July 13, 2014
Guest: Glenn Martin, Piper Kerman, Seema Iyer, Scott Raab, Keith Boykin,
Jason Page, Nina Turner, Jemele Hill, Chaz Ebert; Tianna Gaines-Turner;
Piper Kerman; Carl Alexander; Barbara Lee; Ed Fitzgerald
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning my question, is Lebron
James the ultimate homecoming king?
Plus, Mrs. Turner goes to Washington. This week`s powerful congressional
testimony about what it is really like to live in poverty.
And of the women behind the Emmy-nominated mega hit "Orange is the New
But first, running out of water in the motor city.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
If you thought the refugee surge we talked about on yesterday`s show was
the only border crisis currently facing the United States, think again.
Because there is another humanitarian situation unfolding on the U.S.`
northern border that also has caught the attention of the United Nations
and that also involves people from another neighboring nation crossing into
the United States. Only in this case it is people on our side of the
border who are in need of help and our foreign friends who could be coming
to the rescue.
I`m talking about the people in the city of Detroit, who have been deprived
of access to the most basic element of human survival -- water. In a city
that borders the largest source of fresh surface water on the planet,
contained within the great lakes, thousands of people are being prevented
from getting even a single drop out of their faucet. This summer Detroit`s
water and sewage department is working to shut off the water for up to
3,000 delinquent city customers each week. That`s in addition to the 7,210
people who had their water turned off in June and the 7,556 people who had
their water turned off in April and May.
The department`s campaign to stop water service is targeting people who are
more than 60 days late on their bills or who owe at least $150. They say
that turning off the water is a necessary incentive to collect on more than
90,000 delinquent accounts owing more than $93 million past due. They
point to the 60 percent of customers who pay their accounts within a day of
having it shut off as evidence that people can pay their bills but deciding
But the United Nations responding to an appear from activists in Detroit
suggesting that the logic of turning off the water without first proving
who can pay falls far short of their standard of upholding human rights.
According to the U.N. disconnections die to nonpayment are only permissible
if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but it is not paying.
In other words, when there is a genuine inability to pay, human rights
simply forbids disconnections.
Congressman John Conyers in letters to the federal government and Detroit`s
water and sewage board stressed the consequences of denying those rights
saying, quote, "the failure to reinstate water service means unsanitary
conditions, malnutrition, and disease for babies, the sick and elderly.
After all this isn`t, for example, electricity, which while certainly a
useful modern convenience allowing to you watch me on television or
internet right now is not a necessity to sustain life.
This is water, the substance without which human beings quite simply cannot
exist. Your body is unable to function without it. Without water you
cannot bathe or prepare food for yourself or your family or use the toilet,
making it not only a necessary resource to preserve public health but also
human dignity. In Detroit, those who are being denied their water and the
right to that dignity are also those who are least empowered to defend it.
According to the environmental protection agency, on average most American
households pay about $300 a year for water. But according to Detroit water
and sewage, the average water bill if you live in the motor city is $65 a
month. That`s double the national average. A cost that Detroiters that is
only going up.
Just last month, an 8.7 percent increase boosted that monthly bill by $5.
And the people bearing the outsized burden of a water infrastructure meant
to support nearly two million people are those left behind after Detroit`s
population shrunk to fewer than 700,000.
That eroded tax base is already contending with 38 percent of its people
living below the poverty line. And what the Detroit free press reports is
a 14.5 percent unemployment rate. The economic struggles are only
compounded by the little "d," undemocratic political disenfranchisement and
disempowerment of the shutoff because the push for Detroit`s water and
sewage department to turn off the top came straight from the top. And
these days the person at the top is someone who was appointed, not elected.
Kevin Orr, the emergency manager who controls the city of Detroit. With no
help on the way from their government, Detroiters are getting some help
from a higher place. No, I mean, literally higher, but on the map because
our neighbors to the north are coming to the rescue. A convoy of Canadians
had pledged that on July 24th they will be heading to Detroit and bringing
their good, clean Canadian water to share with whoever needs it.
In the meantime, Detroit activists are continuing the fight to get the
water back on. One of them is joining me now from Detroit. Pastor David
Alexander Bullock is the national spokesman for the Change Age Consortium.
It is so nice to have you, Pastor.
PASTOR DAVID ALEXANDER BULLOCK, NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, CHANGE AGE CONSORTIUM:
Good to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So talk to me a bit how extensive is his problem? I mean, I
gave some numbers here, but help people understand the human extent of this
BULLOCK: Yes. It is tragic in the city of Detroit people are having their
water shut off, the most vulnerable. I mean, if you`re 60 days behind or
$150 or more, your water is being shut off. No advance notice. No
conversation. The emergency manager, Kevin Orr, has told the water
department to shut off people indiscriminately.
But at the same time, the commercial customers, the big bills, of Jo Lewis
arena, Four Fill (ph), Palma Park Golf course (ph) and state of Michigan,
in fact, has $8.4 million water bill but the state of Michigan`s water is
not being shut off.
So we believe in the city of Detroit, this is really war on the poor. This
is preying on the most vulnerable populations. As you stated in your
opening comments, the water rates are going up, unemployment is up,
insurance costs are up, but the money is down. And so the water
department, the emergency manager in an attempt to show that the water
department can collect is preying on the most vulnerable. And we`re saying
enough is enough.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, Pastor, two parts on this I want to get to with
you. One is about Kevin Orr. Now, I want our viewers to know that we did
invite multiple times Mr. Orr to either come on the show or to send us a
statement, repeatedly sending e-mails, asking for the courtesy of a reply.
Much like, for example, one might send a bill we never even got a reply of
any kind. So I just want folks to know we did ask Mr. Orr to have a say
But when you say that he is trying to show that he can collect, why would
he need to show he can collect? What is the story behind the story here?
BULLOCK: So, Detroit is not run by elected officials. The mayor does not
run the city of Detroit. City council does not run the city of Detroit.
Kevin Orr, a state-appointed emergency manager runs the city of Detroit.
There`s no democracy in the city of Detroit. And his job is basically to
balance the books.
Part of what that means, though, is that the water department, which is a
public asset, its city owned, he wants to sell that off. Now, of course,
nobody`s going to buy it unless he can show that it`s a money maker. How
do you show that? By saying -- by showing that you can collect on the debt
that`s owed. Now, if you can`t collect from other municipalities because
you`re in bankruptcy. And if you can`t collect from commercial customers
and corporations because you`re in bankruptcy, then you can only collect
from the most vulnerable. Namely mom and pop, folks on the east side, west
side, who owe $150, two months late. Many of these folks who own the homes
typically wait until the end of the year and when they pay their taxes,
they pay their water bill when they pay their taxes.
But for some reason all the standard way of collecting for folks who owe
water bills is out the door and there`s this mad dash, this massive dash,
to collect from the so-called 90,000 customers that are delinquent right
before you go into bankruptcy court so that as Kevin Orr leaves Detroit,
they can sell off the water department. This is about privatizing the
water department. It is not about Detroiters who can`t pay their bills.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So this is really useful to me in part because you`re
talking about this punitive aspect, not giving people time, not giving
people notice. But in addition to the kind of general punitiveness (ph)
and potential human rights violations of turning off the water, I almost
lost my mind this morning hearing that they are actually pursuing criminal
activities or criminal charges against folks who are so-called stealing the
Now, quite honestly, I don`t know that it is a thing one can steal water
because water is a -- it`s like I`m stealing air by breathing right now.
But people are actually being arrested. There is actual criminal activity
going on here?
BULLOCK: You know what, people are being arrested. There`s a great
activist who just passed away name Charity Hicks, who actually was
arrested. And all she was doing was letting folks whose water was going to
be cut off know that the private contracting company was coming down the
street and they arrested her. Even this week, they were about eight folks,
some clergy, some activists, that simply wanted to stop the private
contracting company from shutting off water. They were arrested.
Look, I mean, what`s happening in the city of Detroit is unprecedented. No
democracy. Corporate money interest gets protection. Residents get no
protection. City services are down. Unemployment is up. There are only
27 jobs per 100 Detroiters.
Now you tell me, with a depressed economy like that, why are we going after
the most vulnerable first but not collecting from the commercial customers?
HARRIS-PERRY: Pastor David Bullock in Detroit, I`m just saying, I`m going
to be flying a Canadian flag this weekend because I appreciate at this
moment the Canadians with a little recognition on this.
Thank you for joining us this morning.
BULLOCK: Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Now, I know you know there was a big story out of Ohio
this week. But there`s another ongoing story you need to know about. And
that story is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to take you to Ohio to discuss an important story.
No. Not that story. Although, we will get to that a little later in the
I`m referring to a very different and much less welcomed development in the
buckeye state. This week it became clear that Ohio may soon join a growing
list of states that had substantially limited women`s access to
reproductive services using TRAP laws.
Now, TRAP stands for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. It`s a new
and highly effective strategy of anti-choice legislators burdening abortion
providers with medically unnecessary rules and regulations, requirements so
(INAUDIBLE), that clinics are unable to comply and must close their doors
TRAP laws means that abortion is still legal, but the accessing termination
services become nearly impossible. By September TRAP laws are expected to
close all but six clinics in Texas.
In Louisiana, only one clinic is in compliance with new rules recently
signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal.
In Mississippi, the sole remaining abortion clinic is fighting in federal
court to keep its store open.
The state of Alabama only three remaining, half of what the state had in
See the map? That`s four states there with more than 39 million people.
And just 11 clinics that provide abortion. Now, let`s see that map again.
I want to you keep looking at it because now we`re going to add another
Last summer with little public warning or debate, conservative lawmakers
used an 11th hour addition to a budget bill to push through TRAP
legislation with massive consequences for reproductive rights in Ohio.
Candidate for Ohio secretary of state Nina Turner had this to say to my
MSNBC colleague Chris Hayes when it all happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NINA TURNER, OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: They put it -- the
provisions in like thieves in the night, like cowards that they are. They
didn`t even have the decency to have their anti-women legislation stand
alone so we could debate it. They thought no one was watching.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: At the start of 2013, Ohio had 14 abortion clinics. Five
have already closed and two more at risk. Both of those are in the greater
Cincinnati area. If these clinics shut their doors, according to a study
by the Cincinnati enquirer, Cincinnati would be the largest metropolitan
area in the country without access to abortion clinics.
Joining us from Cincinnati, Cuyahoga county executive and Democratic
candidate for governor of Ohio, Ed Fitzgerald.
Hi, Mr. Fitzgerald. Nice to have you this morning.
ED FITZGERALD, CUYAHOGA COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Good morning. Good to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So talk to me about why this is happening in Ohio. You
know, we showed that map to kind of show how these TRAP laws are having
effects in the Deep South and then suddenly, Ohio. Why?
FITZGERALD: Well, because we elect the same kind of people in 2010 that
were elected in some of those southern states. And they didn`t run on
those issues. They ran on saying that they were going to bring jobs back
but they have slowly but surely, sometimes through legislation, sometimes
through administrative actions.
So for instance, the head of Ohio right to life was put by governor John
Kasich on to the state medical bothered. So now, you really have a
situation where people, you know, defining compliance with these laws are
people that are very extreme on these issues. And it is coming to Ohio.
It`s coming to a lot of states. It`s not just something happening in the
HARRIS-PERRY: So help folks to understand, because as my producers and I
were kind of reading through this, I kept saying, this is like a crazy
catch-22. So, the state has passed a law that requires abortion providers
to get transfer agreements, but also made it illegal for publicly funded
hospitals to give transfer agreements to abortion providers? Do I have
FITZGERALD: Right. And so, what it means is that it would have to be a
private hospital or a hospital that is more likely, by the way, to have a
religious affiliation, which they know is less likely to grant that. And
that is why what you have up in the Toledo area, which is up in the
northern part of the state, is you have people crossing the border into
Michigan. And you`re going to have the same thing happen in the Cincinnati
area if these things continue to roll along.
And all that means is that a woman who is working class or poor is going to
have a tougher time traveling to a jurisdiction that hasn`t restricted
this. And as Nina Turner said, this was never debated. It was put into a
budget bill with basically no discussion whatsoever. So, this is really
kind of blindsiding people here in Ohio.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let`s talk about the politics of that in particular. So
even beyond whatever one`s position might be on the question of the
termination of pregnancies, let`s talk about the fact that this happened,
a, in a budget bill and then as Nina Turner said, like a thief in the
night. Should there and will there and should there be political
consequences for making such substantial policy changes in that way?
FITZGERALD: There should be. And we`re trying to raise the issue and
stalk about it. Because they were -- they were clever about trying to
tucking it into a budget bill, it didn`t get the attention that I think it
To give you an example, there was just a separate piece of legislation that
was introduced called house bill 351 which would ban insurance companies
from providing certain kinds of birth control, including IUDs. Now, the
sponsor of the bill said that an IUD was tantamount to abortion. And when
he was challenged on that, he said, well, I`m not a medical doctor.
That`s exactly the point. He`s not a medical doctor. That`s why he
shouldn`t be legislating those things. But at least I give him credit that
that is a separate piece of legislation that we can debate and bring
attention to. It`s not tucked into a budget bill.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I appreciate it. We wrote a letter here from the MHP
show to that legislator about like if you`re not a doctor, how about not
play one in the legislature, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me a little bit about this why, you know,
honestly, we went back and looked at your record. You`ve long had a
position of supporting reproductive rights access, something that is
constitutionally product al ally protected. But you know, this could be
the precisely the kind of issue, clearly, your opponent Mr. Kasich thinks
that this is not a problem for his reelection. He said as much. Why make
this something that you are right out front on?
FITZGERALD: Well, because we hear it from constituents. I mean, one of
the things a candidate has a responsibility to do is that if you`re hearing
from voters about a certain issue, you have, I think, a responsibility to
respond to it. And when we travel the state and talk to voters, women
bring this up to us all the time. I mean, we haven`t even gone over
everything they`ve done. Not everybody knows this but they actually passed
a law that restricts rape crisis counselors from giving any information
regarding all the health care options to a woman that has been a victim of
sexual assault. So, when we`re talking to voters and they`re saying,
listen, something`s got to be done about this, we have a responsibility to
speak up about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: I so appreciate that because it`s a monstrous kind of bill
in terms of what it does, giving tenuous money to organizations at rape
crisis centers, forcing ultrasounds. It really is a pretty extensive bill.
And I appreciate you bringing light to it.
Ed Fitzgerald, I can`t let you go without asking the question my producer
really does really wanted me to ask which is how do you feel about Lebron
coming home to Ohio?
FITZGERALD: You know, I thought this would be the first interview is that
HARRIS-PERRY: See, I told you!
FITZGERALD: We`re very happy about it. We`re a forgiving people, so we
forgive him. And he made it easier to forgive him. I thought he wrote a
great essay, by the way, so I thought he handled it right. And it`s also
going to big a financial benefit to our community. It is going to be
millions of dollars. So besides winning a championship, hopefully, for the
first time in 50 years, we`ll also make a little more money for the
community. So that`s a good thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Ed Fitzgerald, I`m sorry for falling into the trap of
being a TV host and asking you about Lebron James.
FITZGERALD: That`s OK.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ed Fitzgerald, Cuyahoga county executive and Democratic
nominee for governor in Ohio in Cincinnati this morning. Thanks for being
FITZGERALD: Thank you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up, we have something really special that we`re
excited to share with you. She is a recurring guest on this program whose
voice is always so clear and powerful. And now hers is a voice being heard
by those who need to hear it most of all.
The story of Tianna Gaines-Turner going to Washington is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to give clarification to something we discussed
earlier in the program regarding people in Detroit who are so-called
stealing water. I was so outraged by this that I referenced reports that
those people are being arrested. When the reports actually say they`ve
been receiving enormous fines. There have been arrests this week in
Detroit among those protesting the shutoffs, just completed those two
Up next, one mother working hard to make ends meet for her family, speaking
to a room full of United States congressmen, many of them millionaires.
You do not want to miss what happened when Tianna went to Washington.
Speaking truth to power is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tianna Gaines-Turner is a regular here on "MHP" show. When
she is a part of the part, she brings valuable firsthand witness to what
life is like below the poverty line. Tianna is a married mother of three.
She and her husband both work, but it is not enough to make ends meet. And
they rely, in part, on food stamps and section 8 housing to survive.
Last July, almost one year ago now, both Tianna and Congressman Barbara Lee
of California appeared on this program together to talk about the need for
a living wage. And in a remarkable moment, Congressman Lee asked Tianna to
go to Washington to speak at a House budget committee hearing on the war on
At the time the chairman of the committee, congressman Paul Ryan said no,
because Democrats had already named the one witness they were allotted.
Tianna was invited to submit written testimony instead.
But this past Wednesday Tianna finally had her chance to be heard, out
loud, when the house budget committee convened another hearing on poverty
and here is our MSNBC original report.
TIANNA GAINES-TURNER. WITNESS FOR HUNGER: My name is Tianna Gaines-Turner
and I`m a 35, married mother of three. And I have the exciting news is
that I was asked to come down to the budget committee and testify on the
war on poverty.
I have been homeless twice. The first place we were living in, my son
Marcus was 10, he started developing getting seizures because he had rat
poisoning and we actually moved into a hotel because in Philadelphia at
that time, they wouldn`t keep families together if you weren`t married. So
they wanted to separate us and that is something we weren`t willing to do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See you tomorrow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See you guys.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See you later.
GAINES-TURNER: My mom always told me to take the good with the bad and
you roll with the punches, you know. You never -- you never lay down and
you never accept no. And that`s just how I was raised. And, you know,
it`s been a struggle. It`s constantly a struggle, you know. That like, I
want to say in my speech tomorrow, you make a dime, make it a dollar, you
know. You make a little bit, they cut your food stamps from 793 to $320,
and then from there to $220, and then from there to $200 again. And then
when you lose hours, you have to go back to the caseworker and say, hey, my
hours were reduced and they raise it back up and then you go back when your
hours are increase the. It seems like people in poverty, we have to learn
how to jump hurdles before we get an opportunity to crawl. And that`s what
it feels like. And I feel Paul Ryan and everyone else need to understand
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you feeling right now?
GAINES-TURNER: I`m feeling good but a little nervous. And I feel like I`m
here to make history, so I`m excited.
I would like for everyone in the room that`s going to hear my voice and the
other witnesses to walk away with this one fact, that there should be no
child in the United States of America that goes to bed hungry. There
should be no family that has to stand hours and hours in line at a food
pantry to be denied.
There should be no one that will have to face the troubles every day
This photo is a photo of my children. My children are everything to me. I
would like to say that we need to break the cycle. We need to make sure
that we all remember what the American dream is. Values, family values. I
am not a number. I am not a statistic. I`m an individual who lives in the
inner city who just so happens to be right now struggling.
It was great. It was awesome. I feel relief. I feel so empowered and so
excited and happy to see now, you know, how -- where would this move us to
and now I have something to hold them accountable for that I was here. So,
I did inform them as much as I can.
HARRIS-PERRY: I am so pleased to welcome back to the table here in New
York, Tianna Gaines-turner. And from San Francisco, California,
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the House women who originally proposed having
Tianna testify in congress.
It is so nice to have you both here, ladies.
GAINES-TURNER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tianna, we`re so thrilled you had this moment. And part of
what you said was, I am not a statistic. I want people to hear my story.
Do you feel you were heard?
HARRIS-PERRY: You had a moment that you told me about a little earlier
with Congressman Ryan. Can you share that?
GAINES-TURNER: Well, prior to that, I had went down and Ms. Lee said, you
know, we`re down on the floor right now. Let`s see if he will come up. So
I never thought he would come up. But you know, Ms. Lee made it possible
and he came up. And you know, he walked over and went to give me a hand
shake. And I said, no, absolutely not. You have you to give me a hug.
And it was very empowering and it was, you know, a great hug. So, just the
opportunity -- I`m trying not to cry.
HARRIS-PERRY: Your babies are so beautiful. They`re very emotional, yes.
GAINES-TURNER: But I want to say thank you so much to Ms. Barbara Lee for
just making them, you know, when we sat here at this table, you said it and
it became true. I`m so grateful to her and I`m just very thankful that I
had the opportunity to speak out for so many Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Congressman Lee, let me turn to you on this because this
was your idea. You were sitting here at this table when you pitched it.
You clearly stuck to it for more than a year.
I want to play you sound from one of your colleagues talking to Tianna
Gaines-Turner because I don`t want my audience to go away thinking this was
an easy process. So I want to listen to one of your colleagues from South
Carolina and then get to you respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GAINES-TURNER: If they are capable of going out to get a job, sir, and
have the necessary things to do that, then, yes. But you also have to
think of, there are some people who are not capable of going out to finding
employment because where they live, there aren`t any jobs. I mean, let`s
think about it. There`s a recession right now. How many jobs are there?
REP. TOM RICE (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I --
GAINES-TURNER: And good paying jobs. Let`s make sure we keep is that in
RICE: All I`m saying is that if you rely on federal programs, you`re never
going to come out of poverty. The only way out of poverty is to be self-
reliant and find yourself a job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I have all the feelings, Congresswoman Lee, about a
millionaire talking to Tianna Gaines-Turner about going out and getting a
job. Did you have any reactions to that?
SEN. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: First, let me just say how proud I am of
Tianna. She clear, bold, smart, confident and I tell you, she spoke for
millions of Americans. And so, thank you, Tianna. Continue to raise your
voice and make sure that policymakers especially hear what it means to
juggle and to live on such minimal wages. Here you are working and your
husband`s working and you`re living off barely $16,000 a year. I mean,
that is a shame and disgrace. We`ve got to do better.
And I tell you, when Republicans respond like that, it`s almost as if
they`re living in another world. First of all, the majority of people such
as Tianna who need a safety net to help them. It`s a bridge over troubled
water. The majority of people don`t want public assistance. They want to
work. They want a good paying job. This recession has hit especially
women and people of color in a very tragic way. It`s been
disproportionate. The unemployment rate, once again, is double digit --
excuse me, double what it is in the white community for African-Americans
and Latinos. And so, you have to really look at all of the issues around
First of all, we haven`t created enough jobs. Secondly, we haven`t created
enough training programs, workforce training. Thirdly, we haven`t passed
legislation, for example, such as legislation that would call for
affordable child care, pay equity, you know, pay equal pay for equal work
for women. We have not paid past legislation that would really allow for
everything that a person needs to move forward in their daily lives. And
that`s what we have to do. And Republicans who believe that people rely on
government subsidies, some think they`re lazy. Well, I think Tianna proved
that she works hard, her husband works hard, they juggle their lives and
they`re trying to take care of their children and trying to live the
American dream just like everyone else does.
HARRIS-PERRY: I so appreciate the clarity of your voice, Congresswoman.
And Tianna, there are 47 million people currently receiving SNAP benefits.
You were one voice. But that one voice felt to me so loud in that moment,
so important in that moment. What do you hope that the congressmen and
women who listen to you walk away with? What change would you like to have
affected in them?
GAINES-TURNER: I hope that they walk away with an understanding. Like as
I said in my speech on that day, a lot of times as Congresswoman Barbara
Lee just said, they put up a smoke screen and stamp to try to make it`s
lazy so they can sleep at night and so they can look down on me and people
I hope they walk away with the understanding that we`re not lazy. We`re
very independent. We`re not going away. Hopefully those numbers will go
down and I`ll continue to go and have a respectable conversation and even a
debate, because that was a debate. And, you know, I welcome it. I welcome
the debates. Bu I hope they walk away with the understanding that this is
a problem. And it`s not going to go away. And, you know, we need to have
more conferences, more talks, more conversations, about everything that`s
the gamut. You can`t talk about hunger and poverty without speaking about
affordable wages, you know, paid sick leave. The fact we use the word
minimum wage is a big problem. The fact we even have minimum in there,
it`s not a living wage.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us, Tianna, and Congresswoman Lee. I`m going to
add one more voice to this conversation when we come back. He`s a John`s
Hopkins professor who concludes after a 25-year study that one of the
things that helps a person get out of poverty is being a white guy. I want
to ask him if there`s anything else we can do. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you want to lift people out of poverty, you first have to
know what keeps them there. And that`s what our next guest set out to do
in a 25-year study following 800 Baltimore residents, poor and middle
class, black and white, from the time that they were young children until
they were 28-years-old.
Among the many things the study found, of those from low income, working
class families, only four percent earned college degrees.
Joining the table now is Carl Alexander, professor of sociology at Johns
Hopkins University and co-author of the new book based on his study "the
long shadow: family background, disadvantaged urban youth and the
transition to adulthood."
There has been a great deal of time with the book and part of what I`d like
you to do is, we`re hearing about the big policy picture. We know
something about Tianna`s personal story. But if you put it in context for
us of a 25-year study, what do you know about poverty and what tends to
keep people there and what tends to provide an avenue out.
CARL ALEXANDER, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Thanks
so much for having me on, first, and it`s an honor to be here with Tianna.
Her story is riveting, inspiring. And it won`t surprise that many of the
children that we followed over this 25-year period in our project follow a
similar path, struggling along the way and working hard to make a go of it.
But we thought that this was going to be a book about achieving success by
doing well in school, which is what we tell our children to do. And many
of these young people try to follow that good advice, but as your statistic
at the outset indicated, with little success, only four percent of the
children we classify as urban disadvantaged, low income at the outset, at
28 had a bachelors degree and only another percentage or so had an
associated arts degree, even though 30 percent started college. So that
wasn`t prepared for (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS-PERRY: And that feels to me like -- that finding alone is going to
be a little shocking to so many people.
Tianna, obviously you have three beautiful children who undoubtedly you
help through school and you`re telling them to, you know, achieve. Are you
surprised to find out that so many from your community are unlikely to
actually make it through college?
GAINES-TURNER: No, I`m not surprised at all. I`m actually saddened by the
fact because, you know, a lot of people try hard every day, you know, but
like I said, it seems like when you`re in poverty, you`re thrown so many
hurdles your way, you know. I`ve met students before that was actually
homeless in college and their classmates and their professors didn`t even
know. Or not being able to receive food stamps and things like that
because of different boundaries for income reasons and things like that.
So I`m not really surprised. I`m just saddened by the fact. You know, a
lot of people ask me all the time, why don`t you go back to school? I know
I have the gift to go back to school. And one day that is my goal. My
husband wants to go back to school. But, unfortunately, we`re thrown so
many different things at so many different times. We`re trying to juggle
what`s on our plate and it`s not able to happen but some day we will.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Carl, one more thing and then I`m going to come back to
you, Congresswoman. But the other sort of stunning statistic that you find
is that to the extent that folks are in low income backgrounds as kids, one
of the wages or privileges that tends to lead to a better life outcome is
simply white maleness so that of those who start in low income backgrounds,
45 percent of white men end up with construction or industrial training
jobs whereas only 15 percent of black men do. And that one thing have
those jobs, white men earn almost twice that of what black men earn.
ALEXANDER: That`s exactly right.
ALEXANDER: You know, it really like quite striking and we need to step
back and probe the issue more deeply than we have anticipated at the
outset. So there are opportunities for young men, and occasionally some
young women, who aren`t able to follow the college path to do well in the
labor market and to live a comfortable standard of living.
But in experiences of the youngsters we followed back over in Baltimore, it
was mainly white men with working class background able to access high pay,
steady work and as you said, in a surprising place, in the remnants of the
old Baltimore industrial economy.
So, those jobs are still there. They`re fewer in number. They don`t have
union protection often as they used to. So, the question really is who`s
able to access them? Because it`s the highest -- highest paying sector of
blue collar work in the labor force.
HARRIS-PERRY: That didn`t left.
Congressman Lee, let me come back to you just to ask this question. Here
we have a professor who has got 25 years of data and information. Here we
have a woman who has lived experience and a clear voice and capacity to
talk about it. Are these the kinds of things that will penetrate for your
colleagues in terms of making policy when it comes to poverty in this
LEE: Let`s hope so, Melissa. This is a first step. We have to remember a
couple of things, however, in doing this. First of all, the right wing tea
party Republican Party really wants to dismantle government. They do not
want to see any safety net. They would rather dismantle Social Security,
Medicare. They want to dismantle by looking at Ryan budget, 60 percent of
the safety net is totally cut.
And so, we have to understand there`s an ideology out there that says, that
let`s go for what you know, survival of the fittest, it`s a dog eat dog
Secondly, let me comment with the issue of race. Race is still a factor.
Structural races and institutional racism is a huge factor in our whole
efforts to address income inequality. We must not forget that.
Thirdly, let me just say, back to what Tianna said about minimum wage. We
need to be looking at raising not only the minimum wage, which I agree is
really just pitons, but we should move toward a living wage. And that`s
where people can really develop their, a pathway to middle class through a
living wage. And so, we have to understand that income inequality, CEO
compensation is at its highest now when you`re looking at what the lowest
wage worker makes versus CEOs. It`s outrageous.
And so, we have to really look at what some of these structural issues are
and the Republican tea party, I don`t believe will even consider this
because their ideology is about getting government out of the lives of
people when, in fact, government is not the panacea. We`re saying
government has a role in the lives of people. And that is to support
people into the middle class to create jobs and opportunities for all.
HARRIS-PERRY: Representative Barbara lee in San Francisco, I so appreciate
you pointing out that there`s data, there`s evidence, there is compelling
questions. And then, of course, there`s the issue of ideology.
Tianna and Carl are going to stay with me. Because when we come back, I
want to dig a little deeper into the idea that a narrative can often have
an impact on policy. And for that part of the conversation, we`re bringing
in Piper Kerman, author of the book turned Emmy nominated program, "Orange
is the new black." That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nerdland viewers know we are huge fans of "Orange is the New
Black" from day one. So we are, especially, thrilled when the Netflix
series about life in a women`s prison received 12 Emmy nominations
Thursday, including one for a best comedy series. And one nomination that
particularly stood up for us, Lavern Cox, who plays Sophia on the show, was
nominated in best guest actress category, becoming the first trans-woman to
get an Emmy nomination.
And Lavern has been a guest on Nerdland and she was on the cover of June
issue of "Time" magazine. And she told "Time," quote, "most of us are
living visibly and pursuing our dreams visibly so people can say, oh, yes I
know someone who is Trans. When people have points of reference that are
humanizing that demystify difference." And that can be the power of the
Joining the table now is Piper Kerman whose memoir "orange is the new
black" who inspired the Emmy nominated series and uses the popular
appealing for own series and tell for reason awareness to understanding of
the massive problems with this country`s practice of mass incarceration.
So we just thought we would pause for a moment and ask about how you see
personal stories and the courage to tell particularly the tough stories,
the ones that people don`t want to hear as potentially transformative for
policy and politics.
PIPER KERMAN, AUTHOR, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: I think it`s so important.
Because I think that for many people, the thing that frames an issue for
them is a story. It`s not data. It`s not a single data point or a host of
data points. It`s a narrative. And most likely it`s a narrative about a
single person or small group of people. Not, you know, there`s a famous
line which I think is attributed to now that, you know, a million deaths is
no big deal but one death is a tragedy. That`s how we understand things as
So, I think it`s exceptionally important, especially if it`s something that
is a little distant from many people in power. And that is particularly
true when you`re talking about something like mass incarceration.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels to me also that the story teller matters. That
part of what you`ve been able to do is use the relative privilege of
whiteness, middle class status and education to then open up the stories of
all the women with whom you were incarcerated, who if they had told their
stories, we might have ignored.
KERMAN: Messenger matters a lot. When I came home from prison in 2005,
almost every person I knew wanted to hear about the experience in as much
detail as possible, which is ironic given that we send so many millions of
people away and certainly while they`re incarcerated, completely forget
about them. And when they come home, are largely indifferent to their
So, it was clear to me that talking about my own experience had currency
for certain audiences. And that`s important because when you talk about
something like mass incarceration, you need a lot of people to pay
attention. So communities of color have been advocates on this issue for
decades because mass incarceration has been a policy for, you know, more
than 30 years.
But we need lots of Americans to understand why having the world`s biggest
prison population and the biggest prison population in human history is
detrimental to all Americans. Not just to folks who are most affected.
HARRIS-PERRY: So Tianna, I`m thinking about this. You go and stand in
front of Congress without that privilege and standing there in front of
these often very wealthy, white men who are elected officials. How much
courage did it take for you to do it?
GAINES-TURNER: It took a lot of courage. I was actually ill at the time
which no one didn`t know. But I was suffering from a left kidney infection
when I was sitting there. So, when we were going back and forth for the
debate, you know, the inside panel was like, you`re not listening to me,
you know. You don`t really want to hear on what I have to say. You want
to just hear yourself speak.
But it`s a lot of courage, you know. It takes a lot to stand in front of
millions of people and tell your story day in and day out and hope they`re
listening and hope they get what you`re saying and they`re not just, you
know, blowing you off because, you know, you tell if so many times and you
feel like, are you really listening? Do you care about what`s going on in
my neighborhood, and with my family, and with you know, so many of witness
brothers and sisters.
So it`s hard but I feel like I have to say it. And I have to, as you said,
we have to speak out and we have to be that voice of the voiceless because,
you know, a lot of people think, they don`t care, they don`t want to hear
what we have to say.
HARRIS-PERRY: Professor, let me add just one beat to this because my TV
self loves this story as a way of telling and framing the compelling
narrative about policy. My academic self loves the multiple regression and
the standard errors because it gives me a different level of confidence
about what I actually know. And you actually began your book by saying
that the story of the corner that is initially the story of this community
that you study is actually a too limited a narrative. So how do we add the
narrative along with kind of the broader findings?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think it`s important to avoid starting a project with
deep preconceptions to be open to discovery. The corner is very well known
book. It eventually involved into the wire, homicide, and mega hits. Set
in west Baltimore community ravaged by open air drug market. It so
happens, that one of our original schools was located in that area. We
understood that there was really difference of experience of the people
living there than was captured in that book. And so, we use that as a
vehicle for pointing out that most of the folks who live in high poverty
neighbors, what Elijah Anderson calls decent folk. They just trying to,
you know, get along with their lives, play by the rules, do the right thing
and not get in trouble.
And so, we used census data to show that the community is much more diverse
than you would understand from the treatment in the book in "the Corner."
And then, we reported some interview information from our respondents, the
6-years-old, but at age 28 when we talked to them, who had grown up and
many of them followed very diverse paths.
One of the interesting details is that many of them were working class
whites, who were missing from the scene in most urban poverty yet in big
cities like Baltimore and they provided a really important perspective on
what it means to be poor and growing up poor.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think part of what you say here is so critical. You said,
you have to be open to discovery. And that`s true in your journalism role,
in your academic role and certainly in the policymaker role.
Tianna Gaines-Turner, thank you for everything you contribute and for being
GAINES-TURNER: Thank you so much.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also, thanks to Carl Alexander, both for the work and for
being here today.
ALEXANDER: Thanks for having me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Piper is going to hang around a little while longer because
I`m going to dig in to exactly that policy issue. I want to get your
reaction to the proposal out of Washington by the latest odd couple,
Senators Cory Booker and Rand Paul.
There is, as always, more Nerdland at the top of the hour which is where we
already are (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Have you heard about the two senators? You know, the one where one is
African-American, a Democrat with a perfect liberal rating, and most
recently mayor of large city in New Jersey and the other is Tea Party from
Kentucky planning to run for presidential nomination in 2016? Have you
No, it`s not joke. There`s no punch line. I certainly want to know, if
you heard about the proposal from D.C.`s newest odd couple, Democrat
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Senator Rand Paul of
These two were making the D.C. rounds together in a rare show of bipartisan
cooperation about an issue of actual policy significance and meaningful
social economic and political impact, which isn`t to say the two of them
aren`t having any fun. Here they are at a "Politico" playbook cocktail
event on Wednesday, seeming to have more fun than a libertarian in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Did they offer you cocktails?
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I see cocktails but I didn`t get offered
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pass that down.
PAUL: Yes. Cheers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Behind the surprising optics of this unlikely political duo
is a new proposal for addressing the incarceration crisis in America. On
Tuesday, Senators Booker and Paul introduced the REDEEM Act, which stands
for the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment and focuses on
reforming the criminal justice system.
Here`s what the REDEEM Act proposes. It would incentivize states to
increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old which would
prevent sending kids into the adult criminal justice system. It also
allows for sealing and expungement of juvenile records, which would either
clear or seal the records of those under 15 who commit nonviolent crimes
giving those young people a second chance to make good. It would restrict
the use of juvenile solitary confinement except in the most extreme
circumstances and it would offer adults a way to seal nonviolent criminal
records which could help job applicants who would otherwise would not be
able to pass job application. It would lift ban on SNAP and TANF benefits
for low level drug offenders and give access to this crucial poverty
benefits for people who have served their time.
Booker, the Democrat with core urban constituency, disproportionately
affected by mass incarceration. Paul, the libertarian ideologue who has
long stood on opposition to the war on drugs and what he calls the
injustice of mandatory minimum sentences. Together, they`re offering a
provocative agenda for addressing the realities of America`s mass
incarceration and an effort that could yield tangible benefits for
thousands of former inmates who have paid their debt to society but are
still shut out of a second chance, like the nearly 75 percent of ex-
offenders who remain jobless up to a year after their release.
As Senator Paul puts, the biggest impediment to civil rights and employment
in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has
trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and
incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if
criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served,
and if nonviolent crimes did not become a permanent block preventing
Joining me at the table: Benjy Sarlin, who is a political reporter for
MSNBC.com, Seema Iyer, who is criminal defense and civil rights attorney
and former prosecutor, Piper Kerman, who is author of "Orange is the New
Black", which is now a hit Netflix series, and focuses on the lives of
women in prison. And Glenn Martin, president and founder of Just
leadership USA, which aims to cut U.S. prison population in half by 2030.
Thank you all for being here.
So, Glenn --
GLENN MARTIN, JUST LEADERSHIP USA: Hi.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, this is the kind of proposals you and others in the
activism community have been making forever. Is it exciting to see this
duo taking this on?
MARTIN: It`s definitely a huge step in the right direction, considering 65
million Americans have a criminal record on file. And the fact that
punishment doesn`t end when people exit our prison system.
The idea that this not only takes a look at how do we stop so many people
from going in but also how do we respond to the fact that even after people
exit prison, when they`re trying to get their lives together and get a job,
that they face these collateral consequences or lifetime punishment I think
make this is a very comprehensive proposal. So, I think it`s definitely
the first step in the right direction.
HARRIS-PERRY: I do have to say, part I was stunned by, Piper, is that it
both addresses the question of the actual experience of incarceration. So,
for example, with juveniles in solitary confinement and the back end issues
of recidivism and re-entry. I mean, it`s relatively rare in Washington
these days to see a meaningful policy proposal like this.
Do you have any optimism, given the work you`ve been doing, that there is
space for this to actually move into reforming our criminal justice system?
PIPER KERMAN, AUTHOR, "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK": I think what`s smart
about the proposal is its focus on kids in the system because -- for two
reasons. There`s no question that kids in the system, young people who get
caught up in the juvenile justice system or the adult criminal justice
system are a leverage point. It`s easy for everyone to see that if you
make a difference, the life of a young person, get them on the right path,
makes a huge difference not just for that individual but for the entire
community, to pay his dividends to the entire community.
Also, politically, you know, there has been more empathy extended towards
kids, as there should be. There`s a variety of reasons why we treat
children differently when they commit crimes or otherwise.
HARRIS-PERRY: A longer history of imagining rehabilitative rather than
pure punishment context for thinking about juvenile crime, although that`s
shifted in some southern states, in particular, as we have increasingly,
for example, incarcerated young people in adult prisons. I wonder if
there`s also -- I mean, this is also part of the work of "Orange is the New
Black" if thinking about particular populations, whether it`s young people,
nonviolent, drug offenders, women, are in part a leverage point for getting
the big criminal justice reform.
SEEMA IYER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTY: Just what Piper was saying. It`s these
children, because that`s what they are. You`re talking about young people
who are 15 and 16 and I see them every day and I say to them, you`re at
So, if you go right, you are going to prison. I am right. You will be
wrong. There is no debate. If you go left, if you decide to put this
aside and go look for a job and do it the hard way, because I think what
the general public does not sometimes understand is that for some people,
it is a status symbol to go to prison.
Just like for some people --
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m not convinced.
IYER: I had someone tell me this Monday. I had a young client who said to
me, he went the right way. He finally got out of the system. A lot of
misdemeanor convictions. Has a job.
And he said, you know what, I don`t have the respect that I used to have.
And that --
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. But I think that`s a totally different thing. I have a
brother who has spent decades in and out.
And it is true that in the context of an imprisoned community, he is tall,
good looking, relatively educated, right? So, he does have a relative
status inside, but once he`s out in part because he has a record, it`s --
he`s working minimum wage jobs where there`s little respect and he`s a
grown man, right?
So, I think that`s different than suggesting that people have an
aspirational desire for prison.
MARTIN: I think if that`s true, that`s an indictment on society. The fact
we have communities where people are finding their self-esteem and so on by
being involved in the criminal justice system.
I served six years in prison. I did meet many people, I met some of
America`s best and brightest on the inside. We should start with young
folks, and I agree that young folks should be given a chance because of
things like brain development and those things --
HARRIS-PERRY: They literally can`t make good decisions.
MARTIN: But the truth is, you know, as parents go, the children go. So,
we have criminalized generations of color. I love "Orange is the New
Black." I would argue in this country, black became the new orange 40
So, this is generational. So, we should help the children. But, wow, we
have 65 million Americans with criminal records and 650,000 exiting the
system each day. And they`re not all young folks.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, but there`s a point it`s good politics, right? So if
you`re trying to get that wedge to get in, you don`t begin with, you know,
adult recidivists, you begin with young people, right, who are nonviolent
BENJY SARLIN, MSNBC.COM: And we see this in a lot of debate. I mean, a
lot of the early entrants to immigration reform, we`re talking about
DREAMers, because who could disagree with these kids who haven`t done
anything wrong? It`s always a good way to get into it.
But in this case, yes, Rand Paul is one of several Republicans who are
trying to come up with a more empathetic pace for the party. And this is
one area where crime has plummeted to such historic lows. There`s a little
more breathing room for Republicans to step back from where they used to
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to come back to you after we take a break. I do
still find this fascinating, because it`s not just like compassion
conservatives -- like, it`s meaningful, right? You know, I`m not one who`s
going to give Rand Paul a lot of credit, but I appreciate this moment. So,
when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: I just got to the Senate in October, and people like Senator Rand
Paul, Senator Mike Lee, Senator Leahy, Senator Durbin, a lot of folks were
already starting to say in a growing bipartisan chorus, enough is enough.
We could be saving money, empowering people to succeed, and ending
something that really betrays American values, fiscal prudency and liberty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Senator Cory Booker at the political event this
past Wednesday, talking about the need for prison reform and also carefully
noting how he just got to the Senate but has already working in a
bipartisan fashion. Bipartisanship may be a good resume builder for
Senator Paul to distinguish himself from a crowded field of 2016 Republican
And, Benjy, it`s on that that I want to come to you. Since when did common
sense criminal justice reform and legalization of controlled substances
become a way of winning the Republican nomination? It`s kind of exciting.
I might become a Republican.
SARLIN: Well, this is interesting. His libertarian movement has really
been picking up steam within the party. This was all a standard position
of his father, Ron Paul, who often talked about how the war on drugs was a
failure, how we`re over-criminalized, and it`s been gradually seeping its
way into the Republican mainstream more and more.
For example, someone like Chris Christie who no one would confuse with a
libertarian like Rand Paul has been going around and giving speeches to
conservative audiences about how drug war is a failure, and we need
sentencing reform and that`s what I`m going to do in New Jersey. This is a
broader play for Rand Paul, his argument for 2016 is, look, I have
different positions than these other candidates on some key issues like
this. That means I could broaden the party. I can make a case that`s not
just, listen, black voters, did you know that Abraham Lincoln was a
SARLIN: Something like, look, this is an actual concrete thing. The NAACP
is very supportive of what I`m talking about. Let`s talk.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, I find that to be potentially exciting because I
actually think the political system always works better when is there are
two robust parties that are trying to get everybody`s votes, right? So,
even if I -- if I may not myself be casting a vote for that party, I think
it is more exciting that way.
Yet I`m still nervous in part, Seema, because of what I heard you say
about, oh, making decisions and I feel like that world view is still the
primary one that we have about incarceration. That people who are in jail
are people making bad decisions and committing crimes who ought to go to
IYER: No, no, no.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s not what you said. OK.
IYER: There are several categories, Melissa. One is that category of
people who, yes, maybe it`s an occupational hazard to go to jail. There is
another category, especially now with the influx of identity theft crimes,
cyber crimes, technology crimes where you have highly educated, smart,
young people who, because they are poor, because of their station in life,
they are facing felony convictions without the hopes of an expungement or a
sealing of their record.
And the prosecutors aren`t willing to negotiate. So I have, you know,
little Mark Zuckerbergs whose running around who have no shot because
they`re going to have a felony conviction on their record.
HARRIS-PERRY: Still it`s mostly drugs, right, filling our prisons?
MARTIN: Well, 50 percent of all federal prison is filled with people who
have drug convictions. But it`s interesting what you just said, Seema,
because I do believe that now that our system, which is running on full
throttle, is consuming so many Americans, including those with access to
privilege and power, that now we`re having this meaningful debate.
And let`s not let Democrats off the hook and rewrite history.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, please, no. Listen, shall we talk about Mr. Clinton?
Let`s talk about Mr. Clinton, yes.
MARTIN: You know, we didn`t get here -- we got here through
bipartisanship. If you look at some of the toughest laws signed into the
law and look over the shoulder of the president, you see familiar faces
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, man, that`s why I love you at my table.
And yet, given we in part got here through bipartisanship and
bipartisanship that was about a president drawing the side particularly of
federal incarceration, also suggests the possibility we could move away
from it. And so, let`s go back to the beginning where we started talking
This is politicians, we`ve been talking about numbers. How important will
it be to have voices like both of your voices saying, we are the kinds of
people whose talents you would be losing if, in fact, there was no second
chance after incarceration?
KERMAN: It is exceptionally important to recognize the lived experience of
people who have been through the system, people who have survived the
system, people who may have experienced inadequate access to counsel, which
makes a big difference in whether someone goes to prison at all. And if
they do go, what kind of sentence they serve. And also from the families
and communities most affected by incarceration, which again historically
have been those with the least political power.
And that is really important. But I have to say one thing about stories to
tether back to some of the things we were talking about earlier. Really
powerful narratives move people`s understanding and perception of these
important questions which relate back to policy. But grassroots
organizations have to pick up the ball because true change doesn`t happen
until those stories get tethered back to grassroots actions, which is the
amazing thing about Tianna, is that she`s not just telling her own story.
She`s also involved in political activity in her community in Philadelphia.
And that`s what creates change.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. So, it`s the stories, it`s the activism and
it`s getting the right elected officials in who have some political
incentive to, in fact, behave in different ways. I am excited about this.
Thank you to Benjy Sarlin, to Seema Iyer, to Piper Kerman, and to Glenn
Up next, with all due respect to Thomas Wolfe, it does look like you, in
fact, can go home again. The return of the King when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The most anticipated NBA prodigy in a generation, one who
was already being called a King, was a lot skinnier back when he does his
best to fill out this all-white suit on his draft night 11 years ago, on
the verge of being chosen first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was
just a kid. Just out of high school, who was going to get the chance to
play just up the road from his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
Like many 18-year-olds, he kept growing in stature, in wealth and into his
greatness. The prodigy lifted Cleveland into the stratosphere over the
next seven seasons, becoming the team`s all-time leading scorer. Winning
two NBA most valuable player awards and leading the Cavs to the brink of
the city`s first major pro sports title since 1964. Becoming the global
icon he set out to become.
Then, he left with a flash, via a live television special called "The
Decision," he as he put it that night in 2010 stood his talents to South
Beach to go play with two of his friends, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, with
the Miami Heat. Who doesn`t want to hang out and play with your friends in
Miami when you`re 25?
Plus, the decision made basketball sense. Four years in Miami brought four
trips to the NBA finals, including two titles and a finals MVP. The
prodigy had become the master, at least on the court.
But he grew into his own voice, too. Joining his teammates to protest
injustice where he saw it, to stand up for the labor rights of his fellow
players and to speak out with force against power when needed.
But his departure, public, messy and without having won a title for his
fellow northeast Ohioans had opened up an ugly divide between the prodigy,
his former team owner and fans across the country, many of whom took
pleasure at every one of his failures, including this past June`s NBA
finals when he and the Heat were crushed in five games by the San Antonio
One week later, after he had opted out of his contract, he had his second
crack at free agency, a chance, perhaps, to do things a little differently.
And that`s when his wife, also from Akron, posted this on Instagram and
started the rumor mill going. Home sweet home, the countdown is real,
#330, for Akron`s area code.
What did she mean? Did this mean he was coming home, home to rejoin the
Cavaliers and rescue a franchise that had struggled in his wake? The
speculation became obsession for media and fans alike. It went on for week
The decision 2.0 had become indecision. We knew no TV special was coming.
He wouldn`t do that again. Fans, particularly in Miami and Cleveland,
wondered what was taking so long.
Turns out, it takes a long time, even for prodigies and masters to get it
right. Guesses and unanimously sourced reporting on Friday, LeBron James
broke his own news. He told Cleveland that he was coming home.
In a message told to "Sports Illustrated" he wrote, "Before anyone ever
cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from northeast Ohio. It`s
where I walked. It`s where I ran. It`s where I cried. It`s where I bled.
My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn`t
realize that four years ago. I do now."
He added while he left Cleveland in search of championships and though he
won two, he found himself wanting to win one back home. "I feel my calling
here goes above basketball," James wrote.
"Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can
get. In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work
for what you have. I`m ready to accept the challenge. I`m coming home."
A long way from that kid in the ill-fitting white suit.
More on LeBron`s return, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Friday was a good day in Nerdland. Baby nerd visited and
brought a much needed distraction to my hard working team.
Also, one of our producers, Tracy, was literally singing and dancing all
afternoon as she prepared to attend the Carters` "On the Run" concert in
But no one had a better Friday than MHP`s digital and segment producer
Jamil Smith. Now, if you follow him on twitter @JamilSmith. You might
have noticed his understated, 12:23 p.m., 17-character response to the
biggest news of the week. "Welcome back, Bron."
But if you work in the office next door to him, like I do, you know Friday
was near apocalyptic reckoning, celestial joy of a worldly dreams
fulfillment, angst-free retribution, and general jubilation for our own
And, honestly, the party hasn`t stopped for Jamil. We can`t -- we can`t
get him to stop. Really, all because LeBron James is going back to
Cleveland. And this is about much more than basketball.
Joining me to talk about the return of the King is Jason Page, host of "The
Jason Page Show" on NBC Sports Radio. Also, Keith Boykin, CNBC contributor
and BET columnist, and Scott Raab, author, "The Whore of Akron", writer at
large for "Esquire" magazine and a native Clevelander.
So, you know I got to start with you because -- "The Whore of Akron," but I
got to say, y`all just given it away for free. I mean, the level of
forgiveness and love and emotion from Ohio this week is intense.
SCOTT RAAB, AUTHOR, "WHORE OF AKRON": It`s a huge, almost biblical story
for my hometown. It is. The love, the amount of love that goes into
hating someone for simply exercising free agency -- undeniable, it was
undeniable. I was working on the book.
To see this happen, a lot of town trodden areas, and a lot of places that
have taken huge hit over the last 50 years. Cleveland may never recover
fully, but this is huge. It has a direct impact on the lives of tens,
maybe hundreds of thousands of people.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, we have just spent the morning talking about the lack of
water in Detroit, about criminal justice reform, about reproductive rights
and you -- are we overreacting? It`s basketball.
KEITH BOYKIN, CNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It is basketball, but the fact that he
just said it`s huge and it affects hundreds of tens of thousands of people
is exactly why this is not an overreaction. I think what LeBron said in
his letter, it was about inspiring people. He said it was bigger than
And this is about -- he`s the American dream personified. This is a guy
who does everything he`s supposed to do, works hard, he becomes successful.
He goes off for four years, which people would do for college, but for him,
this was like college going to Miami, and he comes back to his hometown,
and brings his talents back to his home community and encourages other
people to do it. That`s exactly what we should be encouraging people to
do. And he marries his high school sweetheart, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: I appreciate that. I`m not sure I heard someone put it in
that particular context. That kid didn`t go to college, and the four years
away -- you really did act completely crazy town about somebody just taking
a job in another city.
I mean, I don`t -- I can`t imagine that if I took a job in another city,
people could have that many emotions about it. But let me -- I mean, more
seriously, why does it affect so many people in so many ways?
JASON PAGE, HOST, UP LATE WITH JASON PAGE: It`s unprecedented. Think if
Babe Ruth had been traded away from the Red Sox to the Yankees and one day
wound up back in Boston five or six years later, the height of his career,
had been the star, there had been no -- there had been no -- you know,
1918, all of that would have gone away.
I mean, this is that kind of big. It`s unprecedented in sports to see a
star, before the age of 30, I mean, bit age of 30, going to one city,
winning four championships, coming back to where he started -- phenomenal.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, let me ask this, though. Is it in part because --
I feel bad saying this about Ohio because Jamil might run out and choke me,
but is it also who in the world moves from Miami to Ohio? Like that there
is something about the decision to go back to a place that is struggling,
that is less glamorous, that part of the unprecedented part.
PAGE: But it`s relatability. How many of us relate to wishing we could go
back home in some cases.
I mean, I`m from East Haven, Connecticut. If I could do what I do for a
living, and just be able to go back home to East Haven, Connecticut, do it
for a living, and, you know, make the same amount of money and have the
quality of life and all of that, I`d do it in five minutes. There`s people
all around America who look at this story and say, I can relate to that.
HARRIS-PERRY: I kept crying when I was reading it, as I was saying before,
because right now a moving van is on its way to my new home in North
Carolina because I`m going home. I`m going back to where I went to
college. That sense of going back to that place.
And yet, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this week for Time.com that you can`t go
home again. He actually said, look, you know, the city will have changed.
People will not feel the same way about him. And that this isn`t about the
prodigal son coming home, this is like the lover who goes off and cheats
and comes back.
RAAB: I`m so uncomfortable with that analogy.
HARRIS-PERRY: The scorned wife, my dear.
RAAB: But I think it`s been elevated. I think the letter talks about
LeBron feeling a higher calling. It`s no coincidence, by the way, that
Mohammed Ali, Jim Brown as a young (INAUDIBLE), it`s young African-American
male coming back to a place that really is a soulful place.
In my bumbling Caucasian way, I try to address this in the book. But the
fact of the matter is, it`s hardly irrelevant in this culture. It`s huge.
BOYKIN: I actually like that analogy about a loving relationship, but not
from the perspective that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, but mostly of the
perspective of, this is a guy who actually wrote a love letter to
Cleveland. That`s what that "Sports Illustrated" essay was. It was a love
letter. He called himself a boy from Northeast Ohio from the beginning, as
he says on his website, and talked about how he had no other choice but
only to go back to Cleveland. There was no other way he wanted to go.
And he was willing to forgive the fans who burned his jersey. He`s willing
to forgive Dan Gilbert who wrote a scathing letter about him and put it on
the Web site. He`s willing to forgive the people who booed him every time
he went back to the city, that`s a love letter.
HARRIS-PERRY: I appreciate your point because we keep talking about Ohio
forgiving LeBron, but LeBron forgiving those sorts of reactions from
people. It is -- it is speaking to something that might be bigger.
And when we come back, I want to ask how big, because I`m wondering if
there`s -- if there`s a political future. People also sometimes go home
when they`re thinking about running for office.
So, when we come back, we`ll talk about the King and his political future.
HARRIS-PERRY: When they chose Cleveland for 2016 convention this week, the
Republican Party probably didn`t count on LeBron James and the Cleveland
Cavaliers being a factor. "The Associated Press" reported that if James
leads his team into a postseason play, then the GOP could find its
preferred June 28th start date for the convention impossible because of the
site conflict. Convention planners typically take weeks to customize the
space, impossible talks if the Cavaliers go into post-season play.
The Republicans backup date is July 18th, safely after the basketball
Joining us by phone this morning is Ohio State senator and Cleveland
native, Nina Turner.
Nice to have you this morning.
STATE SEN. NINA TURNER (D), OHIO (via telephone): Good morning, Professor.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. So, look, Mr. James says in his "Sports
Illustrated" essay he is planning to lead off the court in addition to on
the court. So, I thought maybe you and I could come up like an agenda for
him. Like women`s reproductive rights, voter disenfranchisement. What
would you like to see him take on off the court?
TURNER: Well, he certainly in that that statement, and I agree with the
panelists that he did write a love letter to Cleveland. I`m with Jamil,
Professor, I`ve got to throw that out there, we are happy.
And the reason why Clevelanders are such emotional, because when you`re in
love with somebody, it invokes that kind of emotion. We are glad that the
King has come home. You know, he`s going to have a big stage and big
platform from which to advocate from. And we`ve seen him advocate for
issues, whether it was the Donald Sterling issue, whether it was the
Trayvon Martin issue, that he took a great leadership role in.
So, I would think that he will use his stage to advocate. Now, what
exactly will be on his list? I don`t know. But he certainly has made it
clear that in his decision to return back home to Northeast Ohio is more
than about basketball.
And for Cleveland, for greater Cleveland, it`s not only about the economic
impact that people estimate between $50 million to $80 million is what the
King can draw in, but it`s about the psychological impact, which is
So, the King coming home is great for greater Cleveland and it`s great for
the state of Ohio by extension. I`m with you, Professor, I hope that the
King does dabble a little in those women`s rights. I mean, he has his
mother, who he adores.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
TURNER: His wife, who he adores. He has sons he is raising.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: And a daughter on the way.
TURNER: I`m hoping the King will go there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, I mean, how fun would it be if LeBron James was against
voter ID and for IUDs. Man, I`d be beside myself.
TURNER: To get the King in their face would be amazing.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want -- let me come out to my table a little bit. Stick
with us, Nina.
But let me come out to the table, because Dave Zirin wrote this week
something very similar to what we just heard from the state senator. He
says, "First of all, LeBron James is the most meta, self-aware, consciously
cinematic athlete we`ve ever seen. If Michael Jordan was the superstar of
his own blockbuster movie, LeBron has always aspired to be actor, producer
and director, every step he takes he has his eye on posterity."
So, I guess, part of what I`m wondering is, if he`s starting to think about
posterity, even before 30, what might that look like? What does the Akron
native want to leave as that legacy?
BOYKIN: Well, he`s already spoken out and politically we talked about.
He`s already got a foundation that`s already doing a lot. He said in his
letter that he has a responsibility to lead. And that is larger than
basketball. And he takes that responsibility seriously.
Could you imagine Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant even or any of these other
huge athletes making a statement like that? And I think that is a
statement not only about his personal redemption in terms of his branding
as an actor -- as an athlete/activist, but also his statement about his
intention to be involved in his community.
And I don`t know if that means politically. I think you were leaning that
HARRIS-PERRY: I know, because that`s how I would like to see it.
BOYKIN: I know. I`ve been a very political person over my lifetime, but I
have honestly come to the belief you can have more influence outside of
politics. I think he can have a political impact even without getting
directly involved in politics.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, you don`t have to run to be -- the King can be a
kingmaker in a way.
PAGE: Let`s also be careful not to indict Kobe or Michael because --
HARRIS-PERRY: No, no, no, we indict Michael Jordan at this table all the
time. We enjoy that. We like to criticize him. He was a great basketball
player but we find him to be whack in many other ways in Nerdland.
PAGE: I`m just saying -- just saying --
HARRIS-PERRY: Jemele Hill, when did you get here?
PAGE: It`s like, poof, she appeared.
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining us table as though from a poof of dust, Jemele Hill
JEMELE HILL, ESPN.COM: I`m just joining in.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re talking about the larger legacy LeBron would like to
lead beyond the basketball court. What do you think that looks like?
HILL: I think it looks remarkably different from the first part of his
career. So far, I think it looked for a lot of us that he was part of that
Jordan blueprint. Very successful commercially. Obviously, the
relationship with Nike, that he was building his brand kind of that way.
And he`s the first probably social media superstar that we`ve had in
But now, with that thoughtful letter, it`s clear to him that he felt -- he
feels as if his legacy -- it hinges on how he`s able to connect with his
And I`m struggling to think of an athlete who`s had this deep abiding
connection to a place. I get it. I`m from Detroit. Detroit, Cleveland,
we`re sister cities. The mentality is very much the same. This is a
place, Cleveland much like Detroit, that people forget about. That people
leave and they go on on to do great things and they never come back.
So, for him to actively choose them when he doesn`t have to, I think is
symbolic and something we`ve never seen in sports.
HARRIS-PERRY: You said something interesting about the social media thing,
and I was thinking about the mistake the decision was, being on TV and sort
of making the -- not that going was a mistake, but sort of performing the
going in that way.
But I kept thinking, well, maybe all this means is four years later, dotcom
is more important than TV. That you -- it`s still as big a deal, it just
happened on the internet instead of on television.
RAAB: And that`s significant. I mean, it happened in numbers, 7 million,
8 million people follow LeBron, maybe even more, and it drove the reporting
the entire way. It`s, again, unprecedented in my memory.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Nina Turner, I want to come back to you because I want
you to know. We do a lot of fantasizing here in Nerdland because it helps
us get through the day as progressives. We had this little fantasy that
maybe the reason LeBron kept open the option to actually go free agent
again is because you can`t legally have two people from the same state on a
presidential ticket and that maybe there is a Nina Turner/LeBron James
ticket coming down the pike in 2016.
TURNER: Oh, professor, that`s hot. That is hot! Too hot to handle.
TURNER: I`m not sure if the world would be ready for that. But I will
tell you that, you know, the tree can never separate itself from its roots.
And to have King James come home in such a powerful way and to use his
prominence and his voice to lift -- you know, he talked a lot about young
people and when we begin to lift our young people, we are really
catapulting our community for generations to come. But, Professor, that
ticket, Turner/James, James/Turner ticket sounds hot to me.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, you would take him as my V.P.?
TURNER: Oh, anytime, anytime of the day.
HARRIS-PERRY: My thanks to Nina Turner for joining us by phone. I know
you`re down there with your sorors at the AKA convention. I`m going to
forgive you for that.
TURNER: Reverend Barber, Reverend Barber, we have a good panel going here
in Charlotte to talk about human rights.
HARRIS-PERRY: Very good.
TURNER: And our responsibilities and our rights. This is a social
justice/human rights panel here in Charlotte. So send us some love here in
HARRIS-PERRY: All the love sent down to North Carolina, which will be my
new home I`m going home to. Jason Page, Jemele Hill, Keith Boykin, and
Scott Raab, I love having you guys here.
Up next, we`ll turn to another trailblazer, film critic Roger Ebert. A new
documentary chronicles his life and legacy. And we`re going to talk about
the film with his widow, Chaz Ebert, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Every week for more than a decade, they took us to the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were the most powerful
critics of all time.
The perfect matching of opposites.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even though Roger wrote "Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls", gene lived the life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These were towering figures clashing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was, I`m going to crush you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You give 100, a positive review.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s totally unfair you realized --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was from a new film about Roger Ebert. The famous film
buff began his career as a critic for the "Chicago Sun-Times" and became
the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1975.
He`s perhaps best known for the critiques and live debate he and Gene
Siskel offered on their widely popular television show, "Siskel and Ebert
and the Movies".
Ebert didn`t just tackle your typical mainstream flick, he was an early
support of several black filmmakers, like Spike Lee, lauding "Do the Right
Thing" and "Malcolm X" as some of the best films of 1989 and `92
And in April 2013, Ebert passed away during a decade long, brave battle
But on July 4th, "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James brought Ebert back to
the big screen with a documentary that chronicles Ebert`s inspirational
life. It`s called "Life Itself", named after Ebert`s best-selling
The movie was filmed during the last four months of Roger Ebert`s wife.
Joining me now from Chicago is Roger Ebert`s wife and the president of
Ebert Production, Chaz Ebert.
So thrilled to have you here this morning.
CHAZ EBERT, ROGER EBERT`S WIFE: Melissa, I watched you many a Sunday
morning. I`m really happy to be here with you today.
HARRIS-PERRY: I am -- I am completely humbled to know that you know I
exist. And in actually --
EBERT: Are you kidding? I have to tell you, I bond with my granddaughter
over you, who loves you. She`s a graduate of Pomona, really smart, just
like you. And your demographics are off the charts. We all love you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, OK, that`s too much about me. Let`s talk about Roger,
because I have to say, one of my favorite moments in the film is actually
about the ways in which he supported folks like me, like you -- in other
words, women of color. Filmmaker (INAUDIBLE) articulates this kind of
noble level of trust she can placed in Ebert as a critic to truly
understand and dissect her films.
Tell me how he saw that role.
EBERT: You know, I tell you, you know, people give me credit because, you
know, I`m his wife, but I have to tell you, if you look back in Roger`s
history, he did this very early on. There`s a part in the movie where he
talks about the bombing of the Birmingham Church where those four little
black girls were killed. And what he writes about that when he was a
student in college, and he had the presence of mind to do, to talk about
the blood on our hands. And it`s not new blood, it`s old blood. And like
Lady Macbeth says, it will never be washed away.
He had the presence of mind and the sensitivity on issues of race and human
rights very early on. So, he felt it was a good thing to champion
filmmakers, all filmmakers. You know, African-American, white, Asian,
Latino. He`s just that -- he was just that kind of guy.
HARRIS-PERRY: And he was an -- you bring up the piece he wrote after the
bombing of the Birmingham Church. He was also an extraordinary writer, won
a Pulitzer Prize for film critique, which was unheard of until that moment.
And he wrote up until the final days of his life.
What was writing to him?
EBERT: He did.
You know, I think writing -- well, I know that Roger said that maybe he was
-- he was just a born writer. But it meant so much to him. I saw during
his illness how writing took him into a total zone where he felt that he
was the same as he had always been.
He said when he wrote, everything else just faded away and he was totally
focused on his writing. It was all consuming for him.
HARRIS-PERRY: This movie is also about the love story that you two shared.
And the most moving part for me was in the end when you have to let him go
for his final transition. My sister just lost her husband recently, and
tells a very similar story about being there in those final moments. What
is the legacy that you are now carrying on?
EBERT: You know, one of the things that I hope that people get from seeing
"Life Itself" is number one, to sort of, to live your passion. Because
that`s what Roger did. He said that even if he hadn`t gotten paid for
doing what he did, he would do it anyway.
And a lot of people are afraid to do what they really feel in their heart
they were put here to do. That`s one thing.
The other thing is that to have the joy that he had in life. I mean, even
in the very last day, you saw the twinkle in his eye. I tell you, I was
there with him on the last day, and he left. You know, he wasn`t afraid to
live and he also wasn`t afraid to die, which was surprising for me, because
for someone who loved life so much. He said death is a part of life.
The other thing that`s really important to me is he talks about empathy.
Putting yourself in another person`s shoes, figuring out what it is to be
someone of a different race, of a different age, of a different
nationality, of a different gender, that empathy is the machine for
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Chaz Ebert, you have helped to make a film that
building that empathy and thank you for reminding us we must be not afraid
to live and not afraid to die.
Chaz Ebert in Chicago, thank you more than you can know for joining me this
morning. Next time, come to New York and hang out with me at the table.
EBERT: Thank you, thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for
watching. I`ll see you next Saturday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up right now, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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