September 15, 2012
Guests: Stephen Spaulding, Cornell Belcher, Eleanor Clift, Marc Steiner, Judith Browne-Dianis, Mona Eltahawy, Misty Drake, Megan Behrent, Shirley Sherrod
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST, "MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY": This morning. My
question, what is happening in the Middle East? Plus, Chicago is now
Ground Zero. This strike is not just about the city, it`s about our
And she survived bully politics. Shirley Sherrod is here to tell us
how she never lost hope.
But first, it could be a landslide but only if voters can get to the
polls. Once again, it is this week in voter suppression.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Nerd land, I think it`s time
for some real talk about the big pink elephant in the room or rather how
the big red elephant in the room is getting stomped by the big blue donkey.
Spoiler alert folks, it is looking good for President Obama, real good. It
is almost got us wondering about the possibility of a landslide. Yes, I
said it. Put an asterisk next to that almost, because I`m going to be
returning to it later.
So, what has got us feeling so confident about the President`s
chances on November 6th? One word that sums up the theme of Bill Clinton`s
convention speech last week. Arithmetic. But I am not talking about the
millions and billions in the candidate`s plans to fix the economy. No, I
am thinking of a much smaller number that plays a much bigger part in the
outcome of the election. Two hundred seventy.
Now, I know you all know about how the Electoral College works. But
let`s do a quick refresher. Your individual vote collectively known as the
popular vote is just a directive instructing your state`s electors how you
want them to vote. And each state gets between three and 55 electors,
depending on its population. And it is those electors who ultimately
choose the President.
Now, there are a total, currently of 538 electors, divide that in
half, add one and that number, 270, is how many electoral votes it takes to
win the presidency. Now, this is where things stands today, according to
the NBC News electoral map, 237 electoral votes solidly were leaning
democratic, 191 solidly are leading republican, which leaves 110 up for
grabs. So, since we are chewing over all the facts and figures, I thought
I would bring out the gumballs.
OK. Here we have the blue gumballs. They are President Barack
Obama`s 237 electoral votes. And here are red gumballs, are Mitt Romney`s
191 electoral votes. These gumballs are the key. The yellow ones, they
are the 110 electoral votes belonging to the toss-up states. And to reach
270, President Obama only needs 33 of these yellow gumballs. Mitt Romney
needs 79. Let`s take a look at a different kind of number. Presidential
polls. Because that`s where things get really interesting.
This is the latest NBC News Wall Street Marist poll of three of the
states holding those yellow gumballs, Ohio, Virginia and Florida. In both
Florida and Virginia, President Obama leads Romney by five points among
likely voters. Forty nine percent to 44 percent. In Ohio, the President
leads by seven points, 52-43. If the election were held today and those
states voted the way that the polls predicted they would, the total
electoral votes President Obama would win from those three states, Florida,
Ohio, and Virginia, that would equal 60 more electoral votes.
That is almost double the 33 votes that he actually needs to win. A
win in any of the other six states smaller cups so they are, would just be
icing on the President`s victory cake. Of course, the election is not
being held today. There are still more than seven weeks to go and three
debates before the election. But the polls also revealed that most people
at bee states have already made up their minds about how they are going to
vote. The numbers are not looking good for Mitt Romney. Neither is the
Governor Romney has spent the election trying to convince us that his
background as a businessman uniquely qualifies him for the job of executive
and chief in charge of our nation and its ailing economy. But executive
and chief is only part of the job description of the position he is
applying for. The President is also commander in chief in charge of the
U.S. military and chief of state. Our nation`s lead actor on the world`s
stage. And in his audition for those two roles, Mitt Romney has performed
First, there was his cold war throwback moment in March when he
called Russia our number one geopolitical faux. His gaffes about London`s
preparedness for the Olympics head, the Brits looking at America like it
was 1776 again, and no good commander in chief would forget to mention our
ongoing war in Afghanistan and the sacrifices of our troops but Mitt Romney
left both out of his speech at the Republican National Convention.
Then this week, Governor Romney politicized the death of the United
States Libyan Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens with an inaccurate and ill-
timed attack against the President. It is enough to make you wonder
whether or not all the rest of the gumballs are going to be going to
President Obama. Landslide. Except for that almost that I mentioned
earlier. You see, voters may not get the chance to cast their ballots.
For weeks now, we have been bringing you information about voter
suppression efforts underway in various states around the country, largely
in the form of voter ID laws or in changes to early voting access.
But a new report by the nonpartisan public policy and advocacy
organization Demos and Common Cause sheds light on a well-coordinated plan
to engage in old-fashioned voter intimidation on site at polling places.
The report entitled bullies at the ballot box focuses largely on an issue
of the Texas Tea Party group now called true the vote. And their stated
intention, to make voting quote, "Like driving and seeing the police
The voters in these yellow gumball states may prefer President Obama
but if they are intimidated or blocked or discouraged from voting, then the
landslide may end up buried in a suppression avalanche (ph).
With me today at the table, one of the report`s authors, Stephen
Spaulding, staff counsel for Common Cause, Cornell Belcher, democratic
strategist and thank goodness, a pollster for Obama 2012, Eleanor Clift,
contributor for Newsweek and "The Daily Beast" and Marc Steiner, radio host
of "The Marc Steiner Show" at Morgan State University`s NPR station, WEAA
and a founder for the Center for Emerging Media.
Thank you all for putting up with my gumball narrative. But look, I
want to start with you, Stephen. I am appalled by this. Who is True the
STEPHEN SPAULDING, STAFF COUNSEL, COMMON CAUSE: True the vote is an
organization that started in Texas. It grew out of just like you said, the
King Street Patriots, a Tea Party group that is organizing what it claims
to be up to a million volunteers across the country to go to polling places
and confront voters at their polling places on the basis of what they look
like, because they don`t think that they are registered properly that they
are not eligible. And to do exactly what you said, to make voters feel and
their words like they are being followed by the police and driving a car.
PERRY: That is the image I think that is, I mean, I have seen a lot
of appalling things on these voter suppression efforts. We have even
heard, you know, state-level officials saying that this is about getting a
win for Governor Romney in Pennsylvania. But that image, this idea of
voting should feel like the police following you, that made me sick to my
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, there`s someone who is
actually who has routinely followed the police --
BELCHER: As I drive around.
BELCHER: It is appalling. Two quick things though. As a pollster,
I want to curb your enthusiasm a little bit about the landslide. A lot of
these battleground state polls are still quite frankly just outside the
margin of error. So, it is not a sort of landslide sort of scenario as of
yet. And other part about this is, in almost every battleground state,
Democrats are being outspent four or five to one. So, that money advantage
is really going to be a key. And you are going to see an onslaught of
negative advertising towards in there. So, I just want to pull back our
enthusiasm a little bit from the landslide.
PERRY: I think that`s just a question, Marc, if on the one hand, if
we believe polls and we believe that polls are accurate.
BELCHER: And we do believe.
PERRY: And we do believe polls because Cornell Belcher and we
believe that these are accurate representations of preferences. So, we
have what looks like U.S. preferences for President Obama but then we have
suppression efforts and the big money, is that enough to take those
preferences and turn them into a different outcome?
MARC STEINER, HOST, "THE MARC STEINER SHOW": Democrats are so excited
about this idea that Barack Obama could win but he could lose this election
for all the reason we are talking about. Voter suppression is very
serious. The voting right act does not cover the Northern states,
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, where there is a huge effort to suppress the black
vote, suppress votes of colors, suppress young people`s votes, voter IDs,
cutting back on the number of days they can vote before the actually voting
day. Barack Obama could lose this election, I think people should not get
all excited about these polls. I love polls but there is a lot they don`t
say as well.
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK: Yes. I think there has been so much good
news on the polling front this last week that Democrats now have to guard
against over confidence.
CLIFT: Because it is not in the bag certainly.
PERRY: Or in the jar.
CLIFT: And the voter suppression effort, the phrase driving while
back, people are familiar with. We could have voting while black. And it
is not what this country should be about. Now, if the President is going
to win by any significant margin, these suppression efforts will only be on
the sidelines and they won`t change the outcome. But if this is a close
election, these kinds of things could matter. And I think you are going to
see lawyers stationed at the voting booths.
CLIFT: And I think both sides are going to have their team out to
make sure that there is not any funny business but in Ohio, they actually
did expand the early voting to include everybody. Remember, there was that
flap earlier that it could only -- only the military could vote early
through that final weekend. So there are some good guys still in some of
these states, you know, trying to resist the efforts.
PERRY: Well, because -- thank goodness there are a few good judges
SPAULDING: And what we, you know, what we found in this report,
let`s be clear, this kind of effort to stop people from voting, this kind
of intimidation, it is illegal under the voting rights act. It`s illegal
on all ten states. We looked at ten states here. There are broad voter
intimidation laws. You know, voting should be free, it should be fair, it
should be accessible for all eligible Americans.
SPAULDING: And there are laws on some of the books that need to be
PERRY: Yes. And I appreciate this point. Because you are right.
They are not covered under section five, pre-clearance of the voting rights
act, right? But there are responsibilities for the kinds of things that
can happen. I want to just look from your report, from the bullies at the
ballot. And in it, you all write, as we approach the 2012 elections, every
indication is that we will see an unprecedented use of voter challenges.
Organizers of true the vote claim their goal is to train one million
poll watchers to challenge and confront other Americans as they go to the
polls in November. They say they want you to make the experience of voting
like driving and seeing the police follow you. In a country where we
already have a dampened turnout, this could be the dramatic difference.
SPAULDING: And voters need to know their rights. And that`s what
where -- that`s the tools in here. Voters should know their rights when
they go to the polls. The Department of Justice needs to enforce the law.
But we need to monitor this kind of -- we need to think about the language,
the overheated rhetoric that is firing up a base where people are taking
the law into their own hands.
SPAULDING: If you look at some of the other language, some of their
trainings, concerns about the quote, "Food stamp army out to take the
election," right, that kind of the illegal alien vote. Obama is trying to
register these voters and steal the election. That is really dangerous
rhetoric that is not in keeping with American values.
PERRY: And I would say, I just want to be fair to true to vote, we
did in fact invite true the vote to show up and have a representative.
They declined, they did send a statement. Let me just read their statement
for you. "The vast majority of Americans, over 74 percent -- I`ll let you
speak of these numbers at the moment -- demand better election integrity
measures ranging from accurate voter rolls to election observation and
voter identification. True the vote stands ready to work with anyone of
any party to empower any citizen willing to make a difference." I`m sorry.
I just -- I can`t read it without absolute --
CLIFT: You know, I`m going to make a prediction right now. After
November 6th, we are never going to hear from True the Vote again. So, I
think they are going to be bit players. And I must say, I think the Obama
campaign has approached this wisely. They are not spending their time
whining about what`s happening. They are getting their volunteers out
there and educating people about what kind of documents they need and
they`re getting people those documents. So, I think, there is an
aggressive affirmative action on the part of the Obama campaign.
SPAULDING: And nobody wants voter fraud. I mean.
SPAULDING: No one wants voter fraud. We just don`t want eligible
Americans not voting. Let`s talk about making, what? There is election
modernization that needs to happen in this country.
PERRY: Oh, yes.
SPAULDING: Babies are born with Social Security numbers. Why aren`t
they born with voter registration numbers? Why do we wait until they`re 18
and put the burden on them? There are so many things to make voting free
and fair and accessible that we can do if we put our heads together.
PERRY: And we will absolutely talk more about -- we have got more,
more, more on this week on voter suppression. We are going to go to
Pennsylvania. Why? Because Pennsylvania was back in court.
Pennsylvania`s voters required to show photo ID on Election Day. Unless,
six judges decide to make it fairer to vote in Pennsylvania. We are going
to explain when we come back.
DAVID GERSCH, LEAD LAWYER FOR THE PLAINTIFFS: Your honors, pack 18
impermissibly violates the right to vote by disenfranchising many voters
and by burdening severely the rights of others. On Election Day, if Act 18
is not enjoined then voters will be faced with the serious threat of losing
their right to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: That was David Gersch, he`s the lead attorney for the
plaintiff in the Pennsylvania voter ID law presenting oral arguments before
the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week. The plaintiffs, including the
Advancement Project and the American Civil Liberties Union are seeking to
overturn a lower court judge`s decision to deny their injunction to stop
the law from taking effect.
The final decision over whether or not Pennsylvania`s voters will be
required to show voter ID on Election Day now rests in the hands of the
court`s six judges. All six are elected officials evenly divided, three to
three between Democrats and Republicans. And remember this, a split
decision would mean that the law stays in effect, which some estimates say,
could leave one million registered Pennsylvania`s voters completely shut
out of the election.
Joining me now from Washington, D.C., representing one of the
organizations that brought the suit is Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of
Advancement Project. Hi, Judith.
JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT CO-DIRECTOR: Hi, Melissa.
How are you?
PERRY: Well, I feel like I`m going to be seeing you a lot as we
continue to follow this week in voter suppression.
DIANIS: You know, they just won`t stop, will they?
PERRY: They won`t stop. Bring us up-to-date on what`s going on in
DIANIS: Sure. So, Pennsylvania, you know, we have one of the most
restrictive voter ID laws that requires that you have a current photo ID
issued by the Department of Motor Vehicle. It has to have an expiration
date and it has to have your current address. We went into court and
unfortunately lost in the lower court challenging that, because we know
that voting is a fundamental right. It is the blood line of our democracy.
And we knew that over one million people did not have the required ID in
And so, we lost unfortunately in the lower court. And here we are
before the Supreme Court. So, Pennsylvania is a place where democracy is
on trial and we will have to see, we`ll get a decision probably in the next
week or so about this law.
PERRY: Well, let me ask you something about sort of how this law
ends up showing up in Pennsylvania. And I want to bring in ALEC. We
talked a little about this previously. ALEC is the organization who we
know does all kinds of model legislation. They currently have said, their
statement is that "ALEC has no policy relating to voter ID and it would
probably be best to find someone else to talk on your show." That was
their statement to us when we asked someone from ALEC to come on and have a
conversation about this. But the fact is they did write this legislation,
this model legislation.
DIANIS: That`s right.
PERRY: Initially, they`re just out of it.
DIANIS: That`s right.
PERRY: So, it is accurate that they are now out of it but they did
write this legislation initially, right?
DIANIS: That`s right. They were the ones who put together the
template. Basically, they took the law from Indiana that went through the
Supreme Court and they made a template. And that spread like wild fire in
2011 to about 34 states that tried to pass in 2012 about 23 states. And
so, while ALEC has shut down that committee that actually pushed this law,
you know, you may remember that at the RNC Convention, voter ID was part of
their platform. And so, you know, this is really -- we can`t divorce this
from basically at the end of the day, this is about politicians who have
manipulated the rules in order for them to win.
And on the other end, the losers of this are democracy. The losers
of this are the people who were most impacted, who are elderly, veterans,
African-Americans and Latinos and young people. I mean, this is a place
where the colleges, over 80 percent of the colleges did not have expiration
dates on their IDs. And so, those students would not be able to vote
unless they changed their IDs at those universities.
PERRY: Right. And of course, all of those are groups, whether it is
young folks or whether its people of color who are most likely in this case
to have voted for the President`s re-election.
DIANIS: That`s right.
PERRY: Let me ask you one last question. Does it make any
difference that these judges are elected rather than appointed? Or do you
expect that ultimately their judicial decision making will rest on the
arguments made in the case?
DIANIS: Well, since I am a lawyer, I will say that they are
impartial. They will look at the evidence in front of them. They will
look at the arguments. Here we have arguments about the fundamental right
to vote. The judges were concerned about the fact that this is too close
to the election and that the state doesn`t have the ability to get the IDs
in the hands of people.
But also, we should also be concerned that what is happening in
Pennsylvania is that they are starting to use discretion. As you may have
heard this week, Jim Cramer at CNBC came out and said, his father who is a
vet wouldn`t be able to vote. And guess, what? The state of Pennsylvania
put an ID in his hand and that`s because they see this is a privilege, the
privilege are going to get these IDs and unfortunately, the 760,000 people
that they say don`t have it, won`t get it.
PERRY: Thank you, Judith Browne-Dianis in Washington, D.C.
DIANIS: Thank you.
PERRY: And up next, who is the money and the power behind these
PERRY: We are back with this week in voter suppression. And at the
table, Stephen Spaulding, Cornell Belcher, Eleanor Clift and Marc Steiner.
OK, so, one of the things Stephen that just took me over the edge were
these letters that were coming, some from True the Vote and some from in
this case, the Secretary of State of the state of Colorado. This is an
August 15th letter. I mean, it says, we need you to help keep Colorado
voter`s rolls accurate. Our records show that you are currently registered
to vote but you presented a noncitizen document when you apply for your
Under Colorado law, you must be United States citizen to register and
to vote. I`m just thinking about my mom getting this in the mail or, you
know, it would cause absolute panic. This feels to me like the kind of
fear mongering, sort of voter terrorism that`s occurring.
SPAULDING: Yes. We have seen this happen in Colorado. We know this
notoriously in Florida, just, you know, this election cycle, we saw it
happening, you know, in Texas, 9,000 letters go on Harris County saying, we
think you are dead. Send us back. This check off, I`m alive, I`m dead,
right? And hundreds are coming back saying, I`m alive and well. Look,
there are problems with our lists but there are smart ways to deal with
SPAULDING: To make sure that eligible voters like your mom and like
Jim Cramer`s dad and everybody else who are being challenged and aren`t
able to vote.
STEINER: I just -- I was saying during the break, this one was
dangerous things happen to democracy in my lifetime.
STEINER: I mean, I was there during the period where we fought for
civil rights in the south -- making that battle happen. And what you see
now is a confluence of huge corporate money backing these organizations and
these organizations being able to pull people out very emotional about
whether to hold on to their country.
STEINER: And they are going to do it by any means necessary and look
what is beyond the elections most critical part.
PERRY: And Marc -- and that question of the big corporate money,
because, you know, look, I am down with the Tea Party having a right at the
populous vision to stand up and speak their minds and have their own, you
know, policy initiatives and all of this. So, where is the money? What
takes a little Tea Party innovation and turns them into True the Vote, you
know, Bullies at the Ballot Box.
CLIFT: You know, I think the road leads to Dick Armey, former
majority leader in the Congress and now involved I guess with Americans for
Prosperity. And they see a viable grassroots movement on the right and
they water it with lots of green money and they grow it. And now, we have
the Tea Party as a viable political movement and the occupy movement we
don`t hear from. So, I think the big dollars play on the right, they don`t
play on the left. I don`t think the occupy people wanted the money. They
might have turned it back. But we do see this development really on one
side of the political ideological spectrum.
BELCHER: And one of the good things that I think you are saying is
we begin to see in the polls that AP just put out. Eight in 10 Americans,
you know, want to limit the big money now coming into the system. So, you
can do see Americans getting tense about and seeing that their vote is
actually being taken away from them by big money. So, I think we see a
grassroots sort of swirling up from this -- when you get eight and 10
Americans saying this is a bad idea. That is really a bad idea. And I
think you will going to see some movement on this.
STEINER: You saw this, in "The New York Times" article yesterday
about the oil money and coal money and these very subtle implicit ads about
why you should not vote for Barack Obama. And so, it`s not just right wing
billionaires. We are talking about major corporations that are now behind
these efforts. They are not completely behind the efforts, they`re behind
the effort to push things out so Obama can`t win. So, it is frightening
the power that they are amassing.
PERRRY: What I love about the ALEC story is it does seem that
clearly ALEC is behind, for example, the Pennsylvania ID law and
potentially some others. But the big corporations still do rely on
consumer and we have seen ALEC begin to back away from some of this as sort
of the power of public opinion is rising up and saying, no, you will not do
SPAULDING: Forty corporations have left ALEC. I mean, the American
Legislative Exchange Council here, 40 corporations have left. We at Common
Cause have filed the whistleblower complaint, we`re the IRS. Because they
claim that they are charity, 501c3, not even a c4 which is where all the
secret money, you know, in this election that`s being pumped in, it`s the
Super PACs -- the c4 that don`t have to disclose their donors. ALEC says,
we are an educational charity. We don`t spend a dollar on lobbying. You
know, they have this model bill, right, this model bill that is being --
cookie cutter bill that`s being pushed out across the country and it`s
stopping eligible people from voting.
CLIFT: That`s why it is important to report like yours which exposes
this. Because these movements are very careful to put a populous face. I
mean, these are your neighborhood volunteers --
PERRY: That`s right. That`s right.
CLIFT: You know, working on behalf of truth when in fact, they are
backed by corporate influences. So, follow the money is a very good idea.
PERRY: And I don`t, you know, I don`t have this moment have empirical
evidence for it, but I got like when I smell it, it just smells like Koch.
I mean, is there any reason to think that there`s any Koch
involvement in it?
SPAULDING: The Koch Brothers are a big backer for Americans for
Prosperity, a big True the Vote, some are in Florida. Right under an
Americans for Prosperity banner, right? So, the secrecy, the money, we
know it is well-funded.
SPAULDING: We know it`s well coordinated. We know they are reaching
out to secretaries of state. Gessler in Colorado who`ve sent out that
SPAULDING: Kobach from Kansas shows up at the Heritage Foundation,
at the big True to Vote panel. I mean, it is very well coordinated.
PERRY: I want to talk about Kris Kobach when we get back. Because
this guy, the Kansas Secretary of State is prepared to take the President`s
name off of the Kansas ballot behind the kind of vote. I mean, that voter
suppression to the, right, to the extreme.
Up next, I also will talk a little bit about why Republicans are
seemingly to melt into a steaming pile of bumbling goo when confronted with
PERRY: In an article published this week on the Grio.com, Serena
Maxwell (ph) observed that Barack Obama`s republican opponents have a
tendency to implode. In 2004, his Illinois U.S. Senate race, Obama`s first
opponent Jack Ryan was forced out by a sex scandal. His replacement, Alan
Keyes was, well, Alan Keyes. And I know you remember in 2008 when Senator
John McCain suspended his campaign as the economy collapsed leaving the
distinct impression that he was incapable of the multi-tasking required to
be president. They`re at it again, not only is Romney shoving both his
foreign policy left feet as far down his throat as possible but Governor
John Kasich of the swing state of Ohio is helping out the GOP Warren women
image with this little gem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: It is not easy to be a spouse of an
elected official. You know, they are at home doing the laundry and doing
so many things while we are up here on the stage getting a little bit of
applause, right? They don`t often share in it. And it is hard for the
spouse to hear the criticism and to put up with the travel schedule and
have to be at home taking care of the kids.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: I am back with my panel. Now, it is hard to be the spouse of
the elected official. But the laundry and kids line, I have to say, look,
Cornell, generally, the Democrats are not as good as the Republicans in
creating a tag line but the Warren women has been a very effective one and
they just keep playing right into it.
BELCHER: Right. And it`s amazing. It`s who they are. I mean, you
look at the polling, where the CBS poll or CNN poll or -- poll put gender
gap there. And I think you are going to see this gap wide. And the
problems for Republicans, is they haven`t noticed that you women are the
majority in the electorate.
BELCHER: So, they need to win you.
PERRY: I mean, we were looking at the preferences of women for
President Obama over Governor Romney in Virginia, in Ohio, in Florida, in
each of those states.
BELCHER: The gender gap is driving it. Because we are either dead
even with men or actually running behind. So, the gender gap is driving
it. But you also see -- from a policy standpoint, leading members of the
Democratic Party are women. So, they are around that table, I mean, Nancy
Pelosi is around that table. And so, these conversations about women`s
issues is really front and central for the Democrats.
PERRY: We like to call it ladies love cool "O," right? You know,
because there is just this way in where they keep playing into this. So, I
feel like they`re on this voter suppression effort issue though, women are
not sort of as a group, right? Women as a group are less likely to be
impacted specifically about these voter suppression efforts, right? So,
will this all then ultimately rest on women voters?
BELCHER: Unless it`s single. Unless you are single women. To
married women, Democrats are not having an advantage with married women.
Something happens to you women when you get married.
PERRY: You become Republicans?
BELCHER: It is hard to explain but --
With Democrats, they rely largely on single women. So, we run a huge
gap among single women, single women and younger women. So, those are
groups and they tend to be for a number of different reasons, also they
tend to be more down scaled women struggling. So, they will be impacted by
PERRY: If you close the polls early, working moms can`t get out.
BELCHER: Exactly. And students.
PERRY: Right. If it is students, then young women who are students.
PERRY: So, it is the categories of women who would be most impacted.
I don`t want to miss what`s happening in Kansas.
CLIFT: Yes. Well, Republicans do know they have a problem with
women. Their whole convention was pitched towards women. Remember, Ann
Romney, we love women.
PERRY: Right. Right.
CLIFT: And the Democratic Convention for the first time in my memory
emphasized abortion rights, every speaker, to the point where some
democratic leaning commentators, women were made uncomfortable. It was
Cokie Roberts who said it was over the top. But if you go back, first of
all at convention, you have to repeat things so people get the point.
CLIFT: And they are really trying to relate to single women and the
Republicans have moved so far to the right on reproductive rights that
there is lots of room for the Democrats in the middle. And so, this was
the Democratic Convention championing liberal values.
PERRY: It was pretty stunning, right?
CLIFT: .more openly after, you know, two decades of trying to
modulate the stance on abortion safely -- rare, the Democrats actually took
the word rare out of the platform.
PERRY: Yes. They had Cecile Richards from Planned Parenthood
PERRY: They had Sandra Fluke, who has become sort of a cultural icon
of it. Yes, absolutely, there was a kind of clear messaging that was
substantive, not just I love women.
BELCHER: Michelle Obama was a huge star. Look, I`m not -- the person
talked about the women`s rights issue. However, when you look at, get
inside the data, we always want to say it is economy, economy, economy.
The truth of the matter is, the economy takes a back seat when women think
their health care rise in violations, all of a sudden, the economy is
PERRY: And as I said, reproductive rights are economic issues for
women. You cannot manage your household if you cannot manage your body.
That`s just -- so, we are out of time on this. But I, you know, as we go,
I do just want to remind our viewers that we do, in fact, have a Secretary
of State in this country, in Kansas, who is working actively to take the
name of the current president of the United States off of the ballot. I
just, you know, in all the voter suppression efforts, this one is for me
among the most appalling. And I promise you, we will continue to ask,
what`s the matter with Kansas as we move forward?
Thanks, Stephen Spaulding and thank you for all the work that the
organization is doing.
SPAULDING: Thanks so much.
PERRY: And up next, tensions remain high in the Middle East, North
Africa and the Pacific after a violent week that saw protests over an anti-
Islam movie. We will going to go to Egypt after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: Even in our grief, we will be
resolute, for we are Americans and we hold our head high knowing that
because of these patriots, because of you, this country that we love will
always shine as a light unto the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: That was President Obama at Andrews Air Force Base in
Maryland on Friday as the remains of the four Americans killed during the
attack in Libya earlier this week were returned home.
This morning, U.S. embassies around the world remain on high alert
four days after Islamist gunmen staged a military style assault on the U.S.
consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens and
three other Americans died in the assault carried out with guns, mortars
and grenades. Protests also erupted in other countries in the Middle East,
North Africa and the Pacific Rim with the most violent outburst in Cairo,
Egypt. Demonstrators are blaming America for a film they said insulted the
Joining me from Cairo is Mona Eltahawy, columnist and public speaker
on Arab and Muslim issues. Nice to see you this morning, Mona.
MONA ELTAHAWY, COLUMNIST: Hi, Melissa.
PERRY: Now, I want to ask you first just for viewers who have been
watching at home, who have been seeing the images. Is this a tinderbox
that is about to get worse. Is this a growing movement or is this sort of
something that came up but is now largely over?
ELTAHAWY: Right. First, I would like to start by sending out my
condolences to the family and loved ones of the four Americans killed in
Libya and of the other people of various nationalities killed yesterday.
At least 14 people were killed. And each and every one of those deaths was
utterly senseless and without any reason or purpose. So, my condolences.
I think what you are seeing and having observed this now for the past four
days because it started in Cairo in Tuesday, is a kind of I hope a dying
cry of a very desperate right wing. We have very sensitive timing in Egypt
right now, where our revolution began last year in January.
We have a president who is trying to establish his position somewhere
in the middle and we have a group that is trying to establish themselves on
the right wing. And you`re having a similar situation in the U.S. We are
coming up to elections now in less than two months. There is a right wing
fringe there as well. So, you`ve got a right wing and a right wing. Both
minorities, both trying to provoke people and a whole lot of people with
very, very, sometimes legitimate grievances but sometimes utterly senseless
grievances being caught in the middle.
As far as Egypt and other countries of Muslim populations are
concerned, as a Muslim and as an Egyptian, I believe in not just the right
to freedom of expression but the right to offend. But I also believe in
the right to protest of that offense. Peaceful protests of that offense.
ELTAHAWY: So, while there were many people I know here in Egypt who
were generally offended when anybody produces a film or cartoons as in the
case of Denmark in 2005 that are deemed offensive to the prophet, they are
truly hurt. I believe in that right to offend. If you want to go on
protest, go ahead but do it peacefully. So, what we have seen in Egypt
especially over the past four days is a very violent reaction, especially
yesterday and the day before.
PERRY: Mona, let me ask you about exactly that. Because I think part
of what I hear you articulating is about that transition to what democracy
and freedom feels like. Because I hear you that the offense is real but
the nature of how one would then respond to offense is part of the
maturation of what a democratic society that allows freedom of expression
is. Are these just the growing pains of democracy that we are seeing?
ELTAHAWY: These are tremendously painful growing stages that we are
going through because we are still writing our constitution in Egypt. We
are still trying to figure out the civil liberties that we have fought so
hard for. The first amendment that, you know, I am an Egyptian-American.
The first amendment that I am so happy to use in the United States to
defend my rights as a Muslim. We want something that defends our rights
here in Egypt, the rights of everybody.
But when I try to explain to people this very strong anti-U.S.
sentiment, I tell them, remember, and I have said this on your show before,
the five U.S. administrations supported a dictator here in Egypt who was
very happy to deny us the rights of that first amendment, the right to
freedom of worship and the right to freedom of expression. We have a
sizeable Christian population in Egypt. They deserve the same rights to
worship and freedom that I have as a Muslim in the United States.
These are the things that we are struggling over in the Egypt. These
are the things that so many people pays a high price for, not just here but
in Libya, in Yemen, in Syria where thousands of people have been
slaughtered by the act of regime. The last thing we want in Egypt is this
revolution that we started last year. And that continues to be derailed by
a right wing in the United States and in Egypt. We do not want for example
a state of emergency. There is serious talk of an emergency law being
returned in Egypt. We fought so long to get rid of that. So, this is a
very sensitive time. And also, as an American citizen, I don`t want
President Obama to be stuck between two right wings.
ELTAHAWY: I don`t want here in Egypt for us to be hijacked by a
right wing that is jockeying for power with the President. President
Mohammed Morsi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood
doing the Mubarak dictatorship was the right wing.
ELTAHAWY: Now, the ultraconservative groups who called for the
initial demonstration on Tuesday. They are the right wing. So, you have
got a very sensitive political situation where people are muscle flexing
and you get anti-U.S. sentiment and religious offense being used as cards
to move people. So, this violence, over the past few days, no one knows
who these people are and everyone is wondering when is this going to end
because we want to get on with social justice and fighting for -- this is
what our revolution fought for.
PERRY: That`s right. The work of building democracy and moving
towards -- I appreciate, Mona, pretty extraordinary how you can do such a
lengthy history and complex political/economic discussion in so few
minutes. And I always appreciate your work. Stay safe there in Cairo,
Egypt. And we will hear from you again.
ELTAHAWY: Thanks, Melissa.
PERRY: Up next, back here at home, the teacher`s strike in Chicago is
getting national attention. The whole thing burns me up. We are going to
talk to a parent who simply wants a decent education for her kids.
PERRY: For the past week in Chicago, students have been listening to
their teachers` voices in the streets, not in the classrooms.
Approximately 29,000 Chicago teachers protested this week after contract
negotiations broke down. And that meant that 350,000 public school
students had an unexpected and unplanned for vacation for the past five
days. That added a significant extra burden to families across the city to
keep their children from falling behind in school and to find appropriate
With me now is one of those affected by the strike from Chicago is
Misty Drake, mother of two students attending public magnet schools in the
city. Hi, Ms. Drake. It`s nice to have you this morning.
MISTY DRAKE, CHICAGO MOTHER OF TWO: Thank you so much.
PERRY: So, how have you personally been coping with the strike?
What have you been doing with your little ones?
DRAKE: Yes. We are really grateful to have my mother-in-law, who has
been taking care of our kids for at least three of the five days that the
kids have been out. But the last two days, I think, you know, we decided
to give her a little break and we actually tried one of the options that
the city was making available to parents. So, we actually sent them to the
PERRY: I am wondering what you have heard from other parents. My big
sister is a parent of two school age kids there in Chicago. And she got,
you know, the other kids in the neighborhood and has been home schooling
them. She sent me a text the other day and said, "I`m running out to the
store so I can a supply for the kids to make plasma today." Right?
PERRY: Like trying to make sure the kids aren`t falling behind.
What are you hearing from other parents?
DRAKE: Similarly, I mean, other parents are doing the same thing. I
mean, I was sending worksheets with my kids to my mother-in-law`s house,
also sending worksheets with them when they went to the park district. A
lot of parents have been sharing resources, various websites that their
kids can go to. I mean, unfortunately, during this time, we have to make
up for the gaps and we are being teachers at the same time where some of us
are working and really trying to figure out, you know, what their
curriculum is going to look like for this time period in which they are not
PERRY: And so, as you are coping with those kinds of challenges,
where are parents for the most part placing the blame? I mean, the public
opinion poll tells us that parents are on the side of unions. Does that
reflect your personal experience?
DRAKE: You know, I think, this is a very difficult topic for a lot of
parents. A lot of parents definitely see the inequities that exist within
the Chicago school system. And so, on the one hand, they recognize that
there are a lot of things that are not right with the school system. And
so, they can actually sympathize with some of the teachers and what they
are really fighting for. But then, on the other hand, you have parents
that are saying I don`t know if this is the right venue to do that. You
know, should we penalize kids with having them out of class to fight for
some of these things that perhaps shouldn`t be on the negotiating table.
Like, is there another venue in which we can address these issues?
So, I think for me, a lot of my friends, a lot of my family, I mean, they
are kind of like on fence. Like they definitely recognize that there are
some issues within CPS, well, not some, there are a lot of issues within
CPS. I mean, for me, as an example, I don`t have a decent school in my
neighborhood. So, I have to send my kids outside of my neighborhood going
past ten different schools in order to get my kid to a halfway decent
DRAKE: So, you know, a lot of parents kind of recognize that, you
know, some of the issues that the teachers are fighting for, they are very
valid but at the same time, they don`t want this to impact their kid, you
know, on a negative side.
PERRY: Misty, I feel like you just said that thing. You don`t have a
decent neighborhood school. You can`t as a parent just make the choice to
send your kids down the block. We don`t have much time. But I want to ask
you one last quick question. I know you are committed to public school
education. Does this change that commitment? Will you take your kids out
of the public schools in the coming year?
DRAKE: No, I will not. I mean, I grew up not going to public school.
My parents felt like I wasn`t going to get a great education. So, again, I
had to go outside of my neighborhood. My kids are, you know, within the
second generation of kids that are going outside of their neighborhood for
a decent school. We are still committed to a good public education, and
me, as well as my other friends. I mean, we are going to fight to make
sure that our kids are receiving what`s due to them. I mean, education is
a right. Like it shouldn`t be by hope, chance, and prayer that they are
going to get a good education.
PERRY: Yes. Misty, I so appreciate those words and thank you for
joining us from Chicago.
DRAKE: Thank you so much.
PERRY: Coming up, we are going to talk more about Chicago and what
this week taught us about the state of school reforms. Come back and stay
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
Chicago was the center of national attention this after negotiations
between the city`s school officials and Chicago`s teacher`s union broke
down, resulting in a strike lasting five days and counting. While a
tentative agreement has been reached between negotiators, union delegates
will vote on Sunday on the compromise which both sides hope will bring
teachers back to the classrooms on Monday.
The showdown in the nation`s third largest school system has been a
demonstration of the school reform fight playing out all over the country.
Chicago has long been a national laboratory for school reform, including
the movement built on standardized tests and teacher evaluations. The
local reform initiative led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel`s administration, mirrors
the Obama administration`s education agenda crafted by Education Secretary
Arne Duncan, formerly the head of Chicago Public Schools.
So, local union president, Karen Lewis, brought it all back home
telling a crowd of picketing teachers, quote, "The assault on public
education started here. It needs to end here."
Chicago has become ground zero of the fight for our nation`s schools.
So, what is the conflict teaching us about the state of school reform
With to discuss it is Megan Behrent, a high school English teacher
from New York City, Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, pollster for the
Obama 2012, Eleanor Clift of "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast", and Marc
Steiner, radio talk show host and founder of the Center for Emerging Media.
So, Marc, I know you have been following this.
MARC STEINER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Closely.
HARRIS-PERRY: Very closely.
What`s the story in case people haven`t been following it?
STEINER: One little inkling of this is really important to me, is
that we talk about how these teachers don`t want to have a full day, the
shortest school day in all of the nation.
The reality is, what the major press is not saying that teachers are,
we don`t mind a longer day. We`re not asking you for more money for a
longer. We are saying hire music teachers, phy ed teacher, art teachers,
give our kids something of substance and not just teach the test.
Nobody is covering this strike. This is one of the most important in
the long time for unions. But also, it`s the beginning of the battle for
the future of education, putting it on the table for all of America to
begin to talk about. I think this is a very critical moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I might be wrong here, but here`s what I see in
this longer school day plan. I see a mayor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has a
violence problem that is out of control in his city. You had hundreds of
murders and dozens of them were kids from the Chicago public schools.
I see him saying the best way for us to cope with this real problem
is to keep kids in school longer. Now, there`s a part of me that says,
great, keep kids in school longer. Then what I hear is teachers saying,
all right, Mr. Mayor, that`s fine, but you are not going to solve this
problem without also providing the enrichment activities, all of the
intellectual and social opportunities for these young people in the
schools. Is that a misery -- I am seeing him trying to deal with this
criminal justice problem by lengthening school days.
STEINER: I think you really -- you have hit on something that most
commentators have not talked about. And that`s exactly what`s happening.
He has no answer for this, you now?
I think that Chicago is also the home of Operation Ceasefire, which
is a highly successful program, where ex cons out of prison stop violence
in the streets. Put some more money into that. That will help stop
violence in the streets.
This whole thing is warehousing kids, you`re right. I think that
this -- I have really fallen in love with Karen Lewis. I think she is
HARRIS-PERRY: She is a fire brand.
STEINER: She`s a firebrand.
She`s a 20-year veteran chemistry teacher, and an Ivy program, I
think. A really bright woman. I am glad to see her out there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Megan, where did we -- how did we get to a point when
we believe that students and teacher`s interest are counter to each other?
That somehow what`s good for teachers isn`t good for students. You are a
class room teacher.
MEGAN BEHRENT, NEW YORK H.S. ENGLISH TEACHER: I think there has been
a kind of a long decade of attacks, more on teachers and teacher unions.
There has been teacher bashing has become national pastime. I think part
of what`s important is this is the first time we have seen a teacher`s
union to take a stand against that.
I think you also see that when they do, you have parents and students
supporting those teachers, you know, which runs counter to everything I
think we have been told and everything in this kind of strike that you have
seen in the media.
So I think it shows that this is the first in the step of fighting
back against what`s been these kind of scorched earth policies and teacher
bashing for people like Rahm Emanuel, which have been under the guise of
education reform. We`d like to call it education deform.
BEHRENT: Underestimated the public education in this country, I
think, you know, it`s a chance to stand up for quality public education for
HARRIS-PERRY: So I mentioned that I have a sister who is a parent in
the school. She went out to get this stuff to make plasma with the kids.
She was handed this flier that says Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan stand with
Rahm Emanuel. And this whole thing is basically is like, basically Rahm
Emanuel is Mitt Romney.
You know, that`s undoubtedly unfair in a lot of ways. I thought it
was interesting that they were making it into a national issue.
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK: They waded in in the hope of enticing
President Obama into the fight, because if Obama sided with his former
chief of staff, he would alienate the unions. If he came down squarely on
the side of the unions, well, the president has been reluctant to do that
in other fights, like in Wisconsin.
So, I think, actually, the White House rather deftly stayed out of
this. And as I read this, it`s a lot about charter schools and the fact,
who controls charter schools. Charter schools aren`t obligated to hire
And you look in all the big cities. I live in Washington, D.C. I
think a majority of kids are in charter schools. It is an effort by
parents to get more control and, yet, it means a loss of control for
I think Rahm Emanuel has some good ideas here. It is his attitude,
kind of a bullying attitude. It`s as though he disrespected the teachers.
I think if he would have handled this better, he could have avoided this
kind of confrontation.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels like the politics, like this idea that he`s
sort of a tough guy and tough to deal with. It`s part of why he was the
chief of staff.
But it also feels like there`s somehow a bipartisan agreement at this
point that unions are bad for schools, that you have got to break the
unions in order to get school reform and that somehow teachers are
uninterested in and, by the way, that the best way to assess whether a
teacher is good or bad, is standardized testing.
STEINER: Which is crazy. I`ve been following this very closely all
over the country and in my hometown of Baltimore, which has charter schools
but in Baltimore`s charter schools, the teachers are unioned and the
parents have a lot of say in a lot of the schools. They are not owned by
private companies. So, nonprofit groups are helping to manage those
schools. It`s a very different situation. So, union agreed to that in
But I think what`s happening here, this teach the test is -- look,
Rahm Emanuel puts his kids in the lab school. It`s a great school. The
head of the lab school said at the beginning of the strike, not connected
but said, I don`t believe in testing. I don`t believe in these kind of
tests for our children.
So, his own kids don`t have to work for that.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is the point. You know, I`ve been at elite --
you taught at elite universities, Princeton and others, that have gone away
from using SATs for their entrance requirements, because they recognize
that the main thing that standardized tests tell us is about the
educational and economic situation of the family.
If your family has some wealth, if your family has college educated
people, you do well on standardized tests and they have very little to do
with what`s going on in the classroom.
CLIFT: What a political football that would be if Rahm Emanuel, the
mayor, said you we are not going to have any more standardized tests. Look
at the ads the Republicans would run. Look at what they did with welfare
So, I don`t think that is realistic. The emphasis on tests needs to
be relaxed and grows out of the No Child Behind legislation which the Obama
legislation has been trying to fix.
HARRIS-PERRY: But what would be the terms of accountability?
Because I`m not against teacher accountability, I`m against poor measures
for teacher accountability.
BEHRENT: I just want to say, this thing that I kind of say what
should be good enough for Emanuel`s children should be good enough for the
rest of the students in this country and I think that fighting for that
kind of reform would be important. They don`t rely on standardized
Not only that does all research shows that it increases surface level
thinking among students, it`s also wildly inaccurate as a means of
evaluating anybody. In New York, their value added formula had a 35
percent margin of error rate or up to 53 percent depending on which exam
you were talking about.
If I had that margin of error evaluation in terms of my evaluations
of my students, I would lose my job immediately. The idea this is in any
way about improving education is a lie. I think we have to, you know,
reframe the whole debate and talk about what is it that quality schools
could look like.
And I think if people haven`t read what the Chicago teacher`s union
has put out, their document on the schools that Chicago deserves, it`s a
blueprint for the kind of education reform --
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s come to exactly that as soon as we get back.
We`ll ask that question, what does a good education look like? If teachers
win in Chicago, is it the return of the union?
HARRIS-PERRY: The United States has 3.2 million public school
teachers, according to the latest data released in the fall of 2009. And
they are working day in and day out to educate the country`s next
The two unions that represent them, the National Education
Association and the American Federation of Teachers, together form one of
the country`s biggest labor forces. Despite all-time lows in union
participation and the initial defeat in Wisconsin, the thousands of union
protesters flexing their muscles in the streets of Chicago make me ask, has
labor really died?
Depending on the outcome of the Chicago teachers strike, likely to
end this weekend, will the unions be able to count this one as a late
season win or will it further embolden anti-union sentiment.
Back with me is my panel: Megan Behrent, Cornell Belcher, Eleanor
Clift and Marc Steiner.
So I want to ask you exactly that question, Cornell, about unions.
We heard Eleanor earlier talk about -- so the room that was made to talk
about reproductive rights because the right went too far. Will we now
start to see more open embrace of the labor movement by this
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I can`t speak for the
administration. I will say this -- I certainly hope we see a broader
embrace. The problem is the right has done a very good job of demonizing
the union for the last couple of decades, especially when you talk to
younger voters. They really don`t understand what the purpose of unions
are. It is like they gave an eight-hour work day.
HARRIS-PERRY: Or a weekend.
BELCHER: But it`s completely lost on them. So, the unions are in a
position where they have to sort of better position their brand because
there is no grassroots sort of boiling up for sort of the unionization,
particularly among younger people, because they really don`t understand
what the benefits of a union are and they are disconnected from a history.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we saw in states that are -- and certainly
surprising, since 2010, states have eliminated collective bargaining rights
for teachers. And the states include Idaho, Indiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin,
all of those states that said, no more collective bargaining rights for
BELCHER: And it is not by accident that we see a shrinking of the
middle class at the same time as the shrinking of the unions and collective
bargaining. Look, one interesting thing is this broader political story,
we have Republicans coming in 2010. Guess what they went to cutting --
first responders, teachers and all these other sort of things that help
broaden and strengthen the middle class.
One reason why the unemployment rate continues to be so poor is,
quite frankly, we have laid off all these teachers.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is -- Cornell, I just feel like we need a little
"amen" corner on this because when you see it over and over again that, on
the one hand, there was this conversation about the economy and the need to
have more jobs and at the same time this cut government, cut government.
Well, government are the people who work putting out your fires and
educating your kids.
BELCHER: And keeping you safe.
HARRIS-PERRY: Like that`s what so-called -- I mean, government
workers. Government workers are not some -- I mean, some of them are some
bureaucrat sitting in Washington somewhere. But the vast majority of
government workers we encounter are teachers.
BELCHER: Yes, America -- it`s middle class Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, if you take those away, that`s exactly right,
that the private sector is growing while the Republicans are cutting.
BELCHER: That`s shrinking and that`s having a real impact on our
unemployment numbers. Under Reagan, we didn`t see these sort of cutbacks
in government workers like we see under Obama right now.
Let me ask you this. It feels to me like part of the branding
Cornell is talking about in terms of how well Republicans have done in
shaming unions is because we don`t really know what a teacher does during
the day, what a workday looks like. So, dispel the myth. What`s a
teacher`s day really like?
BEHRENT: I have 170 students a day who I see and five classes I
calculate once. It means a couple of minutes per student per day if I
don`t have lunch.
What happens is increasing, there is more and more work placed on
people, more emphasis on testing and data which adds to both the workload
and makes it harder to have control over what the classroom looks like.
And I also say -- I mean, the amount and effect of the economy and
unemployment on our students, you have to remember that these are the
people who are being impacted.
And I think one of the important things that Karen Lewis did was talk
about poverty and what impact that has on education. If you have increases
in homelessness, a lot of increasing homelessness among students at my
school, and yet where you don`t have social workers or enough guidance
counselors in addition to teachers.
And also, I think who our students are. I work at a school that has
a lot of emerging bilingual students since they`re coming, you know,
learning English. The idea that somehow we hold everybody to the same
expectations and they have four years to graduate, if not, we`re a failure.
It`s a complete lie.
Actually, even all, in that case all available research shows it
takes much longer to develop academic proficiency. And so we are working
under circumstances where we don`t have enough teachers, we don`t have
enough social workers. My school, we start the 7:40 a.m. because that`s
what we need to do to provide space for students.
So I think there are a whole bunch of other things we would like to
see in terms of reform. The first thing is we need t have smaller class
sizes, we need experienced teachers in the classroom and we need more
resources like guidance counselors and arts programs and something like
that as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think it`s so useful what you just did, in terms of
deconstructing this, like the ideas of does the student in a -- you know,
in a perfectly stable household with their little backpack going off to
school and that you`re responsible of educating. If you can`t, you are a
It`s very different if you are talking about a housing crisis that
has kids in situations of sleeping on couches, different houses -- I mean,
we know how hard it is to get homework done under the best of
circumstances. Put all of those circumstances, kids who are hungry because
there is insufficient food.
I think that`s right. There is a disconnect between what students`
lives are in fact like versus this imaginary world where we have where
teachers should be responsible for all of those pieces.
So, where -- how do we get to that? How do we get to integrated
conversation about labor rights, poverty, children`s circumstances and then
the rights of teachers in all of that?
STEINER: Part of it, you are doing it here. These conversations
that take place across America I think between people of all kinds of
different situations. I mean, when it comes to education, we are still
playing like it is the 1950s. And this is the 21st century.
STEINER: This is post segregation where you have generations of kids
whose parents never went to school. A quick little story, quickly. There
is a school in Baltimore called Douglas High School which was the only high
school black folks could go to until the `50s.
So, I asked some friends that their fathers and mothers had gone to
that school. How many kids were in your school when you went there, 400,
500? There were thousands of other black children in the `30s and `40s.
STEINER: That means they didn`t go to school. But there were jobs
to go to. And those jobs don`t exist. And we`re not dealing with schools
the way we need to. We are still playing a game like some time ago.
And unions play a huge role in this. I think that -- watch what
happened in Chicago could stimulate a teacher`s union or other teachers.
What happened in Chicago was a robust group of teachers that were fed up
took over the union from the union bosses. That`s what made the
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s important, right? All union activity is not
equal and this is truly a teacher-led initiative.
STEINER: You know, I have been talking about my sister a bunch here.
But even your point about education, my sister has a college education.
She can set up a kind of very quick home school circumstance. But if you
don`t yourself, there are my nieces and nephews making plasma at my
sister`s kitchen table.
But if you don`t have those personal resources, right, how do you
manage to make that?
CLIFT: The thing is, public schools in many places, if not most
places in this country work very well. They need to be modernized. I
agree with that.
Where they don`t work is in big cities and certain areas in those
cities. And I think what`s going on is an effort to find out who is to
blame. Teachers are the most convenient target.
But parents need to mobilize and say, if you are going to cut back,
we are not going to stand for class sizes that are going over 30 to 35 for
little kids in many cities. They`ve got to rebel. And I think that`s
where you see teachers rebelling in Chicago. I think this is all a good
thing to point to what`s wrong with public education in certain areas but
we shouldn`t demonize public education in general.
It is a wonderful melting pot. I mean, I`m a product of public
schools, my children are.
HARRIS-PERRY: It has been the most important vehicle of social
mobility in our country. That has been the thing that has given us the
BELCHER: Our country shall because if we don`t win this, we lose to
China and India. I mean, this is the competition for the future of
America. If we lose here, we lose the ability to compete for the future.
If we lose that, we are no longer number one anymore.
One last quick point if I could, part of what I think the issue is.
I did some work for united way around education about a year or so ago.
Part of it, so to me, one of the sticking point is, we have teacher`s
unions and I love them and they are great. But when you look into some of
these poor performing school districts and you look at these parents there,
unless these parents come organized and demand, and we`ve talked about all
the time, so why is it in certain things, in black neighborhoods, go to
schools that you know would not happen across town? Across town, they are
mobilized and they are organized. Some of the communities have to get
better mobilized and organized and demand change.
HARRIS-PERRY: Parents and teachers organization working together.
Thank you, Megan, I appreciate you being here always. I appreciate your
voice as a teacher.
Everybody else is back later. But before we go, I do want to tell
you something exciting.
Next Sunday, I will be hosting a special education of the show. It
will be a student town hall as part of NBC`s Education Nation Summit from
the New York Public Library building in Midtown Manhattan. We will have a
unique conversation with our nation`s young people, hearing about their
experiences, their concerns and their solutions for the challenges facing
our nation`s school.
But we need your help. To inform and guide this discussion, we will
be collecting questions and ideas from students. You can send your ideas
via Facebook on Facebook.com/educationnation and on Twitter
@EducationNation, #Nerdland if you like.
And also, students can upload YouTube videos for a series we are
calling "my solution" by going to educationnation.com.
Go ahead, invite the students in your home to do that today. Be sure
to tune in next Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
But, first, when we come back, she took the right wing blogosphere
smear machine on and she won. Shirley Sherrod is in Nerdland, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: July 2010 is probably the first time you heard the
name Shirley Sherrod. At that time, she was the USDA`s Georgia state
director for world development and the latest target of the late right wing
blogger Andrew Breitbart`s attacks.
Breitbart pushed out a deceptively edited portion of Sherrod`s speech
to the NAACP in Douglas, Georgia, including this portion where Sherrod is
telling a story about being asked for help from a white farmer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHIRLEY SHERROD, THEN-USDA`S STATE DIRECTOR: I was struggling with
the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was
faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn`t give
him the full force of what I could do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So if you didn`t know any better and if you haven`t
bothered to listen to the entire address, she appears to be promoting a
discriminatory agenda. But the clip was taken out of context and edited in
a way to misrepresent the message.
Here`s the problem -- far too many people who should have known
better and should have taken the time to listen to her entire speech turned
on her. The administration hastily repudiated her and asked for her
resignation. And the NAACP issued a statement that sought to shame and
The irony? July 2010 should not have been the first time that you or
the administration or the NAACP have heard her name. She and her husband
Charles Sherrod are stalwart civil rights activists who worked tirelessly
to integrate rural Georgia. They continue to be advocates of economic
justice for people of all races.
Sherrod`s life-long commitment to activism is told in her new book,
"The Courage to Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear."
And I am pleased to welcome her to my table.
Shirley Sherrod, thank you for being here.
SHERROD: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: I have been convinced from the moment that this
happened that your vilification has to do with our lack of historical
memory. My best girlfriend is a historian of the civil rights movement and
she called immediately and was like, I wonder if she is any relation to
Charles Sherrod, like -- I mean, it just felt like, if you have done eyes
on the prize 101, should have created an immediate suspicion of that tape.
Why do you think we`ve lost so much of the civil rights history?
SHERROD: Well, I think part of the problem is that we fail to teach
that history to our young people. We failed to teach our history. It was
hurtful to us. The things we experienced during segregation and Jim Crow.
So we tried to shield our children. And in shielding them, we didn`t
HARRIS-PERRY: I also wonder if part of it is when we think of the
civil rights movement, we think of the urban parts, the water fountains and
buses, and not the rural story.
SHERROD: Right. Well, people didn`t pay much attention to rural.
But that`s where some of -- there were battles in the cities. Some of the
real battles took place in the rural area. We didn`t have the protection
many of the people in the city had.
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about what the Albany movement was.
SHERROD: Well, you know, my movement -- I have worked in the Albany
movement in later years but mine was Baker County.
SHERROD: And Baker County was where we had a particularly hard time
because of the person who was in charge there. That person was the
HARRIS-PERRY: Sheriff Gator (ph).
SHERROD: Yes, so we had to maneuver to try to live and not run into
the law, which was the gator. He ruled everyone and everything.
HARRIS-PERRY: When you talk about the painful things that many in
your generation did not pass on to many in my generation and, therefore,
mine to the next, one of them that was very painful to read in your book
was about your father`s murder.
HARRIS-PERRY: It occurred in a dispute with a neighboring white
farmer. You write that your father finally said, I don`t want to keep
arguing with you. We`ll go to court and they will settle it. He turned
again to walk away and that Mr. Hall pulled up his rifle and shot him in
SHERROD: Yes. I didn`t see. We have heard that my father turned
and the bullet went in the front but the fact was he was shooting him when
he was walking away. And, you know, to this day, other than the fact that
my father stood up to him, we don`t understand why.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mr. Hall was never brought to justice for this crime?
SHERROD: Never, never. The grand jury, which was all while, refused
to indict him.
HARRIS-PERRY: So two pages later, you say, I tried not to feel hate
but hate seemed the only emotion available toward the man that killed my
daddy. But my mother cautioned against it reminding us of our faith. That
night, I made a promise to stay in the South, escape was no longer an
HARRIS-PERRY: I understand the hate feeling like the only emotion
available to the person that killed your father. It is harder for me to
get that next move where you say, I`m embracing faith and stay here to do
SHERROD: Right. Well, what did I have to fight with? You know, I
could fight with trying to do good, with trying to promote love instead of
hate. My mother would say to us all the time, in fact, people, some whites
that talked to her in later years, younger whites that were saying you seem
to be so positive. How is it?
And I remember in particular one young white man talking to him and
naming some of the whites who had burned the cross in front of our house
and that had done other things. She said to him, all of those people you
named, where are they? They are dead. She said, if I had tried to live a
life of hate, I`d probably be dead too.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you made a choice to live a life of courage and
We`ll talk more about that and bring some more folks to the table. I
am so excited to have you here.
And up next, you have probably never heard of Pigford versus
Glickman. But I`m telling you, you want to know all about it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pigford versus Glickman is far from being one of our
nation`s most celebrated legal cases and you haven`t heard of it. But for
black farmers in this country, Pigford is a big deal. It`s what that led
to $1.15 billion being distributed to African-American farmers in 2010 as
compensation for a long and calamitous history of discrimination.
For years, black farmers claimed discrimination in the allocation of
USDA farm loans, debt restructuring and crop payments. In 1999, a judge
agreed in a class action lawsuit known as Pigford 1. But it wasn`t until
President Obama agreed for the funding in what is now called Pigford 2,
which allowed an extension for plaintiffs to file their claims so that some
15,000 plus farmers found justice.
Back at the table is one of the original plaintiffs in the class
action suit, Shirley Sherrod.
And rejoining the conversation, Cornell, Eleanor and Marc.
Ok. Talk to me about what Pigford is and who you ended up as one of
SHERROD: Well, once the movement -- let me go back. I have to go
HARRIS-PERRY: You are allowed.
SHERROD: Yes. Coming out of the civil rights movement and realizing
that as we were getting people to exercise their rights, they were being
kicked off the land that others owned. So we came up with the idea of
trying to build a community for these people. New communities was born and
we had 6,000 acres of land. Due to discrimination at USDA, we`d lost that
land in 1985.
HARRIS-PERRY: Twelve years.
SHERROD: About 15 years we had it.
Then, I started working with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives
to help black farmers not only in southwest Georgia but throughout the
South. And we were looking at the fact that black farmers were losing so
much farmland and even the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights kept sounding
the alarm saying if you don`t do something about discrimination at USDA, by
the year 2000, they will be virtually no black-owned farmland.
We saw that happening and knew that a lawsuit had to happen. That
was the only other way. We had tried everything else. The only other
thing left was to file a lawsuit against USDA.
HARRIS-PERRY: And what I love is that this part of the story about
black farmers and about the rural battles has been so lost. And yet, there
are these interesting moments of interracial intersection that occur in
My favorite moment as distressing and as disturbing as the entire
case around your words in 2010 was that Willie Nelson became one of the
most vocal public voices that showed up and was like, y`all are not going
to say this about Ms. Sherrod. He came out and said, no, this is the work
farmers have been doing. He said your real story deserved to be told a
long time ago, that you had an amazing impact on the lives and livelihoods
of hundreds of families and communities throughout the South and that
farmers of every race had struggled with income inequities that have
persisted for generations, that advocates like you were necessary to keep
people in their homes.
SHERROD: Yes, and Farm Aid has played a major role in helping to get
resources to farmers when no other resources were available. So, yes, we
worked with Willie Nelson and others in Farm Aid. In fact, Farm Aid is
taking place next Saturday again.
So, that worked has gone for years and I`ve met with people -- not
just black farmers, white farmers but Hispanic farmers and Native American
farmers. Because of Farm Aid and a few other organizations, we`ve been
able to work together.
HARRIS-PERRY: Marc, you were actually part as a team, part of a
civil rights movement that led you into the presence of the Sherrods.
STEINEM: I did. I was -- there was a group called Civic Interest
Group. When I was 13 years old, I joined my first picket line to
desegregate the white pilot in (INAUDIBLE) and Baltimore.
And from that day on, I was in the civil rights movement. I ended up
being the youngest person arrested in Maryland during the civil rights.
And I did see the Sherrods. We went to Atlanta for this meeting.
And I was this little white boy was going down to Atlanta with these
people. And there was there and SNCC was there, and you were there,
husband was there. It was obviously, this little white boy in the room.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are going to come back in a moment -- but this
point, I don`t want to miss that today. The 15th of September is also the
anniversary of a 1963, the bomb that killed four little girls in
And just a reminder that was so many young people on the front lines
of this struggle and as we were just talking about with the education
strike, there are still so many young people on the front lines. And
that`s exactly what I want to talk about coming back, the new data on
poverty in America -- how young people are impacted and the missing link,
and why farming is actually part of it. I will explain after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: New data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau
shows poverty numbers for 2011 remaining essentially stagnant, placing 15
percent of the U.S. population below the poverty line. It`s a tiny
decrease from the 15.1 percent reported for 2010.
But a new study from researchers at the University of Chicago and the
University of Notre Dame says those numbers only tell part of the story.
What those numbers do not us show is that we are making a little progress
on poverty. Among other factors, the numbers do not take into account the
government programs, the very social safety net in place to aide the poor,
benefits like SNAP and housing subsidies which collectively help lift
American families beyond impoverished conditions.
The work is far from over, but we are thankfully beginning to make
some inroads. Not many people know that the much-derided food SNAP that is
the supplemental nutritional program for hungry Americans was part of the
STEINER: Right. It is.
CLIFT: Former Senator George McGovern and former majority leader,
Bob Dole, really were instrumental in the two parties coming together
decades ago in forging farm state interests because Senator Dole was from
Kansas with sort of liberal notions of helping people. I think they were
the real pioneers in the kind of food supplement programs we now have as
part of the federal government.
The fact that it`s part of the agriculture bill I think saves it,
because there are particular farm state interests and small farm states
have a bigger voice in our government often and urban centers. So, it`s
worked out. But because of the number of people on food stamps has gone up
substantially. The Republicans have seen that as a target, labeling
President Obama the food stamp president.
STEINER: To their credit.
BELCHER: I have to have a real honest moment --
BELCHER: -- because I sit here and I think of all the work and the
food stamps and all the work that, you know, the past generations did. I
think I`m almost shamed that sort of my generation and the younger
generation, you know, we are not doing works and fights that honor their
I really am ashamed that the things about poverty and all those big
issues that were tackled in the civil rights movement and I am really
ashamed that we are not building a future, our generation. We are not
doing the work that respects and is worthy of our ancestors.
HARRIS-PERRY: And let me push you on exactly this, because, you
know, this as a pollster -- if you are looking just at elections, the
Democratic Party writ large tends to see urban areas as its base, right?
Unions and black and brown folks.
But it feels to me when we start telling these stories that there are
some key economic and political interests that tie people together across
racial boundaries in rural areas, particularly the rural South.
BELCHER: Right. And talk about the issue of poverty. It is still a
number one issue. I did focus with the young people a couple of weeks back
for BET and talking to young people. I asked them, what`s our cause? We
think about generations, what`s our cause?
And they struggle to understand what the cause is. It goes on this
conversation about organization. Like the community organizing this or the
people organizing this, the organizing that they did, somehow that
knowledge has been lost on us. We just don`t get it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. You know, there are certainly people doing work.
I mean, I am always so excited to talk about our foot soldiers in part
because there are people doing work. Part of it is trying to bring it to
As I was reading your text, I keep thinking of this book, this is
"The Life of Fanny Lou Hamer." It`s written by one of my favorite
historians, Chana Kai Lee.
And in so ways, the work you were doing in Georgia was also being
done by Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer there in Massachusetts.
SHERROD: There are some real heroes from the rural area that we
don`t hear about. We hear about the urban heroes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which I great.
SHERROD: They did good work.
But a lot of what happened in the South depended on people like
Fannie Lou Hamer and others like her in those rural areas. They were the
back bone of the movement. They were real heroes because it was more
dangerous for them to do the work they did.
CLIFT: And they were women in the hierarchy of the civil rights
movement. It was mostly men.
STEINEM: It was women that did stand up all throughout. In Lowndes
County, Alabama, or whatever that was in the South, the struggle was so
scary. You have no idea how frightening it was.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I want to say that she said, Fannie Lou Hamer
said, "Yes, I represent the left, the left out. I have been left out for
400 years." More in just a moment.
But, first, it`s time for preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT". Hi,
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello to you, Melissa. Hello, everyone.
Well, we have new twists over that controversial over that anti-
Muslim film. One of the people apparently behind the video is talking to
federal officials, but why?
In Libya, new information this morning on the role the U.S. is
playing in trying to figure out who killed the American ambassador. The
FBI is now there.
New polls in the race for the presidency. What do they tell us that
could be pivotal for November?
And in office politics, one expert talks about the value of debates.
There may be more and even racier pictures of Kate Middleton out
there. The editor who decide to publish the topless photos is now
threatening to publish others.
It`s just not a pretty picture any way you look at it, Melissa. Back
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes Thank you, Alex.
Up next, we`re going to talk about a back-yard garden that yielded
40,000 pounds of produce in a year.
HARRIS-PERRY: This week, our foot soldier is Ladonna Redman, Chicago
mother turned produce maven. It was 13 years ago when Ladonna discovered
her infant son had severe food allergies. Then she discovered how
difficult it was to find food that was best for him -- healthy food that
was not genetically modified and was free from pesticides.
Grocery stores in her neighborhood didn`t carry organic food. The
stores further away that did had prices that were too high. So Ladonna dug
in, literally. She and her husband converted their backyard into a small
She grew lettuce, tomatoes and felt a particular sense of pride when
she succeeded in growing corn on the west side of Chicago. Ladonna was now
able to take care of her son`s particular food need.
But the reason that she is this week`s foot soldier is because
Ladonna didn`t stop there. In 2001, she started the Institute for
Community Resource Development, which ran a farmer`s market for her Chicago
neighborhood. By 2005, Ladonna and her husband had expanded her backyard
garden to six vacant lots, growing more than 40,000 pounds of produce per
year to address one of our country`s most expansive problems.
The fact that more than 23 million people including 6.5 children live
in food deserts, neighborhood that do not have access to stores with
affordable, healthy food options. New numbers from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture show more than 50 million Americans do not know where their
next meal will come from. Nearly 47 million Americans now use food stamps.
Two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese, putting them
at risk for diabetes and heart disease.
And as a nation, we have issues with food, which brings me back to
Ladonna Redman. Thirteen years ago, she was a concerned mom trying to
solve a problem for her son. But now, she is seeking a solution for
millions. Ladonna works for the non-profit Research Institute for
Agriculture and Trade Policy, a national organization based in Minnesota.
She`s a principal organizer of an upcoming conference called Food Plus
Justice Equals Democracy. And organizers describe it as a gathering of
people of color and indigenous leaders to craft principles of food justice.
Here`s how Ladonna puts it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LADONNA REDMAN: It`s about what`s wrong with our food system. And
not so much just stopping there and saying what`s wrong with our food
system. But what kind of food system do we want to create.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Her hopes are to bring people together, a straight
point, to come up with a cohesive, holistic food justice platform, taking
what work for her son and applying it nationwide. For starting in a garden
in her backyard that planted the seeds for a national movement, Ladonna
Redman is our foot soldier of the week.
And that is our show for today. Thank you to Shirley Sherrod,
Cornell Belcher, Eleanor Clift and Marc Steiner.
And thanks to you at home for watching. On tomorrow`s show I`m
particularly excited to bring you my exclusive conversation with Dr. Mya
Angelo. So, please meet me back here tomorrow morning at 10:00 Eastern.
"WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" is next.
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