Guests: Shelby Knox, Lawrence Otis Graham, Marion Wright Edelman, Bob Herbert, Glenn Martin, Vivian Nixon, Oshea Israel, Mary Johnson, Jackie Speier
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, the enemy within that is
pushing our troops to the brink.
Plus, the pipeline from cradle to prison. Time to cap that pipe. And the
unemployment outlier. Why for one group, 8.2 percent would be a victory.
But first, why Mitt Romney`s fight with "Sesame Street" proves he will
never understand Main Street.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. As ugly as American political
campaigns can get, there should be a few things off limits, even for the
fiercest battles. One of those things is this guy. Big Bird. You know
that cherished children`s hero whose foibles are the lovable learning tool
for kids the world over. Big Bird, the guy who is the heart and soul of
"Sesame Street," the program meant to teach tolerance and cooperation.
Well, not everyone would agree that Big Bird is as close to apolitical
American goodness as we can get. For some, Big Bird and his gang of Muppet
friends are social pariahs, addicted to government handouts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are programs that I
like, like PBS. I mean, my grandkids watch PBS. They like to watch
"Sesame Street." But you know, I just don`t think we can afford to borrow
money from China to pay for things we absolutely don`t have to do. And so,
in the case of PBS, I tell them, get advertisers or more contributors, but
the government is not going to pick up the bill by borrowing money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was Mitt Romney earlier this week, speaking to Radio
Iowa and laying out the kind of savings that you can rely on from a Romney
presidency. Apparently, Mr. Romney was taking Big Bird`s advice. Big
Bird, remember, he once said, show your true colors, mine is yellow. But
he was throwing it back in the bird`s face. This was not Romney`s first
attack on our large feathered friend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: So I`m not going to, you know, make Big Bird go away, but there`s
going to be advertising on PBS if I`m president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right, Big Bird. You are going to have to look for
some private sector for support, because President Romney is taking you off
the dole. Everyone has got to earn their keep. But I have to ask, Mr.
Romney, if you have actually watched "Sesame Street?" Now I know you
prefer water sports with you grandkids, but I bet they can tell you how to
get to "Sesame Street." And you know who you will find on that block? A
whole bunch of taxpaying, hardworking, enfranchised middle-class citizens.
Yeah, even Oscar the Grouch does his part. You`ll find Gordon, the science
teacher, government worker, and Maria, who works at the library and Allen
who runs Hooper`s Store. The small business which is like Sesame Street`s
town square. You see, life on "Sesame Street" is the picture of the
thriving American middle class that both Mitt Romney and President Obama
are employing for their campaign messages, and it`s that Sesame
demographic, if you will, that our candidates are always talking to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So what I`ve said
is, now is not the time to raise taxes on the middle class. The economy is
still fragile, we`re still digging ourselves out of this hole. So let`s
provide certainty to 98 percent of Americans. 98 percent of Americans make
$250,000 a year or less. Let`s say to that 98 percent, your taxes will not
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So that was the president yesterday in battleground state
Virginia appealing to the middle class with his tax plan to extend the Bush
era tax cuts for that middle demographic. So, while it`s certainly a
winning message in campaign season, I`m still questioning a bit about
whether or not it`s the right thing for a robust democracy. See, the
Congressional Budget Office announced this week that the average tax rate
is at a 30 year low. And compared to the rest of the industrialized world,
the United States has among the lowest taxes in the developed world. So,
is the president`s tax cut extension smart policy or just about politics?
Does it just become about winning that Sesame demographic? If the focus is
only on bringing down the tax rate, then the middle class is just a revenue
base, but the middle class is so much more than that. Think of Hooper`s
store. So much more than just a revenue source for the IRS of "Sesame
Street." It`s the place where Big Bird gets his seed and puppets have
their first summer job and everyone shares community news. If the Sesame
class is just a tax base, why care about the middle class at all?
Joining me now is Marion Wright Edelman, founder and president of the
Children`s Defense Fund, Bob Herbert, senior fellow at Demos, Shelby Knox,
a feminist organizer, and Lawrence Otis Graham, historian, lawyer, and
author of "Our Kind of People: Inside the Black Upper Class." Thank you
all for being here.
BOB HERBERT, SENIOR FELLOW, DEMOS: Good to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Bob, why does Mitt Romney hate Big Bird?
HERBERT: Well, you know, the GOP is going to do to Big Bird what they have
already done to the middle class. They are just going to get rid of it.
So, it`s all about, you know, if Big Bird had more money, if Big Bird was
wealthier, it would be protected. But it`s not the case.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, specifically if Big Bird were privatized, right, so we
know what happens when children`s programming has advertisers, right? We
know what kinds of things will be advertised to children. One of the
things I love about PBS is the fact that my daughter who is ten, didn`t as
a two and three-year old see cereal commercials, didn`t see toy
commercials, didn`t get revved up about what the next big gift was, because
well, when you watch PBS it`s a safe space. Is this in part about taking
away that kind of safe space for kids?
MARION WRIGHT EDELMAN, CHILDREN`S RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Which is so limited
EDELMAN: That safe space as you`ve indicated, and children are a big
commercial market. And they spend billions trying to get them addicted to
certain brands. I remember going in the store with my children and walking
down the isle, the grocery store, and they would lobby me to buy Cheerios.
I said, why am I sitting here arguing with a 2-year-old? And I realized,
they are treated as a consumer market. So children are very big business.
They should keep their hands off the Big Bird and "Sesame Street", period.
HARRIS-PERRY: They were lobbying you about cereal.
EDELMAN: They wanted the brand. They don`t know (inaudible). I`m not
going to argue with my two-year old.
BH: It`s not just children`s programming. Because they would be able to
get advertising for "Sesame Street."
BH: The reason you have public broadcasting is for all of those programs
that can`t get advertising. So, you know, there are arts programs, there
are education programs. There are issues of -- philosophical issues that
you might want to explore that you would never be able to get corporate
support for. And PBS is an outlet for that sort of thing.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I mean, sure, it feels like this point that Bob is
making here is precisely this kind of larger battle that`s going right now
between Democrats and Republicans about needing to make a claim that there
is -- there are some types of things that are public goods, that are
actually not up for sponsorship or for privatization.
SHELBY KNOX, FEMINIST ORGANIZER: You know, one of the things about PBS is
that when you look at a show like "Sesame Street" you see diverse families,
you see children who are proud of themselves, who are being taught to value
their education. When you privatize children`s programming, you are not
only talking about advertising, but the programming actually has to fit the
advertisers. So you`re looking at shows like some on Nickelodeon and
Disney where you see young women who are incredibly thin, because the
beauty industry wants them to buy their products later. You see kids who
want all of the latest electronics instead of they are excited about going
to school. So, you`re making future consumers not just through the
advertisers, but if PBS were to have advertisements, you would have
companies invested in the programming to make sure our future consumers are
doing what they want.
HARRIS-PERRY: It` an interesting point. It`s not that my kids didn`t want
a Tickle-Me Elmo at one point, when Tickle-Me Elmo was the big deal, but
she does not want to look like Elmo. Like Elmo is not aspirational. So,
Lawrence, I actually wanted to ask you about that aspirational aspect,
because it feels to me, you know, so much of your work, particularly around
the black middle class and upper class, it has been about this notion of
the middle class as aspirational. I want you to listen really quickly to
our vice president, who was making a very -- actually, I`m sorry, not
listen to, I`ll just tell you what the vice president was saying here.
When he was discussing the middle class, he actually defined it as
aspirational, saying that middle class families aspire to home ownership, a
car, college, education for their children, health and retirement security
and occasional family vacations. That`s actually the U.S. Department of
Commerce and Vice President Biden saying this is what the middle class is.
The story I just told is that "Sesame Street" is our aspirational middle
class, it`s what we want -- it`s the kind of community we wish we lived in.
Is that what`s dying in our current economic circumstances?
LAWRENCE OTIS GRAHAM, AUTHOR "OUR KIND OF PEOPLE": That is what`s dying,
Melissa. When I think about my three African-American children who look at
shows on PBS, they see themselves as Shelby pointed out, they see
themselves reflected in those shows, in those programs, and they say,
that`s me. That`s who I am. And my kids were so excited when Michelle
Obama appeared on "Sesame Street," and here she was telling them, you know,
how to grow good foods that you can eat, and they felt that could be me one
day. And we don`t see that in commercial television that`s aimed at young
people, because their goal is not to show the diversity of children that
are out there. Their goal is to figure out cross promotional programs, to
figure out a way to launch this particular singing star on this TV show so
that they will be able to go on parade around the country. It`s not what
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. "Sesame Street" is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial,
multi-linguistic demographic ...
GRAHAM: For 30 years.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Since the `70s. Coming up, we`re going to talk more
about this question of the middle class, but specifically -- it has been a
baneful week for Mitt Romney. The one percenter is going to try to explain
it all away. That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The politics of the middle class is about more than policy.
Really, it needs to be personal. Candidates search for their own
storylines that connect them with the average Joe, which for Mitt Romney
can be a bit of a struggle. No judgment here, it`s just that his personal
roots simply were not sewn in the salt of the earth, and when he himself
became an even richer man, largely through his work at Bain Capital, and
that work has dogged the governor all week. It began with a major story
out of "The Boston Globe" questioning what year Mitt Romney actually
severed his ties with Bain Capital. And the questions kept coming. Not
even the Condi for VP floater could stem the tide. So last night, Governor
Romney granted a series of interviews to address this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In February of 1999, I left Bain
Capital and left all management authority and responsibility for the firm.
I had no ongoing activity or involvement in the affairs of Bain Capital.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, see, no matter the explanation, the question remains,
will Romney`s upper-class biography bar his way to connecting with middle
class voters, the Sesame demographic? With me at the table, Marion Wright
Edelman, children`s rights activist, Bob Herbert of Demos, feminist
activist Shelby Knox, and Lawrence Otis Graham, lawyer and historian. OK,
I don`t think that just because you are rich it doesn`t -- it means you
cannot connect, but I`ve got to say the fact that we can`t know clearly
when he is working, when he`s not working, what his -- whether or not he is
going to release the taxes, is this the bar? Will middle class voters look
at Mitt Romney and say, OK, yes, this guy understands my pain?
BH: That` not happening already. I mean, I think you see it reflected in
the polls. They see this guy as kind of a distant figure. He`s the
epitome of the one percent. Actually, one tenth of one percent, maybe, but
I think, you know, the biggest -- and I think that that`s actually Romney`s
biggest problem, because the Republicans would have an opening in this
economic environment ordinarily. But people remember those Bush years, and
they remember what happened to the economy. They don`t blame Obama for the
state of the economy. They recognize what he inherited, and it`s very easy
to associate Romney with that era.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, especially if he`s floating Condi Rice as his VP.
BH: He does nothing to disassociate himself from that, and I think that
that`s a fundamental mistake.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, let me talk about the taxes piece a little bit, because
the big conversation is that President Obama wants to extend the Bush tax
cuts. I`ve been wondering if this is sort of a language and attempt to, in
fact, push President Obama and George Bush together, but I wanted to
correct just like one piece of misinformation. The way that so much media
has been reporting this is the idea that President Obama is willing to
raise taxes on every household that makes over $250,000, which is not quite
right. I just want to say this right. The first $250,000 of everyone`s
income is safe, if you will. If you will. And it`s only the marginal
proportion over, so if you make $300,000, its only on that $50,00 over. Is
there a way in which $250,000, when people say that, for what part of the
world does that feel like middle class? Living in Louisiana, that feels
like rich folks.
BH: Yeah, I think there is a part of the world where -- well, part of this
country where it does feel like middle class, but it`s a very small part of
the country. And we`re in it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, it`s like Sesame Street is in it. Right? New York
BH: Most Americans do not think that a family making a quarter of a
million dollars a year is middle class. They believe that you`ve gone
beyond the middle class when you get there.
GRAHAM: And Melissa, also, when you look at certain communities, cities
that formally -- have historically been rather successful places like
Memphis. My parents are both from Memphis, Tennessee, where there was a
thriving middle class there. My grandfather had a successful trucking
company and had restaurants. And you look at those communities now, the
black communities, particularly in those cities, are completely decimated
GRAHAM: My wife is from Detroit. Same situation there. Mitt Romney is
from another Detroit. He`s from the Gross Points, you know, from the
exclusive private schools. He talks about identifying with the middle
class, but here was a man whose father ran a major auto manufacturing
company, and his father was also clearly a presidential candidate who was
more forthcoming and more able, better able to connect with the middle
class than his own son.
HARRIS-PERRY: And more pro-civil rights.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely, openly, yeah.
GRAHAM: We could talk about this, as opposed to using the NAACP as Mitt
Romney did, as really as a prop, in a narrative that was completely false,
and also was a way in which to throw black folks under the bus to galvanize
his own audience, and that`s what he`s done to try to go after the
quote/unquote middle class by throwing black folks under the bus.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This is the Nancy Pelosi claim that the NAACP talk
was a prop to get the boos, because getting booed by black folks is good
for shoring up a base.
GRAHAM: Absolutely. You get those Tea Parties by getting people to --
this is the Sister Souljah moment, that is what his moment was, to sort of
throw this group under the bus to say, look how strong and tough I am.
I`ll speak out against black folks who want free stuff, when in fact that`s
not what the African-American community is looking for.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Well, right. And even the notion like that free
stuff is actually never free, right? In fact, we pay for it with these
taxes. The idea that we are not -- we are not our government, there`s this
government that`s giving us stuff, we are taxpayers.
EDELMAN: Well, we are taxpayers, what I also think is Mitt Romney who
opposed the bail out of GM, which would have destroyed a whole lot of the
middle class in Michigan, but more importantly I think he`s endorsed the
Paul Ryan budget ...
EDELMAN: ... which is the most devastatingly irresponsible budget and
unjust budget. I mean, they are proposing to not only continue the Bush
tax cuts for millionaires and for billionaires, 100 -- over 125 each, but
to add, to give them another $265,000 in tax cuts. The top one percent
does not need more tax cuts. And I just think this is the most
hypocritical effort to talk about we are concerned with the budget deficit
while you are going to just hand away trillions more.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. Let`s just look at the picture of that. Because
there is this deep -- you know, as much as (inaudible) President Obama
wants to extend the Bush tax cuts, I mean, the fact that -- the difference
between what the GOP`s plans is and what President Obama`s plan is, it`s
just so clear on this -- on this graph that if budgets, our tax -- are
moral documents, if our tax policy is an ethical document, these is --
these are the ethics, right, this is who the GOP thinks deserves a break in
this country today. Up next, we`re going to talk a bit about President
Obama`s special sherpa to the middle class. What is his middle class
story? Where does it come from?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, I think about Michelle`s family, you know, her dad -- he was a
blue collar worker, who worked at the water filtration plant in Chicago,
and Michelle`s mom, she stayed at home and looked after Michelle and her
brother until they got older and then worked as a secretary most of her
life. And yet, despite these modest beginnings, Michelle and her brother
Craig could go to the best schools on earth. And rise up to do
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the president telling the first lady`s middle class
story, in parts to connect with middle income voting base he`s currently
courting. While Michelle Obama`s family, the Robinsons and the Robinson
family history may be helpful politically, the fact is it really is these
days almost more of a fairy tale. For the average middle class family,
take-home income has dropped seven percent in the past ten years. And if
you`re part of an African-American family, your household wealth dropped
off the cliff, plunging by 53 percent between 2005 and 2009. That middle
class Michelle story of yesteryear is just that, the story of yesteryear,
far more challenging today. And with me at the table, Marion Wright
Edelman, Bob Herbert, Shelby Knox and Lawrence Otis Graham. Shelby, that
kind of yesteryear story, does that mean that -- what does it mean for
young people in your generation?
KNOX: You know, you used to count on aspirational vote, talking about the
250,000 -- my generation doesn`t even think that we are going to make
$250,000 a year. Fewer people are -- fewer young people are homeowners, we
are renting, we are moving back in with our parents, so the idea of a
middle class, I`m sad to say, is not really one that we have.
Now, when President Obama is talking about Michelle Obama, what we`ve got
to remember here is that 60 -- 42 percent of American women don`t have
enough income to meet basic household expenses ...
KNOX: That goes up to 66 percent when you are talking about African
American women. We have -- we add the pay gap in there,77 percent for
women, 66 cents on the dollar for African-American women. So if he can tell
this story, and it`s one that needs to be told. But he needs to be
speaking to the reality of American young people, especially American young
women, when we really -- we are devastated out there, and we know these
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s so interesting, and that aspirational aspect in this
idea that like when you look at those hard facts, it feels like this story
of a government, blue collar worker, the stay-at-home mom, the kids that go
to Princeton, so I think that`s ....
GRAHAM: It does not exist any more, and her story is a real story.
GRAHAM: Despite the fact that Mitt Romney`s trying to appropriate it for
himself, to tell his own story .
GRAHAM: But I went to Princeton and Harvard Law School with Michelle --
Michelle Robinson at that time. And she and Craig were down the earth
regular people who you knew we going to work hard in order to make that
family back in Chicago proud of them. The thing about it is that we see so
many of those successful families now not being able to repeat that with
their own children.
GRAHAM: In my book, "Our Kind of People," I got a lot of heat for this
talking about sort of this Jack and Jill Links (ph) crowd, (inaudible)
black elite crowd, but what`s happening is, there`s a short moment in time
when we`ve had this black success as entrepreneurs and investment bankers
and lawyers, but we are the first ones to get cut. And once we get cut,
because we don`t have that deep reservoir of networks and connections and
old boy connections, the way that George Bush had. George used to tell the
story when he graduated from Yale with a C-average, that he could still
become president. It`s like that can`t happen.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Only in certain bodies.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right.
GRAHAM: So, there is a certain amount of white male privilege that goes
along with -- and that`s not true for all white families, obviously ...
GRAHAM: ... but for certain well-connected families like the Bushes.
Three generations of people that were in the Senate or high level
government officials. And that`s how a C-average white guy can get to
Harvard Business School and then go on to become president.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s really -- it`s my favorite ...
GRAHAM: It doesn`t happen in the black and brown communities.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s really -- it`s my favorite story of the Obamas. That
they were paying -- they paid off their student loans moments before he
took the oath of office for the U.S. Senate. And the idea -- I mean, that
to me is sort of what middle class feels like. You are still burdened with
student loans even as you were becoming a senator. Up next, we`re going to
talk more on this issue, but quite specifically, I`ve got some issues with
governors who have flat out refused to implement the Affordable Care Act.
How is the middle class even going to pay for health care?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right this very minute, most of the nation`s governors are
gathered together for a conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, where you can
bet the hallway governor to governor chit-chat is something a bit like
this. You gonna take it? I`m not going to take it. You gonna take it?
Me, no way, me either.
You see, so far seven governors, including my governor, Louisiana`s Bobby
Jindal, have flat out refused to implement the law, an option given to them
in the Supreme Court`s decision on the Affordable Care Act. Two of those
states, Texas and Florida by themselves, account for 3 million people who
are eligible for coverage under the Medicaid expansion who simply won`t get
it, thanks to their governors.
Now, the law could extend coverage to anyone with an income of up to 133
percent of the poverty line, and let`s be clear who falls into that
category. That`s an individual with an annual income just below $15,000,
or a family of four living on as little as $30,000 a year.
Before the Affordable Care Act expanded the social safety net to catch
these people, they simply were not quite poor enough to qualify for health
care, and they still are not in those seven states whose governors seem
content to let them continue to slip through the cracks.
So, as we are discussing the making of an appeal to the middle class, I
still have to wonder why for those who are still struggling to get in that
class, their own governors would deny them just a little bit of help.
Still with me at the table, Marion Wright Edelman, Bob Herbert, Shelby Knox
and Lawrence Otis Graham.
It feels to me, Mrs. Edelman, like the 133 percent of the poverty line is a
better definition of what is poor. The idea that we`ve ever thought of a
family of four existing on $30,000 as wealthy enough to buy health
insurance is just wrong.
EDELMAN: Absolutely. And, you know, millions, tens of millions of people
had been health poor. And the ACA, the Affordable Health Care Act is a
major, major step forward. It`s astonishing to me that any governor would
think about turning around -- down 100 percent federal funding and then 90
percent federal funding to help its people get one of the most basic human
rights that there is.
Texas has the largest number of uninsured children, uninsured people.
Mississippi, Louisiana, all the others have dragged their feet in enforcing
Medicaid for the poorest, and CHIP -- the Children`s Health Insurance for
the program, for the poorest. But there are millions of people who can get
help. Tens of millions, and idea that governors are saying, we are not
going to help our people stay out of more costly emergency rooms, stop
suffering death and preventable illnesses, is just astonishing. And I do
hope that the voters in those states will really look and say, is this
right leadership for us?
HARRIS-PERRY: On exactly that question, on the issue of voters, Bob, I
want to ask you about this so -- so, Bobby Jindal is my -- is my governor,
you know, I`ve been teasing that we should have a hashtag, FBJ, Forget
Bobby Jindal. But the whole -- the whole point of why we can`t forget him
is because the Democratic Party in the state of Louisiana at this point did
not put up a real candidate against him. Like you can`t vote for someone
else unless there`s real alternative. How do we get the politics, like can
the national Democratic Party look at this and say, we`re targeting Texas,
we are targeting Louisiana, where they are turning down basic, you know,
BH: Well, the Democratic Party should be doing that, but in the absence of
that, you know, people who are concerned need to go to voters themselves
and get them to start pressuring politicians actually in both parties. You
know, we have nearly 50 million Americans who are officially poor by the
federal statistics, by the federal guidelines. Another 50 million are what
we call the near poor, they just a notch or two above the official poverty
line. That`s almost 100 million people, which is about a third of the
entire U.S. population, poor or near poor. What kind of middle class
society is that if you have so many people who are living in poverty?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. It`s not a middle class society, is a growing
difference. And it`s not -- you know, Mrs. Edelman just made the claim
about it being sort of basic right and what`s good for the people, but
people who have health care go to work, and they earn wages and they pay
their bills on time. It is also good economic development.
GRAHAM: But Melissa, those eight governors, those seven governors don`t
care about that. This is a political strategic move for them.
GRAHAM: The same move that when Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, waved
her finger in the face of our president.
GRAHAM: This was all about sending a message to her supporters, to
galvanize her base. These are political moves. It`s not that they are
saying we don`t think that this health care program is good for our
citizens, because they know that it is.
GRAHAM: Bu it is thumbing their nose at the Supreme Court. thumbing their
nose at the president and making sure that they galvanize their Republican
HARRIS-PERRY: They were up on the screen, I just want to be sure, because
you are right. It`s a political move. They are not making a claim that
it`s not good, so they are going to play politics, let`s play it. These
are the folks. You know, if you`re watching from one of these states, your
governor, you know, FBJ, but all the rest of them, too. Your governor is
saying, I don`t care that you are poor, I don`t care that you need health
care, I don`t care, as Mrs Edelman just pointed out, that it will be free
to our state initially. We are just not going to do this.
KNOX: Right. And as I`m from Texas, originally. One in four Texans -- I
know -- one in four Texans is uninsured. Rick Perry has already proven
that he does not care about the citizens of his state when he gave up
millions in federal dollars for family planning programs and cancer
screenings because he wanted to make a political point about Planned
Parenthood. In this case, we have to be really, really clear as to who
they don`t care about and that is women and all folks of color. Because
those are the people that are going to be hurt most by these refusals and
Rick Perry is saying I care more about my presidential ambitions because
that went so well the first time than I do about the millions of Texans who
would be helped by this.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Rick Perry is such a good example, because he initially,
like you saw the sort of like, Rick Perry as governor making sense on the
HPV vaccine decision initially, and then you saw him have to backpedal from
it, turn around, twizz, do a jump-shot to pretend as though somehow the HPV
vaccine was a bad idea because somehow it became government encroachment,
you actually saw the politics impact people`s health in that -- in that ...
KNOX: Exactly. And the Texans legislature, much like the U.S. Congress,
spent as much time trying to eliminate poverty as they do trying to make
sure women can`t get abortions, then there would be no poverty in Texas.
But one thing that people never point out is that Texans who do pay for
their insurance, who are insured, pay almost 80 percent more than some
people in other states, because they`re covering the uninsured.
KNOX: This expansion would help that. It would actually alleviate a
burden for folks who are already buying their own health insurance.
EDELMAN: Just to reinforce that. The taxpayers of Texas are the ones who
are going to pay this, the economy in Texas is going to lose because they
are going to turn down billions and billions and billions in federal
dollars that they need, and spend billions in uncompensated care for people
who show up at the emergency room, who have low birth weight babies, so
they are going to cost a fortune, that, you know, just they are dealing --
it`s the taxpayers and the citizens of Texas and the economy, and we are
able to get the business coming to join us in trying to get Texas to
enforce the Children`s Health Program because there was money. They were
turning down billions of federal dollars.
BH: The middle class is hurt even if they are not covered by this Medicaid
BH: ... for example. They are going to pay for the all these folks, and
they are going to be paying for folks who are getting medical care much too
GRAHAM: Exactly. When it costs even more. And that`s why it is so
obvious that Mitt Romney`s medical program that he had in Massachusetts ...
GRAHAM: ... was the same thing that was going on here.
GRAHAM: But he can`t admit to that, because he had to play to the far
right who -- and so he`s making these politically expedient moves even
though they are against the middle class, and they are against the very
people that would benefit from these programs.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This argument of the individual mandate, the reason
that Republicans like Mitt Romney put it into place was their sense that
this was about individual reasonability ...
BH: Exactly right.
HARRIS-PERRY: ... because otherwise it falls on taxpayers, like that used
to be the line. Now the line is what did President Obama do? We are for
GRAHAM: Exactly. Logic goes out the window and political expediency is
what determines the debate.
HARRIS-PERRY: But it feels even more than like just political expedience.
I mean I`m thinking about the fact that someone -- you were the first
African-American woman admitted to the bar in Mississippi. And, you know,
the story of Mississippi is standing in the school house door, right, the
story of Mississippi is that story of massive resistance, which in certain
parts was about political expediency, but it felt like it was about
something more than that. It was not just about winning the next election.
It was also about the sense of you people do not get to be part of the
EDELMAN: Well, that is right. And what I think we have going on here is
the resurgence of the old bad stuff. We are resegregating in many ways, we
see hate crimes going up, we see racial profiling and racial violence going
up. I think some of us think that the black community and the black child
in this country is just facing one of the worst crises in terms of
backwards mobility, backwards actions on race relations. I think we are in
the midst of the second post-Reconstruction era. And if you look at what`s
been happening to our schools, you look at massive incarceration, the
cradle to prison pipeline, if you look at the job market, if you look at
the non-enforcement of very basic rights, you look at voter suppression,
this is a very dangerous time, and there is some underlining racism here
who we need to deal with.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we`re going to, in fact, look at exactly those issues of
the cradle to prison pipeline and of unemployment as we go on, on this
show, but first we are going to talk about the issue of military sexual
assault. The military says it`s radically changed the way it handles
sexual misconduct, but we`ll see whether or not that`s working. I`m going
to talk with Congresswoman Speier, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: The U.S. military is now investigating what may be its worst
sex scandal in more than 15 years. The first complaint came out of the
Lackland Air Force Base in Texas involving sexual misconduct by male boot
camp instructors toward female recruits. Take a look at this staggering
statistic. According to "The Washington Post," approximately 25 percent of
the instructors in the 331st training squadron stand charged or under
investigation for sexual misconduct. One trainer has been charged with
raping or sexually assaulting ten women.
Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier has been calling for a zero
tolerance policy when it comes to sexual assaults in the military. She is
urging the House Armed Services Committee to hold hearings on this latest
black eye for the military and has the bipartisan support of 77 of her
colleagues in Congress. Representative Jackie Speier joins me now from San
Francisco. Thank you for being here this morning.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER, (D), CALIFORNIA: I`m happy to be with you, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Congresswoman Speier, first, explain to me how does the
chain of command make this problem of sexual assault worse?
SPEIER: The chain of command creates an environment where there`s an
inherent conflict of interest. The number of cases of sexual assault where
the victim has to report to her actual rapist is high or the sexual assault
is the result of a friend of the commander. So it creates this conflict of
interest that as a result fewer people actually report the sexual assault
or a rape. And that`s why at Lackland, why they have identified 31
victims, only one has actually reported the crime.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, explain to me, you have -- you have a legislative effort
to challenge this, to move it outside of the chain of command. What would
that effort do?
SPEIER: So, it would keep it the military but move it outside the chain of
command. So a victim would report to a special victims unit, which would
be staffed by experts and investigations and prosecution. And then they
would make the decision whether or not to move forward with the case.
Right now you have a unit commander or someone right above that unit
commander who has no legal experience and evaluates the case. And they are
judge and jury. They make the decision whether or not an investigation and
prosecution moves forward and they decide who is going to be the
investigator and who is going to be the prosecutor. So, it`s a real
stacked deck against the victim.
HARRIS-PERRY: Congresswoman, it feels to me like one of the challenges,
so, I mean luckily you have some bipartisan support on this, but it does
feel to me like one of the challenges we as a public typically don`t want
to know bad things about our military. You know, we understand the
pressures that soldiers are under, particularly in the context of long war
and multiple deployments. How do we push past this kind of culture of
silence in order to publicize this enough to protect women who are in the
SPEIER: You know, I think until very recently there hasn`t been a
recognition that this issue is so widespread in the military. 19,000 cases
of sexual assault and rape a year by DOD`s own statistics, and only 13
percent report. And if you look at the statistics, even with the efforts
that have been under way, and I believe that Secretary Panetta wants to do
the right thing, but even so the actual number of court martials and
convictions has dropped over last year. So we are not doing the right
thing. And meanwhile, these victims are victimized a second time over, and
I don`t want to have members of the military, both men and women, who
enlist be more likely to be victims of violence from someone within their
own unit than from the enemy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now you`ve been -- you`ve been very clear that you believe
that this is a systemic problem, not just an issue of sort, you know, one
of bad behavior. The other sort of fundamental systemic thing that we are
seeing is an increase in military suicides, so much so that there have been
more U.S. military members who have lost their lives to their own hands, to
suicide, than actually in Afghanistan itself. Do you see any correlation
between the kind of systemic problems that allow and encourage and hide
this kind of sexual assault and the kind of systemic problems that might be
associated with this appalling suicide rate?
SPEIER: You know, the suicide rate is jarring. One every 80 seconds and
among veterans and one a day among active military. All of the experts say
there`s not enough money being spent on mental health services within the
military. It`s about four percent, and much like sexual assault, I mean
the sexual assault -- the focus is, oh, it`s on the victim. Somehow they
created the environment. Somehow they dress provocatively. On the case of
suicide, and mental health issues, it`s somehow the spouse`s fault if
there`s a marriage situation, that it`s something within the family that`s
causing the problem. So we`ve got to stop pointing the fingers and start
just dealing with the cancer that exists within the system and fix it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Congresswoman Jackie Speier. It`s -- we will
keep our eyes on this issue and we greatly appreciate your hard work on it.
SPEIER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Up next, I have got an incredible story of a mother who
forgave the murderer of her own son. Both are going to join me next.
Don`t go away.
HARRIS-PERRY: If someone you love is hurt or even killed, you want
justice. But when justice is met, what does that leave us with?
Forgiveness. And it seems simple, but it can be impossibly hard. Now
imagine being a mother who manages the ultimate act, forgiving your child`s
In 1993, 20-year old Laramiun Byrd, Mary Johnson`s only child, was killed
by then 16-year-old Oshea Israel. In the beginning, Laramiun`s mother Mary
wanted justice, and she got it, when Oshea was sentenced to 25 and a half
years in prison. Justice met. But for Mary, that wound up not being
enough. A few years ago, she decided to meet her son`s killer to see if
she could forgive him. After the initial incredibly tense meeting, Mary
and Oshea met regularly and Mary eventually forgave Oshea. In fact, when
he was released after 17 years in prison, she welcomed him home, literally.
Oshea lives next door to Mary. And as they continue to force their bond,
they are an example that forgiveness is indeed possible.
I`m joined from Minneapolis by Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel. Thank you
both for being here.
MARY JOHNSON: Thank you for having us.
OSHEA ISRAEL: Thanks for having us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mary, you talk about this story as a faith journey. Tell me
JOHNSON: Well, I am a Christian woman and my Lord tells that in order to
be forgiven that you must forgive. And it is faith. This is what has got
me to the place where I`m at today, to be able to sit next to Oshea and for
us to go all over the world sharing our story.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, I have to say when I first heard this story, I had
so many mixed emotions, but Oshea, I wondered if you feel a sense of
responsibility now in how you live your life because the life that you took
is that of Mary Johnson`s son. Do you have a responsibility to live a good
life in his place?
OSHEA ISRAEL: I won`t necessarily say in his place, because I can never
fill his shoes, but at the same time I do have a responsibility to myself
to make sure I come out here and set the right example, because committing
my crime, I set the wrong example, and I see a lot of people following
behind those steps. So I have to show that regardless of the past, what
I`ve done, that I can come out here to redeem myself and we can be
successful. And, you know and in honor of Mary just to show her that, hey,
I caused this pain before, but that`s not what my intentions are now. I
want to show you that I can be a success story and her son didn`t die in
HARRIS-PERRY: Mary, is there something for you in terms of being able to
walk this faith path and walk this space to forgiveness, that you fell
called to by your understanding of God and God`s love? So something about
the fact that they were young when this happened. Your son, 20, Oshea only
a teenager. Is there something about them as being just really teenagers
that made it more possible for you to forgive?
JOHNSON: Well, I`ve been asked that before, and at the time, you know, the
age did not even come up at all. That Oshea was only 16 and my son was
only 20. I really can`t say that that had anything to do with it. I
really can`t say that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask this, Oshea, I heard you say something about
wanting to be able to be a success story. Is -- talk to me just a bit
about your time actually being incarcerated. Would you say that the things
that were happening to you and for you in your period of incarceration
helped to make you -- and to a place where you could successful or is it
really about the loving forgiveness and faith journey of Mary Johnson that
brings you to that place?
ISRAEL: Oh, I think it`s a combination of both. I mean -- being, excuse
me, being inside, you really get a chance to do a lot of personal
reflection, get to find out who you are as a person, figure out how you
want to fit in the world. Look at how you bumped your head, and, you know,
look at the mistakes that you made and how you can go about doing things
differently. And even when I was inside the prison, I was, you know, doing
just dumb stuff and I got to a point where I was like I was fed up with
that, I need to do something different with myself.
And education always been important, so I educated myself. The programs
that they had inside of prison. I started taking those. And the more I
started putting inside of myself, the more better I started feeling about
myself, and the more I wanted to do the right thing. Because it became
normal to me, you know, learning, growing, it became normal. And with Mary
coming along and adding the forgiveness part, it kind of liberated me a
little bit more to the fact that I didn`t have to feel as guilty about
trying to come home, be successful and become somewhat -- that I didn`t
have to feel like if I did accomplish something, in the back of head I feel
guilty, because I took a life and I don`t deserve this. So.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel, I`m so appreciative of you
starting the conversation that we`re going to be having here about -- about
incarceration, because it`s such a -- such an important story about
reconciliation and forgiveness. And Ms. Johnson, you are an absolute image
of, in fact, what a Christian woman is. I appreciate what you have done
JOHNSON: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Coming up, we are going to continue to talk about prison.
We`ll talk specifically about the cradle to prison pipeline that far too
many mothers` sons find themselves trapped in.
HARRIS-PERRY: Some of you may be asking, why should I care about
prisoners? Do the crime, do the time. I mean, with all the problems
facing our country, why take time to think about folks who are locked up
and locked away? For starters, most prisoners will eventually return to
communities. The conditions they face in jail make a big difference in
their lives when they come home. And this is true in particular for one
group -- young people.
The United States locks up vastly more of our children than our developed
nations. The kinds of young people most likely to feel the wrath of the
prison system? Compared to white youths, white Hispanics are 43 percent
more likely to be waved into the adult justice system. And from the ages
of 10 to 17, black kids are more than five times as likely as white kids to
be arrested for a violent crime.
Now, remember these are children that we`re talking about, not hardened
criminals, and many of them are victims themselves of economic and social
factors that are out of their control, factors that could be fixed if the
adults in the room were paying more attention.
At the table are Marion Wright Edelman, president and founder of the
Children`s Defense Fund. Bob Herbert, senior fellow at Demos. Reverend
Vivian Nixon, the executive director of the College and Community
Fellowship. And Glenn Martin, vice president of public affairs at the
Fortune Society. Thank you all for being here.
Glenn, actually, I want to start with you. Tell me what the school to
prison pipeline is.
GLENN MARTIN, VP OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, THE FORTUNE SOCIETY: Sure.
Essentially, we put our children unfortunately on a pipeline from education
right into the criminal justice system, mostly men of color, young black
and Latino men, but increasingly young black and Latino women. And
essentially what we`re doing is, instead of spending time investing in
educating our youth, we are criminalizing behavior that just 10 or 15 years
ago was not criminalized, and the response to it is no longer a trip to the
principal`s office. It`s a trip to the local police precinct, and once
you`re enmeshed in the criminal justice system, extremely hard to extricate
yourself from that.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pause there and not miss that, because I think
folks sometimes miss that particular point, that the crimes that people are
currently being incarcerated for were not crimes a very short time ago.
Because I think it`s real easy when we start talking about prisons and
incarcerations and even juvenile incarcerations we say, well, I mean,
you`re a criminal. You broke the law. But we have to remember, laws
actually move around. We decide what is legal and illegal. I mean, it was
illegal to be black sitting at public lunch counters at one point in this
So what are the alternatives to incarceration? If we`re talking about for
example school infractions, what are the alternatives to this kind of
criminalizing of young people, Reverend Nixon?
REV. VIVIAN NIXON, EXEC. DIRECTOR, COLLEGE AND COMMUNITY FELLOWSHIP: We
need to be dealing with children as though they are just that, children.
And there are families involved when you`re talking about children. So
generational approaches need to be happening. We need to be addressing the
problems in families that are causing children to act out in ways that are
now criminal, because you have police in schools and you have children who
are going to act out, because it`s a natural part of the growing up
process. It escalates over time as it gets unaddressed, and it`s
unaddressed because families are not being addressed in our communities.
Resources are scarce in the community. Parents are stressed, having to
work two and three jobs just to survive in this economy. And therefore,
raising children becomes more and more difficult as time goes on, and there
are supports to get parents what they need in order to address these minor
infractions before things would come out of control.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this seems so important to me. That sometimes they say,
well, it`s the families, and so somehow it becomes beat your kids, and yell
at your kids. But this notion that, look, when we have food and security,
kids come to school hungry. When people are losing their housing, they end
up doubling and tripling up in households, that creates stresses. I was
just shocked to see that school acts of, like, violence and acting out,
occur at the end of the month, because food stamps have run out and kids
are actually hungry.
No one has done more on this question of like, the broad structures that
our kids are facing. How do we keep kids out of that school to prison
EDELMAN: Well, I`ll go back to the cradle--
EDELMAN: OK, but let`s talk about schools. And I think the school, the
zero-tolerance school discipline policies have got to be changed. The
majority of children who are being suspended or expelled from school are
committing non-violent offenses. Truancy and tardiness. What sense does
it make to put a child out of school because they`re not coming to school?
EDELMAN: And 80 percent of our children not learning in school, are not
getting what they need, don`t have high expectations, are not respected.
Sure, they`re going to act out. If they don`t have health care, they`re
going to have attention deficit disorders or other things that are not
detected, so we`ve got to make sure that they have what they need in order
to learn. But we are criminalizing five, six, seven-year olds. Don`t tell
me that adults in a school setting cannot figure out if a 6 or 7-year-old
is having a temper tantrum, how to solve that in their school and not call
in the police to handcuff them, and we are silent about that. We`ve got to
stop this, and we`ve got to have common sense.
HERBERT: I worked in Florida on a case and wrote about it, where a 6-year-
old girl who was in kindergarten was arrested, put in handcuffs and put in
the back of a police car because she had a tantrum in kindergarten.
HERBERT: The handcuffs were too large to fit around her wrist. They had
to put the handcuffs up around her biceps. This is really sick behavior.
NIXON: For me, the bigger problem is the fact that that when that went out
across the airwaves, when people saw pictures of that, there was not the
outrage that we saw back in the civil rights movement when we saw people
getting hosed down. Why isn`t it the same outrage?
MARTIN: I`m glad you brought up the civil rights movement, because what
you said earlier was important. Which is that we haven`t been locking
people up at this rate forever, right? We see the end of the civil rights
era, we see this huge spike in incarceration. If you extrapolate, you
recognize that it`s mostly young, black and brown men and children. But to
go a bit further, we`re also attaching invisible punishment to those
convictions. So we`re setting kids up for failure through collateral
consequences. If you have a conviction, you can`t go to school here. If
you have a conviction, you can`t vote here. If you have a conviction, you
can`t get a license here. And so, in many ways, the system has this
inherent hypocrisy where we tell people, once you come out, do the right
thing, get your life back together, but wait a minute, can`t go to school.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the recidivism story, right? If you have a felony,
you can`t live in public housing, you can`t get a student loan, a federal
student loan. There`s tons of jobs in many states that you simply for
example be a barber in some states. And so, you can`t get a job, you can`t
go get an education and you have nowhere to live. Of course people
recidivate, of course they go back into--
NIXON: And in this society where we`re trying children as adults --
imagine being a child, 16 years old, getting convicted of a crime in an
adult court, in a state where because you were convicted, you can never
vote in your entire life. The community is saying, we don`t want you,
you`re not part of us, you`re not part of this society.
EDELMAN: There is a clear (inaudible), the majority of children who are
put out of school are put out of school for non-violent offenses. Millions
-- we`ve got 7.1 million folk who have been in prison or under control (ph)
of the criminal justice system. Many of them are there for non-violent
offenses. We have racial disparities and income disparities in who gets
charged and who goes to prison, and what their terms are. So this is an
HARRIS-PERRY: And we`re going to talk more about that and specifically on
this question of an unjust system that picks up certain kinds of kids and
then keeps them from ever being full citizens. So stay right there,
because up next, it could be enough to turn the entire election. Why in
key battleground states like Florida and Virginia, one in five African
Americans has effectively lost the right to vote. That is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: If you think politics and prisons don`t affect each other,
this might change your mind. A new study by the Sentencing Project reminds
us why every vote counts and why so many votes just won`t even be cast.
5.9 million Americans are forbidden to vote because they live in states
with laws that disenfranchise convicted felons. It is one of the key
reasons why in battleground states, like Florida and Virginia, one in five
African Americans simply can`t vote. So in the case of voting, politics
and prisons do go hand in hand, and the important distinction is who
benefits when the two mix.
At the table are Marion Wright Edelman, Bob Herbert, Reverend Vivian Nixon,
and Glenn Martin. Glenn, I want to come to you on this, because you`re an
ex-offender. You do the work of your organization, but this is also a
lived experience for you. What does this mean, this notion of being
disenfranchised because of a crime?
MARTIN: Sure. At the Fortune Society where I work, we have thousands of
people coming through the door who have been involved in the criminal
justice system. I happen to live in a state where you actually get your
voting rights back at a certain point. My own experience is when I got off
parole and I tried to register to vote, the local boards of elections told
me I couldn`t and that I was not eligible to vote, even though the law in
New York State said quite the opposite, recognizing that it differs from
state to state. So that was my introduction to this issue.
When you think about recidivism, and how do you keep people out of prison,
you could find no better recipe for getting people to reoffend and to make
them feel as though they are not part of the social fabric, and a great way
to do that is to take away their right to vote. And when I talk to
individuals about their right to vote, some of them say, well, my vote
doesn`t count anyhow. Right? Even average voters are very disenfranchised
here in New York State, very disillusioned with the voting process. But
what I say to them is, if it`s not important, why did they take it away?
And then they stop to really give it a whole bunch of thought.
In my opinion, I am not even sure why we take away people`s right to vote
at all. You know, you don`t take away their citizenship when they are
convicted, so we knock people down a notch and take away all of these other
rights. Unfortunately, we don`t have a ceremony to bring people back up
once they are released and help them recognize that they are once again
part of society.
HARRIS-PERRY: Michelle Alexander calls this the new Jim Crow, not just
because of all of these black bodies and brown bodies that are
incarcerated, but also because, like Jim Crow, it creates second-class
citizens, people who simply are disenfranchised.
EDELMAN: Well, some of us think that this is a major way of not only
political disempowerement -- because this has always been about power, the
vote, and so you disenfranchise, you take away the vote. But it`s also a
move to economic disempowerement, because many of them who go into prison
cannot get a job, cannot get public benefits, cannot find public housing,
and so this is a major, major way of undermining the strength and power and
vibrancy of communities of color and poor communities of color, and it is
the new Jim Crow, or the new apartheid or the new slavery, however you want
to do it, but we`ve got to break it up.
HARRIS-PERRY: While still creating economic incentives for the prisons
themselves. I mean, when we were talking about that 8-foot-2 inch bird,
Big Bird in the first hour, we were talking about this notion of
privatizing "Sesame Street." Well, the prisons have been privatized,
right? There are people who are getting economic benefit from
incarcerating our children and folks in our community.
HERBERT: They are making off of this big time, so that`s obviously a big
issue, but we should not lose sight of the fact that the Republican Party
benefits directly from this, because they are disenfranchising people that
would vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and --
HARRIS-PERRY: One in five black voters in Virginia and Florida.
HERBERT: That`s the election.
HERBERT: Yeah, there you go.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, one in five black voters. We know the vast majority
of those votes would go to President Obama if they were able to be counted.
MARTIN: I worked on many legislative issues around opening up
opportunities for people who have been involved in the criminal justice
system. I`ll never forget introducing a bill and sitting with a senator
and saying to him, you know, here`s a bill, Republican, conservative, in a
district with nine prisons, and he took a look at the bill and he was like,
this is great, but these are not my people. I`ve never had that response
on a legislative advocacy ever, but he was crystal clear with me. These
are just not my folks. Meaning these are not Republican votes, good luck.
EDELMAN: And I don`t want to lose the privatization issue, because it`s a
very big issue. The Corrections Corporation of America and GEO are really
making bids to really lock up more and more people and people of color,
males of color, and immigrants are the core population. The Corrections
Corporation of America has just sent a letter to 48 state governors
offering to run their prison systems for 20 years if they could be
guaranteed a 90 percent occupancy rate. Our states are--
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to pause, because I don`t want anybody to miss it.
They can be guaranteed a 90 percent occupancy rate.
EDELMAN: A 90 percent occupancy rate. This is -- and we`ve got to see
what is going on here, and this is part of a bigger privatization movement.
Not just Big Bird, but people want to privatize Medicaid and Medicare and
Social Security. So this is a bigger ideological fight about undermining
the role of government. But we`ve really got to look at the privatization
problem, and the states need to wake up too, because the cost of
incarcerating more and more people, they`re spending on average 2.5 times
more per prisoner than per public school pupil. That`s the dumbest
investment policy I can think of, particularly since we have huge
HARRIS-PERRY: And I want to give you the last word on this. If that is a
bad way to spend our money, what are the alternatives to incarceration,
particularly for young people?
NIXON: Well, it is a huge, huge problem, and there is no way to -- we
can`t spend our way out of it. Because it`s an ideological issue, as Ms.
Edelman said. But where we`re going to spend our money does matter. We
need to be investing in opportunities for people to have employment that
leads to sustainable and living wages. We need to make sure that when
people are released from prison because we do have 2 million people in
prison, we have to wonder what`s going to happen to them. That there are
not laws in place that bar them from jobs, bar them from school, bar them
from housing, because that is a recipe for disaster. We need to be
investing in strategies that address not only the adults who are
incarcerated, but the children who are incarcerated, and the children of
the adults who are incarcerated, because this is a multi-generational
MARTIN: People often ask me what turned my life around. Two things --
access to education. I was lucky enough to get a college education while I
was on the inside. Second thing, hope. Someone took the time to stop and
say to me, you can do better, you can do differently, you can be educated,
you can change your life. And those two things combined I think are part
of the recipe to help us reduce the criminal justice system and go back to
the way we should be, which is investing in --
NIXON: In today`s prisons, you could not get that college degree, because
in 1994, the federal government made it illegal for people in prisons to
receive telegrams to go to school.
HARRIS-PERRY: So we have -- I think this is right where you are is where
we`ll leave it for today, although not leave it forever, because I think
what you`ve done, particularly I like how you brought us back I think to
that moment with Oshea and Ms. Johnson, which is it was both of those
things. When I asked him what did he have, he said, I had an opportunity
to learn while incarcerated, and then I had someone -- in that case an
extraordinary person who came in with a sense of hope and forgiveness. And
maybe if we can start imagining ourselves playing that role as a society,
actually thinking of these young people as valuable enough to invest in
their education and to provide some hope for them, so we`ll undoubtedly see
you both back. So I thank you both, Vivian Nixon and Glenn Martin. More
with Bob and Marion shortly, and up next a growing national crisis that
demands an urgent response. Education. We`re going to try to close that
gap, and I get to talk alone to Marion Wright Edelman.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Sunday, July 22nd, a week from tomorrow, the Children`s
Defense Fund will begin their first national conference since 2003. Set in
Cincinnati, Ohio, leaders from education, policy making and more will come
together to try and create solutions for the most vulnerable among us, our
children. This is at a time when 16.4 million children are poor, and 8.3
million kids don`t have health care. There`s never been a more critical
time to address these issues, and I`m pleased to be having this discussion
with none other than Marion Wright Edelman, the founder and president of
the Children`s Defenses Fund. Why now?
EDELMAN: Why now? Because we`re in the middle of a major crisis. And
we`ve been talking a lot about the middle class, but I am concerned about
the plight of the poor, and our children in the richest nation on earth are
the poorest group of Americans, and the younger they are, the poorer they
are in those years of early brain development. And when we talk about the
cradle to prison pipeline, it starts before birth and lack of prenatal
care, lack of health care in the early years, with lack of stimulation in
the zero to 3 years, when we know how important that is. With the lack of
preparation for school, and then they go to school not ready to learn, many
millions of them, and they go to schools that don`t expect them to learn,
don`t help them to learn. The poorest children get the worst resources.
Sometimes the poorest teachers, and they live in neighborhoods of
concentrate poverty, and they don`t have the after-school or summer
stimulation that those of us who are more privileged can do.
And so this constant continuation of the effects of poverty, which is
growing. You know, and hungry children don`t learn. Homeless children
have a hard time. If you are also suffering abuse or you`re living in
violence-ridden communities. So this is a wakeup call to say, hey, y`all,
you know, the country is really endangered by a lot of the external forces,
Citizens United, the hijacking of the political process, recessions, but
boy, we need to look at what is happening to our poor and look at what is
happening to our children and do something.
HARRIS-PERRY: My producer and I, we were going through this, she was just
sending me, you know, graph after graph, and I was sending her email after
email, saying can you believe these numbers? So we`re looking at the
number of children in America in poverty, so you know, just to sort of to
run through what some of this looks like.
So we`ve got kids living in poverty in 2010, nearly 40 percent of African-
American children, more than a third of Hispanic children, and more than
one in 10 white children. Then we were looking at the number of uninsured
children, also breaking this out by race, that one in six Hispanic
children, one in nine African American children, and one in 10 white
children have no insurance. We were looking also as you were pointing out,
at educational achievement, where kids are in terms of their ability to
actually complete high school within four years. You`re looking at only 64
percent of African American children and 66 percent of Hispanic children
actually completing. And then the one that was blowing our mind as we were
talking about this prison thing, the percent of children of color who make
up -- who are in the college population versus the prison population,
right, so black men make up 5 percent of college students, but 36 percent
of prisoners, and the same thing here with Hispanic adult men at 12 percent
and 16 percent.
OK. Those feel so big, so enormous, that my first sense is just what in
the world are we going to do about that?
EDELMAN: We are going to raise our voices and we`re going to create a
nonviolent movement that says stop, that we`re not going to go backwards,
that the whole premise of the first civil rights movement was that we
wanted our children to have a better life. And we wanted them to have an
education. The fact that 80 percent of black and Latino children today
cannot read or compute at grade level at 4th, 8th or 12th grade is a
sentence to social and economic death. What are you going to do in this
globalizing world and competitive economy if you can`t read and compute?
So they are already, you know, is a disaster, and that leads to the fact
that a black boy has a one in three chance if he was born in 2001, or a
Latino boy, one in six chance, of going to prison in their lifetime. We
cannot you know, go growing prisoners. That is going to destroy not only
the black community and people of color, but the country. Where is that
workforce going to come from? And it`s too costly.
So we are doing this meeting. So you all come together, 3,000 folks, come
on together from all 50 states. Half are going to be young people, and we
really want to begin to build a young, nonviolent voice for change. You
can`t wait for Republicans or Democrats, for Washington, the Capitol to do
it. We need the next transcending movement to stop this incarceration, to
break it all up, and to demand the education and the safety net that they
need, every child does need.
Now, there is some hope here. Now that we`ve gotten the health care act,
it will allow us to cover 95 percent of all children, and you know, we can
go out now and enroll a lot more millions of children who are eligible, and
we need to go out and do that. We`re going to be talking to people, what
they can do.
HARRIS-PERRY: If we can get Bobby Jindal and his crew out of the way--
EDELMAN: Well, we`re going to get them out of the way, but we`ve got some
models, and this is a conference about how do we close the gap between what
we know will work and what we can do. We`re going to be training people on
how they can enroll children, how we can fight poverty, but we`ve got to be
organizing, organizing, organizing, voting, voting, voting, but we`ve got
to come together and take responsibility.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I love that you all are doing it in Ohio. It is a
narrative about swing states and the fact that elections have consequences.
Still to come, last month`s overall unemployment rate may have been
unchanged, but for African Americans, actually it went up. Turns out there
is a very specific reason why. We`re going to explain that next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Things aren`t a whole lot better, but they are not
necessarily any worse either, unless you are African-American. That`s the
story told by the latest job numbers that showed everyone else`s
unemployment holding steady while African-American unemployment continues
to rise. Just two months ago, the rate for African-Americans was 13.6
percent. By the time last week`s numbers we released for June, that number
had jumped almost a percentage point to 14.4 percent. Compare that with
8.2 percent nationally, which held steady from May to June.
Now, the new black unemployment numbers make their rates two times the rate
of white unemployment, which remains at 7.4 percent. Also, unchanged was
the Latino rate, which didn`t budge from 11 percent, but those numbers are
only part of the story, because they only account for people actively
seeking work, not why they aren`t finding it, so to understand that, we
should consider this. 21.2 percent of African-Americans were employed by
the public sector between 2008 and 2010. Before and after the recession,
African-Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be
employed in the public sector. And since 2008, 636,000 public sector jobs
have disappeared from the economy. It`s a number that could soon be
increased by 145,000. That`s how many government workers Mitt Romney said
he would cut when he vowed to "send them home" when he became president.
You wonder why he got booed at the NAACP convention.
Still with me, Marion Wright Edelman, and also back at the table, Bob
Herbert, Shelby Knox and Lawrence Otis Graham. Is it not true that the
black middle class came from government jobs, teachers, postal workers,
firefighters, and when we look at what`s happened, it is government jobs
that are being cut? No wonder.
GRAHAM: That`s absolutely true, Melissa. And the thing about it, is that
the black middle class is built on those public sector jobs unlike the
white middle class, which was built on jobs working for corporate America
where they could guarantee that they could be a couple of generations
working for the phone company ...
GRAHAM: ... or working for IBM. We don`t have a deep reservoir within the
black community that`s been a part of the corporate community, so that is
not a part of our story or our narrative. And the other issue is, at a
time when blacks could get jobs in the public sector, working for the post
office, working as firefighters or police officers, we didn`t necessarily
have to be college educated or have a graduate school education. Now, it`s
GRAHAM: It`s no longer a luxury, because when the white folks get cut from
these corporate jobs, we have long before been cut from those positions.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is the thing that is making me most nuts about the
unemployment numbers, because we see private sector slowly, maybe meekly,
but growing. And is the public sector that -- I mean it feels like -- and
our response to this? Is cut taxes, so the public sector will have even
fewer resources to hire people. Yeah.
HERBERT: Exactly. So we are throwing these folks out of work, these
African-American public sector employees out of work at the time when
there`s a full-blown depression in the black community.
HERBERT: Even the 14.4 percent jobless rate understates the figure.
That`s the official rate, as you pointed out, only those folks who report
that they are searching for work. But I go into these communities and
recently I was up in the Dorchester, Roxbury, Dorchester in Boston, you`ll
find the whole neighborhoods where no one has a legitimate job. If you go
to Detroit or east St. Louis or Camden or Newark, it`s horrifying out
there. It`s a great American tragedy, and people are not paying enough
attention to it.
EDELMAN: And we have structural problems in the economy. We`d better
recognize that the jobs that are becoming available even in the private
sector are low-wage jobs.
EDELMAN: They are not enough to sort of lift you out of poverty. And then
we are just missing this enormous opportunity to respond to the needs of
our children and of our working families. Imagine if we created all the
jobs that we have for universal child care system, or pre-kindergarten
system, our kindergarten system, or built the schools that have it --
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I mean ...
EDELMAN: So we could do public investment and save our children and save
the future workforce of this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: We keep hearing from the Republicans that the Affordable
Care Act is this great government giveaway program, but it`s economic
stimulus. It creates jobs, right?
KNOX: But actually, if you break this down even more, black women, who
were most hurt by the recession when it began, are more likely to be in
those public sector jobs. For every ten jobs women gain in the private
sector, they lose -- women lose four public sector jobs. And even with this
recovery, a lot of those jobs were service jobs, construction jobs. And in
those areas, when broken down by race, you look at men are gaining jobs in
those areas and women are still losing jobs in those areas, so we`ve got to
look at who is being helped by which programs and really be very specific
about making sure that we are helping those certain populations.
GRAHAM: The other greater loss that African-Americans had -- had -- have
had and to add to what Shelby was pointing out is that these public sector
jobs also provided great pensions.
GRAHAM: They provided great medical benefits. So all of the various
programs that came along with these great secure jobs, when those become
decimated, those children of those families lose out as well and they
become a quote/unquote burden on our -- on our hospital systems, emergency
rooms, things like that. So, ultimately we all lose by this, because we
have to pay taxes to pay for those programs.
HARRIS-PERRY: For me, it`s partly the story here of like what`s happening
with the war on teachers, where OK, now we`ve decided that teachers,
particularly unionized teacher who earn a decent pay, who have health care,
who have retirement are bad for kids. So, so now if you`re -- you know if
you as an African-American woman teacher, maybe getting, you know, cut your
job, but also the public schools suffer. And so, then, if you are sort of
middle class-ish hanging on to the bottom rungs, you can`t send your kids
to a decent public school and like it is, it feels like it compounds in
these multiple ways.
HERBERT: It does compound, and what happens is many of the folks that we
are talking about are college educated or have even higher degrees. They
lose their jobs and they are out there in this terrible job market, and
they start taking jobs that people with lesser degrees of education once
had. And that helps push the whole thing downwards. So, now you have
young people who, for example, have only a high school diploma, they cannot
find these jobs because more and more of these jobs are being held by
people with college degrees. It`s a terrible situation, the cascade that
we`ve got going right now.
EDELMAN: And so imagine the dropouts. Imagine the child in school who has
never seen anybody work, OK? And don`t even see that in their future.
What is their incentive to stay in school, if they look at what is going
GRAHAM: And they feel no matter how hard they work, they are going to end
up in the same place as where they started.
KNOX: And it begins very early. If you look at teen employment rates, the
teen employment rate is about 29 percent across the country, or 24 percent,
29 percent for whites and 15 percent for black teens. So if you`ll begin
there where they can`t find jobs as young people, and then you need higher
HARRIS-PERRY: -- that first experience of showing up on time, of having a
boss, of going to work. I mean, you know, you didn`t earn much, but you
sort of -- you learned something about what it meant to be an employee.
HERBERT: Right. It helped to grow the work ethic, you got a little bit of
spending change. You knew what it was like to get the job, maybe you get a
little boost in salary and you feel proud. And it just starts ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And I was going to say, and there are institutions providing
that in our neighborhoods right now, that provide you a little pocket money
and the ability to show off, and at that -- that is still possible, it`s
just not in the legitimate market, right?
GRAHAM: It`s not in the legitimate market.
HARRIS-PERRY: Because you can learn all that selling drugs.
GRAHAM: And they are, they are doing it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. And that`s right. Yes. And so, when we come back I`m
just going to say all the things that Shelby just said. I`m going to focus
a little bit on black women, who are among the slowest groups to recover
from the recession. Shelby, jumping ahead on this script.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we think about the unemployed, it`s often a male face
that comes to mind, because it`s men who are hardest hit by the recession,
but the recovery from that recession started three years ago. And since
then, women have been much slower than men to bounce back. Women have
gained back 24 percent of jobs lost during the recession compared to men`s
39 percent gain, according to the National Women`s Law Center. And at the
intersection of women`s slow recovery and black Americans increasing
unemployment numbers are black women, who lost more jobs during the
recovery than during the recession.
When black men gained back jobs during the recovery, black women continued
to lose them. And with black women at the head of a majority of black
families with children, they aren`t the only ones losing.
Still with me, Marion Wright Edelman, Bob Herbert, Shelby Knox, and
Lawrence Otis Graham. OK, I think that there`s no way that we can get away
from this question: I`m telling you that black unemployment is up, I`m
telling you it`s particularly bad for African-American women. Is it Barack
Obama`s fault? Should the black president somehow have made this not true?
Somehow had fixed it?
HERBERT: It`s not Barack Obama`s fault that we are in this terrible
economic downturn, the worst since the depression. And vast majority of
Americans understand that he was not the cause of that. I wish that Barack
Obama had done more about jobs, in general. But he`s not a civil -- he is
not a civil rights leader.
What I think is that interested citizens have not paid close enough
attention to what has happened to the poorest members of our societies, the
people with the least power and that sort of thing. And I think African-
Americans probably should have raised their voices louder than they have.
And I would have liked to have seen a great -- and still would like to see
a great deal more activism to push back against some of these things.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m going to push back a little bit. I`m going to push back
a little bit on that. So I feel like we just talked about the idea that it
was public sector jobs that were being shed. This is a president, so first
of all, you say he was not a civil rights leader. I`m inclined to think
that the Affordable Care Act maybe the most important piece of civil rights
legislation in, you know, since -- since the things that we think of as
civil right legislation, right? But even beyond that ...
HERBERT: But not promoted as something ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Not promoted because ...
HERBERT: ... that`s specifically would help African-Americans -- it helps
a lot of African-Americans ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Undoubtedly ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... but has an enormous disproportionate impact. But the
second thing, this idea of the public sector having been what shed the jobs
-- I mean I live in a state where Governor Bobby Jindal turned back
stimulus money, right? Where Republican governor said, you know what? No,
thanks, we are not going to take those government jobs. And then in places
like Wisconsin and others, where they literally just started laying off
government workers, mostly under Republican governors.
HERBERT: We blame that on the Republicans, right?
KNOX: We do, but I want to talk about who was they when we say they are
doing this. And this ...
HARRIS-PERRY: The men!
KNOX: The men -- white men, and some white women, but let`s must truly
look at who is making these decisions, who are being elected. We have no
black women in the Senate. We have very few black women in the Congress.
The rates being elected on the state level. And so, you know, should
Barack Obama have done more? Yes, but was he going to wave a magic wand
and suddenly eliminate systemic racism and sexism? No. But being in the
HARRIS-PERRY: What -- President Obama is not, in fact, magical? Does not,
in fact, have a wand? What is this that you are saying, Shelby Knox?
KNOX: But being in the room is incredibly important for black women`s
voices to be sitting there saying, actually we are more impacted in
different ways. The policy has to be tailored in different ways every
single time it`s enacted.
GRAHAM: That`s so true. And this is a lot of why I think that Hillary
Clinton, when she was running on -- for president, that was so much a
message in her campaign, the involvement of women. When you look at -- in
corporate America, it`s not that women that get hired on the entry level
positions. It is who is sitting in the boardroom. Is there just one woman
out of 12 men that are making decisions about hiring? But it`s not just
hiring, it`s promotion, it`s retention, it`s making sure that there are
women in line, leadership positions, where we`re actually going to bring in
people after them, not the gatekeepers who say, I`m in, so later for the
rest of you. And the same thing is true within government. When you
pointed out the fact that the lack of black women in the Senate - these
things all send messages. When there`s nobody in the room, whether it`s a
female producer in the room on a show to remind them to say, no, you can`t
say that, or we have to make sure we have a message, we have to make sure
we have a woman` voice or a message here, that same thing is true in
HARRIS-PERRY: Congresswoman Barbara Lee was here last week, and was
pointing out, this question of elections having consequences and said look,
if Democrats retake the House, if you want to see women in leadership, you
got to give Democrats back leadership, a majority in the House, because of
the fact there are so many more women in the Democratic Party that you`ll
end up with women in positions of power, including the kinds of positions
that will make sort of some of these jobs programs come through.
EDELMAN: We need more women in the room. We need more people of color in
the room. We need more people who come from backgrounds that can relate to
people in need. We need more people who are not as scared of saying the
word poor. The president can`t do it unless we make a whole lot of noise
and build a movement from the outside. Politicians respond. They don`t
always lead, and can`t lead alone. I don`t how the man gets through the
day. He inherited two wars--
EDELMAN: He inherited two wards, he inherited a huge bad economy. He
inherited a huge budget deficit from the Bush tax cuts. And from all this
top 1 percent that have raided the Treasury. And he inherited a toxic
political environment (ph), and he inherited -- people are crazy. They
have a black president -- many people are really just out of their minds,
we have a black president in the White House, and they just want to bring
HARRIS-PERRY: And there was this sense that somehow his blackness alone
would be sufficient to solve these deeply ingrained decades of -
HERBERT: It is important to have this movement. You have to start
connecting some of the dots. Think of all the things that we`ve been
talking about here today. We`ve been talking about the cradle to prison
pipeline, what they`re doing to kids in school, taking away educational
opportunities, diminishing middle class, lost job opportunities, voter
suppression. There are so many things on such a broad front that are
really hampering the lives of black families in this country. There needs
to be a huge pushback, and I don`t think that can come from one president
of either party, black or white.
EDELMAN: Let`s say what he also has done. You talk about the Affordable
Care Act. He did a stimulus program that went 30, 40 percent to the poor.
He didn`t say poor, he said middle class, but the money was out--
EDELMAN: He expanded the earned income tax credit. He expanded the child
tax credit. He expanded food stamps. He gave us more money in education
and early childhood, and all of these are public sector efforts that--
GRAHAM: He has delivered so much of his promise, and he doesn`t make cheap
moves like leaking things like how Mitt Romney is talking about, well,
maybe I`ll pick Condi Rice. That`s a cheap attempt to say, well, women, I
am listening to you, African Americans, I`m listening to you, even though
neither women nor African Americans look toward Condi Rice as someone to
represent their views.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I`ll tell you my favorite one that we don`t talk about
very much, is the Pigford settlement, which was the money to black, Latino
(ph) and Native Americans farmers that had been held up and held up, and
President Obama got that money out.
More in just a moment, but first, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKEND WITH
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: OK, Melissa, thanks so much for that. President
Obama is on the stump in Virginia today with a scheduled speech at 1:00
p.m. We`re going to bring that to you live. Casey Anthony`s attorney says
his brand-new tell-all book will shock readers. I am talking with him and
I`ve got some questions. In must-see, must-avoid the much anticipated
latest Batman installation with Christian Bale back as Batman and Anne
Hathaway as Catwoman, but is it worth seeing? And coming up in office
politics, I`m talking with, well, you, Melissa Harris-Perry. And I don`t
have to tell you what I discuss, but I think it`s pretty good, and I have
to say, I was just listening to Marion and I was like, is there an echo in
here? Because she said a lot of the stuff that you said.
HARRIS-PERRY: I grew up reading her work. I can tell-
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Alex.
So it is Bastille Day, and we`ve got a group of people here who will
prepare to storm, storm our circumstances of inequality. Coming up, I am
going to talk about the difference between shame and guilt and the courage
it takes to admit that sometimes you need a little help. Our "Foot
Soldiers" is next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Black folks don`t commit suicide and we don`t need to see
therapists. This piece of erroneous common wisdom was challenged earlier
this year, when Don Cornelius, the legendary host of "Soul Train," took his
own life. Now, I remind you of the loss of Cornelius because July is
minority mental health awareness month, and this week`s "Foot Soldier" is a
mental health advocate. Writer and poet Bassey Ikpi. Bassey, who`s
diagnosed with bipolar disorder several years ago, she`s also the founder
of the Siwe project, a global nonprofit organization which promotes mental
health awareness and education among people of African descent worldwide.
On July 2nd, the organization staged its first no-shame day. During which
people living with and loving those with mental illnesses worldwide could
tell their stories. One, captured on video by a feminist blogger and
mental health worker who goes by the name Feminista Jones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of times you will say -- or you`ll hear people
say, oh, she`s bipolar or he`s schizophrenic. So what you`re doing then is
you are defining a person by their psychiatric disability. And that
basically stigmatizes them. When somebody has cancer, do you say that
person is cancerous?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that the Siwe project focuses so intently on shame,
because shame is corrosive. Now, guilt is largely a personal emotion. I`m
guilty about not doing my homework. But shame is collective and social and
global. If I feel shame, it`s not just about guilt for skipping my
homework, it`s like I feel stupid. Worthless. This is the central
argument of my recent book, "Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black
Women in America." Psychologists commonly refer to shame as a belief in
the malignant self. The idea that your entire person is infected by
something inherently bad and potentially contagious. Shame is the fear of
other people knowing about that malignant self, and those outside the norm
are more vulnerable to the paralyzing effects of shame.
So the solution to wanting to hide in shame is finding a way to allow
yourself to be seen and heard. And this is something that Bassey herself
expressed beautifully, poetically in a public service announcement for the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BASSEY IKPI: This is about choices, about the pills hidden in your
underwear drawer, about four hours in the gym, two weeks of only water and
power bars, so this is about shame, about finally admitting that things
aren`t OK. This is about saying now that you know the truth, will you
please love me anyway, because this is about humility and admitting that
you need help and sleep and hugs and permission to cry despite the strength
you`re often accused of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: For helping so many not to be ashamed of their minds and
themselves and for doing so in a voice like no other, Bassey Ikpi is my
foot soldier this week.
You can read our interview with her very soon on our own blog, mhpshow.com.
That is our show for today. Thank you so much to Marion Wright Edelman,
Bob Herbert, Shelby Knox and Lawrence Otis Graham. Thank you at home for
watching. And I want to see you tomorrow, 10:00 a.m. Coming up, "WEEKENDS
WITH ALEX WITT."
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