'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, June 21st, 2014
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
June 21, 2014
Guest: Earl Catagnus, Aneesh Raman, Leslie Velez, Walter Kimbrough, Judith
Browne Dianis, Dale Ho, Alicia Reece, Bob Moses
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSBNC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, what are
the Koch Brothers hoping to buy for $25 million?
Plus, 50 years after freedom summer, the fight for the vote continues. And
legendary organizer Bob Moses is coming to Nerdland. But first, all bets
are off when it comes to what happens next in Iraq.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry, and this morning we have these
dramatic new images out of Baghdad. A military parade of thousands of Shia
militia marched through the streets of the city raising sectarian tensions
as fighting between extremist Sunni militants and the Iraq government
threatens to push the country into civil war. On Thursday we learned how
the United States will be getting involved in the conflict in Iraq when
President Obama made this announcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have had advisers in Iraq
through our embassy and we`re prepared to send a small number of additional
American military advisers, up to 300, to assess how we can best train,
advise, and support the Iraqi security forces going forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, this conflict which has cast Iraq into the deepest
uncertainty since the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011 has pitted those
Iraqi security forces against a group whose meaning in English roughly
translates to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS,
or you may have heard the president refer to them in a different
translation as ISIL, ISIL. ISIS a militant jihadist group of Sunni Muslims
whose stated goal is to redraw the boundaries of sovereign nations in the
Middle East in order to establish an Islamic empire across the region. The
group, which has its origins in al Qaeda, is so extreme in its tactics that
even al Qaeda leadership has rejected them and severed ties. In fact, some
have called ISIS a rival to al Qaeda as the most powerful of jihadist
groups and it`s been flexing that muscle in a series of victories against
the Iraqi army, which has failed to stop ISIS from seizing control of city
after city in Iraq. By some estimates ISIS has already laid claim to up to
a third of the country. And that includes Iraq`s second largest city of
Mosul, which last Wednesday came under ISIS control after just 800 of their
fighters were able to defeat nearly 30,000 Iraqi soldiers who reportedly
backed down without putting up much of a fight.
For now helping those struggling security forces in Iraq is the only job
President Obama is sending those 300 U.S. advisers to do. The scope of
their role includes assisting with intelligence gathering and planning
military operations against the ISIS militants and not, as the president
made a point of saying, revisiting a 2014 version of the U.S. war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq. There`s
no military solution inside of Iraq, certainly not one that is led by the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: What the United States will be leading, however, is the
diplomatic effort to promote stability in the country. President Obama is
launching that effort by sending Secretary of State John Kerry overseas to
meet with U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe. He also stopped short
of taking military action including the air strikes requested by the Iraqi
government by taking them completely off the table.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Because of our increased intelligence resources, we`re developing
more information about potential targets associated with ISIL and going
forward we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if
and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So with those not completely off the table, we need to look
no further than the decade long U.S. occupation that ended barely two and a
half years ago for a reminder of why U.S. military might is no easy
solution to conflict in Iraq. The invasion and occupation of Iraq cost
nearly $1 trillion, the lives of more than 4,500 U.S. soldiers and an
estimated 100,000 Iraqis. But to fully understand the complexity of the
conflict requires we look a back a bit farther in time. The members of
ISIS, like most of the world`s billion-plus followers of Islam are Sunni
Muslims, except in Iraq which is among a handful of countries where Sunnis
are outnumbered by Shia Muslims.
The division between these two largest sects of Islam can be traced all the
way back to the death of the Prophet Mohammed in the year 632, when Sunnis
and Shia split over the fundamental disagreement about the Prophet
Mohammed`s successor. Sunnis controlled politics in Iraq from the end of
World War I up until the last time they held power in the country when the
United States ousted the Sunni-led government of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In the new Iraq envisioned by the U.S. after the invasion a democratic
state that upheld civil liberties would allow for a sharing of power that
would include both the Sunni minority and the Shia majority except things
didn`t work out quite as well as the U.S. had planned. Instead, Saddam`s
successor and Iraq`s current prime minister, a devout Shiite, Maliki, had
reportedly ignored opportunities for political accord for the Sunni
community, monopolized power and used aggressive military force to tamp
down on political opposition. He`s left many moderate Sunnis in Iraq
feeling politically and economically shut out and has made for an easy
recruitment pitch for the Sunni radicals and ISIS looking for support for
their insurgency. Now once again the United States is tiptoeing a fine
line between the two groups as it wades yet again into the middle of a
struggle for political power in Iraq.
For more now we go live to Ayman Mohyeldin in Irbil, Iraq. Ayman, this
morning we are seeing images of a show of force in Baghdad. How stable
does the official government of Iraq seem to be, and is ISIS being pushed
back from the gains that it made last week?
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now the Iraqi
government faces two challenges. One, the external political pressure on
Prime Minister Maliki, and that`s coming from a whole host of countries,
predominantly Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United
States and others that are starting to see him as being an inefficient
leader, one who has led the country astray and created sectarian division.
So, there is mounting international pressure on him to perhaps step aside
and give the chance to somebody else to come into power. However, there
are internal pressures and those are more political, because about a month
and a half ago, this country held elections and, in fact, although his
party won a large share of the parliamentary seats, he has yet to actually
form a coalition government. He has yet to actually form a new cabinet.
And that is why he`s coming under internal pressure as well to perhaps step
aside and to perhaps give the chance to somebody else.
But in terms of the ISIL or ISIS group and the pressure that is coming on
them militarily from the Iraqi government, ISIS is definitely fighting.
They are still taking over territories, including towns and cities. But
they so far have not made that significant advance onto the capital
Baghdad. Overnight, though, they did score a strategic victory. They
managed to take the border crossing of the town called al-Qa`im, which is
on the border between Syria and Iraq and in the process of doing so, they
have now secured one more entry point, from which they can bring in weapons
and fighters into the battlefield here, and have now obliterated that
border between Syria and Iraq. It`s completely now under their control and
a lot of people are afraid that means that this fight is going to get a lot
uglier in the coming weeks and months. But in terms of their territorial
expansion towards Baghdad, that has yet to happen. And I think the Iraqi
army has started to regroup, they are starting to carry out air strikes.
They`re getting some help from the Kurdish Peshmerga here in the north.
But for the time being, though, they still have the momentum on their side
unless the Iraqi government can launch a counteroffensive to retake that
HARRIS-PERRY: Ayman Mohyeldin in Irbil, Iraq, thank you so much for that
At the table with me this morning are Earl Catagnus, who`s an Iraq war
veteran and assistant professor of history and security studies at Valley
Forge Military College, and also at this point Nerdland`s sort of voice on
what we are doing in Iraq and Aneesh Raman, who is a journalist who has
reported extensively in Iraq and is now a senior editor at the news site
Ozy.com. Thank you both for being here. I want to start with some of what
we heard there from Ayman. Let`s begin with this question about the
leader. Is it part of it - taking your class, right, by going back and
trying to read and thinking about how old these divisions are, is it
unreasonable to expect that any given leader through sheer force of
personality or will could bring together these groups? In other words, is
partition inevitable at this point?
ANEESH RAMAN, SR. EDITOR, OZY.COM: It`s a great question. When I was
there in `06-`07 the lead up to that had been the number of elections and I
interviewed a number of prime ministers who preceded Maliki in a
transition. And they all spoke of themselves as founding fathers. They
equated their actions to that of George Washington, John Adams. None of
them, though, really were speaking to Iraq with a unifying voice. There
are a lot of Iraqis who see themselves as Iraqi first and then Shia, Sunni
or Kurds. The political leaders all saw it as a game, where they couldn`t
compromise too much. They couldn`t demand too little. And it was a
struggle for power. And out of that emerged Maliki who was a compromise
candidate. He really wasn`t someone that inspired the Iraqi people or even
inspired any confidence among his party. He was just everyone`s second
choice. And when they couldn`t decide on a top choice, he stepped in. He
then took that role and grabbed it and became an authoritarian, almost,
political leader. And as we left, he politicized the military. He
promoted a lot of Shia generals who otherwise wouldn`t have had that
authority. And that`s part of what disenfranchised the Sunnis. He left
them out of a lot of decision making. That`s part of what disenfranchised
the Sunnis. And so, he set the table for ISIS to be able to come in and do
this sort of brazen assault that we`ve seen. And what is working for ISIS
right now is what Ayman just mentioned, there`s no real government right
now in Iraq. They`re in a transition. They have to certify the election
results, they have to put in place a new prime minister or president and
speaker. It`s a void right now and you have an ineffective leader trying
to manage a void and now a growing civil war.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, in that moment, you took us back to 2006-`07. And I did
- you know, again, if we were - we remember that the man who is now our
vice president, Joe Biden, in 2006-`07 during that civil conflict,
suggested that partition was, in fact, the likely outcome. Can we see now
Vice President Biden? Right, so there he`s saying the idea as in Bosnia is
to maintain a unified Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-
religious group, Kurds, Sunni, Arab and Shia Arab room to run its own
affairs while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.
Does that, Earl, sound like a reasonable way -- there was a laughter about
that at the time. But is that precisely where we`re going now?
EARL J. CATAGNUS JR., PROF., VALLEY FORGE MILITARY COLLEGE: No, absolutely
not. And one is the arrogance of the West to actually suggest that we`re
going to partition again this sovereign country. And I find it really
offensive to even suggest it. That - that and people, and Iraqis do self-
identify as Iraqi as opposed to Saudi or to Turkish or to Iranian that you
can come in and tell them you can`t handle or manage your conflict so the
U.N. is going to come in and partition you like we did after the Second
World War and after we did after the First World War. I don`t think the
U.N. has, one, the clout, not do they have the political backing and I
don`t think they have the people`s will of the world or even in that
region. So, and I don`t think that the tribal leadership will allow that
to happen. Because if you have a smaller Sunni al-Anbar province, Sunni
tribes there and the Shia and then the Kurds, well, now you have Iranian
influence that is going to take over the Shia partition, Saudi influence
over the Anbar partition and the Kurdish region, everybody hates the Kurds
because they have a Turkish population in Turkey and Iran. So there`s
going to be a fight there in between. So, I don`t think it`s in anybody`s
interests. Now I think federalization or more autonomy, definitely more
inclusive government as it`s definitely a situation that will happen.
Sunni tribal leaders are going to -- they`re stepping up now because
they`re seeing this, the way that ISIS has moved, and the way that their
extremist view on religion on Islam and they`re going to step up and stop
in their particular regions of power, so it won`t allow it to happen, but
they`re going to use this scare to gain political influence.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so, I want you to stick with me, because when we come
back I want to ask you specifically about how ISIS is using not only the
military power but also the power of hearts and minds to try to win over
and to try to think a little bit about these identities. I also want to
talk a little bit about this arrogance of the West and the notion of our
role and whether or not we have one there at this time when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: You said that the war was ended in Iraq. You said al
Qaeda was decimated. You said it was stable.
OBAMA: It was. And - but just because something is stable two years ago
or four years ago doesn`t mean that it`s stable right now. And what we
have is a situation in which, in part, because of growing mistrust between
Sunni and Shia, some of the forces that have always possibly pulled Iraq
apart are stronger now. Those forces that could keep the country united
are weaker. It is ultimately going to be up to the Iraqi leadership to try
to pull the politics of the country back together again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama speaking with "Morning Joe`s " Mika
Brzezinski in an interview that air on Monday on MSNBC. So, Earl, I want
to come back to that. Because obviously, there is politics here. But I
want to listen to one more thing that the president said during his presser
about this idea of American interest and then ask you a question about it.
Let`s listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: But what`s clear from the last decade is the need for the United
States to ask hard questions before we take action abroad. Particularly
military action. The most important question we should all be asking, the
issue of it, we have to keep front and center, the issue that I keep front
and center, is what is in the national security interests of the United
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Is sending 300 advisers in the national security interests
of the United States?
CATAGNUS: I think absolutely. I just have to mention this about the 300
and what the significance of that number is, it`s symbolic. The movie now
"300" with the 300 Spartans it`s an East versus West fight. I don`t know
if this is where the sophistication -- why the president chose 300, and I
don`t know, but it signals maybe to Iran because we see that because the
movie was a big downer and Iran wasn`t allowed it to be played but because
it showed the Persians in this negative Barbarous state. But - so, I don`t
again, this is - it`s an example of that - if it is not intended, and it`s
an unintended consequence you`re thumbing your nose in another part of the
region, just because of your ignorance of what that means, that 300
military advisers, American Spartan warriors that are the Special Forces
and, again, I don`t know if that was intended or unintended, but it will
signal a message to Iran.
HARRIS-PERRY: And is it a euphemism? Are they really advisers or are they
CATAGNUS: They`re advisers.
CATAGNUS: They will be - they are advisers. They will have clear orders
not to get - unless they not to engage. And their mission is not to
engage. They may eventually turn into terminal air controllers where if
they do initiate air strikes they will control the air at the point of when
the impact, but that`s the only engagement that they will. Even in
Afghanistan when the Special Forces went in, they were never really engaged
during the invasion of Afghanistan. They were actually controlling air.
So at the same time, these -- this shows support and it gives the Iraqi
army the necessary backbone to really push forward with this. And it gives
them, the Sunni people -- and I just heard this again from a Sunni retired
admiral that said, America, please help the people of Iraq. Not our
politicians. The people.
HARRIS-PERRY: But the people. All right. So, clearly, when you bring up
the politicians there at the end, I`m thinking, OK, clearly there`s a
politics to how - to sending advisers, to talking about air strikes, but
not talking about boots on the ground. Here in the U.S. there is simply no
appetite for a reinvasion. On the other hand, we are not the only
political sort of feature in this. What I was listening to Ayman say about
what is going on at the border of Syria and given ISIS sophistication about
their interest in a broad, regional, potentially even governing
relationship -- because they`re not just blowing things up, they are also
doing a variety of things to win hearts and minds, how concerned should we
be regionally? What should we be thinking about in a broader, regional
RAMAN: We had on Ozy a great piece by John McLaughlin, the former deputy
director of the CIA and he argues, one, that partition, even if it doesn`t
happen in a formal way is the informal reality that`s going to take root in
Iraq. But he also said the concern for the U.S. is really regional
instability. The Mideast is on fire. And when you look at, a, I think
Iran is a really interesting country to look at. I did a bunch of trips in
there. The Iranian government loves crisis. What they love more than
crisis is sectarian crisis, when they can rally the Shia cause. You have a
hugely young population there that doesn`t connect with the Iran/Iraq war,
which gave a lot of credibility to the Iranian government. And so, that
divide has been deepening. This gives them a new in, a new way to rally
the country. And so, you`re going to see them be very aggressive, I think,
about trying not just to be players in Iraq, but use the Iraq volatility to
play back at home in domestic politics. Syria, as you mentioned, an open
border. This idea of ISIS even planning for governance which we`ve seen,
not just taking territory, but thinking about how they`re going to run
these areas because they`re not really fearful of people coming back.
HARRIS-PERRY: I really, really want to emphasize how important it is that
we not just sort of write off ISIS as, you know, sort of frightening in a
military sense but unsophisticated. They really are quite sophisticated.
RAMAN: Yeah, I mean just their timing of their assault came as we spoke
about with Ayman at this void in governance, this transition, this moment
where there`s parts of the Iraqi government crippled because they don`t
have leaders that are in office. And so I think generally in the region
there`s one country I would say that we should all look at in Nerdland that
other people maybe aren`t. Emily Cadei, one of our writers, did a great
piece a week or two ago about Jordan. Jordan is probably one of our last
stable allies in the Arab world. Jordan has seen an influx of refugees
from the Palestinian territories, influx from Syria, of Syrian refugees,
influx from Iraq of Iraqi refugees. Those refugees are weighing down on
the economy during the Arab spring, growing calls for democratic reform in
Jordan. The king has put forward some reforms. Unclear if they`re enough.
But the vast majority of fighters, foreign fighters that are in Syria, were
coming from Jordan and they`re going to come back at some point. And so
Jordan, I think, is a really key country for us to watch.
HARRIS-PERRY: I appreciate you setting the table for us, so all my
producers, who are back in the control room start gearing up your Jordan
research, apparently. That`s what we`re going to be on. Aneesh says so.
Earl Catagnus Jr., Aneesh Raman, thank you both for being here today. And
up next, here in Nerdland we also thought that Ta-Nehisi Coates made a
compelling point in his article "The Case for Reparations." But we didn`t
think they would take it quite so seriously in Texas.
HARRIS-PERRY: In Texas, the Dallas County Commissioners Court did
something pretty amazing this week and it may all have been an accident.
Tuesday John Wiley Price, the only African-American member of the
commission introduced a resolution simply known as the "Juneteenth
resolution." Juneteenth refers to the day enslaved people in Texas learned
that slavery was officially over two years after the Emancipation
Proclamation. Price`s Juneteenth resolution was approved unanimously by
the commission without comment. After all, the title seemed innocuous as
much as the other proclamations endorsed by the commission that day
including one supporting men`s health month and the American Kidney Fund,
but the Juneteenth resolution was a bit different and went much further
than just celebrating Juneteenth. Price says he was inspired after reading
Ta-Nehisi Coates` article "The Case for Reparations" in "The Atlantic"
which we featured here on "MHP" show. Instead of posting the resolution
online, Price read it to his fellow commissioners ending it with these
words. "Be it further resolved that the dereliction that has caused 400
years of significant suffering, the descendants of those who had been
enslaved Africans, who built this country should be satisfied with monetary
and substantial reparations to the same. His fellow commissioners quickly
approved the resolution, even though some didn`t seem to realize exactly
what they approved.
The court`s lone Republican later changed his vote to abstention after
admitting he hadn`t read the proclamation. None of the other commissioners
changed their minds, but some complain that they didn`t have a chance to
read it beforehand. Now the resolution is nonbinding, so it`s unlikely
that any money is going to be doled out. But it does mean that support for
reparations is now the county`s official position. Good job, Dallas county
commissioners whether you meant it or not. Up next, huddled masses here at
HARRIS-PERRY: For the past two weeks we`ve been bringing you the story of
the surge in accompanied migrant children who`d been making their way
across the border into the United States from Mexico and Central America.
Since October of last year more than 47,000 children have arrived alone at
the border. The influx of children, most of whom are from Central America,
has overwhelmed the U.S. government. That by law has 72 hours to send
children from non-bordering countries to temporary shelters to wait
deportation proceedings and reunions with parents or guardians. But the
shelters have been overwhelmed for months, leading to a backup of children
waiting in crowded detention centers operated by the Customs and Border
Protection Agency. On Wednesday following reports of unsanitary living
conditions inside the centers, border patrol opened the doors to two of
those centers to the press. This facility in Nogales, Arizona is currently
home to 840 children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Those three
countries are the source of the vast majority of migrant children.
Yesterday Vice President Biden traveled to Guatemala to meet with the
leaders of those nations as part of the Obama administration`s effort to
deal with what the president has called an urgent humanitarian situation.
In addition to an effort to ramp up detention and deportation processes,
the administration also announced millions of dollars in funding to El
Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to help stem the tide of migration. The
money is intended to provide support and security for the children who are
fleeing brutal violence and extreme poverty in their home countries.
Joining me now from Washington, D.C., is someone who has heard firsthand
the stories of these children. Leslie Velez who is senior protection
officer of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. It`s very
nice to have you this morning.
LESLIE VELEZ, SR. PROTECTION OFFICER, UNHCR: Thank you, Melissa. It`s
good to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me just ask this very clearly, is this an
immigration issue or a humanitarian crisis?
VELEZ: This is certainly a humanitarian crisis. What is driving the
children out of their home countries in Central America is, as you have
said, extreme violence and threats to their lives and to their safety.
It`s playing out as an immigration crisis as the crisis over there has now
reached U.S. soil. But certainly the situation on the ground is something
worth really looking into. And understanding the threat under which these
children are living on a daily basis.
HARRIS-PERRY: So help me to understand that a bit because there`s
obviously international law, rules, guidance about what counts as the kind
of threat that would allow for an asylum seeking situation. So is it
simply -- not that this is a small thing -- but discord in a nation or does
it have to be an imminent threat to this particular child or this
particular child`s family?
VELEZ: Yes, so the refugee convention and international law protects
individuals from any state from returning individuals to a place where they
fear for their lives and freedoms. So, in particular, under the refugee
definition when individuals are targeted and threatened and persecuted on
account of protected grounds being race, religion, nationality, political
opinion, or a particular social group, then they would certainly qualify to
meet the refugee definition and in many cases these children we found in
our report after interviewing 404 of the children from these countries that
many of them presented these exact types of concerns. So 58 percent of
them, almost 60 percent of the children are in this situation.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Let me take you to Senator John McCain who visited the
Nogales institution that we were - the detention center that we were just
talking about had this to say afterwards. Let`s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R) ARIZONA: Right now over radio and television in these
Central American countries they`re telling them that they can get here and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So Senator McCain is saying that there is information going
to these home countries saying that if they come, the children can stay.
"USA Today`s" headline says that media in Central America is actually
saying don`t go to the United States. Is media messaging in these nations
responsible for the movement of these unaccompanied children?
VELEZ: When individuals who fear for their lives and they`re in the mode
where they`re trying to survive, information like that might be an impetus
to start to move, but this is typical of what the U.N. Refugee Agency sees
all over the world. So the first to leave, it`s a slow start like the
exodus leaving Syria. It`s a slow start. The arc then begins to sharpen
with the first people leaving are usually children and women.
HARRIS-PERRY: And why? Why are children traveling alone so frequently in
VELEZ: It`s really sad. We spoke to one 15-year-old kid who came and he
said I actually didn`t want to leave. I didn`t want to leave my mother
alone. But he felt that he was forced to do this trip because he wanted to
protect his little sister, who is only 12. She had already been sexually
assaulted by criminal armed groups in their area. And so he felt really
bad about abandoning his mother, but felt compelled to protect his sister
on what he knew was a dangerous journey.
HARRIS-PERRY: You have more than 400 stories of having interviewed these
young people. You told us one. Does telling those stories - do you think
that it will change either the decisions made by policymakers or
potentially change the minds of Americans as citizens who might then bring
a different kind of pressure on our elected officials?
VELEZ: Yes, absolutely. It changed us as we saw this. Back in 2006 when
we did a similar study and a much smaller percentage of the children had
these types of concerns, but then for 404 stories to come at us with such
graphic detail and such heart-wrenching - just it was so compelling for us,
which is why the U.N. refugee agency as the humanitarian agency mandated to
protect refugees has been activated. And we stand with the governments in
solidarity. This is a challenge regionally. It`s a regional problem that
requires regional solutions. The U.S. has already made some very positive
steps. But there`s a lot more work to be done in order to protect these
HARRIS-PERRY: Leslie Velez in Washington, D.C., I appreciate your work and
for keeping our eyes on not only the immigration politics here, but
specifically on the humanitarian crisis. Thank you.
VELEZ: Thanks so much.
Up next, when is giving a $25 million gift controversial? Well, when it
comes from the Koch brothers?
HARRIS-PERRY: A couple of months ago I began writing a monthly column for
"Essence Magazine." Since joining, I have learned quite a bit about the
44-year old publication launched in 1970. "Essence" was a groundbreaking
news and entertainment magazine devoted to black women. "Essence" has
since become a household name expanding its reach beyond the written word
and delving into music with the Essence Festival and digital media with
Essence Studios. But do you know who helped get the magazine on its feet
financially during the first few years of its founding? None other than
"Playboy" magazine creator Hugh Hefner. That`s right, in the early `70s,
the magazine mogul whose publication was mainly known for showing naked or
nearly naked women was an early investor in the magazine dedicated to
empowering women of color. In fact, the "Playboy" provided the largest
private investment "Essence" had seen at that time, the $250,000 check from
M. Playboy helped the magazine "Essence" that is, stay afloat after its
first copies hit the stands.
But Hef isn`t is the only wealthy benefactor who seems to have diverse
interests. The Koch brothers, the billionaire industrial tycoons are
perhaps best known for their endorsements of conservative causes like their
new super-PAC called Freedom Partners Action Fund. The Super -PAC plans to
devote more than $15 million in support of 2014 midterm contenders who
oppose big government. But outside of politics, the Koch brothers have
also made a number of sizable charitable donations. In 2007 David Koch, a
prostate cancer survivor, gave MIT $100 million for cancer research. In
2013 the same Koch brother gave New York Presbyterian Hospital $100 million
to create a new ambulatory care center. Here in New York you`re going to
see the Koch name inside of the Museum of Natural History and at Lincoln
Center. Whatever you think of their politics, there`s simply no denying
that the Kochs are huge benefactors. But the charitable Koch donation that
really has people talking now is the $25 million contribution to the UNCF,
United Negro College Fund, announced this month. The donation, which is
the fifth largest in UNCF`s history, will help fund a scholarship program.
In a statement Charles Koch said "increasing well-being by helping people
improve their lives has long been our focus. Our partnership with UNCF
will provide promising students with new educational opportunities that
will help them reach their full potential. We have tremendous respect for
UNCF and we are hopeful this investment will further its effectiveness in
helping students pursuing their dreams. But the donation has sparked
something of a side eye or at least a raised eyebrow with critics citing
the Koch`s public support for conservative causes that have potentially
negative consequences for communities of color, like voter I.D. laws. This
begs the question, are political causes that can hamper a voting bloc and
charitable contributions that might aid it mutually exclusive? Joining me
now is Walter Kimbrough, President of Dillard University, one of UNCF`s 37
member, historically black colleges and university. So, President
Kimbrough, are you going to take that dirty Koch money?
WALTER KIMBROUGH, PRESIDENT, DILLARD UNIVERSITY: Yes, and I`ll tell you
why. Let`s put it in perspective. In 2011 we started to see this perfect
storm for HVC use in all of higher education. We lost summer Pell Grant
money. So, we are going in the summer of 2012, no money for summer Pell
grants. October 2011, Department of Ed changed the way that they looked at
parent plus loans and so, that has had an impact on HBCU, which
particularly to the tune of $150 million a year that families don`t have
access to. On my campus that`s 2 million total that we`ve lost. So, we`ve
lost all of this money in the last few years and I`m sort of like TLC
singing, what about my friends? No one else is coming to our aid.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this is not a small thing. What you have just laid out
in the Obama administration`s parent plus loan policies, and in the Pell
grant policies, and these are both Obama administration and, of course, the
current Congress` policies, you are saying this has had a negative impact
on HBCUs and Koch is good for them .
HARRIS-PERRY: Why I shouldn`t I go vote for - the candidate supported by
KIMBROUGH: Right. And that - there will be people who will make that
distinction. In the beginning of Obama`s administration, though, he did
add a new program, a title three program that has provided a great deal of
money for our institutions in particular. So, one of the things that I`ve
always questioned is that, we have got to make sure and continue to make
sure we have the right people around the president so he hears the true
stories and not some of the stories that will create policies that hurt
these institutions as well. Because that wouldn`t be the intent. And -
earlier on in the presidency, it was controversial to say, I`m going to -
HBCU with a billion dollars, and then these other things that are
happening, so we have got to continue to do our work to make sure that
everyone knows what our needs are and that the president gets the right
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, it also seems to me that there is a long tradition,
particularly in African-American communities that are under-resourced for a
variety of reasons, right? So, if you look at HBCUs, often it was nurses,
teachers, that we were able to educate because those were the jobs open.
Those are not the kind of folks that have tons of alumni dollars.
KIMBROUGH: Right. Yeah. Exactly.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, does that mean then there just simply is a necessity for
HPCUs to look beyond sort of in community folks for giving?
KIMBROUGH: Right. And that`s always been the case for HBCUs. There have
been a broad range of people who supported our causes. As you - in the
case we haven`t had a political litmus test of who can give to us. Of if
you go back and you look at, you know, people who have been involved in
"Essence" and other organizations that people don`t even really understand
the histories of, that there have been people whose politics we might not
agree with, but in terms of advancing young people we are all on the same
page. So let`s focus on that.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. OK. But then let`s take it to a real moment
right now. I want to listen to Mr. Leon Jenkins, who`s the head of the an
NAACP chapter in California that was taking some gifts from Mr. Donald
Sterling. Let`s listen to this for a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON JENKINS, FORMER PRESIDENT, NAACP: The revelation that Mr. Sterling
may have made comments in a phone conversation that was reminiscent of the
ugly time in American history that contains elements of segregation and
racial discrimination demands that the Los Angeles NAACP intention to honor
Mr. Sterling for a lifetime body of work must be withdrawn and the donation
that he`s given to Los Angeles NAACP will be returned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there he is, the former head of the Los Angeles NAACP
saying, all right, now that we know these politics, we`re going to have to
give the money back. Was that just because there was media pressure to do
so or is that a reasonable way for an organization to behave?
KIMBROUGH: Well, I think for them there was a direct correlation in terms
of some Mr. Sterling`s actions. So, I mean there was a lawsuit settlement
because of some of his direct actions. It`s not that he`s giving money to
campaigns. Because even though the Koch brothers have given a lot of money
for campaigns, the people still have the right to vote. They spend a lot
of money trying to defeat Obama in 2008 and 2012 and they wasted a lot of
money. So, now they finally decided, well, let`s invest in something, so
we`re going to invest in these young people.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean it`s a tough one. You know, I certainly know that
there are commercials that run on the network that pays my salary who we
are also then critical of some of their policies and practices on the show.
And so I guess what I want to ask, then the final one is this, can you
still be in the classrooms and in the administration of the HBCUs critical
of the kinds of policies that Koch money represents politically even while
taking Koch money for the educational aspect?
KIMBROUGH: Right. Yeah, I mean if there were some kind of written
statement that I would have to sign to prevent me from being critical of
those policies, not of them as people, I don`t know them as people, I
wouldn`t take the money because I have to be true and I have to make sure
our students are doing that. But I still understand the big picture.
Talked about that, in the future our enemies aren`t going to be poor
whites, or people who were for segregation. It was going to be the concern
with people who are for desegregation, but not full integration. It`s not
going to be George Wallace and Lester Maddox as our enemies, but the
subtleties of our liberal friends who wine and dine with us and take us to
the swankiest hotels but they really implement a discrimination via power
and money. So, we have to understand that we`re going to have some
alliances with folks that ideologically we might have issues with, but in
the end those are the folks that have continued to step up for us. And we
need it. And my students are saying, hey, we need the money.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hey, Walter Kimbrough, walking a tough line. IT is a hard
job to be the president of the university where resources are a real thing.
I appreciate you being here today.
KIMBROUGH: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up, a deep dive on the Deep South and the primary
that seems like a prime time soap opera. Mississippi, golly. Next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you want to hear about the most edge of your seat, out-
of-control, most unexpected political race of 2014 so far? Let me take you
to Mississippi where these two guys are vying for the Republican nomination
for U.S. Senate. On the left six-term Senator Thad Cochran, supported by
much of the state`s GOP establishment. On the right, State Senator Chris
McDaniel, supported by the Tea Party set and Sarah Palin types. On Tuesday
they go head-to-head in a primary run-off. Now there was already a primary
on June 3. But neither man won a majority thanks to a dark horse third
candidate who took home less than two percent of the vote. So according to
Mississippi law, they have to go another round. And because this is beat
red Mississippi, whoever wins the GOP nomination will be the heavy favorite
to win the whole thing in November. This is juicy stuff, people. McDaniel
led Cochran by about 1,400 votes in the first primary. Now, the run-off is
entirely unpredictable. The turnout is expected to be even lower than that
of the first primary, when about 319,000 people voted, that`s about 17
percent of all registered voters. It is anybody`s game. And the
desperation is palpable. Exhibit A, Brett Favre. The former Green Bay
Packers quarterback and likely future hall of famer Brett Favre was born
and raised in Mississippi. He this week cut an ad for Senator Cochran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRET FAVRE: I`ve learned through football that strong leadership can be
the difference between winning and losing. And when it comes to our
state`s future, trust me, Mississippi can win. And win big with Thad
Cochran as our strong voice in Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Which led the conservative blog red state which has endorsed
McDaniel to surmise that the ad had something to do with Favre`s
relationship with another Cochran supporter, former Mississippi Governor
Haley Barbour who in 2012 cleared the criminal record of Favre`s brother
who in 1997 had pleaded guilty to charges related to the drunk driving
death of a friend. Barbour denies any involvement with the advertisement.
Then there`s the bestiality of it all. No, seriously. The suggestion of
bestiality, the misconstruing of a nonsexual harassment of animals into
bestiality. OK, let me explain. Last week Senator Cochran held an event
at a hospital in Hattiesburg and tried to connect with his audience by
reminiscing about childhood Christmases spent at his father`s family in a
rural area near Hattiesburg. And he said, quote, it was fun. It was an
adventure to be out there in the country and see what goes on, picking up
pecans and all that kinds of indecent things with animals. Now the ledger
said it was clear that Cochran was joking about innocuously harassing
wildlife or livestock, you know, cow tipping maybe, but that didn`t stop
the Now or Never PAC, which is supporting McDaniel from airing this radio
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UM: Tell Thad Cochran you`re no farm animal and you`re not going to take
being on the receiving end of this so-called fun any longer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to just leave that where it is. And then perhaps
some of bizarre twists of this knocked down drag out. Senator Cochran is
asking African-Americans, who typically don`t vote Republican in
Mississippi to come out for him on Tuesday. The pro-Cochran super-PAC
Mississippi Conservative reportedly is paying leaders like Ronnie Crudup,
who is the senior pastor and founder of the New Horizon Church
International in Jackson, Mississippi, to encourage his fellow African-
Americans to vote in the Republican primary for Senator Cochran. Another
PAC linked to Crudup`s church has put advertisements for Cochran in
African-American newspaper and black Democrats who support Cochran say
African-Americans have a vested interest in keeping him in the Senate seat
because over his 35 years in the Senate, he has delivered federal money for
African-American districts including funding for health centers and
historically black colleges. So, to understand how bizarre this is,
consider the Mississippi`s party lines are also so stark that they become
racial lines probably more so than in any other state. 89 percent of white
voters in Mississippi voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. 30 points higher than
the national average. And according to 2008 exit polls 96 percent of
Mississippi Republicans are white while 75 percent of the state`s Democrats
are African-American. Only two percent of Republican primary voters in
2012 were black. Two percent. That racial divide goes way, way back all
the way to Jim Crow and beyond. And the madness that is Mississippi is
something we`re going to talk about next as we talk about the summer 50
years ago that helped bring an end to the Jim Crow era.
There is, as always, more "Nerdland" and less bestiality at the top of the
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
In 1964 in Mississippi, fewer than 7 percent of African-Americans were
registered to vote and that was no accident. White Democrats have built an
effective machine to keep black residents away from the polls despite being
guaranteed the right to vote in the Constitution nearly 100 years before.
To register to vote, African-Americans had to pass nearly impossible
literacy tests. They had to pay annual poll taxes, which were out of reach
for many. And the state disenfranchised those convicted of certain crimes,
crimes chosen because they were considered to be those most likely to be
committed by African-Americans.
Civil rights workers had been trying to chip away at this
disenfranchisement throughout the early 1960s. They were led by Robert
Moses of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. A civil rights
legend who was actually going to join us here in the studio later this
hour. And they met with great resistance.
Activists were murdered for their efforts. But slowly, activists were
drawing the national spotlight towards Mississippi. Cue Freedom Summer.
Fifty years ago, when 1,000 volunteers, many of them white northern college
students, converged on Mississippi to help black voters overcome those
obstacles and register to vote, they were largely unsuccessful.
Although 17,000 people attempted to register to vote, only 1,600 were
actually added to voter roles. But what from Freedom Summer did was prove
a crucial point that literacy tests and the poll taxes and every thing else
were actually standards that could be met. That the goal was to prevent
African-Americans from voting, full stop, that no matter what you did to
circumvent the means to that goal, the goal itself of total black
disenfranchisement would remain constant. Freedom Summer proved that you
could not give people a voice in the political process just by teaching
them how to pass literacy tests the. It proved you could not play by rules
and win. Instead you had to change the rules.
One year later, thanks in part to the national spotlight Freedom Summer
showed in Mississippi, thanks to the mountains of evidence generated by
those activists trying and failing to register people to vote, Congress
passed and President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The Voting
Rights Act abolished literacy tests and other instruments, both subtle and
blunt, to suppress the black vote and sent federal officials to register
voters and observe elections. It would be difficult to overstate the
importance of the VRA and what a civil war and constitutional amendment
could not do that VRA did.
In 1964, 6.7 percent of African-Americans in Mississippi were registered to
vote. Five years later, 66.5 percent were registered. In addition to
abolishing literacy tests, the VRA granted power to the federal government
to prevent state and local officials from putting new discriminatory
practices into place, a power known as preclearance. Under the VRA, the
U.S. attorney general must approve any changes to election laws in states,
counties and townships that had a history of disenfranchisement before
those changes can go into effect.
Preclearance was key because suing states after they discriminated didn`t
work. Before the VRA, the Justice Department had sued states and
jurisdictions repeatedly for voting rates violations after the fact,
including 30 lawsuits in Mississippi alone between 1961 and 1965, to very
little effect. The VRA laid out a formula for determining which places
could not be trusted to maintain fair voting laws based on their history.
And as of 2013, nine states were covered including, of course, Mississippi.
Those are the states in bright yellow on this map, and as were counties and
towns in six more states shown here in a darker yellow. It is that crucial
part of the Voting Rights Act, that formula that the United States Supreme
Court struck down one year ago. The Supreme Court ruled the formula had
become unconstitutionally outdated and without the foreign -- without a
list of jurisdictions that would require preclearance -- well, there`s no
But there`s a solution. Congress can replace the formula. Who would have
guessed that? Nearly an entire year later, Congress has failed to do so.
Yes, everyone would have guessed that. OK, in that year of inaction,
states that were once covered by preclearance have practically clamored
over each other to impose voting restrictions. Within hours of the Supreme
Court decision, Texas announced it would immediately implement a voter I.D
law that had been blocked by a federal court, North Carolina enacted a
mind-boggling series of restrictions that reduced early voting, eliminated
same day and preregistration and added strict voter photo ID requirements.
Alabama and Mississippi enacted voter ID laws. Florida has cut back early
voting days. Virginia now requires voter ID and new limits on voter
These states joined a tidal wave started in 2010 of mostly Republican state
legislatures putting restrictions on the vote. That`s not to say there
hasn`t been an effort to plug the dam, of bipartisan, bicameral group of
legislators has proposed a new formula which would place states under
preclearance if they have five voting rights violations in the past 15
years. Four states would require preclearance right off the bat.
You guessed them, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Despite
bipartisan support, the bill has not budged although its sponsors are
hoping to break through. Senator Patrick Leahy will hold a full judiciary
committee hearing on the bill this coming Wednesday. The bill`s future
House Speaker John Boehner has been noncommittal at best. Majority Leader
Eric Cantor, remember him, he was said to have been working closely behind
the scenes to bring the bill up for a vote. But now, Cantor is out. And
even if the bill were to pass in its current form, it leaves a gaping hole,
disenfranchisement as a result of voter ID laws would not count as a voting
Joining me now, two individuals working feverishly to protect and restore
voting rights across the country: Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the
Advancement Project, and Dale Ho, director of ACLU`s Voting Rights Project.
So nice to have you all here.
JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT: Thanks.
DALE HO, ACLU: Thanks a lot.
Judith, in this past year this tidal wave, is there any hope that Congress
is going to come up with a new formula to stem this tide?
BROWNE DIANIS: Well, I mean, you know, the problem is that the Voting
Rights Act really -- it served as a deterrent, right? So, that`s what
opened the floodgates and so now, we`re in this moment are where this
bipartisan effort has to happen, right?
We have a dysfunctional Congress. But at same time, this is the Voting
Rights Act. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the
Voting Rights Act.
So I think we`re very hopeful this is the first step, this hearing. And,
look, we have a lot of evidence that voting discrimination still exists and
that`s going to be before Congress and there have been hearings across the
country. So, we think we`re building the record and we`re going to get
HARRIS-PERRY: So, come back to Congress for just one more second before we
move on. And that really is about Cantor, because my very first thought
when I heard about that surprise loss, was OK, there might be lots of
reasons to be pleased for some folks on the left that Eric Cantor will no
longer be in the House of Representatives. But I have heard from multiple
members of the CDC that Cantor was working towards getting a new formula.
BROWNE DIANIS: That`s right, he was. We`ll have to find somebody else. I
mean, there are other Republicans who are stepping up to the plate, who
have been at the plate for a while. And so, I think we`re just going to
have to rely on them because, again, this is as American as apple pie.
This is democracy. We`re making sure that everyone is equal. And so, we
think they`ll come along.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, tell me, Dale, particularly from a kind of litigation
standpoint, if we know that preclearance was serving as a deterrent but for
the moment is basically toothless because we can`t figure out where
preclearance would apply, why can`t section 2 do the work that preclearance
did before? I mean, sort of immediately in Texas, the attorney general
came out and said, all right, we got this. We`re going to take Texas to
Is there a reason to think that we`re in a `61 to `65 moment where the
lawsuits won`t be effective?
HO: Well, you know, we obviously do not have the same kind of tool we had
with preclearance, but we`ve been remarkably effective, I think, fighting
back against these voter suppression mechanisms, right? So, not just
Section 2, but also state constitutional law challenges to the Advancement
Project of the ACLU, join forces, litigated, knocked out Pennsylvania`s
voter ID law under the state constitution. Governor Corbett is not
appealing that decision.
We used Section 2 again together in Wisconsin to knock out Wisconsin`s
voter ID law. So we are, I think, pretty successful right now. The thing
is Wisconsin, even before that decision came out --
HO: Absolutely not. To your point about the necessity of preclearance,
everyone who saw that trial knew Wisconsin had no shot, they had no
evidence of voter fraud and we have hundreds of thousands of people who are
going to be disenfranchised by it. So, when the legislature started
talking about changing the ID law, right, which is exactly what places like
Mississippi were doing between 1961 and 1965. You start to win a lawsuit.
And then they change the law. So, you have to start all over again.
That`s why we needed preclearance and why we needed to get --
BROWNE DIANIS: Right. And the importance is that it stopped
discrimination before it happened, which can impact the outcome of an
election. We can`t wait until the end.
HARRIS-PERRY: Can I just tell you I am moving to North Carolina from
Louisiana, for goodness sake.
BROWNE DIANIS: And we`re glad. We need more progressive voters in North
HARRIS-PERRY: But I may not get to vote because -- can I tell you when I
went to get my driver`s license, the list of things necessary to get my
driver`s license is, and I am not exaggerating --
BROWNE DIANIS: We will represent you.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s more than what it took to get a passport to travel
around the world, to drive around North Carolina. It was the first time
that I felt in a very personal way just how high that barrier is because
obviously I have all the resources in the world to find my original birth
certificate, my original Social Security card, my passport, my driver`s
license from another state.
Are judges looking at this and saying, come on, this is not about
protecting the vote?
BROWNE DIANIS: Yes, I think they are. I mean, the stories of people who
are impacted is what wins the day, right? In North Carolina, our lead
plaintiff is Rosanell Eaton, 93 years old, someone who`s one of the first
African-Americans to vote, to register to vote in the state of North
Carolina in the 1940s.
She had to take a literacy test where she had to recite the preamble to the
Constitution. She had a cross burned on her front lawn and here she is
again fighting for voting rights. She is someone who will be
disenfranchised under this new law in North Carolina.
So, those are the kinds of cases because we can`t -- we have to take it
away from the law and get back to regular everyday Americans that want to
have a voice in our democracy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you think, given that kind of framing, and I know that
the politics side is less your side, do you think Americans -- because part
of what turns the tide and gets the VRA is Americans see Bloody Sunday.
Americans see what happens in Freedom Summer with the death of the civil
rights workers and they just say, you know, this is not us.
We might want to win our side but we`re not going to win in this way. Have
we started to turn a corner where ordinary Americans of all ideological
positions will say, look, these kinds of restrictions are just not who we
are as a 21st century people.
HO: I really hope so, Melissa. Ten years ago I think when the voter ID
issue started percolating, I think a lot of people just didn`t understand
why that would be a problem because a lot of people, most people, have some
form of ID. So, for them, it doesn`t seem like a big burden.
And I think courts when they first started hearing about the issues thought
to themselves, judges who were pretty privileged people think to
themselves, well, I have one of these IDs in my pocket right now. But
there`s been a really, really I think successful education process, the
litigation has been really important for that to showcase these individuals
like Miss Eaton who, you know, for them it actually is a significant burden
and they`re a significant portion of the population.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, Nevada just won this among the voters, right, the
turning back of the Nevada proposal wasn`t a legal fight, right? It was a
BROWNE DIANIS: That`s right. And the thing is that Americans believe in
early voting. They believe that voting should be easy, it should not be
hard. They believe in free, fair, and accessible elections.
And so, here you have these legislatures trying to make it harder and you
have no evidence of the thing that it was supposed to be solving, voter
fraud. In fact, the president`s election commission came out with a report
saying that fraud really did not exist. All these court cases say there
was no reason for this.
So, we`re starting to pull back the cover on the motivations behind it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I mean, it`s a solution for a problem that doesn`t seem
to exist, and when we have Thom Tillis, who`s running in North Carolina,
having said in 2012 something about sort of traditional voters, by which he
meant white American voters in North Carolina, sort of losing population to
those who are African-American and Latino, it does feel in those kinds of
moments as though it is racially motivated.
Stick with us. We have more on this, because when we talk about
legislators who are trying to reduce the vote, it is time to go to Ohio.
So, stay right there.
Up next, the state that may be ground zero in the voting rights battle.
We`re going to take you away from Mississippi, up the river to Ohio, where
an important campaign is under way right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me read to you a letter to the editor. It is from June
13th, "New York Times." It comes from Ohio Secretary of State John Husted
who, according to his own Web site biography is, quote, "responsible for
oversight of elections in one of the most hotly contested swing states. In
Ohio, Husted writes to "The Times", "We make it easier to vote and provide
many options to accommodate all Ohioans equally."
His letter ends with, "Ohio is a leader in voter access. We will it
continue to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat. As secretary of state,
I will spend my time encouraging Ohio voters to use their many options to
vote rather than trying to scare people into believing that it`s hard.
That`s the real voter suppression."
Nope, nope. The real voter suppression is things like cutting early voting
and ways that dramatically impact African-American vote, cuts that John
Husted fought for all the way to the Supreme Court where he was rejected
weeks before the 2012 elections. Cuts that a federal court again rejected
just last week, this time permanently, ordering early voting to be restored
in the three days before Election Day.
But Ohio activists are not sitting idly by, relying solely on the courts to
protect them. They are taking action trying to get a Voter Bill of Rights
added to the state constitution by way of a ballot measure this November.
To do so, they need to provide 385,000 signatures to the board of elections
by July 2nd.
Joining me now from Cincinnati, Ohio, the woman leading that grassroots
campaign, Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece.
So nice to see you.
STATE REP. ALICIA REECE (D), OHIO: Thank you for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So start by telling me what this Voter Bill of
REECE: Well, the Voter Bill of Rights takes our current rights that we had
before Secretary Husted started messing with early voting, before the
Republican-led legislature started trying to reduce access to the ballot.
What it does is put the voting rights in the Constitution so that we don`t
have to worry about who is in office. It`s not term limited. You know,
the same person that you just talked about was in the legislature who,
after the Bush debacle when Ohio had a black eye, was part of a bipartisan
group that said, yes, we need to have early voting. Yes, we will count
provisional ballots. Yes, let`s make it more accessible.
But after the election of President Obama and the re-election of President
Obama where large groups of African-Americans, Latinos, and low-income
families and working moms came out to vote, all of a sudden they said,
well, we want to change the rules. And so, that`s why we want it in the
Constitution so that it`s protected, it`s put there by the people, and you
can`t change it unless you go back to the people.
So, we have started a people`s movement that starts in Ohio, ground zero,
as you talked about, with something that can go across the country just
like we started in Selma, but we ended up around the country with the
Voting Rights Act.
HARRIS-PERRY: Speaking of the people, as you`ve been out there working to
get these hundreds of thousands of signatures together, tell me, what are
people saying on the ground about it? Because what Husted is saying in
that "New York Times" editorial is that conversations about voter
suppression somehow keep people from the polls. Are you hearing that sort
of, oh, it`s too hard to vote so I won`t go?
REECE: That`s not what I`m hearing. Right in my district, we have a
polling location. My polling location, actually, that took two years and
$1 million in lawsuits in order for people`s votes to be counted.
What I`m hearing from people and the message they`ve been saying all along
is that there is a disconnect between the state house and your house. So
what we`re hearing on the ground is not what we`re heaing at the state
And because they have drawn the lines, they kind of rule it. And that`s
why we have to go to the Constitution. The group ALEC is out and they are
dismantling voting rights state by state. We need a state by state
strategy and we believe the Voter Bill of Rights could be a model that
could be across the country because it allows now every day people. You
determine what your voting rights are and the elected official officials
have to check in with you, the people, before they start to take those
So, I`m hearing frustration. I`m hearing people wanting to fight back.
And this is an opportunity for them to have an opportunity to have a voice
and to fight back.
So I`m hearing that definitely the secretary of state is not connected with
the people. And certainly, you know, we`ve got Nina Turner and hopefully
will win that election as secretary of state. More importantly, also, have
voting rights in the Constitution, so we`re protected by the Constitution.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Stay with us. Don`t go away.
But, Judith, I want to come on this question of instantiating voting rights
in the Constitution, I think many Americans don`t know that it`s not in our
Constitution at a federal level either.
I want to listen for a moment to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
talking about the political problems of getting the VRA formula renewed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Under the current
leadership on the Republican side we`ve had a shutdown of government. We
have not passed immigration. We have not passed the Voting Rights Act,
which has always been bipartisan. We have the votes for the immigration
bill. It passed the Senate in a bipartisan way.
So, I don`t know how things could get worse than the obstruction that is
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Is this the only way to get around those kinds of politics?
BROWNE DIANIS: Well, I think we`re going to be able to get the Voting
Rights Act amendment done because, again, this is just fundamental. We
should not have discrimination in our democracy, right?
Now, getting to a right to vote constitutional amendment. You know, that`s
where we need to be. We need to make sure we have national standards
around voting, Americans support that, 88 percent of Americans support
We need to make sure that the courts understand that it should be protected
just like we protect free speech and gun right rights. But that`s going to
take a long haul because the right to vote has always been a political
football. It`s been about restricting the voice of people who those in
power don`t want to hear from. That`s how you maintain power is to keep
other people silent and that`s why it`s been manipulated.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Dale, let me ask you, are you surprised that I am
sitting here talking with someone who holds office in Ohio as ground zero
because we started with our, like, Mississippi is kind of the obvious place
where you would expect this. Given that it has now moved to Ohio, as you
said to Pennsylvania, should the new formula, whatever it is, move away
from and look at the former confederate states and towards sort of where
the new politics are occurring?
HO: It`s definitely all over the country now, right? So we do need a
strong bill that will attack voting discrimination wherever it takes place.
But until we get that legislation done, we have to take this out in the
courts. That`s where we`re fighting.
That`s why we`ve sued Ohio over early voting cuts. The judge did the right
thing restoring the last three days of early voting but it doesn`t solve
all of the problems that we`ve pointed to in our lawsuit. They got rid of
the first week of early voting, which was the same day registration in
They also arbitrarily got rid of all evenings during the early voting
period, right? And all other Sundays other than the Sunday before election
day, even though state statute requires early voting to be possible on
So, Secretary of State Husted is not finished yet. We`re not finished with
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you. Thank you to Dale Ho and to Judith Browne
Dianis. Also to State Representative Alicia Reece in Cincinnati, Ohio,
thank you for giving us kind of another way of beginning to think about how
this will be addressed.
Now, Judith is going to stick around with us for a bit. But coming up, the
civil rights icon who 50 years ago brought us Freedom Summer. Bob Moses is
coming to Nerdland. I did a dance about this earlier in the week.
Up next, my letter of the week.
HARRIS-PERRY: When Eric Cantor announced last week he would vacate his
House majority leader position effective July 31, House Republicans
scrambled to figure out just who would take his spot. In Thursday, they
voted for his successor.
So, it seems like an opportune time to send a letter to the newly minted
House majority leader-elect.
Dear Congressman Kevin McCarthy,
It`s me, Melissa. Your first words out of the gate seem promising.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MAJORITY LEADER-ELECT: I`ll make one promise.
I will work every single day to make sure this conference has the courage
to lead with the wisdom to listen. And we`ll turn this country around.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So I actually kind of like the sound of that because
courage is exactly what this conference needs, as in the courage to do what
is right and lead, which is exactly what the American public wants right
now, especially when it comes to the issue of comprehensive immigration
According to a recent joint survey by Brookings and the Public Religion
Research Institute, 62 percent of Americans are in favor of finding a way
for the undocumented immigrants already here to become citizens, providing
that they fulfill certain requirements. And 17 percent support them
becoming permanent legal residents but not citizens.
Not only do everyday citizens want Congress to lead on the issue of
comprehensive immigration reform but so do key organizations and leaders.
In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the biggest lobbying groups
that represents business interests and also generally supports Republican
candidates not only lifted passing immigration reform as one of their
agenda priorities this year but the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,
Thomas Donahue, said if the Republicans don`t pass immigration reform, then
they, quote, "shouldn`t bother to run a candidate in 2016."
I mean, think about that. Think about who the voters are. Yikes!
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the least of your worries because now
the big dogs, the influential Republican donor class and thought leaders
are weighing in and telling the Republican Party you must lead on this
Sheldon Adelson, anyone? You may have heard of him. He`s the man who
donated $93 million to Republican aligned PACs in the 2012 election and
recently wrote an article entitled, "Let`s deal with reality and pass
immigration reform", which said, "As a Republican, it`s my view efforts to
complete immigration reform should be led by our party. Some on the outer
fringes of the GOP may disagree, but the truth is we are humans first and
partisans second. Frankly, the Democrats don`t have a monopoly on having
Now if you thought the influential Republican figure supporting immigration
reform ended with Adelson, think again. There`s also this guy, Rupert
Murdock, the executive chairman of News Corp., had a thing or two to say in
his recent article entitled "Immigration reform, can`t wait."
He went right at what people are looking for when it comes to immigration
reform, writing, "People are looking for leadership. Those who stand for
something and offer a vision for how to take America forward and keep our
nation economically competitive, the most immediate ways to revitalize our
economy is by passing immigration r reform."
Leadership, Congressman McCarthy, leadership is what Americans want on this
issue. And as the newly elected House majority leader, you are the second
most senior official in the House and are uniquely positioned to help make
that happen versus your previous job as majority whip where you
specifically served to communicate the majority opinion and create
But now, you develop the calendar as the chief scheduler for the floor and
decide when to bring which bills to a vote. You serve as the lead speaker
for the majority party during floor debates, and you assist the president
or speaker of the house with program development, policy formation, and
In other words, the power is in your hands when had it comes to setting the
agenda for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform. There are nearly 12
million lives hanging in the balance as they wait for you to act on their
Come on. Do us a favor, Congressman McCarthy, lead.
HARRIS-PERRY: Fifty years ago today, June 21, 1964, three young men,
volunteers from the Freedom Summer movement to register voters and educate
youth in Mississippi disappeared.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TV ANCHOR: There is some mystery and some fear concerning three of the
civil rights workers, two whites from New York City and a Negro from
Mississippi. Police say they arrested the three men for speeding yesterday
but released them after they posted bond. They have not been heard from
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, all
under 25. The men had been pulled over for a traffic violation and
arrested, then released in the middle of the night. The car the three men
had been driving was found two days later burned. An NBC news broadcast
described it as gutted by fire.
President Johnson called Mississippi Senator James Eastland to see what
could be done.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LYNDON JOHNSON, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT: Jim, we have three kids missing down
there. What can I do about it?
THEN-SEN. JAMES EASTLAND, MISSISSIPPI: Well, I don`t know. I don`t
believe there`s three missing.
JOHNSON: We`ve got their car down here.
EASTLAND: I believe it was a publicity stunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: A publicity stunt.
Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner`s bodies were found 44 days later about
buried beneath a 15-foot earthen dam. Eight men were eventually convicted.
They included these two men.
On the right, county sheriff deputy Cecil Price, the man who had arrested
Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, and who alerted the KKK to their whereabouts
and held them in jail just long enough for the Klan to arrive, follow the
men as they left jail and make sure they never made it home.
On the left is local preacher Ed Ray Killen, who wasn`t convicted until
2005, on this day, June 21st, exactly 41 years after the crime.
The deaths of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner shocked the nation. The three
men had been participating in the 1964 Freedom Summer when nearly 1,000
students, mostly white and college-educated, came to rural Mississippi to
help register black voters and educate youth for the summer. Part of the
strategy of the Freedom Summer was to open up Mississippi, to show the
world what was happening there. And local organizers realized they could
do that by bringing in white young people.
In a recent piece for theroot.com, civilian rights historian Blair Kelly
writes Freedom Summer then was a calculated effort to get the nation to pay
attention to what was happening in Mississippi when more than 1,000
college-aged children of elite white Northerners were called on to come to
Mississippi, the nation took notice.
For Freedom Summer volunteers in Mississippi, the murders drove home the
risk of their work were real, that the work was dangerous. The phrase
voter registration in our contemporary moment may evoke images of rock the
vote rallies or college students with clipboards, but in 1964, Mississippi
voter registration was direct action. It was political protest directly
defying the systemic denial of political power even at the level of one
vote, to black Americans. Denial that was exercise through law, and
enforced through acts of terror.
The director of the Freedom Summer of 1964 was a young man named Bob Moses.
He had spent the past three -- the previous three years living in
Mississippi, listening to members of the community, hearing their concerns
and building political strategy around their needs. In the process, he was
imprisoned, shot at and brutally beaten. People he worked with like local
farmer Herbert Lee who drove Moses around to find have volunteers were
That summer, 1964,there were 30 bombings in Mississippi, 35 church
burnings, 35 people were shot. But the constant and unwavering threat of
terror did not halt the mission of the Freedom Summer, 17,000 black
citizens attempted to register to vote, 30 Freedom schools were opened,
offering education and political empowerment to black youth and rural
Mississippi communities and the imperative political participation of black
citizens were put in the national spotlight.
Joining me next here is the man who directed the Freedom Summer movement
and whose civil rights legacy continues today. I`ll be talking to Bob
Moses after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB MOSES, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We hope to send into Mississippi this
summer, upwards of 1,000 students from all around the country who will
engage in what we are calling freedom school, community center program,
voter registration activity, and in general a program designed to open up
Mississippi to the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was a scene from the upcoming documentary "Freedom
Summer" premiering on PBS June 24. The person in that scene is Bob Moses,
then just 29 years old, leader of the 1964 freedom summer campaign.
In the 50 years since Moses has continued his civil rights work, and I am
honored to welcome Bob Moses to the show.
Also with us is Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement
Thank you so much for being here.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask you about models of leadership that move from
the bottom up, the idea of King-based leadership is often what we think of
the civil rights movement, the big speeches on the big stages.
MOSES: Right, right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me what you learned in the context of bottom up.
MOSES: So really the person who first demonstrated that was Ella Baker.
So what she did was provide a space for the student sit-in leaders and she
helped them become the people who owned their movement. So what was
happening, remember, there was the NAACP, SCLC and CORE. So, those
organizations would have preferred a youth wing of an adult organization.
But Ella really held off Wilkins, King in Parma (ph), right, insisted that
the students had the right to make their own mistakes, so to speak.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s pretty formidable, the idea of Baker holding off -- I
mean, the names that you give are folks who helped to change the country
and yet the idea that she holds them off to develop a different model of
MOSES: Right, exactly. It was really crucial. And we learned something
about what it meant to be an organizer to that, namely that part of the
work of organizing was that you create a space for leadership to emerge, a
space for something to emerge that you are not going to be the leader of,
right? So we took that idea into Mississippi, the big example of that, of
course, is the Freedom Democratic Party and Fannie Lou Hamer.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about when you say that you`re going to create
something that you will not be the leader of because I do -- when I think
about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, I think about Fannie Lou
Hamer there in Atlantic City talking to the credentials committee of the
But you`re telling me that, that is a different model of what constitutes
who was leading that?
MOSES: Well, in order for Fannie Lou Hamer to emerge as the media person,
right, then the media space had to be open. So, part of this issue of
organizing is that there are a lot -- so, for example, if you look through
"Jet Magazine" from 1961 right up to 1964, right, you don`t see pictures
from Mississippi of SNCC people who are leading, right? You see pictures
of people that SNCC is working, right, who get projected, right?
So, keeping the media space open was -- so there were a lot of little
decisions, right? So actually there was a space there because there`s only
so much media space, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, sir.
MOSES: And so there was a space there that Mrs. Hamer walked into.
HARRIS-PERRY: So help me then to think about that. If I`m connecting
that, for example, to the work that Judith Browne Dianis and the
Advancement Project are doing, that Moral Mondays is doing in North
Carolina right now, has this model of leadership, a Baker, Hamer, Moses
model of leadership that says we go in and we build community, we make
space but we don`t become the leaders, has that been lost or is that still
MOSES: So that`s a big question, right? So we have a lot of media
figures. There`s only so much media space in the country. I mean, when I
think about it, we only had three television stations, right, during the
So, King occupied one media space. And then Malcolm occupied the other
media space. And when Malcolm was assassinated, of course the question
was, who was going to occupy that space, right?
So, eventually, Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, right, occupied that
space. And you can trace from then to now who has occupied which spaces,
right? I mean, for some extent Obama occupies the space that King occupied
HARRIS-PERRY: An interesting way of putting it the not that President
Obama is King. Obviously he`s the president but the way in which that
version of leader in African-American man body is a space that has to be
MOSES: It has to be filled, right, yes.
So, my only experience now is with the Algebra Project. So we`ve been
using algebra as an organizing tool just like we use voting as an
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s exactly what I want to come back and talk to you
on. So, hold it for me for one second. We`re going to take quick
commercial break, because I think it`s going to take a moment to explain to
people why algebra is a civil rights issue and how the Algebra Project
constitutes part of a long tradition of civil rights organizing.
So, stick with us. I`m going to bring you in on this, Judith, as soon as
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: In Bob Moses` book, "Radical Equations," he writes, "We were
organizers. Local people, local leadership was at the center of everything
we did. Keeping that in mind, it wasn`t always easy, kept us on course.
Local folks might not be paying us but we were working for them."
And so that is that model of a different kind of leadership. Explain to me
how -- the equations part of radical equations. What is the Algebra
MOSES: So, what we`re looking at is a transition from industrial to
information age technologies. And so, industrial technologies brought
reading and writing, as literacies that you needed to access, right?
So computers bring quantitative literacy on the table just like reading and
writing. So, Algebra now, while the planet is transitioning, while it`s
transitioning, is available as an organizing tool. So, we`re using algebra
as an organizing tool for educational and economic advancement, just like
we use the vote for political advancement.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just as the freedom schools were connected to a sense of it,
this is about math literacy. Part of why I wanted to connect this
education as civil rights part of it, Judith, is because living as I do in
New Orleans right now, before my move to North Carolina, I am watching what
looks to me like a closure of certain kinds of basic civil rights around
public education as the recovery school district in New Orleans goes to an
all charter system.
I understand that you all actually have a suit about this.
BROWNE DIANIS: Sure, we filed a Title 6 complaint in New Orleans. But
with local comment folks out front who have been fighting this fight,
because they see the collapse of the public school system. And what that
means for children of color in particular is they will be closed out of the
opportunity to learn.
In fact, we`re just talking about, in Mississippi, what is being launched
this summer by the Mississippi NAACP and One Voice is an actual ballot
initiative to get a constitutional amendment for a right to education in
the state of Mississippi. So I think we are seeing this kind of organizing
that Mr. Moses is so well known for and Ella Baker. We`re seeing it across
the country where communities have decided to take on the civil rights
issues of this decade, of this generation, on their own.
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet there are still basic resource questions. So, I
know as we were researching here you`re still working on getting just
$5,000 in order to get the Algebra Project to Mississippi this summer. We
talked with Walter Kimbrough who`s the head of HBCU in New Orleans earlier
Part of the movement is having the resources to do it. Where are the
contemporary resources for building a sustainable movement?
MOSES: Yes, so for education, we need a national tax on education, right?
And I think Roberts said it. He said in terms of the health care, Congress
has the right to tax, right?
So we need -- I mean, the states don`t have any money. The cities don`t
have any money. I mean, so we really need people to understand that`s
what`s at stake in the 21st century, that the young people in this country
have to be elevated to a constitutional status for purposes of the
education. Otherwise, they are not going to make it.
We were looking at the serfs of the 20th century who were the sharecroppers
in the Delta Mississippi. We`re growing serfs in our cities.
Any kid who lives high school with the equivalent of an eighth grade
education is bound for serfdom in the 21st century.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are growing first in our cities because of our lack of a
fundamental civil right to education.
Bob Moses, I am honored by you being at my table. Thank you so much for
being here. Thank you for your continued -- and for your decades of work.
Thank you, Judith, for spending time with us today. And that is our show
for today. Thanks to all of you at home for watching. I will see you
again tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Tomorrow, we`re going to do something a little different. We`re going to
talk about the politics of parenting, from policies impacting parents to
pressures on new moms to lose the baby weight, to the billion dollar baby
business. And, dads, we`re not going to forget about dads.
So, come on back tomorrow. It`s going to be different and a lot of fun.
The politics of parenting.
Right now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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