain kind of complexity and
interest and then, you know, public attention around it reminds us that
these are not sort of completely separate communities. These are
communities that often are overlapping even in the same bodies.
LEE: By the same token, you can still get away publicly attacking
black folks in certain ways, where now the gay lobby is so strong now,
don`t dare say anything. Because if black folks push back, it`s black
folks doing what we`ve been doing, making some noise when we`re offended.
Where the gay lobby has come together in such a strong way that I think
that there`s still fear of approaching.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I think we want to be careful when we say "the gay
lobby" because, again, the question of Laverne Cox and trans people; we saw
Chelsea Manning as one of the pieces of news in the course of this year
with Bradley Manning`s transition to the identity of Chelsea Manning.
And the way in which even within LGBT struggles, a struggle for
marriage is just one part, and there are all these other struggles over and
against even that one element.
YOSHINO: I think the way to keep that coalition together is to add on
to that is to say we`re talking about just the structure of how
discrimination happens. First generation and second generation
Gay people should be very alert, right, to the possibility that what`s
happening to African-Americans right now is the future of gay rights.
So that right now, because there`s the jury discrimination against gay
people written into law that says gay people can`t get married, Justice
Kennedy can see that. All he needs to do is to read the statute. Whereas
if he has something where you read the statute and it talks about crime or
if it talks about welfare, polite people do not talk about racism and
racialized terms anymore. Any of that goes under the radar.
Where do polite people actually talk about race? Affirmative action.
What does the court do with it? It strikes it down.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is a lovely way to put it. That question of the
jury, the fact there was the notion of a future, stick with us.
Up next, something big is happening in Colorado in four days. It`s so
big you can be sure governors will be paying attention, economists will be
paying attention, federal authorities will be paying attention. The people
of Colorado might have a hard time paying attention.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mary Jane, ganja, chronic, hash, smoke, bud, weed, pot
or just plain marijuana. Once a political liability it`s now almost
mundane. More than 20 years ago President Clinton said he puffed but he
didn`t inhale. President Obama revealed his pot use in an autobiography
more than a decade before running for office.
Now with the legalization of the licensed production and retail of
marijuana in both Colorado and Washington, who knows how many public
officials will now openly admit to enjoying a little Mary Jane with no
According to a recent Gallup poll, a sizable majority of Americans, 58
percent, now agree that marijuana should be legalized, further illustrating
the mainstreaming of marijuana is the selection of 36-year-old Robert Jacob
this month as mayor of the town of Sebastopol, California, which is just
north of San Francisco.
What`s so special about Robert Jacob? He`s the founder of the town`s
medical marijuana dispensary and according to advocates for marijuana
legalization, that makes him the first person from the medical marijuana
industry to become mayor of a city in the United States.
And he may not be the last because this week Colorado became the first
state to issue special licenses to businesses that will begin selling
recreational marijuana on January 1st.
Joining me now from Denver, Colorado, is Mason Tvert, director of
communications for Marijuana Policy Project, who helped run the campaign
for Colorado`s marijuana initiatives
Nice to see you this morning.
MASON TVERT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, MARIJUANA POLICY PROJECT:
Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me. What is the key change that occurs at the
new year in terms of the purchase and sale of marijuana in Colorado?
TVERT: Well, essentially all that`s really going to happen here is
that America or Coloradans who have been buying marijuana for years will
now have the ability to buy it from licensed, legitimate, tax-paying
businesses instead of from the underground market, where it would otherwise
be benefiting cartels and other criminal enterprises.
The state will be generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue
that otherwise would have gone into the underground market. So it`s really
a step forward.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mason, I want to break out those two and think about
them a little bit. First, talk to me about the importance of this simply
from that first part of what you were talking about, the kind of legal
reform, war on drug kind of crimes perspective.
How much does this change that in the state of Colorado?
TVERT: Well, this is eventually going to eliminate the underground
marijuana market for adult use.
Basically we`re going to have retail marijuana stores that are open
and available to people. They simply have to show proof of age in order to
make a purchase. And in doing so they will not have to go to the
underground market where they might be exposed to other illegal drugs and
they won`t be giving their money to criminals.
HARRIS-PERRY: How important is this from a kind of local economic
impact perspective? How much does Colorado expect to benefit from this?
TVERT: According to the state`s legislative council, this is supposed
to generate upwards of $70 million annually just in this first year alone.
The first $40 million raised by one of the taxes that`s been imposed
is going to benefit the state`s public school construction program. So
that money that would otherwise be going into the underground market, going
to cartels, will instead go back into the community.
HARRIS-PERRY: So there is still a law being broken here, though, and
that is the issue of federal law.
So how much exposure do individuals who will now be operating legally,
both as sellers and buyers in the state of Colorado, how much exposure do
they have on the question of federal law?
TVERT: Well, the federal government back in August for the first time
ever made it clear that if businesses are following state regulations and
state laws pertaining to marijuana sales and cultivation, they will not be
And this is a huge departure from previous policies at the Justice
Department. So essentially as long as the state has created sensible,
strong regulations and these businesses are following them, the Feds will
And that`s what Colorado`s done is create some very tight regulations
that will essentially do what needs to be done, which is prevent sales to
minors, prevent interstate trafficking and so on.
HARRIS-PERRY: One last question here, and that`s around the politics
of this. We have seen a massive increase in the number of Americans in
general who believe that marijuana ought to be legal, ought to be sort of
closer to the model that Colorado now has.
Do you see a sort of partisan divide at all in Colorado around these
questions of legalization?
TVERT: Well, you know, traditionally, Democrats have been more
supportive of ending marijuana prohibition than Republicans.
But increasingly we`re seeing support grow for marijuana policy reform
among conservatives, of course among independents as well. You know,
people just recognize that marijuana is not as harmful as they were once
led to believe. In fact, it`s objectively far less harmful than alcohol
and more and more people want to see it treated that way.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mason Tvert in Denver this morning. I know there`s a
lot of nerds who are claiming they`re going to -- that`s my producers here
claiming they`re going to Colorado for New Year`s Eve. Thanks for joining
us this evening.
Up next, considering how many people thought he wouldn`t even be
attorney general anymore, Eric Holder has had a very big year.
It`s also morning, not evening, and I`m just having coffee.
HARRIS-PERRY: Earlier this year, things weren`t looking so good for
Attorney General Eric Holder. Senators were mad at him because of the
secrecy around Justice Department memos justifying drone strikes on
There was that whole mess about going after reporters` records in
leaked investigations and there was open speculation that he was a
liability for the president and had to go.
But in spite of all that, Holder kept working on something very
important, reforming the justice system, especially when it comes to
mandatory minimums. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Listen, outsized, unnecessarily
large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to
punish, to deter and to rehabilitate but not merely to warehouse and to
So last month I took action to change this by modifying the Justice
Department`s charging policy so that people charged with certain low-level,
nonviolent drug offenses, individuals without ties to large-scale
organizations, gangs or cartels, will no longer be charged with offenses
that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Holder also helped to bring about last week`s decision
by President Obama to commute the sentences of eight people who had each
served at least 15 years for crack cocaine convictions. Each case was
recommended to the president by the Justice Department.
So we wanted to go to Attorney General Holder and this in part,
Sherrilyn, because I was teasing a little bit in the last block around this
notion of marijuana legalization and it all gets kind of talked about this
in laughing, oh, the stoners will be out on New Year`s Eve kind of way,
rather than the fact that this is deeply tied to this drug war that has had
this profound impact particularly in black communities.
IFILL: Listen, the reality is that on the ground, what these kinds of
marijuana arrests have done, and this over criminalization of a drug that
is actually not more harmful than alcohol, has done is it has decimated the
lives of predominantly African-Americans, their families and their
With marijuana arrests, with the records that result from it with the
kind of sentences that Attorney General Holder`s talking about, this is
going to be looked at as one of the great kind of inhumane acts of the late
20th, early 21st century, our culture of incarceration, and much of it has
been centered around marijuana.
So when we talk about legalization, it`s nice to talk about it in
Colorado and Oregon and all these places where we`ll see this legalization
happen, it`s really not about slackers sitting around in their pajamas
getting high. It`s about changing a substantive policy, a structural
policy that has essentially decimated African-American communities by the
war on drugs being concentrated on this particular drug.
So it`s good that these changes are happening. They`re loosening up
the soil. They`re getting people to understand that we can make this
change without, you know, real harm to the community, but we shouldn`t take
our eye off the prize, and our eye on the prize is what`s going to change
our criminal justice system, which is really what this policy should be
HARRIS-PERRY: Between 1980 and 2013, we went through spending in the
U.S. -- we went from spending $540 million to $6.8 billion on prisons. You
talk about decimation, but there`s also decimation of our economic
realities when we look at how much we`ve been spending.
YOSHINO: Right. Just to piggyback off the earlier comment, I think
we not only need to look at marijuana but we also need to look at the
disparities among the different kinds of sentences that are disbursed for
different kinds of drugs.
The (INAUDIBLE) federal sentencing guidelines disparity between powder
cocaine and crack cocaine. It used to be 100:1. It`s now been revised but
there`s still a significant discrepancy.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the great achievements of the Obama
administration that rarely gets talked about was the moving down of that
IFILL: It`s 18:1 now.
YOSHINO: Exactly. But if you think about it, even 18:1, 18 grams of,
you know, powder cocaine is going to get you the same time in jail as one
gram of crack cocaine. We know that over 90 percent of people who are
convicted of powder cocaine are white. We know that over 90 percent of
people who are convicted of crack cocaine are nonwhite.
So that disparate impact is huge. And it goes back to what we were
talking about earlier, about second-generation discrimination, because the
thing that (INAUDIBLE) look so innocuous is that white and black or the
name of any race is not on the face of the (INAUDIBLE) guidelines.
YOSHINO: It flies under the radar of the courts.
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, Ari, if you look at the top offenses for which
people are imprisoned in this country, drugs as a whole category, makes up
50 percent. Immigration just over 10 percent.
So you have 60 percent of people being sentenced around drugs and
immigration offenses. Look how much higher those are than, for example,
sex offenses or bribery, extortion, even weapons and explosives. You think
of those things as dangerous. These are the folks who are in our prisons.
BERMAN: It`s crazy. I think there is a real shift in attitudes about
drug policy, and it`s not just Eric Holder. It`s coming from conservative
Republicans as well. I think that`s what`s so important at this moment,
you`re having people like Rand Paul come forward and say, why are we
locking up so many nonviolent offenders?
So to me the real shift is going to come when it`s not just people
like Eric Holder talking about it but it`s also a broad coalition of
Libertarian-minded Republicans and progressive Democrats joining together
to fight the system. And I think that`s what`s happening now.
LEE: Talking about 1.5 million people incarcerated in this country,
the vast majority for these nonviolent drug offenses. Beyond that 6.8
million whatever it is a year in prisons, the cost of parole violations,
the urine testing. But then even the ripples out into the community. In
some places, public housing. If you have a felony, you can`t live there.
(INAUDIBLE) go to East New York. There`s a place called Convict
Alley, where a vast majority of the people have some sort of felony
conviction. And you can`t associate with other felons. You can`t
associate with your neighbors.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is one of the accomplishments of 2013 is we`ve
seen a little bit of movement on the banning the box movement, including
Target actually saying they`re going to ban the box, that mark that I`ve
Doesn`t mean they can`t ask or won`t ask on those initial pieces of
application, but it`s such a good point because it`s not just serving your
time, it`s the time you are then expected to serve in terms of the ability
to get school loans and housing and all of those things sort of going
IFILL: You`ve still got criminal background checks. There`s a case
in Ohio right now. Criminal background checks, you sold marijuana five
years ago, $5 worth of marijuana. Now Ohio imposes a new law on criminal
background checks, you get fired from a job you`ve had for 20 years.
So what we`re doing with people is we`re taking their whole lives.
We`re taking their whole lives out of this one arrest. The crack powder
and sentencing disparity is interesting because even are judges saying --
there`s seven judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals who talked about
the racial elements of this disparity.
So I think that, you know, you`re absolutely right about this shift
happening right now, the right on crime movement, these conservatives who
are recognizing that we`ve got to change this criminal justice system.
2014`s going to be a real pivot year for criminal justice.
HARRIS-PERRY: As much as we are mostly against incarceration as the
kind of overuse in this country, there are times when people need to serve
jail time and times when they don`t.
Earlier this year, we brought you a story that at first we couldn`t
even believe was true, but now there is an update that is just as
unbelievable. Somebody ought to be going to jail who`s not and my letter
of the week is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Last month I sat down with courageous survivor Courtney
Andrews, who spoke out after a judge gave no prison time to Austin Clem,
the man who was convicted of raping her three times when she was a
Now I was hopeful when I heard an Alabama appeals court had ordered
Judge James Woodruff (ph) to resentence Clem after prosecutors learned --
or argued that the lenient sentence actually violated state law.
But on Monday Judge Woodruff (ph) issued the new sentence and he added
only two years to Clem`s probation, reduced his original 40-year suspended
sentence by five years to 35, and he decided again that Clem should spend
no time in jail.
It was yet another slap in the face to Courtney, who said she was
speechless and in tears when she learned about the sentence. And it was a
setback for the prosecutor who had already worked so hard to appeal the
original sentence and put Clem behind bars.
So I wanted to send that prosecutor some words of encouragement in my
final letter of 2013.
Dear District Attorney Brian Jones, it`s me, Melissa.
When I heard the news on Monday my first emotions of disappointment
and disbelief were quickly replaced by something else -- rage.
Rage for Courtney Andrews, who shared her story and should have gotten
justice in return, rage that Judge Woodruff confirmed the worst nightmares
of survivors who don`t speak for fear that we`re not going to be heard,
rage that he could have used his power to protect the vulnerable but he
chose instead to allow a predator to go free, rage at the failure of a
justice system that has allowed Austin Clem to be among the 97 out of 100
rapists who never serve a single day in prison.
Now, I know you understand those daunting odds because as a district
attorney you`re fighting against them every day and it must feel sometimes
like you are pushing a boulder uphill.
But I want to tell you, don`t stop. Keep pushing. Because this case
has already overcome so many of those odds: 54 percent of rapes are never
even reported, but Courtney Andrews courageously defied that statistic when
Only 12 out of every 100 rapes leads to an arrest, but Austin Clem was
Just 9 out of every 100 rapes ever gets prosecuted, but thanks to you,
this case was among that small number that went to trial.
Five out of every 100 rapes leads to a felony conviction. Clem was
convicted of one count of rape in the first degree and two counts of
After getting so close, I can only imagine how you must have felt
after you fought the original sentence and instead of fair punishment that
you sought, the new sentence is even worse.
But whatever those feelings might have been, you didn`t hesitate. You
challenged the judge`s second sentence right away.
And I`m encouraged by your determination because there is no justice
in a system that gives freedom and security to a rapist while his victim
lives in fear and uncertainty.
One of the best hopes for fixing what is broken about that system is
people like you who will do what Justice Woodruff would not do, who will
use their power to bend that proverbial moral arc just a little bit closer
District Attorney Jones, I know this is just one case out of many for
you, but for Courtney and other survivors of sexual assault, it means so
much more, because your push for a just sentence is sending a message that
we who survive most need to hear. I believe you. I will fight for you,
and it is safe for you to speak.
You will get justice in exchange for your truth. That we need not to
be left only with our rage and disappointment and fear because now, thanks
to your efforts, there`s at least a little reason to hope. Keep pushing.
HARRIS-PERRY: 2013 wasn`t exactly the sexiest of election years. One
state picked a brand new governor. And another one decided to keep the one
they already had. The voters of the country`s biggest city decided after
two decades they`d like a Democrat as mayor.
But let`s be honest, when it comes to election enthusiasm, it`s all
about even numbered years and all anyone wanted to know about the 2013
elections was what they signaled for the elections of 2014.
Except the biggest news of 2013, the broadest implication for future
elections, wasn`t how people voted. It was the ongoing assault on their
ability to vote.
This was the year that the Supreme Court undid nearly 50 years of
historic civil rights legislation by striking out a key provision of the
1965 Voting Rights Act.
In June the court removed the requirement for federal approval to
change voting laws in nine states and parts of others with a history of
discrimination. Those states wasted no time putting restrictive voting
laws into effect.
Just hours after the decision, Texas announced it would begin to
enforce its voter ID law and launch a discriminatory redistricting plan. A
month later North Carolina passed a grab bag of anti-voting measures that
made it the nation`s worst state for voter suppression.
Both of those states must first get by Attorney General Eric Holder,
who is leading the Justice Department challenges against the laws.
So, Sherrilyn, is it overall in 2013, if you had to assess it, was it
a win for the voting rights advocates or a win for the voter suppression
IFILL: It was not a win for voting rights advocates, but the good
news is we were ready. We were not surprised by the Shelby decision. In
fact, I think America in some ways was ready because we`d had the 2012
election and we`d had all the voter suppression efforts, the very same
Texas law was a law we had challenged and defeated in 2012.
People saw the long lines and Americans of all stripes were saying
what is going on, what`s happening?
People understand what voter suppression is, it`s not like we have to
educate them community. And that`s a good thing, but there`s no question
the Supreme Court`s decision with the stroke of a pen took away a 48-year
It`s all summed up in the words of the secretary of state of Florida
who said we`re free and clear now. And all summer that`s what we saw. We
saw jurisdictions feeling free and clear to decide to close polling places,
to try and change election systems, to limit early voting, to do what North
Carolina did, passing that omnibus anti-voter law.
And so we`ve had to be on the ground fighting this literally with
swords in a way that we didn`t have to in the past because of Section 5 of
the Voting Rights Act.
Now the push is on to try to get a legislative fix for Section 5, but
in the meantime we still have to protect the right of people to vote. Even
in these elections that you talk about that don`t seem that important, the
water board, the school board and the municipal district.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Ari, this has been your -- this was your 2013.
This is what you lived.
Yet there was still a sense, on the one hand, people know what voter
suppression is, they sort of know, and yet there was a lot of discussion
about are these efforts about protecting the right to vote and the sanctity
of it, or are they about suppression?
There is a new article. It`s an academic piece. I want to be really
clear. It`s an academic piece written by the University of Massachusetts
of Boston, sociologists and a political scientist.
And "The Washington Post", you know, sort of posted it on their monkey
cage blog. But it just demonstrates empirically, right, no ideology here,
that in states where African-Americans turned out to vote in big numbers,
in the next year you start seeing legislative efforts for voting rights
BERMAN: There was 180 bills introduced in 41 states after the 2008
election to restrict voting rights.
What happened in 2008, the first African-American president was
elected. It didn`t take much to put two and two together.
I think this was the worst year for voting rights since 1877 when
troops pulled out of the South and ended reconstruction. Not saying it`s a
similar situation because it`s very different now. But if you look at
southern states are reacting in the same way.
When the troops left the South, they said, OK, we can go back to doing
what we did before, which was discriminating against people at the ballot
Now they`re saying basically the same thing. In North Carolina, Texas
-- and remember, this was an off-year election so most state legislators
weren`t in there, most elections weren`t happening.
Really I think we`ll see the effect of the Supreme Court`s decision in
2014, next year. All these southern state legislatures are coming back,
they know they don`t have to clear their changes with the federal
They know if they change a polling place, if they do some crazy
redistricting, if they change a law right before an election, it`s going to
be very hard to challenge it now. So 2014`s going to be critical. If we
want the next year to be a year of enfranchisement, not disenfranchisement,
there`s going to be a lot we have to pay attention to.
HARRIS-PERRY: Your point about it being the worst since 1877, not
saying that this is that period of redemption, but that we`d seen
expansions previously and now we start seeing restrictions.
Stick with us. Coming up next, we`ll talk about the president`s year
in review and how his biggest accomplishments also became his biggest
headaches. Kristen Welker joins us with a look at what happened in 2013
and what to expect in 2014. We`ll continue to talk voting.
And there`s more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
We were updating you on some of the biggest stories we`ve covered this year
-- the struggle for marriage equality, the fight to legalize marijuana, to
quest to reform draconian mandatory minimums for drug offenses.
But we would be committing an update fail if we didn`t include the
one person who was always at the center of it all, President Barack Obama.
And just how well did 2013 go for President Obama?
Well, to answer that, NBC`s Kristen Welker gives us a look back
because it has been quite a year for the president.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It
was a year that started with great expectations. But a few months later, a
trio of controversies quickly threatened to derail President Obama`s second
term agenda. Revelations the IRS was targeting conservative groups and
that the Justice Department was seizing the phone records of journalists.
Plus, the ongoing fallout from the attacks on the U.S. consulate in
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The fact is we have four
dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out
for a walk one night who decided they`d go kill some Americans? What
difference at this point does it make?
WELKER: One of President Obama`s biggest policy goals, enacting
stiffer gun laws in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, failed to go anywhere
after a bipartisan bill was narrowly defeated in the Senate.
OBAMA: This was a pretty shameful day for Washington.
WELKER: And his other big priority, immigration policy, didn`t get
But it was the president`s signature achievement, health care reform,
that ended up becoming his biggest headache. The president forced to
apologize over and over for the botched rollout.
OBAMA: I am sorry.
I`ll fix it myself but I don`t write codes.
We did fumble the ball on it.
WELKER: And for telling Americans --
OBAMA: If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.
WELKER: We now know that`s not true and that now infamous comment,
along with the revelations about the NSA`s massive surveillance program,
eroded the public`s trust in the president.
Meanwhile, Republicans didn`t fare any better in 2013. The GOP
watched their poll numbers plummet after the public blamed them for
shutting down the government. It was a failed effort aimed at defunding
the president`s health care law, led by Tea Party Republicans like Ted
Cruz, who staged a filibuster that will go down in history.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I do not like green eggs and ham.
WELKER: The one bright spot for both sides, a bipartisan budget deal
struck just a few weeks ago. Could it be a sign 2014 could be better for
Washington and the American people?
The president almost sounded hopeful at his year-end news conference.
OBAMA: I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me now for the first time here in Nerdland is
NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker. Also with us is
MSNBC.com`s Trymaine Lee, "The Nation`s" Ari Berman, and Sherrilyn Ifill,
who`s president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
So thanks for putting that piece together. Sometimes it`s hard to
remember this was the year in which the president was re-inaugurated,
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet stands at this point with approval rating of
just 40 percent, a disapproval rating of 52 percent. How hard a year was
it for President Obama?
WELKER: Well, I think it was an incredibly hard year. We should
note that the economy did improve, so that was another bright spot at the
end of the year. The unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent.
I think what you`re seeing now is a bit of a reset within the Obama
administration. Certainly, that started with health care. They`ve started
to get that Web site back on track. You`re seeing a surge in enrollment
numbers and people going online and actually being able to navigate to the
In early January, the president will come out and talk about what he
plans to do, if anything, with the NSA. He`s obviously gotten a lot of
And a bit of reorganization within his administration. He`s bringing
in John Podesta. Of course, that`s Clinton`s former chief of staff.
So, I think there`s a recognition that they want to sort of reset in
2014 and do a better job of reaching out to Congress as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it`s a tough time. I mean, you know, I think part
of what makes me feel sad in the 2013 moment is here you had the re-
inauguration, you had that incredible moment where he talks about Stonewall
and Selma and Seneca and this whole notion of this expanding rights, to
sort of, you know, the visionary Obama we had seen from the campaign trail.
And then, the year ends with -- in a lot of ways with the NSA revelations,
with the tough stances in Syria.
I guess part of what I`m wondering, Trymaine, particularly to the
extent that President Obama was part of how we overcame some of those
voting rights restrictions that we saw earlier. It was the fourth of
attachment to that president that got so many people to the polls despite
How much does a declining public opinion for president and for
Congress end up having sort of a ripple effect on the quality of democracy
TRYMAINE LEE, MSNBC.COM: I think looking at those same groups who
came out en masse to push the president over the hurdle in communities of
color in particular, I think one piece that will be kind of hinged to his
legacy will be the inability to pass meaningful gun legislation -- not just
the crazy mass shootings in the Navy Yard or Aurora, but the everyday kind
of gun violence.
Remember, when Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago, who marched in President
Obama`s inaugural parade was gunned down not far from his home. So, these
same groups sit back and say, they`ve been saying before when we`re dealing
with the unemployment issue, what are you going to do for us? Now we`re
saying can we get a grip on this and is it a matter of choice?
So, I think we`re going to still see that spillover. And again, the
court of democracy is, the democracy equal for all of us, the protection
for all of us?
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet the tough part on that, Kristen, you said
towards the end of the piece, you had this decline in public support for
Congress as well because obviously the president put forward and worked
with Manchin and Toomey to get that legislation, but it doesn`t go forward,
WELKER: Right. What was so stunning about that, of course, is at
the time when you looked at the polls, almost 90 percent of Americans
wanted that legislation to pass. And just recently, we heard from Senator
Manchin it doesn`t seem like they`re going to revive that legislation.
But if you look forward to 2014, immigration reform is really the one
to watch. House Speaker John Boehner just brought Rebecca Tallent on to
his staff. She has been working on immigration reform. That`s a signal
that he might be serious about trying to get something done, and, of
course, for Republicans politically speaking not acting on immigration
reform could be incredibly damaging in these upcoming --
ARI BERMAN, THE NATION: You have a situation where you have these
incredible activist movements coming to Washington but it doesn`t seem like
Washington is at all responsive to what they`re doing. And this was huge
failures. I mean, the failure to pass immigration reform, the failure to
pass gun violence -- I don`t think we mentioned shutting down the
WELKER: I did.
SHERRILYN IFILL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: We use the word
Washington and we`re encompassing the president with Congress. I think
right now, I mean, we can`t look at history when we`re in it, but the
reality is America is failing. And I think that`s how people are going to
look back at this time.
The president has had a couple of important moments in 2013. We
shouldn`t forget, he learned how to use the bully pulpit. That speech that
he gave at the impromptu news conference after the verdict in the Trayvon
IFILL: Incredible, amazing. His speech after Newtown was critically
His ability to use his executive power, all the things we were
talking about earlier that Attorney General Eric Holder is doing around
mandatory minimum, the president choosing to pardon those eight people.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, come back to the moment when the president comes
out clearly emotional, using the bully pulpit after the Zimmerman verdict,
and does make -- I mean, makes history, right, in that moment by reflecting
himself in the boy who has been shot and whose assailant is not found
guilty. In that moment, though, we don`t end up on the back end of it with
legislation that addresses guns.
IFILL: But that won`t attach to the president.
IFILL: I mean, at this moment, his approval ratings low because
we`re feel like we`re failing. Who else are we going to attribute that to?
But I think when we look back at this, it`s going to be America who
failed. I don`t think it`s going to be historically attached to the
president because he gave a speech, because he was so passionately made
clear what his intentions and his desires were.
So, I think the president got a bloody nose this year, and he sure
did get a bloody nose. I think Congress got two black eyes and America,
our democracy, got a black eye, too. That`s what we`re going to be forced
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask you, because as much as the domestic
stuff is always about vote and maybe even most fall at the foot of
Congress, the foreign policy stuff, especially the NSA stuff, has really
hurt. We`re seeing a lot of new NSA news this week. How much will that
historically attach to president?
WELKER: Oh, I think it will, and I think that`s why you`re seeing
the president come out. In January, he`s going to address it. Of course,
he had this panel that just came out with 46 recommendations about how he
should change and alter the NSA. He seemed to signal in his final news
conference that he`s going to announce some changes. I don`t think he`s
going to adopt all 46 recommendations but maybe come out and say that he`s
going to allow private companies to hold the metadata. That`s one of the
changes that has been talked about quite a lot.
So, I think that this is something that he`s quite focused on. And
then there`s sort of these issues that are bubbling up behind the scenes.
Syria, that is a big one.
WELKER: Of course, there has been progress towards getting rid of
their chemical weapons program, but you still have so many people being
killed every day at the hands of the Assad regime. So, that is one that is
going to continue to be at the back burner.
And then, of course, Iran -- you have that nuclear deal that a lot of
folks in Congress aren`t happy about, and they want to see sanctions put in
place. The White House says that would be a bad idea. So, that`s going to
be a little battle we`ll see at the beginning of the year as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: The 2014 question on Syria will be interesting. I
think the president was incredibly deft politically in how he managed to
walk that Syria piece. It was very difficult. We saw sort of his
political capacity in that moment. It will be interesting to see what
happens to the American public and whether or not we care that people are
dying in Syria, which we know can be difficult.
Stay with me. You can right after the break.
But Kristen Welker, thanks so much.
WELKER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, putting the law on trial and the protesters
who are standing their ground against our justice system.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYBRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: I just wanted to come here
to talk to you for a moment to let you know how important it is that we
amend this stand your ground, because it did not, certainly did not work in
my case. We need to do something about this law when our kids cannot feel
safe in their own community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin,
testifying before a U.S. Senate hearing on state stand your ground laws
which gained national attention after the shooting death of her son.
Now, the law states that people who do not -- people, in fact, do not
have a duty to retreat when confronted with a perceived threat and that
they can use deadly force to protect themselves. Florida was the first to
institute stand your ground in 2005, but now more than 20 states have
similar laws. And Ohio is looking to become the next one.
The Ohio House passed a bill in November that would, among other
things, eliminate the duty to retreat. The bill will go to the Ohio
Senate, which could consider it in the next session starting in January.
Now, while back in Florida, the fight against stand your ground still
continues. Leading the charge is a group of young people, the Dream
Defenders, who in July camped out in Governor Rick Scott`s office until he
agreed to meet with them.
Joining us from Miami is the executive director of the Dream
Defenders, Phillip Agnew. Also back at the table with us is Kenji Yoshino,
who is the Chief Justice Earl Warren professor of constitutional law at NYU
School of Law.
So, Phillip, I want to start with you. Tell me, what is -- what`s
going on there in Florida in terms of where your efforts are now?
PHILLIP AGNEW, DREAM DEFENDERS: Well, you know, in 2013 in October,
we were granted a hearing on stand your ground after our occupation of the
capitol. And what we saw was that repeal bill be shot down by our Florida
legislature. But if we can be clear, as we look forward to 2014, stand
your ground is going to remain a top priority for the Dream Defenders here
But stand your ground is just one branch in a really poisonous tree
that shows how Florida cares about its young people. And at the root of
that tree is prejudice, profiling, and prisons for profit.
So, if we`re going to talk about stand your ground and as we look
forward to 2014, it being a priority, we`ve got to talk about what the
other issues that Florida have prevailing against young people, the school
to prison pipeline, where we rank number one in the country for arresting
young people in schools. We`ve got a department of juvenile justice that`s
100 percent privatized. They continue to give private contracts to a
company called youth services international that has a track record of
abuse against children.
So, as we look forward and talk about stand your ground, it`s very
important that we talk about those other issues because Florida does not
care about its children and it remained evident in that law and in many
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Phillip, thank you. Stay right there because you
put so many things on the table.
And sort of that intersection, Trymaine, of these multiple issues of
schools, of state funding, around issues of poverty, and around this
question of violence and who it impacts is precisely where you brought us
before the break when you were saying these are the big questions facing
many of the communities that were part of the successful 2008 and 2012
LEE: See, the Dream Defenders are part of this kind of broad new
generation of activists that kind of congealed after the Trayvon Martin
killing, because for the first time and a long time, It wasn`t a high-
minded policy kind of thing, it`s right here on the ground, do our lives
have value. Can you shoot and kill us?
You see what happened to Jonathan Ferrell and you saw what happened
to Renisha McBride.
LEE: And so, what we`re seeing this continued growth and the Dream
Defenders are part of this broad movement we haven`t seen in a long time.
HARRIS-PERRY: And actually, Ari, part of what I`m -- your point
about not high-minded -- I mean, Sybrina Fulton at the front of this
movement and the dream defenders in the movement, but Sybrina Fulton is
kind of the face of it in a Coretta Scott King sort of way, almost, very
modest, simply to say under the context of stand your ground, if you are an
aggressor, if you pursue, then you should not be able -- that`s what the
Trayvon Martin law suggestion is, just if you pursue then you can no longer
say stand your ground as part of what`s happening.
BERMAN: There is a lot of the echoes of the `60s in 2013. I think
we saw that in Florida. To me, the Dream Defenders reminded me of SNCC,
the young civil rights activists. They didn`t wait for them to give them
something. They went and did it themselves and brought through direct
action public attention to a huge outrage in North Carolina. That reminded
me of HTLC and Dr. King and the broad based movement there.
So, I think you have a new generation, as Trymaine mentioned, of
civil rights activists looking back for inspiration at the `60s and trying
to adapt it to the 21st century and the reality we face today.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Phillip, you just heard Ari saying your
organization is reminiscent of SNCC. Is that a space from which you all
draw inspiration and how you see your fight going forward?
AGNEW: It is, it is. And it`s an honor to be compared. We`ve got a
lot more work to do, but SNCC was a college based organization focusing on
trained indigenous leadership in the communities. And as we move forward,
that`s where our focus is going to be, moving just from a college-based
structure to answer the communities.
Hey, you all already talked about it. 2014 is very, very important
in the state of Florida. We`re going to be building electoral power. And
I think that`s another area where young people are acutely aware moving
forward, our electoral power being part of an emerging demographic and
emerging majority of people that can shift the political discourse in this
And so, we`re going to be building electoral power in Florida,
seeking to change the conversation, shift the platform points in our
gubernatorial election, and to be frank, for any politicians, if they don`t
have mass incarceration or private prisons on their platforms, then there
is going to be a problem. It`s the number one defining issue of our
generation and that`s what we`re going to be fighting against from here on
HARRIS-PERRY: Phillip Agnew, thank you for your continued advocacy.
You know, I`m so appreciative of "Time" magazine choosing the pope as their
person of the year, but if I had to make that choice, it would have been
Sybrina Fulton because her grace this year under unspeakable circumstances
is not like anything I`ve ever seen before, and I appreciate the work that
you all are doing to keep that legacy alive.
AGNEW: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, ground zero in the fight for reproductive
rights is here. What happens when the far right messes with Texas?
HARRIS-PERRY: In 2013, the state of Texas became ground zero in the
fight for reproductive justice. In July, Texas lawmakers cast a measure
that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby
hospital. The plan would in effect force a third of the state`s 36
abortion clinics out of business and prevent an estimated 20,000 women from
accessing safe, legal abortions.
The measure attracted national attention after weeks of protests and
rallies, an epic 11-hour filibuster from Democratic State Senator Wendy
Davis, who is now running for Texas governor.
After the law passed, it was blocked by the district judge only to be
reinstated again by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Last month, the Supreme
Court rejected an emergency application to block the law and now the case
is going back again to the appeals court, which is expected to hear
arguments next month -- which means that for now at least 12 of Texas
licensed providers can no longer offer abortions.
Joining me now from Texas is one of those providers who has been
forced by the law to turn women away.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Women`s Health.
Nice to have you here this morning.
AMY HAGSTROM MILLER, WHOLE WOMEN`S HEALTH: Thank you, Melissa, for
your coverage of this issue.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, listen, get us up to date, given all this back and
forth in the courts, what is happening on the ground for you as a provider
MILLER: You know, it`s been a very difficult couple of months.
There`s a number of us that have had to stop providing abortion services in
our clinics. I`ve faced layoffs of numerous staff because I was not able
to keep the doors open and serve the women who need us.
We`ve had some infrastructure issues where we`ve been trying to give
people bus tickets and gas tickets to try to help them get to the clinics
that are still open in the community. And, you know, even when some of us
have been able to get admitting privileges, like I was able to recently in
my Ft. Worth office, only one of four physicians has been granted
privileges, and he`s only available to work with us on Saturdays and
And so, we`ve had women having to wait for weeks in order to get an
appointment then when they can actually come in, we stayed open until
midnight the first Saturday we were able to reopen in order to serve the
women in the community who needed us.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to pause just a moment. I want to come out
on this question, Kenji, because I want to talk about the legal strategy
here. This is a very different set of strategies than we saw previously
which were aimed at the patient who was seeking abortions and trying to
limit that. This is really toward the providers.
Why that kind of strategy, Kenji?
KENJI YOSHINO, NYU: Yes, well, there are multiple strategies going
on. I would think of one strategy as a kind of chipping-away strategy,
right, so the dominant legal standard is prior to viability a woman as a
right to an abortion and the state cannot put an undue burden on her
accessing abortion after viability. The state can prescribe abortion as
long as there are exceptions for the health and life of the mother. So,
that`s the legal standards for all that legalese there, but that comes from
a 1992 case that was embarrassed by the Supreme Court in majority and a
So, we basically have that law on the books. And essentially the
right has responded in two ways, one is a chipping-away strategy and the
other a sledgehammer strategy. So, the sledgehammer strategy is actually a
lot easier to see. So, if North Dakota says once you can hear a fetal
heartbeat, then you can`t have an abortion, that`s directly flouting the
Supreme Court because --
HARRIS-PERRY: The heartbeat one --
YOSHINO: Because pre-viability you should be able to have that
abortion and the state can`t place an undue burden, you know? So that`s
directly asking the Supreme Court to overrule its prior precedents and it`s
really under-ruling the Supreme Court in a really -- in my view, kind of
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Amy, I want to talk about the chipping away
because one of the things I heard you say is you got provider who now --
patients who have to wait weeks, so we just hear from Kenji here that there
is this sort of legal standard about viability, and then obviously a set of
strategies that are making it impossible for providers sometimes to provide
these abortions in a short time period.
Does that actually end up bumping up against some of these viability
MILLER: Absolutely it does. You know, what we have here is there`s
a right that exists on paper. You know, a woman still has the right to
make the decision to terminate a pregnancy, but if she can`t access that
right, it`s completely meaningless. Without providers that are able to
serve women safely and professionally, the right is just an abstract thing
that exists on paper.
So, what we`re seeing is numerous women unable to exercise their
right to a safer legal abortion both because they can`t travel to where the
clinics are open, you know, there`s costs that are barriers for them, but
also because the clinics that have remained open are unable to serve the
And this is just with the admitting privileges part of the law in
effect. Once we see the ambulatory surgical center requirements going into
effect late they are year, it`s going to be even more drastic and worse for
women. And you`re seeing kind of what Kenji was describe, seeing what we
call supply-side barriers, so they`re passing infrastructure barriers about
hallway whips, about operation room size, about admitting room privileges.
Previously in the anti-abortion movement, it was about waiting periods or
it was about parental consent.
Now, what they`re doing is basically restricting people`s ability to
access the service by putting all these onerous regulations on the actual
people who are trying to provide the care.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask Ari one question about this. So part of
what we`re hearing from Kenji is the flood of legislation that occurred in
the states. And when you just sort of look at sort of how many states pass
something, if we compare that to what we were just talking about, about
113th Congress that has passed almost no legislation at all and compare
that to all of this action occurring in states, there`s a part of me that
wants to step back a little bit as an academic and say, OK, why?
Like what in the world is going on in the world that we might see
later historically that says in a moment when we don`t bother to pass any
other kinds of laws, we are passing these kinds of restrictions?
BERMAN: Well, one of the things that`s happening is you have one
party Republican rule in so many states, and so many states flipped from
blue to red after the 2010 election and states like Texas that were red
just got redder. The states are the ones passing the voting rights
restrictions, the abortion rights restrictions, the gun rights bills, so to
And Congress is basically irrelevant right now. To some extent, the
Obama administration is irrelevant right now because all the extreme
conservative policy making is happening at the state level, and that`s
where the conservative movement has spent so much time and energy and
that`s where they have succeeded so dramatically in the past few years.
HARRIS-PERRY: Amy, thank you so much for your continued work and for
joining us again. We will continue to keep our eyes on what`s happening in
Texas. Amy Hagstrom Miller from Austin, Texas.
MILLER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And when we come back, I`m going to turn to my guest
Trymaine Lee who has been for months working on terrific reporting on one
of the most underreported and important stories happening in cities across
the country. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The biggest education story this year one in which
traditional public schools are steadily disappearing. And the thing that`s
so many of them have in common.
MSNBC.com`s Trymaine Lee has chronicled the school shutdowns across
the country, from cities like Philadelphia, where 9,000 public school
students have been rerouted to different schools often having to travel
through dangerous intersections and neighborhoods.
In Normandy, Missouri, near St. Louis, the economic effects of
students leaving so-called failing schools for better ones in other
districts has been crippling because the district they leave has to pay all
To Chicago where terms like "phasing out" and "school desert" are
taking on special meaning with the largest single school closing in
As Trymaine points out in a new piece which you can read on
MHPShow.com and MSNBC.com, the closures are devastating students and their
So, Trymaine, what is the punch line here or the finding here? What
is it these schools have in common?
LEE: The finding here is that, overwhelmingly, the people who are
bearing the heaviest load of all these policy decisions and all these
school closures are young black and brown people, primarily black people,
primarily poor people.
And so, why we have the big conversation about reform and choice and
should we open charter schools and give parents in these communities who
have been sent to failing schools -- the schools have not been educating
the people. People in the community will say, is it a failing school or a
And so, while the charter movement gains strength from the economic
incentives, poor black and brown children are going to schools that are
overcrowded, that don`t have toilet paper. We`re talking 2013 where they
don`t have updated books, where students have to walk longer routes to
school, to dangerous neighborhoods. I mean, just weight of kids, were
already the most vulnerable demographic that we`re dealing and there`s no
wonder you can overlay the maps of the school deserts with the food deserts
and the gun violence and where voter I.D. laws and gun violence. These
kids are bearing the brunt of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, children who are hungry are going to
school -- children who are hungry, and as we talked about a couple of weeks
ago, often suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder or ongoing
traumatic stress disorder as a result of living in violent neighborhoods,
then go to schools that are under-resourced -- not much of a surprise they
have trouble accomplishing a variety of academic tasks. Then those schools
And yet, as you point out, because they were failing schools,
Sherrilyn, part of what we`ve seen undoubtedly members of the civil rights
community is that this fight, then, doesn`t fall out along sort of --
expected racial lines, often members of the African American community are
supportive of these closures. Other members are not, like this is
something -- a tough fight.
IFILL: It`s really difficult. We`re coming up on the 60th
anniversary of Brown versus Board of Education and we still have a
tremendous amount of work cut out for us where education is concerned.
What every parents want, what every parent wants, of every race, is a
school that`s going to educate their child and prepare their child to be a
citizen and prepare their child to be able to work in our economy.
The problem that we have in this country is that we have decided to
walk away from the commitment to public education. And the commitment to
public education is the only way that we can ensure that every child --
because some parents will have the choice and some parents won`t have the
choice. And that means --
HARRIS-PERRY: And some parents will not be present.
HARRIS-PERRY: If your parent is the kind of parent --
IFILL: That doesn`t happen for you.
And so, unless, we are prepared to make that commitment, turn that
failing school around, we`re going to have precisely the kind of situation
that Trymaine so eloquently documents in his article. The reality is that
the resources these schools need to be able to educate these children are
not there and they`re not there because of our failure to make that
commitment to them to be there.
What this means for the future, think about it, as a parent, as a
young person, a young married person, are you going to move to a
neighborhood that has no schools?
IFILL: No, you`re not.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you have that choice. Again, if you have that
IFILL: If we`re talking about, you know, the children, we`re also
talking about the vitality and the future of the communities from which
they come, because businesses are not going to locate there. You`re not
going to have economic development there. And so, we`re talking about just
deserts, not school deserts or food deserts but urban deserts.
HARRIS-PERRY: Trymaine, what you often hear from the political
leaders in these cities, because these are often cities where African-
American voters are politically empowered, right, sometimes black mayors of
these cities, and they`ll say we are facing an economic crisis. These are
schools that are failing, don`t worry, we`re going to open charters.
The narrative is we don`t have any choice. What other choice would
you expect us to exercise?
LEE: See, the interesting is that there are some charter schools
that do a great job of educating kids. Most don`t. Most perform at/or
below the level of the school the kids left.
HARRIS-PERRY: Amen, say that one time.
LEE: These schools are not performing at a greater level. So in the
community, parents will say choice is give us the resources we need to get
our kids in position to excel, because on the back end, we see it so
clearly. No wonder why the school to prison pipeline is so strong. No
wonder when you look inside the prison filled with black and brown faces,
many who dropped out of school, many come from these communities.
And so, it`s not a matter of this high-minded philosophy. There`s
real impact. When they come back, can they get a job, will they be able to
be a productive member of society? Will you be able to again attract the
young parents and families to a community to bolster it?
HARRIS-PERRY: And, of course, these things all connect back in the
sense here you have a set of states who are making decisions that make it
harder often for women of color and often for poor women to access
reproductive choice, and then their children are caught in circumstances
that can be devastate, and then you have a school to prison pipeline. I
mean, these things are not -- we do them between commercial breaks but, in
fact, they actually are all deeply connected in the way we are currently
Trymaine, I really appreciate your reporting and staying on this.
We want to make sure everyone knows that this latest piece can be
seen online at MHPShow.com.
When we come back, late breaking news from last night on the
continuing effort to rage against the machine. A judge`s key ruling in
what is becoming one of the nation`s most important test cases for
establishing a living wage.
HARRIS-PERRY: All year, we`ve been talking about the tough economy
and the fraying of the social safety net, which just became even more
Today, unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million Americans who
have been out of work more than 26 weeks. And President Obama has
expressed support for a senate plan to extend the benefit for another three
months. But in the meantime the long-term unemployed are in economic
limbo. Even some people with jobs are feeling left out of the economic
recovery because of the growing income gap.
That`s why Walmart workers and their supporters staged 1,500 protests
on Black Friday. Why fast food employees walked off the job more than 100
cities earlier this month. And why several states have passed their own
minimum wage hikes. In 2014, 20 states and Washington, D.C., will have a
minimum wage floor higher than the federal level of $7.25.
But late last night, a setback in the city that has become the poster
child for voter action on wages. A judge in Washington state has ruled
that SeaTac`s new voter-approved law establishing a $15 an hour minimum
wage for travel and hospitality workers does not apply to nearly 5,000
airport workers. The judge says that Seattle Tacoma International Airport
is outside the city`s authority because it is owned by the Port of Seattle,
a separate government entity.
Supporters of the law are vowing to appeal to the Washington State
Right now, let`s bring in Christine Owens, executive director of the
National Employment Law Project. She joins us from Washington, D.C.
So, Christine, that news out of Seattle last night, how big is it?
CHRISTINE OWNES, NELP: Well, it`s really not a surprise. You know,
we found that in these ballot campaigns, the opponents challenge them all
the way. We generally win them and they`re still challenges.
So, we`re not at all surprised by this decision. It`s the same judge
who initially ruled it couldn`t be on the ballot to begin with and that
decision was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Supporters will take
this back to the Supreme Court. It`s really too early to speculate as to
what the court will do.
I think the important thing is that this genie is out of the bottle.
It can`t be put back in. The victory in SeaTac has excited folks around
the country, has helped build the momentum. We now have campaigns in the
city of Seattle and Chicago and New York for higher city minimum wages, and
we have state minimum wage campaigns in roughly a dozen states and a strong
federal minimum wage campaign.
I think as you said earlier, people are acutely aware that something
is deeply wrong with this economy. It actually starts at the bottom and
that`s where we have to start to raise wages.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me come out here to Ari, sitting at my table,
because when we look at support for raising the minimum wage, it is almost
consensus position, right? There`s a lot of people think we ought to go
ahead, we ought to raise the minimum wage, or at least make it proposed
that it`s tied to inflation.
For Democrats basically consensus, even for Republicans, although
there is a majority against, it`s a bare majority, 56 percent against
independent, 71 percent. If I`m looking at that and running for office,
I`m thinking this is where you go, you go to the minimum wage. As we
talked about a variety of issues today, it feels like what the voters want
is totally unrelated to what the legislators are doing.
BERMAN: Well, it sort of seems like with Congress the more popular
it is the less likely it is they`re going to do it. And I think we have
this huge pot of inequality and the fact the minimum wage is not rising is
a reflection of that.
So, at the very least, we should be raising it. Then you look at the
issue of unemployment benefits. Congress paid themselves when they shut
down the government.
HARRIS-PERRY: They did.
BERMAN: But they`re not willing to extend unemployment benefits for
people who have been out of work for one year, two years? I mean, that is
so morally wrong, it`s kind of unbelievable to even think about it. People
aren`t demanding more of their members of Congress.
HARRIS-PERRY: They also take government-sponsored health care while
at various points over and over again.
Kenji, I`m wondering what about the legal aspects here. So here we
have voters who make a decision about what they want people to be paid, but
then we have a court saying, hey, this entity, although it is within the
geographic boundaries of Seattle Tacoma, it`s governed by something
different so these voters don`t get to speak on it.
YOSHINO: Right. That was a legislative decision rather than a voter
decision to carve out that jurisdiction. It`s basically a jurisdictional
issue. It will play out.
I actually that`s a hiccup along the way to the broader picture. I
think the one thing I want to highlight here is let`s notice the way in
which the ballot initiatives, which I was so hard on, you know, last year
with Prop 8, you know, I`m celebrating here, right.
YOSHINO: And I want to underscore I don`t think there`s hypocrisy
there because I think the ballot initiative was created during the
progressive era when legislators had been captured by special interests
such that the people were not being hurt.
So, it`s the disenfranchised who were saying we`re going to create a
plebiscite in order to speak.
More recently, unfortunately, the plebiscite has been used to trample
on minority rights as in Prop 8 to have gay rights movement.
So, I want to say both are ballot initiatives but this ballot
initiative is much truer to the progressive era that actually spawned these
movements in this country in the first place.
HARRIS-PERRY: In the first place.
So, Christine, let me ask you about that rather and the era we find
ourselves in now, because your organization has been instrumental in
pushing this minimum wage increase to the forefront. But traditionally
thinking about these workers` rights issues we would be looking to labor
unions and they`ve had a tough couple years.
What do you see as the future for the questions of labor and workers`
rights in this country?
OWENS: I think that there`s actually a lot to be excited about in
terms of the labor movement. I think it has become much more broadly a
workers` movement. There`s a lot of support among established unions for a
lot of the efforts that are under way, whether it`s the fast food strikes,
the Walmart strikes, the efforts on the part of employees of federal
contractors to win decent wages and to have the opportunity to have a voice
at work if they want to.
So I think the partnerships that have been emerging between groups
like mine, worker centers, other worker organizations, and the labor
movement, the formal labor movement, is sort of a new generation of labor.
And I think it holds a lot of promise.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, we will continue to keep our eyes on this.
Christine Owens, Kenji Yoshino, Ari Berman, Sherrilyn Ifill, and Trymaine
Lee, thank you all for being here.
Coming up, we`re going to check back in with some of the most
inspirational people that we met this year, our foot soldiers, like Eugene
Taylor, who shares his music skills with patients at the hospital where he
works in North Carolina. His update, he released this song on iTunes.
He`s like Beyonce of foot soldiers.
We`ll be right back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Regular viewers of this program know that on
Saturdays, we close the show with our foot soldiers of the week -- people
in their communities taking action to create change, be it large or small.
So as 2013 comes to a close, we wanted to bring you some incredible
updates on the inspiring individuals we featured throughout the year.
First, there was Ben Simon, a student at the University of Maryland
and a founder of the Food Recovery Network. That group uses volunteer
power of students to take unsold food from campus dining halls and donate
it to local food banks and shelters.
When we first met Ben, the group had just 13 chapters at campuses
nationwide. Now there are 46 chapters and they have donated 200,000 meals
to hungry Americans.
In March, we met Aaron Jackson, founder of Planting Peace, famous for
the rainbow colored equality house which sits directly across from the
homophobic Westboro Baptist Church. Last month, they repainted the house
blue, pink and white for transgender day of remembrance in honor of those
who have been lost to violence.
Planting Peace is also creating secret safe houses for members of the
LGBT community in Uganda where draconian anti-sexuality bill passed last
This year, we also met 12-year-old Madison Kimrey who started a
MoveOn.org petition asking North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory to meet with
her why he signed an ultra-restrictive voting rights law. After coming on
our show, Madison gave a stirring speech at a Moral Monday protest in the
fall and started a new petition calling for federal legislation to grant 16
and 17-year-olds the right to preregister to vote.
Then, there was Dr. Malcolm Woodland who founded Young Doctors D.C.,
a training program for African-American teenage boys in Washington. This
past summer, six high school sophomores lived at Howard University learning
about medicine, psychology and health issues affecting their communities.
The young docs are also taking part in local health fairs and meet every
Saturday throughout the school year. They`re looking forward to returning
to Howard this summer.
Then there was Tamar Boggs, a true hero. This Lancaster,
Pennsylvania teenager took to his bike when he heard a 5-year-old girl had
been abducted from his neighborhood. Tamar helped to find the girl and
return her safely home. Not only has he stayed close with the family but
has become a leader in school and tells us he stays focused on the bright
side of life.
For more on these amazing foot soldiers and many others that we
featured in 2013, check out our website at MHPShow.com.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m
going to see you again tomorrow morning.
Remember when Anthony Weiner was a contender for mayor of New York or
the election that featured both a Cooch watch and oh Jackson? Or when Ted
Cruz broke out green eggs and ham on the Senate floor? Tomorrow morning at
10:00 a.m. eastern, our second annual look back in laughter. You know
Jamie Kilstein is going to be here and Pia Glenn, Dean Obeidayah and Judy
Gold. They`re all going to be here.
And yes, it`s the nerd land joke show. Here`s the deal. We have no
idea whether it`s going to work.
But right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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