December 29, 2012
Guests: Ed Ott, Marc Steiner, Alicia Menendez, Farai Chideya, Andrea Dehlendorf, Jonathan Westin, Sharon Content, Liz Gaynes, Grace Brown, Carl Siciliano, Katie Meyler, Joy Reid, Jason Altmire, Mitzi Miller
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question -- what is
next for American labor? And a letter to North Carolina`s outgoing
governor, plus MHP foot soldiers joining us here in Nerdland. But first -
what will it be, deal or no deal?
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Let`s start with Howie Mandel.
Yes, Howie Mandel. There is a lot we can learn from him. When you think
of Howie, you may think of the standup comedian from the 1980s, with a
surgical glove on his head. Indeed, there are many faces of Howie Mandel.
For decades, he`s survived and thrived, evolved in the brutal world of
entertainment, but this is the Howie Mandel I`m interested in today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWIE MANDEL: Deal or no deal?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: You see, it turns out that the Howie of "Deal or No Deal"
might have something to teach us about our no deal Congress. Yes,
Nerdland, this is where game theory meets game show theory. This week, I
learned that economists study game shows to help them understand high
stakes decision making. In fact, one group of researchers writing for "The
American Economic Review" declared "Deal or No Deal" to have such desirable
features that it almost appears to be designed for an economics experiment
rather than a TV show.
If you don`t know the show, the premise is breathtakingly simple. A
contestant is shown 26 briefcases, each containing a hidden amount of money
ranging from one cent to $1million. And they get to choose one of the
briefcases at the start, then case by case the contestant winnows down the
remaining ones to find out what dollar amount was not selected. Now,
slowly narrowing the odds as to whether or not the first chosen case has
inside the big money. After each round, the contestant is offered a deal
by the banker, to sell the selected briefcase back, but here is where the
real deal comes into plate: the banker`s offer is not random, it is based
on how likely the contestant is to walk away with the big prize. The goal
is to get the contestant to settle for less. And in the end, that is what
all the suspense and excitement are really about, will the contestant take
the deal, any deal or will she go all the way! Well, Washington, will you?
Will you go all the way? Because we are living in an era where politics is
about like a game show, high stakes for big rewards while all while playing
with borrowed cash. And on Friday, when the show returned to its regularly
scheduled broadcast of high-stakes fiscal cliff hanging, we watched
breathlessly with fingers crossed as congressional leaders met at the White
House. Just before 6:00 p.m., the president came to the podium to give
the latest on where we are, deal or no deal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I`m modestly
optimistic that agreement can be achieved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Deal or no deal? Definitely, maybe. But perhaps what the
president needs for a big win is a scene change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Senators Reid and McConnell are discussing a potential agreement
where we can get a bipartisan bill out of the Senate over to the House and
done in a timely fashion so that we met the December 31st deadline. But,
given how things have been working in this town, we always have to wait and
see until it actually happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So there you have it. There will be a deal when there is a
deal. I think if Howie Mandel had been at the meeting, perhaps things
would have gone better, because he could have given our nation`s leaders a
lesson in probability 101. This is what Howie knows from hosting his own
fiscal cliff show. Contestants on "Deal or No Deal" most often make
choices having nothing to do with the real world mathematical probabilities
of the situation they are in. Researchers have found that contestants
don`t really employ their inner Nate Silver and predict the probabilities
based on data. They are driven by their emotions. Contestants behave in
more risky ways taking bigger chances that are less likely to pay off when
"... prior expectations have been shattered by eliminating high value
briefcases or after earlier expectations have been surpassed by opening
low-value briefcases." In other words, contestants are much less likely to
make a deal if they are feeling desperate or if they are feeling lucky
based on what has happened earlier. Sound familiar, Washington? House
Republicans know that the number of political briefcases has dwindled
considerably, there is very little chance to make it win the big payoff.
They already know that the White House is not in one of those cases. They
already know that grasp a Senate majority is also not in one of those
cases. What is pretty likely to be in that case is a further downgrade of
American credit. They can hear all of us in the crowd roaring, deal, deal,
deal, deal! But they keep holding out for what? And at whose expense?
Because the problem is this, our congressional representatives are not
really the contestants, we are.
Joining me today Farai Chideya, a professor of Journalism at New York
University and an author and journalist Marc Steiner, host of the "Marc
Steiner Show" on National Public Radio and the founder of the Center for
Emerging Media, Alicia Menendez, a host on Huffpost Live, and MSNBC
contributor, editor of the Grio.com and the woman who gave me a holiday,
vacation, Joy Reid, it`s nice to have you all here. And thanks so much for
coming back, Joy. I actually want to start with you this morning, what is
it that they holding out for? Like at this point, three days before we are
heading over the cliff?
JOY-ANN REID, THE GRIO: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: What are they holding out for?
REID: So, basically the Republicans at this point in the negotiation want
three things. They want cuts to entitlement programs because then they
want to turn around and run against Democrats and say it was really them
who cut entitlement programs. They want to cut antipoverty programs, there
is this attempt to push the farm bill into this deal, but they want to cut
food stamps and they also want to cut school lunch programs, and thirdly,
they want to protect the wealthiest estates from any changes to the estate
tax because they know they are going to have to give something on the
rates, and they want to push the threshold for the rate increase as high as
they can, so they would like to go back to the $400,000 that they were
offered by the president before.
FARAI CHIDEYA, JOURNALISM PROF., NYU: Right. Yeah. I mean all of that is
absolutely true, and I think also in addition, what we are looking at, of
course, is the poll numbers. When you talked, I thought that it was
brilliant that you said we are the contestants, because the reality is that
when you look at some of the Republican actions in particular, the
Republican actions on the fiscal cliff are polling about 20 percent
approval, the president is polling at 50 percent approval, but that 20
percent approval is about their actions on the cliff, not how they play in
their individual districts.
CHIDEYA: And so when you travel around the country, and I have been to,
for example, Tea Party country in Arizona, et cetera, there is a huge
incentive, particularly for some of the more junior members of Congress to
stand their ground. And it doesn`t have to do with the fiscal math of the
country, it has to do with the electoral math of their home districts.
HARRIS-PERRY: And (ph) -- I think like Farai has put her finger mark on
exactly the thing that we keep missing when we keep talking about this,
because we act as the Congress governs at a whole body thinking about
national interests and is somehow held accountable to a national
constituency. They are not, right.
MARC STEINER, RADIO HOST, THE MARC STEINER SHOW: Right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Each of them are facing a very different, basically, if it`s
game theory, right, each of them is facing a very different payoff
structure in their own home constituency.
STEINER: And it is skewed. I mean first of all the Tea Party is a
minority, but the way Republicans control state - state with the state
governorships and the state legislatures - legislators, they can shift
districts to ensure Republican majority in Congress, which is not real in
terms of who the American people are. That`s part of the problem we are
facing, they can - they can play these games, so (inaudible) what is back
home is not really even back home except for the twist that they want to
put on it.
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. This was the critical issue about the 2010
midterms and in a certain way, you know, all elections matter, but really
HARRIS-PERRY: Since it`s your elections matter, because they redrew
districts in a way that makes them relatively safe. Right, so even if they
make the bad deal, the fact is they may still be able to open the case that
says you are re-elected in 2014.
ALICIA MENENDEZ, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: Right. And that is why you see
Boehner. He thought he had this great plan, this plan b that was going to
provide his caucus with political coverage so we can go back, we can say we
are willing to, you know, increase tax rates, Democrats didn`t want to do
it, now we are going to start over and his own caucus could not get behind
that, so I mean even when they have their leader trying to put something
before them that will provide political cover for them all, they can`t get
those numbers to vote for it.
MENENDEZ: And so, I don`t know, even if they kick this up to the Senate,
if the Senate kicks it back down to them, that he is going to be able to
get the support he needs in his caucus to pass it through the House.
HARRIS-PERRY: So speaking of kicking it around, and that is what the
president said yesterday. He asked that Reid go to it up or down vote to
see whether or not there is a majority people. What is the politics around
REID: Well, basically, at this point John Boehner, and, you know, I think
it is important to remember the incentive structure for leadership is also
different from the incentive structure for rank and file and back bench
members, right? If you are John Boehner, you are also more susceptible to
the pressure from like Wall Street to business community who really want a
deal, Cantor, people who aspire the leadership, but want to run for
something - like Paul Ryan, have a different incentive, too. So, at this
point, John Boehner just wants to get re-elected speaker.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right.
REID: That`s what his incentive structure is right now. So he basically
is trying to walk away from this deal as much as possible so that he
doesn`t jeopardize his speakership. So he has now thrown it to the Senate.
Technically, these bills are constitutionally supposed to emerge in the
REID: So the way this would have to get done, constitutionally ...
HARRIS-PERRY: A minor detail.
REID: But Boehner is like constitutionally dammed, I`m getting out of
this, because he`s been burned too much. So if Reid and McConnell can put
together a deal, I mean that would not be filibustered, they have to amend
a bill already passed in the House that extends the tax cuts for everyone,
gut that bill, because it has to emerge from there.
REID: ... fill it with what they think can pass the Senate and then hope
and pray that Boehner can find 30 Republicans to vote for it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you feel like that story or the one when the president
is standing there and saying, ordinary American citizens can not understand
sort of what is happening here, why we can`t when there is such broad
agreement that we don`t want taxes to go up on households under 250, when
we know that we got to protect Social Security and other so-called
entitlement programs, why we can`t just get it done, why (inaudible) put it
that politic state right there, everybody. Because after the break, I`m
going to try to get a little bit of truth out of one member of Congress.
Why? Because he is leaving office in just a few days, so I`m figuring,
maybe he`ll give us some straight talk when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Outside of Washington, nobody understands how it is that this seems
to be a repeat pattern over and over again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was the president late Friday expressing a bit of
exasperation over the poor showing Congress has made during the fiscal
cliff negotiations. But honestly, this is nothing new for the men and
women of the 112. The 112th Congress is on the precipice of becoming the
least productive congressional session since we started keeping track back
in 1947. President Obama has signed only 219 bills passed by the 112th
Congress into law, making it more than 100 bills behind the 104th Congress
who has until now been the most do-nothing of the do-nothing Congresses.
With this kind of record, it is not hard to predict the answer to Howie
Mandel`s question, no deal. Joining me now from Washington to talk about
what is going on among his soon to be former colleagues, Pennsylvania
Congressman Jason Altmire who is leaving the esteemed legislative body next
week. Nice to see you, Congressman.
REP. JASON ALTMIRE, (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Glad to be here. Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Jason, since you are living that dysfunctional building
just east of the Washington Monument, can you tell me, why your soon to be
former colleagues are so incapable of coming to a reasonable deal on this
ALTMIRE: If you look at the political structure in Washington right now,
it is divided government, that is what the American people vote for most of
the time, and you have a House leadership in particular that has a
conference that they represent that is almost evenly split between hard-
line conservative Tea Party-type members and I think more pro business,
sort of anti-tax, I would say more thoughtful members on the issue like
this, and then you have, of course, the president sitting down at the other
end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and on the Senate, it looks like they are
starting to work together a little bit better than we are in the House, and
I think that is where the deal is going to be struck.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, congressman, you are -- someone who had really a record
and a reputation for moderation. And Olympia Snowe similarly had a
reputation for being, you know, a moderate. In February, she also decided
to retire and she said at the time, she said, I have - as I`ve long said
what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to
be their - and to be their champion. I`m filled with that same sense of
responsibility today as on my first day, but now it has become a my way or
the highway ideology. Does that ring true for you? Is that part of for
you your decision to leave Congress?
ALTMIRE: That rings true for both sides, certainly on the Republican side,
you will see it right in front of us everyday with the Tea Party faction
and Speaker Boehner`s inability to herd the cats that are in the House. On
the Senate side they have a similar dynamic as Senator Snowe has outlined,
and we do it in the Democratic Party in the House. The reason that I`m not
returning to Congress is I`m a moderate member, and we have purged most of
the moderates from the Democratic Party. So when I hear members of the
Democratic Party talk about on the Republican side they are divided and
what a farce it is that they can`t get their act together, well, that`s
because they have a diverse opinion over there. On the Democratic side,
unfortunately, we purge the people who have different opinion, so yes, so a
lot more unified voice, but it`s a lot more towards the extreme of the
party. And unfortunately, both parties across the country are purging
members from the center. And you are not going to get a good outcome that
is going to be pleasing to the American people if you are not listening to
what the American people want, and that`s members who can work together,
who can compromise and who can get things done. And unfortunately, there
is no political payoff for that. You will get ousted from office if you
work with the other side.
HARRIS-PERRY: And Congressman, I want to be really clear that when we say
that this is the Congress that doesn`t get things done, that this is not
just rhetoric. I mean I know something would happen in the political
media as we get breathless around - oh, it`s so bad and doom and gloom, but
when you look at this, the 112th Congress is actually the least productive
Congress since we started keeping track of this in 1947. When Nancy Pelosi
was speaker of the House, the 110th Congress had roll call votes, over
1,000 roll call votes, in the 112 with speaker Boehner, only 444 roll call
votes, only leading to about 219 pieces of legislation. Should the
American people feel as though you all are simply not doing your jobs?
ALTMIRE: The answer to that question is yes, I think the American people
have a right to be skeptical of the work that`s being done in Washington.
Part of that is the political dynamic. I don`t know if I would just count
the number of votes. We are not commemorating sports teams and honoring,
you know, naming weeks and days after whichever vegetable we choose for
this week, national tomato month. But that is something we don`t do in
this Congress so the number of votes is going to be a lot less, but the
productivity has got to be based on doing what is right for the American
people, and doing big things and doing things that are going to help the
country. And I do think the American people are right to look at the
output from the legislative standpoint and say this Congress could be doing
a lot better.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Congressman Altmire. I appreciate you taking the
time to chat with us ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... a little bit about Congress and what seems to be going
When we come back, we are going to come back to the table and ask whether
or not the 113th can do any better. Congress seems to be playing a game,
but the consequences for Americans are real. We will talk about that when
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just imagine if the money in the briefcases on "Deal or No
Deal" did not contain the game show dollars of network executives, but your
own household budget. Wouldn`t you be on the edge of your seat if you knew
that one wrong move by the contestant might mean that you can`t pay for
your prescriptions or make your rent or keep your child in day care? Well,
that is exactly what is happening in Washington. The national employment
law project estimates that 2 million Americans will stop receiving benefits
after today, because Congress has not re-authorized federal unemployment
benefits. And it could cost us another 300,000 jobs by the end of 2013 if
benefits are not restored. Back with my panel. So, Marc, this is - this
is the real life consequences. Yes, it is a fiscal curve, yes, you know,
tax rates are only going to go up a little bit, but for some people, it is
STEINER: It`s a huge. Most Americans have not benefited from this economy
at all. People are struggling, most people I know are just kind of, can I
make my mortgage? Am I going to keep my job? This is real for people, and
the problem is that I think that one of the things that I have discovered
when I`m talking to conservative economists or progressive left wing
economists or whoever I`m talking to, is they all say, we are not even
asking the right questions. We are not having an honest debate. The
honest debate is that conservative people on the right want less government
and they want to destroy government to take what people get out of it.
It`s a way to end it. But so we are not, and the left is not even talking
anymore about what the real issues are. We talked during the break about
Social Security ...
STEINER: They are going to gut Social Security. So, I`m OK. I`m old.
STEINER: But you all are going to be in trouble when it comes to Social
Security and your generations will be in trouble when it comes to the
Social Security, because they are going to take that back and they are
going to gut it so people are not going their do. All we have to do, as
you and I were talking about, Melissa, to raise - is that they raised the
cap. If people who made up to $500,000 or more a year had to pay Social
Security, there would be no Social Security problem for 75 years. If we
had not raided the trust fund to begin with, there would not be a problem.
We are not even talking about the real stuff.
HARRIS-PERRY: But we look at the problems that will occur when we go over
the cliff, which looks at the moment like we are going to do, we are
looking at 2 million people losing unemployment insurance. We are talking
about immediate cuts to Medicare, that`s for the poorest Americans, we are
talking about potentially massive government job layoffs. I don`t know, if
corporations are people, but governments are made up of people who work
there, and 65 billion in cuts to federal programs. These have real
CHIDEYA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, when we think about what is
going on, we also have to really put it in the context of American culture,
so I took a trip to Japan in November. And that country has plenty of
issues, but one of the things that it does not share in common with the
United States is that we in the United States, many people, no matter what
their income have very much a paycheck to mouth to mortgage to next month
situation. There is not a lot of spare savings and that is why people like
Elizabeth Warren and her daughter wrote about the two income trap ...
CHIDEYA: ... for working parents. So, even people who consider themselves
middle-class or who by any economic means are middle-class, are not
necessarily people who have a lot pad. And if you find yourself, you know,
we are moving into an era of episodic employment where people are going to
have to deal with breaks in employment, that can dry down savings, people
start dipping into the retirement funds, so when we talk about the fiscal
cliff, we are also talking about our national culture whereby in large, we
don`t have a pad of savings to deal with things like health care costs that
we didn`t expect or, you know, family income that is missing. So it is
part of a bigger picture.
HARRIS-PERRY: And if we ever did, right, that wealth, that cushion existed
in your home, in your house, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: And when the housing mortgage crisis occurs, and that
evaporates, right, that`s the only little cushion that people had, you were
talking, Joy, about the possibility of agriculture as part of this, and not
only the fiscal cliff, it turns out it`s a milk cliff, right? So this one
number just made it very real for me, this idea that once we go over the
fiscal cliff, it looks like we are going to go from milk being about $4 a
HARRIS-PERRY: ... to $6 a gallon.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, you and I both have teenager type people, you
know, adolescents living in the house, that kind of difference in a
household when you have a tight budget like Farai is talking about makes a
REID: -- makes a huge difference. And the thing is that it also shows you
just the piecemeal way we do policy. We are essentially - the reason that
we are going to go to eight dollar milk or six dollar milk is because we
haven`t had a true farm bill, a lasting farm bill since the `30s, so every
couple of years we keep patching the 1938, or whatever it was, farm bill
and we just patch it along every couple of years so that if we don`t renew
the patch, we go back to the old policies from the `30s. So what will
happen is, you lose the price supports and milk will get more expensive.
If we could just permanently solve the problem, that would be great, but
the reason that we are at a standstill has nothing to do with milk, it has
to do with Republicans wanting to take out of that same agency, school
lunches - and we talked about it before, they want to cut them, and they
want to cut food stamps. There is this obsession with cutting these
programs and, you know, to be fair, they believe ideologically that there
is moral hazard to giving people this money, so they really, really,
really, really want to cut it.
And they definitely do not want dependent ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... six-month-olds.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean if you are like or two or three years old, and you
are still depending on someone to get you food ...
CHIDEYA: Get your own milk.
HARRIS-PERRY: Get your own milk. Get a job, kid.
MENENDEZ: I mean don`t you think that at the end of the day, if they can`t
put a real deal together, they make sure that unemployment stays intact,
the 250,000 stays intact, and doesn`t then the issue become not what
happens if we go over the cliff, but what type of lousy bargain they put
together to stop us from getting there, you know, as much as I care about
everything that we`ve just talked about, I also care about the possibility
of Democrats supporting something like changed CPI, in order to get a deal.
So that if you are a woman, we disproportionately rely on these government
services, we live longer, we are going to see 85 and that means a $1,000
out of a check you get monthly that you rely on for half of the income.
And it`s a lot of money. It is easy to talk about these percentages as
though they don`t affect real people, but $1,000 at 85, that`s a lot of
HARRIS-PERRY: It is, first of all, Alicia, I love - I think you are the
first guest to ever ask me a question, which is completely cool.
MENENDEZ: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I love that, and, you know, but I think that as you were
asking, what is the answer to that? Do I think we are really going over
the cliff, right? And I think you are right, even as Joy pointed out,
there is this notion that we will get some kind patchwork, the president
basically called for patchwork yesterday ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s at least get the 250 question addressed, let`s at
least make sure that unemployment doesn`t, but the bigger problem is, if
there is this pressure, deal, deal, deal ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... then Democrats make the deal. If it`s a bad deal,
right, you walk away with the briefcase with four cents in it, where if you
had just made a deal earlier, right, you could have actually gotten the big
Thank you, guys. Up next. Stay with us. Because I`ve got a letter, and
my letter this week is to a governor who has a chance to right a historical
HARRIS-PERRY: At the start of 2012, North Carolina`s Democratic Governor
Bev Perdue decided not to seek re-election. From the moment she took
office after a razor thin victory in 2008, she has been in battle duking it
out with uber conservative state legislator over issues at education and
reproductive rights and voters oppression. Having been badly bruised by
these battles, Governor Perdue bowed out of the 2012 race, and she won`t be
governor for long, but in these final days of her state leadership,
Governor Perdue has a chance to right an egregious wrong and that is why I
decided to send her a letter. Dear Bev, it is me, Melissa. I must admit
I`m sorry to see you go. I once described you as the thin blue line
because you have so fearlessly used the power of your office to stall,
redirect or halt the radical conservative agenda of Republicans in North
Carolina. To protect the state`s environment, you vetoed a bill to
authorize hydraulic fracking.
To ensure fairness for workers, you vetoed the bill that would have
increased health insurance cost for teachers. To shield vulnerable
homeowners you extended the state`s emergency foreclosure program. I know
it has been hard. I know you have often lost, but you did not shy away
from fighting the difficult battles when issues of fairness and justice
were on the line which is why, as you prepare to leave office next week,
I`m going to ask you to take up one last cause and to use the power of your
office to do what only you can do. Governor Perdue, it is time to pardon
the Wilmington Ten. As you know, in 1972 nine young African-American men
and one white woman were wrongly convicted of firebombing a Wilmington
grocery store during civil rights protest.
Most of the Wilmington Ten were just teenagers at the time, and despite
shaky evidence, the young musicians, students and activists were sentenced
to a total 282 years in prison. Governor Perdue, you once stated that
"There is nobody in America who could say that trial was fair or that there
wasn`t some kind of undercurrent or overt racism involved in the jury
selection." Indeed, it was so overt that by 1977 at least three witnesses
had recanted their testimony, and in 1980, the U.S. Court of Appeals
overturned the convictions of the Wilmington Ten noting that the chief
witness lied on the stand and that prosecutors concealed evidence. And now
according to the NAACP newly discovered notes from the prosecutor suggest
that he racially profiled prospective jurors writing KKK, good, next to
some names and referring to at least one black candidate as an Uncle Tom.
But despite the broad consensus that these citizens never committed this
crime, despite their convictions being overturned more than three decades
ago, despite the years they lost while unjustly incarcerated, the state of
North Carolina has never issued a pardon.
Governor, you can change that. Please add this letter to the petition with
nearly 140,000 signatures that is on your desk right now. It will be your
desk for only a few more days. You have one more chance to leave a legacy
of fairness and a symbol that the state of North Carolina is not stuck in a
racist past, but is moving toward a more just and inclusive future. You,
Governor Perdue, vaulted into history as the state`s first woman governor.
Make history again. Pardon the Wilmington Ten. It`s the right thing for
them and for the country. Sincerely, Melissa!
HARRIS-PERRY: In the summer of 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till traveled from
his hometown of Chicago to visit family in Mississippi. There he was
accused of whistling at a white woman, and for that supposed infraction, he
was dragged from his family`s home, brutally tortured, murdered and
discarded like trash. In many ways Till`s story was more ordinary than
exceptional, because under Jim Crow`s lynch law, African-Americans had been
murdered without consequence for decades. What made Till`s murder unique
was the decision to publish the photographs of his mangled body. Till`s
mother did something so courageous that it still inspires awe. She held an
open casket funeral for her son, and allowed "Jet" magazine to publish
photographs of his brutalized body.
There was controversy at the time about her decision and just decision to
publish the pictures, but those photographs of the mutilated boy galvanized
a nascent movement for equal rights and launched the contemporary civil
rights movement. "Jet" magazine reported continuously on the case for
years afterward. I am telling you this story today, because "Jet" magazine
is again shining a much needed spotlight on the killing of a young black
boy whose name might otherwise be forgotten. Jordan Davis, the 17-year old
who was shot to death, the night after Thanksgiving at the Jacksonville,
Florida gas station by a motorist who complained about loud music Jordan
and his friends were playing in their parked SUV. That motorist, Michael
Dunn, fired at least eight shots into the SUV striking Jordan twice and
killing him. Dunn now faces first degree murder charges, and may claim
protection under Florida`s stand your ground law. "Jet" magazine`s January
14th edition cover story on Jordan`s killing explores not only the details
of the night that took his life, but introduces us to a 17-year-old who
loved to fish with his dad, aspired to be a Marine and was about to start
his first job and is now gone.
Back with me are NYU journalism Farai Chideya, radio host Mark Steiner,
Alicia Menendez of Huffpost Live and the Grio`s Joy Reid. But first, let`s
go to Chicago to talk to "Jet" magazine editor-in-chief Mitzi Miller. Hi,
Mitzi, nice to see you this morning.
MITZI MILLER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "JET": Good morning, how are you?
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m great. Mitzi, talk to me. I mean, I led here with the
Emmett Till discussion, why did "Jet" decide to lead with the Jordan Davis`
case as your cover for the beginning of 2013?
MILLER: You know, I think most people understand at this point that
conventional publishing wisdom says that you need a celebrity to kind of
kick off a year on an up-note, however, when I heard the details about the
Jordan Davis case back in November, I knew it was important and I knew that
we couldn`t afford to not be moved to action about it. It was a month
after Trayvon, you know, people were angry and have come to action behind
Trayvon, but with the holidays rolling around, it is easy to forget because
you want to feel good. And I don`t think that as a community -- we can`t
afford to forget, I think we have to stay active, we have to stay aware.
Black children are being killed especially in Florida and we need to keep
raising our voices, and it is "Jet`s" job and has been historically to make
sure that our community is informed and active.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, I want to ask you about exactly that, because I know
there are some viewers who may not get sort of how central "Jet" is to
many African-American communities in terms of being an information source.
I mean, you know, my grandmother`s, you know, coffee table always had it,
any barbershop or beauty salon always has "Jet", but there`s also been I
think some critique over the years that like beauty of the week is the most
familiar aspect to black leaders and that some of the civil rights history
of "Jet" ...
MILLER: Right. I know you know ...
HARRIS-PERRY: But it is ...
HARRIS-PERRY: to walk on the beach, right?
MILLER: Listen ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Is this a turning point to get back to the civil rights
MILLER: I think that it`s - it is definitely a turning point. We are
definitely trying to do more to balance the entertainment and the important
news reporting. We have been doing that ever since I started it about two
years ago, we have been working to find that delicate balance making sure
that we are informing with current news, things that are relevant to our
community and providing the service. Because that`s what is so important
about "Jet." They don`t just inform, they let our readers know how to use
the information. So that`s another reason that Jordan is on the cover,
because again, like I said, we need to be active about this situation. We
need to be active about Jordan, we need to be active about this law, we
need to be active about gun control, we need to stay in motion.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mitzi, I want to come up to my table a little bit here,
because Farai, I want to ask you about this as I was thinking about sort of
"Jet`s" role and historically at this moment, there was a lot of hand
wringing over the past couple of years about the idea of the loss of good
old-fashioned journalism ...
HARRIS-PERRY: That doesn`t take a position, the idea that shows like this
and others where you have someone sitting behind a desk with a clear point
of view that it is problematic, but when I am reminded of "Jet" 1955 or
even "Jet" in this moment, it feels like this is actually a very long
tradition to a lot of media to take a position on issues of social justice.
CHIDEYA: Absolutely. And I would go all the way back to the days of the
Founding Fathers, you know, the media that America was built on was
actually partisan media and not nonpartisan media, and I`m not making a
judgment as to whether there should be one or the other, but I think that
there has been a long tradition of both, because when America was started
and we were a caldron of, you know, nascent freedoms as well as
inequalities, people laid out their positions in abolitionist newspapers,
you know, different types of newspapers. And so when we talk about media
that addresses specific social issues including in the African-American
context, this is a very important part of how ideas get surfaced. And what
I`d like to see now is a bridge between Newtown, Connecticut, and Florida
and stand your ground. We need to realize that gun violence is inclusive
of people of many different racial and economic backgrounds, and that we
have a shared incentive in this country to link the tragedies that we are
seeing, and to begin to question gun laws on a larger, systemic level.
HARRIS-PERRY: And (inaudible) progressive media is counseling, trying to
take the kind of sensational story like Newtown, which deserved every
moment of coverage that it got, but also say, what about all of these
STEINER: And there are the missing pieces. Let me - let just start (ph)
at a quick place ...
STEINER: ... and come right to that point. That when you talk about
modern media, remember Edward R. Murrow in "Harvest of Shame," this is what
we call objective media, but he made this documentary, say look what`s
happened to farm workers in America. And it was the black reporters and
the segregated newspapers in this country in the `50s and `60s that said no
to segregation and forced the major media to come in. So what media has
always been part of the fight for social justice. This is nothing new.
And I think we do have to link the stories, I think that one of the things
that happens is this - horrible thing that happened in Newtown, but people
forget the hundreds of young people who are killed on the streets of
Chicago over the last five years ...
STEINER: ... who are mostly African-American and Mexican children. And
what happens in Baltimore, 212 murders in a city of 600,000 people ...
STEINER: ... where both Farai and I come from ...
STEINER: That - which is just unacceptable, so we do have to have this
(inaudible), we do care, we have to actually get ways that your - bridge
this historical gap between people wanting the guns and the gun control
which we can do. If you study the American history, you see the roots of
it and you can figure out how to make the future.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mitzi, let me ask you this one last question before we head
off to commercial here, is - if this - if I`m a "Jet" reader, and I see
this cover, is this a call to action for me as a "Jet" reader?
MILLER: Absolutely. This is important. It is our job at "Jet" to inform
this community about what they need to be -- have front of mind. So, this
is a case that people need to be talking about as much as they talked about
the Trayvon case, as much as they talked about the situation in Newtown.
This is important. Gun control is important. Jordan has become the face
of our community`s, for me, I think he is the new face alongside Trayvon of
our community`s rallying to action and feeling like we should be a part of
it, too. I think, unfortunately, a lot of times we sit back and we are
like, oh, you know, the guns are what they are. No, we need to come
forward. We need to take responsibility. We need to demand safety where
we live as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, too, Mitzi Miller in Chicago. When we come back,
we are going to stay on this topic. And we are going to stay in Chicago,
because yesterday was all kinds of bizarreness in the windy city, the news,
the statement, the follow-up, 499, 500 - all of that next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Friday morning, the story was everywhere. Several media
outlets reported that the city of Chicago had reached the unfortunate
benchmark of 500 murders in 2012. Later in the day, the Chicago police
department released this statement seeking to as they put it "clarify an
inaccuracy concerning that number."
Quote, "The department`s official year to date 2012 murder total for the
city of Chicago currently stands at 499 with one death investigation still
pending classification. We thank you and appreciate your understanding in
assistance in clarifying this matter." Oh, thank God it is only 499, and
not 500. You can all rest easy in the Windy City tonight. Or maybe not.
Department officials later walked back their statement, disputing the
report about 500 homicides, and then to conclude the roller coaster of bad
PR, Chicago police superintendent Gerry McCarthy issued this statement
towards the end of the day. "The city has seen its 500th homicide for
2012, a tragic number that is reflective of the gang violence and
proliferation of illegal guns that have plagued some of our neighborhoods.
All of these back and forth in one day. One incredible day with multiple
statements and clarifications, all made it clear that the media narrative
and story about violence and homicides in Chicago is a concern to Chicago,
and they take it very seriously.
Back to my panel. So, Joy, I thought about the Grio in the moment of all
of this, because I thought, there is no substantive difference between 499
dead Chicagoans and 500 Chicagoans. Then the idea that they would come out
in this way, and then come out again and then realize how bad it sounded, I
thought, it matters to them how it is reported.
HARRIS-PERRY: It matters to them, because they are thinking about economic
development, and tax base and all of that. As the head of a black
information source, as the head of the Grio, how do you make that decision
between on the one hand not wanting to make our community seem like
HARRIS-PERRY: ... havens and on the other hand needing to report the truth
of what is going on in our communities.
REID: Yeah, I know, and it`s going to be, because it is this sort of human
sort of proclivity for round numbers and sort of false anniversaries,
right, that as an editor, 500 is an easier sort of more salable headline,
so you gravitate toward it, but, yeah, we`ve had this issue with Chicago
for a while at the Grio where we`ve been trying to report a steady stream
of violence without as you are saying, turning Chicago into a caricature
REID: And it is different for us than it would be for a "Jet" magazine.
"Jet` magazine has a print date, it comes out, it`s done. So, there is no
way to sort of revive the narrative going, because they have a long time
between publication dates, whereas we could do this every day ...
REID: And we could report on death in the African American community every
day, but we are trying to balance that with a more holistic narrative of
who black people are, because in a lot of cases this is black on black
violence, it`s gang violence. So it is a tough call, but it`s like if you
don`t report it, who is?
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And I think this issue, if you don`t report, who is.
I mean, Alicia, one of the things we see was sort of alternative media
sources, especially those that cater specifically to Spanish language
households or to African American households or to progressive communities.
But they actually tell you stories that you do not hear other places, it
changes what we think is important, what`s on the agenda.
MENENDEZ: Right. And the only thing more important than that are people,
some of our communities like you who actually end up in what we perceive to
be mainstream media. Because I remember during the Trayvon Martin case you
said, you will remember his name, and that was a rallying cry for the rest
of the media to realize that this was going to be an important story not
just in the black community, but for America at large. And I think one of
the major differentials between the black community and the Hispanic
community is that you have managed both to build institutions like "Jet"
like the Grio that we simply do not have in English language Hispanic
media. We don`t have people like you who manage to say, yeah, I`m a
mainstream personality who happens to have my eye on my community, and
until you do that, it is really hard to infiltrate these stories into the
mainstream media. So you have someone like Luis Ramirez who in 2008 was
killed by a bunch of football players in a small town in Pennsylvania and
it never becomes a national story.
MENENDEZ: And that`s a problem.
REID: This was so - I mean we can - we can actually trace Spanish language
media households, by different political actions, all sorts of things, and
so we know that what`s going on in Spanish language media fundamentally is
setting a different kind of agenda, but this point about sort of
penetrating that not only to English language media, but specifically into
kind of mainstream English language media.
MENENDEZ: Yes, I mean, they did this great survey of who was the best
known, the most trusted Latino American, and it was Jorge Ramos, he is the
head of Univision`s "Al Punto." Now, that`s great for Spanish -language
audience, the questions becomes how that transcends into English language
and how you actually have non-Hispanic viewers who want to listen in on a
conversation that the Hispanic community is having.
HARRIS-PERRY: And we are going to continue to have this conversation not
only around violence and crime, but specifically on how we think about
reporting these issues in communities in a broader way. Thank you to Joy
Reid. I cannot believe that you came in for us again today. Thank you so
much. Go home and take a nap.
REID: I`ll go back today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Have some tea or something.
Coming up next, labor strikes back. The trials and triumphs of 2012 and
what is next in 2013.
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, HOST: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
To say it`s been quite a year for the labor movement -- well, that
may be the understatement of the year. Let`s take a quick review of some
of the events that made headlines.
In June, Wisconsin unions were dealt a blow when efforts to recall
anti-union Governor Scott Walker failed. Organized labors and its allies
mounted an extensive and expensive campaign but were no match of deep
pockets of Walker`s donors. In September, Chicago`s teachers went on
strike for the first time in 25 years. While they did get a pay raise they
had to make concession including longer school days.
In November, Wal-Mart workers manage to organize strikes on
Thanksgiving night and Black Friday, two vital shopping days for the
And despite vehement opposition by Michigan unions, the Republican-
led legislature passed right-to-work, making Michigan the 24th state with
The events of this year can leave anyone with mixed feelings and
uncertainty about the future of organized labor, but that would be looking
at the glass half empty, and would be in direct opposition of what labor
has stood for in this country -- hunkering down and getting the job down.
UAW President Bob King understands very well that the fight is far
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB KING, UAW PRESIDENT: We are going to continue building a broad
alliance across Michigan, really across the United States to really make
sure people know what this ideological agenda is. It is about suppression
of women`s rights, labor rights and immigrant rights. It really is about
what kind of America do we want? And we think the only way to win is to
have a broad coalition really to rebuild a new social justice movement in
the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Bob gets it, but this year does not signal an end to
the labor union, rather, labor is just beginning to regroup and reform
using the setbacks and the defeats as a springboard for renewed and more
Organized labor can no longer be just auto workers or electricians,
but must grow to include hotel and retail and domestic workers as well.
But rather than accept defeat, it`s time to bridge the new and the old and
create a model that is not only lame duck session and right-to-work proof,
but sustainable and inclusive.
At the table: Farai Chideya, professor of journalism at New York
University; Marc Steiner, host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on National
Public Radio, and founder of the Center for Emerging Media. Alicia
Menendez, host of "HuffPost Live"; and Ed Ott, a former executive and
political director at the Central Labor Council in New York City. He is
now a distinguished lecturer at CUNY and he has been active in labor for
over 40 years.
So, Ed, I want to start with you, because looking at that history, is
this glass half empty or half full for the labor movement?
ED OTT, CENTRAL LABOR COUNCIL: Well, I actually it`s -- I would look
at it half full, partly, because I`m somewhat biased. If you think about
it, we have gone through 30 years where the workers have faced nothing but
wage suppression and reorganization of how the whole economic system has
been running. When unions do well traditionally is defend what people
When you get into one of the periods where everything is being re-
organized, we`re going to play catch-up. I mean, the truth is, in our
history, we have always trailed behind the changes in capital, if you will,
by 25 or 30 or 50 years sometimes.
So I think what we saw this year is the beginning where the workers
are figuring it out, $8 an hour is not something that you have to accept,
disempowerment in the workplace is not something that you just have to move
along from one place to place with one low wage job to another and accept
whatever it is. An old fashioned notion has become new again -- real wages
and real jobs and respect and dignity on the job. And that respect
question, that`s where I think the working people and their community-based
organizations, they have been making this fight as immigrants, as low-wage
workers for a long time, and now, the unions are now beginning to partner
HARRIS-PERRY: And the big story this week was the potential
longshoreman strike that was just averted, and, Marc, it felt to me, like,
you know, one -- like you were talking about the trailing of capital and,
on the one hand we live in a new world where people have different
information-based jobs and then you realize, and most of the stuff in the
food and everything else that you have comes via a ship, and somebody has
to take it off of the ship and put it on the railway or the truck, like
that is still this kind of old-fashioned way of doing business.
Is there something that we learned in this narrower version of the
longshoreman strike this week, Marc?
MARC STEINER, RADIO HOST, THE MARC STEINER SHOW: It`s a good
question. I was talking simply as a joke with one of the producers when I
had the inside fact that there was going to be a strike and it didn`t
happen. Oops, no strike.
STEINER: But I think it was. I think that`s a very powerful union,
and that union still has some strength on the East Coast.
STEINER: And so it was able to do certain things.
But the problem is that, I think that the other part of that story is
when you look at things like the steel workers, Baltimore was a steel town.
Steel industry is gone. Dead. Union could not stop the closing of that
Leo Gerard who is head of the union wants to do things like having
the workers to think about buying the companies they are in and make them
cooperative businesses, and thinking in different strategies. So, you this
thing going on where we have unions saying, we have to keep the jobs and
keep things going. But the other part of this is have to new strategies --
STEINER: -- and unions have to start organizing again. I think
there is a momentum move with the unions, and this can be a turn in the
tide. I really do.
OTT: Well, you know, and if anything, that`s -- the whole moment
with the dockworkers and the industry is proof that if workers are not
disempowered and can sit at the table as equals they can work it out and
that what the whole post-World War II collective bargaining is about.
Instead of industrial strike, respect everybody`s interest, and allow
both partners to work it out at the table, and a long time ago the
dockworkers decided they were not going to subsidize the industry with
unemployment and low wages --
OTT: And they have made that fight my entire adult life.
HARRIS-PERRY: And this point, what happens is that we end up both as
taxpayers and obviously as workers end up subsidizing, right, these
corporations that are making enormous profits, right? Is part of it
though, Alicia, I keep wondering -- is part of the problem that so -- we
were just talking about having a talking head in the space that is from the
community, we are for the most part not unionized. Some of the writers are
WGA, that kind of thing.
Is there something about like the very fact that some of the folks
reporting on it are not themselves members of unions that keeps this from
being the driving story, except for a few people like my colleague Ed and
ALICIA MENENDEZ, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: Well, I think that there are
plenty of us who come from union households. My mom is a teacher, and that
influences the way I cover unions. I think that`s part of it. I think,
though, we do have to look at the unions in the narrative that they are
putting forward as well. And I think that`s something we saw coming out of
this year, which is done an excellent job of talking about what these
negotiations mean for each and every worker, perhaps not done the same job
of explaining this larger narrative of why unions are important, what they
contribute to the strong middle-class, what a strong middle-class
contributes to our larger economy.
And I think if the focus can shift for what it means for workers for
what it means to the economy at large, I think that narrative has a place
in mainstream media, that the -- you know, the one-on-one negotiations
perhaps do not.
HARRIS-PERRY: It was surprising to me, though, as I was listening to
the dockworkers conversation this week, there was this language coming out
that some of them make as much as $100,000 a year. I mean, I`m thinking
that everything that you have comes through their labor, but this very idea
that workers ought to be poor, ought to be underpaid, ought to actually not
have health insurance, and good quality jobs and somehow that ought to be
reserved only for the elite.
FARIA CHIDEYA, AUTHOR, "DON`T BELIEVE THE HYPE": Well, what you are
pointing out is a real, huge shift in American society which is that the
jobs that used to pay the best were not necessarily ones that required a
PhD, or even a college degree.
I remember for NPR, interviewing a family that doubly integrated
dockworkers in unions in Los Angeles. And the father racially integrated
the union and his daughter gender integrated the union. Neither of them
were highly educate, both of them made a very good living.
But, what I would say as a twist is that when we look at labor, we
also have to look at how inclusive the labor unions are, how much they
advocate for people across race and gender, and we also have to look at the
strategy of labor unions in terms of is it about broadening the numbers of
people who are participating in unions or it is about protecting the
interest of the people who already have union membership?
That is a critical case where --
CHIDEYA: --- when you talk about expanding the role of unions, you
also have to also talk about expanding the ranks of unions. But that`s
sometimes cuts against the grain of collective bargaining base for existing
CHIDEYA: So, without overcomplicating things, I think we also have
to be aware that the overall percentage of American workers who have been
unionized has been shrinking in part in result of kind of the
destabilization of the skilled labor market that doesn`t involved high
HARRIS-PERRY: I appreciate this language of the role of unions and
the ranks of unions. I think that`s a useful way of thinking about going
both broad and deep. And Lord knows the best paying jobs have nothing to
do with having a PhD.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, please stay right there, because we
want to stay on this question of labor unions. I want to -- we`re going to
talk about this new kind of labor. We`re going to talk about Wal-Mart when
we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the highlights of the labor movement this year
were the brave Wal-Mart workers who decided to stand up and protest for the
living wages, health care and economic security.
Well, this one action is seen as a great start -- excuse me. Will it
be singular event or is it a sign of things to come to change for workers
at Wal-Mart? I`m going to drink water here.
I`m joined once again by my panel, but I also want to bring in from
San Francisco, Andrea Dehlendorf. She`s the assistant director of Making
Change at Wal-Mart.
Nice to see you this morning, Andrea.
ANDREA DEHLENDORF, MAKING CHANGE AT WALMART: Hi, nice to be here.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me a little bit. What gains did Wal-Mart
workers actually make with this sort of strike this year?
DEHLENDORF: Well, the most important gain that Wal-Mart workers made
is that they proved that it is possible to stand up and speak out against
the country`s largest employer. And workers have faced low wages, they
have faced lack of hours that Wal-Mart has been in existence. But this is
really the first time that Wal-Mart workers themselves have stood up.
And Wal-Mart threatened that they would lose their jobs, but they all
walked back into work with their heads high to thanks and embraces from
their coworkers. So they really proved that it is possible to stand up and
speak out around the low-paying and poor working conditions that they
HARRIS-PERRY: Andrea, it feels like Wal-Mart is kind of a perfect
storm narrative about the current labor working conditions in the U.S.,
right? You have on the one hand, low-wage workers, right, with sometimes
very difficult working conditions. You have consumers who want the low
prices that are promised in part by the low wage workers. And then you
have a full global supply chain which because of our desire for those low
wages creates not only bad working conditions here, but dangerous and low
wages all around the world.
Is Wal-Mart ground zero for the sort of 21st century labor movement?
DEHLENDORF: Well, that`s certainly what we believe and why the
workers are so passionately committed to making change at Wal-Mart. If we
can change Wal-Mart, we can change not only the American economy, but we
can change really working conditions for workers across the global supply
chain, and that`s really what this fight is about.
It`s about the workers, themselves, as one of your panelists
mentioned earlier, it`s about people like Greg and Charlene Fletcher (ph)
who are a married couple with two children, who make $26,000 a year
combined. It`s about workers in factories in Bangladesh and warehouses in
the inland empire. But it`s really about the whole economy.
And there is a public policy center, Demos, that just put out a
report that talked about if you raised wages at Wal-Mart and other
retailers up to $25,000 a year, it would have an I incredible impact on the
economy. It would lift 1.5 million American workers out of poverty. And
it would generate economic growth and over 100,000 jobs. If Wal-Mart
really made changes in their supply chain and their distribution chain, it
lift many, many more.
So, it really is -- if we can change Wal-Mart, we can change the
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ed, it feels to me that this sort of Wal-Mart
organizing and the sort of nature of the strike is so different than what
we think of as the 1930s and the 1940s shop floor version of what initially
generated an American labor movement. How does the old mesh with the new?
OTT: Well, to quote Casey Stengel, it`s the same but different. You
know, people always talk about that moment in 1930s, but that moment was
preceded by decades of grassroots organizing, not dissimilar to what the
new generation of immigrants have been waging for the last 25 years in this
country. An organized labor movement, you made this point before, which I
thought is very, very important, a lot of the established unions, in their
effort to protect their dues-paying members and the members that they`ve
already have, have missed the opportunity to build real, meaningful,
productive relationships with the low-wage workers and immigrants.
This year and the previous years, nothing happened spontaneously.
Through a process of interaction and struggle, we are now seeing where
these two great movements, this new labor movement deeply-rooted in the
communities and the city, and an older labor movement which understands how
the rules of this economy are really played are fusing their interests, and
beginning to lay the basis for a new standard for the American worker.
HARRIS-PERRY: Andrea, just before we go, I want you to tell us what
we can be expecting from the Wal-Mart workers in 2013 as you point out that
Demos study gives us some empirical evidence about the importance of the
whole economy, and is there something of an action plan that we should be
looking forward to in going into the New Year?
DEHLENDORF: Well, Melissa, this Black Friday was really just the
beginning of something, and as I`ve said, when strikers went back to work,
they were embraced by their co-workers. More and more workers want to join
us. There were 30,000 supporters who stood with the workers at 1,000
stores around the country. All of those folks are reaching out to us, they
want to stay involved.
So, we can expect this to grow and to build. And we are going to
continue to stand up to Wal-Mart`s threats and we`re going to continue to
fight until we change Wal-Mart. Because it really is the most important
thing that we can do to change the U.S. economy today is to continue to
fight back against Wal-Mart.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Andrea Dehlendorf in San Francisco, also
to Marc Steiner here at the table.
We`re going to stay on the issue of labor. The labor movement is
about to morph into a whole new thing and we`re going to tell you a bit
more about that when we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: While the labor movement is still dealing with the ups
and downs of 2012, it`s time to start looking ahead to what can be
accomplished in 2013. Could smaller, community-based initiatives be the
key to success for the larger labor movement?
Joining my discussion is Jonathan Westin, executive director for New
York Communities for Change, and director of Fast Food Forward.
So, Jonathan, there was a kind of local strike here in New York, a
fast food workers. Talk to me about what the strategy was around that.
JONATHAN WESTIN, NEW YORK COMMUNITIES FOR CHANGE: So probably a
month ago now, hundreds of workers all across New York City went out on
strike, and from McDonald`s to Burger King to Wendy`s, to Yum Brands --
kind of a multi-corporation strike that workers went out on, really based
over the fact that workers are continually paid poverty wages that keep
them in poverty while they are still working.
HARRIS-PERRY: Full time.
WESTIN: People wish they could get the full-time hours, but they get
the part-time hours. They get the $7.25 minimum wage pay. They can`t
afford the rent. They can barely afford food. Sometimes can`t afford to
even take the train to work, so they walk miles to work.
You know, it`s winter now. It`s cold out now, and this is what
people are going through everyday in these low-wage jobs within the fast
food industry, and also within Wal-Mart and within all of these other
industries in the economy that we are becoming.
HARRIS-PERRY: So if I`m a labor cynic, I say, OK, you know, some
people went out on a strike about a month ago in New York, around fast
food. But looks to me that fast food is about the same it was.
Is this a new -- like when I see -- this idea of like strikes like
this as a kind of a guerrilla warfare instead of what we think of as, for
example, the Chicago teachers strike, which seemed much more old fashion,
shut down the whole city, nobody can go to school. It becomes the form of
So, how do you take a small sort of guerrilla warfare strike like
this, and turn it into real changes in fast food?
WESTIN: Well, I think, you know, like the woman from Wal-Mart who is
talking before. I mean, what this -- this is really a new tactic within
the labor union. Not necessarily the strike tactic, but the tactic to have
workers step up, go out, you know, go on strike, confront management in a
real way, and you know, be in their face about it, and then go back to
You know, it`s -- you know, the rules are so stacked against workers
organizing, and that`s one of the reasons that the labor union has been
kind of stuck in this bind, is because workers are retaliated against over
and over and over. We saw the Target Store in Long Island that was
organized, and they were ready to vote for the union and then all of the
intimidation tactics taking the workers in the back room saying, you need
to do this, you need to do that, and they can do it.
And (INAUDIBLE) within the law, but when the labor union does it,
they want to crack down on the labor unions.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Ed, this feels to me like this notion of sort of
ability to divide workers, to make sure that the unions aren`t strong, kind
of sort of what`s behind right-to-work, right, is to make it easier to
intimidate workers against organizing on their own behalf.
OTT: Yes. I mean, right-to-work has -- first of all, it has nothing
to do with your right to work.
OTT: It has everything to do with removing your ability to protect
yourself on the job. Right to work laws are a set of laws that are
designed to restrict the ability of a union to maintain a constant
membership. So, you are forced into a situation where you are constantly
expending resources to reorganize what you already have.
And the plan is to allow the employers to maintain the upper hand
while the workers nominally have organization. It`s a very smart, very
HARRIS-PERRY: Very well-branded.
OTT: And the answer to it is, workers have to stand up to it. And I
think you`re going to see that played out over this year, and next year in
Michigan, where you have a highly organized industrial force and a highly
organized white collar force, they`re going to have to figure this out,
they`re going to make this fight, and I think we`re going to see a very
interesting year ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: And it feels really -- part of what`s happening here
is the transition away so when you talk about sort of fast food low wage
workers, and we think about Wal-Mart workers, when we think about domestic
workers who we got data on for the first time this year in terms of their
working conditions, that`s different than the like of longshoremen and the
auto workers and the guy on the shop floor. It`s more likely to be women,
more likely to be people of color, more likely to be immigrants sometimes
with marginal status.
How do we take this model that was at one point for like the working
man and transfer it to, you know, the Spanish-speaking working woman who
may have undocumented status?
MENENDEZ: I think you go back to nuts and bolts of peer to peer
organizing. I mean, Florida, a right to work, SEIU is having huge growth
in Florida. People can`t believe to the extent that SEIU is growing.
Why is that? Because they`re actually going into hospitals and to
hotels, where you have these workers working and doing the one-on-one, peer
to peer organizing and building. And so, it just goes back to that. If
you are a trusted messenger, if you had another Latina immigrant who comes
to you in Spanish explains to you the values of being a part of this union
and what it`s going to mean for you and your family -- boom, you are in.
I mean, that is all it`s about. It`s actually about going to back to
what we used to do, and just applying it to a new demographic.
HARRIS-PERRY: Farai, it also feels to me, though, that this larger
argument that Alicia has also been making earlier about making the claim so
that Americans overall understand why it would be a value to us to pay fast
food workers more.
I mean, I think when you say fast food workers, people still think,
oh, that`s some 17-year-old with their summer job. And so, it doesn`t
really matter what they are being paid. They`re just supplementing their
household income, how do we start changing the narrative or unions start
changing the narrative so that we understand what unions do for all
CHIDEYA: Well, I think one of the starting points is to really
understand, you know, as we have been talking about the demographics of the
different people who end up in unions, what they are paid, but also the
hidden costs that are accrued to the American people when you have families
on food stamps, when you have families who can`t afford to pay for their
own basics. So, instead of the company, actually, you know, standing up
and saying that we are going to pay you a living wage, the American people
pay a backend wage or backend wage supplement.
So, once we understand that we`re in this one way or the other, and
that either it`s going to be a living wage paid by a company, or it`s going
to be our tax dollars supplementing a wage that you can`t live on, then we
understand more that it`s not a when if they get paid less, lose if they
get paid more situation.
CHIDEYA: That we have a stake in people having a living wage.
HARRIS-PERRY: Jonathan, I`ll give you the last one on this. If
there is a single message other than just do this because it`s a right
thing, if there is a political or strategic message that unions need going
into 2013, what is that strategic narrative?
WESTIN: So, I think what it is, is fast food jobs, Wal-Mart jobs,
service sector jobs in this country, these jobs are not going to be
outsourced. These are jobs that have to remain in this country, and this
is the economy that we will be and we are becoming.
The 1 percent corporations are understanding that, and they are
cracking down on the workers who are passing the crazy laws like they did
in Michigan, like they did in Wisconsin and all over the place, and they
see where we`re going.
And I think for the labor movement, and what we believe, you know, I
run a community organization.
WESTIN: We`re not a labor union.
WESTIN: And the difference is we have to meet what they`re doing
with all of the forces we can -- you know, not just labor unions, community
organizations, clergy, elected officials, everybody standing against it --
up against these folks, because they know where we`re going as a country,
as an economy, and we do, too. And we have to continue to organize and
mobilize against where they want to take, which is to continue the bring
down wages, to drain and pull money out of people`s pockets that are
working every single day, and we have to all stand up together and fight
back against it.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s an awfully good point. These are the jobs that
can`t be outsourced, so we`ve got to figure out how to make them livable
Thank you to my panel, Farai, Jonathan, Alicia, and Ed.
And up next, I have been waiting all year for this -- our foot
soldiers are here. I can`t wait to meet them in person.
HARRIS-PERRY: Since this show began in February, we have closed out
nearly every Saturday program with a segment called "Foot Soldiers". It`s
our weekly feature highlighting one person or group that has taken action
to create positive change in their communities. These are large or small.
Now, our foot soldiers have varied from the three New Jersey girls
who petitioned for a woman presidential moderator, to the cartoon character
Doc McStuffins who is joining me on set today. And Doc McStuffins, of
course, shows young women, particularly girls with color, that they, too,
can be doctors.
To the father and son team who got out of their boat, got out their
boat and save people in New Orleans during hurricane Isaac, simply because
they had a vote, and their community was in peril.
In their own way, through their own activism, all of our foot
soldiers are changing our lives. And today, for the first time ever, I
have a table full of them.
With me now is Sharon Content, the founder and president of Children
of Promise, which works with children whose parents are incarcerated.
Carl Siciliano, the director of the Ali Forney Center, which offers
support to homeless LGBT youth.
Grace Brown, the founder of Project Unbreakable, an organization that
works with survivors of sexual assault.
And, Liz Gaynes, the executive director of the Osborne Association,
which offers new opportunities to those who`ve been in the criminal justice
It is so nice to have all of you here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pleasure.
CARL SICILIANO, EXEC. DIR., ALI FORNEY CENTER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: We wanted to kind of end the year by thinking about
the sort of work that all of you are doing in communities.
Sharon, you are in part dealing with a big institutional problem.
How is it that when you are dealing with a big institutional question that
sort of one person or one organization can start to make a difference?
SHARON CONTENT, FOUNDER & PRES., CHILDREN OF PROMISE: Well, first,
we initially have look at the issue and how we can impact that issue in our
community. We have to start small. We do service 200 young people per
year, all of which have a parent in prison at the time of enrolment.
So, we start small in the Bedford Stuyvesant community in Brooklyn,
New York. And then, now, we actually embarking on our second location in
Harlem. So, we start small, we know it`s a large issue, and we just try to
take it step by step, family by family, child by child.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Elizabeth, you are dealing in many ways with the
same intractable system, our prison system, and you are in a space of where
you`re about to start doing some of this work -- growing (ph).
LIZ GAYNES, EXEC. DIR., THE OSBORNE ASSOCIATION: Well -- and we
actually did start a lot around the issue of how mass incarceration affects
families, and more families have been separated by incarceration than any
time since the end of slavery, and prison populations are starting to come
down, but kids are still affected.
So, we work with whole families. We work with about 8,000 kids and
family members and people coming out of prison a year. And I think that
you do need the small hands on and the large. There is a lot of interest
now in thinking about alternatives to jail and prisons and families are
HARRIS-PERRY: Grace, the kind of systemic problem that you are
facing around sexual assault is really very different than the prison
system. It`s not a set of rules and regulations that you are trying to
alter or policies per se, but rather to work with survivors in the context
of sexual assault.
When you are facing something that enormous, what led you to sort of
saying, OK, here is the gift that I have, and that I can use to make a
GRACE BROWN, FOUNDER, PROJECT UNBREAKABLE: It was something that I
stumbled upon. I wanted to create awareness of this issue. I wanted to
bring focus to the fact that this exists, and I knew that I loved
photography, that it was something that I need to do. It is just step by
step that we are getting there. And we are going to have a different
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about it. You actually -- in your work,
you do images of assault survivors holding the words that their, the
perpetrators said to them during the assault. Why is that a sort of
healing experience for survivors?
BROWN: It`s a way of letting go. These words can sit so deeply
inside of someone. And they are very rarely spoken to anyone else. They
stay inside of someone. And by putting them on a poster, and claiming it
and having the power, and taking the power back, it brings an entirely
different view to it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Carl, I want to come to you, because we were so moved
by what happened in the case of the Ali Forney Center. Obviously, you were
already doing great work, but you came to the context of hurricane Sandy,
which massively damaged what you were doing.
How does it feel when you are obviously facing a circumstance like
homelessness and the ways in which it impacts the LGBT youth, and then
suddenly, also have this problem of a hurricane that shows up to make
SICILIANO: It was unbelievably challenging time for us. Our drop-in
center that was destroyed by Sandy was half a block from the Hudson River,
and the kids that we serve there are the kids who don`t have anywhere to
stay. We have a number of housing sites, but in New York City, there are
only 250 youth shelter beds provided for 3,800 homeless kids.
So, these are kids who are in such desperate situations already
sleeping on the trains, sleeping in abandoned buildings, and to have their
kind of lifeline destroyed was really challenging. I was in a panic. I
was in a total panic. I did not know how we were going to take care of the
kids. I didn`t know how we were going to get to our next space.
We had actually already obtained a new space, but we were months away
from being able to move into there. But the miracle to me of this whole
thing was that within four weeks, we raised $400,000 from supporters and
donors and concerned people.
So, you know, it was almost like we had two hurricanes. The first
was a hurricane of water that destroyed our space. But the second was like
a hurricane of kindness and care and support that washed over us with love.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, it is an interesting point, Carl. In part,
as a New Orleanian, we understand and the ways in which disaster can draw
attention to a space, sometimes bringing the resources to it.
But, I wonder, Elizabeth, if there`s a way in which we also then fail
to see those ongoing disasters, like, for example, the criminal justice
center. So, on one hand, you don`t want your space or the work you`re
doing to be destroyed by this external thing.
But how do you draw attention to, hey, whoo, over her here, we`re
going to need some resources to help make this ongoing problem, and to
GAYNES: Well, particularly when the folks that we serve are not on
anybody`s popularity list.
GAYNES: And, you know, you pointed out how many -- with gun violence
and mental health, prisoners are now the largest providers of mental health
services anywhere. The men that we have coming out of prison feel very
strongly that they are raising money for gun buybacks, because they feel
like they are coming home to communities that they planted the landmines,
they want to go find them and pick them out, and instead of us seeing them
as assets to the community who could actually pitch in on issues like gun
violence, we isolate them and stigmatize them and say they are bad.
So the challenge of, you know, I`d rather be raising money and
resources for puppies and children, but I got what I got.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I like puppies and children a lot. But yes, I
think it`s a similar issue, Sharon, that even you have in your work.
When we come back, we`ll talk more about some of the frustrations
that come with foot soldiering, and I`m going to bring in one more foot
soldier who is changing the lives of children a world away.
HARRIS-PERRY: We are back with our panel of foot soldiers who we
featured throughout the year.
And, right now, I want to bring in one more person who you may have
heard about for the first time right here on MHP.
Katie Meyler is founder of More Than Me, an organization that works
to increase educational opportunities for young girls in Liberia. And
since we last told you about Katie, her organization won a $1 million grant
through the Chase American Giving Awards. The New Jersey native is
something of a global traveler given her work.
And today, Katie Meyler joins us as our -- and our foot soldier panel
via Skype from Mexico City.
Hey, Katie. How are you this morning?
KATIE MEYLER, MORE THAN ME: Fabulous. Thank you so much. I love
your show, and the listeners who are so supportive, when they -- you know,
when we were on the show, we got more hits to our site than ever, and were
so supportive to the past contest that we were just in, when we won $1
HARRIS-PERRY: That is incredible news. So, what is next for your
group because of the resources? I know that`s one of the toughest things
to get on board.
MEYLER: Of course. We are building an all-girls academy for girls
who are extremely at risk of being sexually exploited. And we are teaching
girls entrepreneurship skills like baking, sewing, and hair braiding in
order to make the (INAUDIBLE) sustainable, we`ll be able to use these
trades to pay their own way through school. So, it`s really exciting.
HARRIS-PERRY: Katie, I want to pull out to the panel a little bit.
Grace, part of what you have been doing in your Project Unbreakable
is you also started to go global. You`re going around the world now. Tell
me a little bit about that.
BROWN: Right. I just got back from London and Paris. I
photographed in London and Paris early December, and it was so fascinating
to be able to bring my work out there and meet all the different people.
And it just shows that this issue happens everywhere. It doesn`t
matter, you know, where you live, who you are, what you do, it happens to
HARRIS-PERRY: Sharon, I feel like I look at young people like Katie
or Grace, and I see all of this energy and the enthusiasm, this incredible
capacity to do the work they are doing even internationally. But I think
all of us who have been inn the work at all know that it can be exhausting
over time, and one of the toughest things that the foot soldiers have to do
is to figure out a way to also take care of themselves.
So for all of the folks who are out there listening and thinking
about starting their own efforts, how do they also make sure that they care
for themselves in the context of caring for community?
CONTENT: Well, the balance is always a challenge. Being a mom and
wife, it`s very challenging to be able to have your family as well as the
responsibilities and the passion that you have towards your organization.
But definitely, you have the support system around you. You have those
individuals that are able to definitely let you know when there are times
that you have to dedicate to different areas and be able to spend some time
to make sure you dedicate to yourself.
So, it`s definitely always a challenge, but that passion that you
have for the organization and the young people you serve is always in
contention with your family responsibilities as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Carl, Sharon is talking about the passion --
passion is certainly part of it. But another piece of it is anger.
From the work that certainly that you do, that everyone does -- I
mean, you are just angry with the circumstances, the idea for example that
New York City allows so many young people to in fact be homeless. How we -
- if you are angry about something in the political world right now, how do
people harness that for action?
SICILIANO: That`s a really interesting question. I feel like I have
two, big emotional responses to what the kids go through. My first
inclination is depression.
You know, to see kids out on the streets with nowhere to sleep, you
know, riding subway trains and abandoned buildings, and I have been work on
a project where I have been photographing the young people in the spaces
where they sleep at night. You know, without shelter. And, you know, I
just cry when I am going home at night.
But, you know, I don`t find that being depressed is helpful. So I
try to turn that into anger. You know, like I`m going to be real, I`m very
angry with Mayor Bloomberg for allowing thousands of kids to be left out on
the street at night. You know, I was very angry for Ali Forney, who we
named our program after, was murdered in Harlem, you know, when he had
nowhere to sleep. That makes me very angry.
And I try to take that anger and that passion that I feel about it,
and: (a), communicate that to the broader world, because I want other
people to be angry that gay kids are thrown out of their homes and left on
the streets without shelter, and (b), I try to engage other advocates and
service organizations into a campaign to pressure the city to commit to
sheltering all the homeless kids that are out there.
So we actually founded something last year called the campaign for
youth shelter, and we are calling on Mayor Bloomberg to commit to a plan to
provide a bed for every homeless kid. I mean, how can it be that in a city
of New York, with all the money, all the resources, all the skill, we can`t
figure out a way to give homeless kids shelter beds?
HARRIS-PERRY: I love that, that the anger becomes action, and the
action becomes policy.
Katie Meyler in Mexico City, thank you so much for joining us via
And there`s going to be more in just a moment. But, first, it is
time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT", but that is not Alex Witt.
T.J. HOLMES, MSNBC ANCHOR: No.
HARRIS-PERRY: That is -- T.J., you`re in the MSNBC building?
HOLMES: Yes. Don`t get too confuse. Don`t adjust your television
sets. Alex is off this weekend. It`s so good to be here with you,
Melissa, good to see you as always.
Let me get through this preview before they kick me off of MSNBC as
soon as I get here.
HOLMES: We`re talking about this last minute fiscal cliff deal. Are
we going to get this thing done? We`ve got three top lawmakers we`ll be
talking to. Now, they`re not all in Washington just yet. Not all
lawmakers. We`ll explain that.
Also, you have been hearing about this movie "Django Unchained", this
new flick, this new Tarantino film -- well, it sparked a little
controversy, but also a feud between two top directors. We will explain
Also, you still get some Alex Witt this weekend, even though she`s
not here. She talked to Lester Holt about what he got dragged into doing
on his Thanksgiving vacation.
And also a lot of people ringing in the New Year, getting ready for
it, well, we`re going to have some issues, folks. A lot of snow is coming
your way. It`s going to cause issues with you folks trying to get back
home after the holidays. So, get ready for it.
We`ll have all that. So, yes, Melissa, good to see you this weekend.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thanks, T.J.
HOLMES: All right.
HARRIS-PERRY: As T.J. might say -- don`t sleep on our next legendary
foot soldier who still inspires us all.
HARRIS-PERRY: Some good news this week for a man we consider one of
the world`s ultimate foot soldiers.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela was released from the
hospital Wednesday. The 94-year-old Nobel Peace prize winner remains an
international icon. And now, a whole new generation of foot soldiers is
being introduced to Mandela`s legacy, through an exhibit at the
International Center of Photography in New York. It`s called "Rise and
Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life."
Take a look.
MARK ROBBINS, DIR., INTL. CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY: I`m Mark Robbins,
the director of the International Center of Photography in New York.
Apartheid existed for all of my life and was something that existed
as a fact. And I think part of what`s so interesting in the exhibition is
we look at the way in which apartheid was so completely normalized in the
day-to-day life in South Africa.
I was just watching the footage of Nelson Mandela being freed in
1990. It`s a very moving piece of footage. So, Mandela is a symbol of
that freedom for the entire country.
History often seems like it happened to somebody else a long time ago
and no longer has any relevance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seeing the pictures you`re like, wow, you realize
that it actually was happening and may actually have been worse. A lot of
the things that are happening in these images are actually still happening
today, even though some people don`t know, like what`s happening in Syria
and Egypt and even in Darfur.
ROBBINS: Even when we see images of the American South with the two
different water fountains, the colored water fountain and the whites only
water fountain. And we think about that as some odd historical curiosity
that only went out of existence 50 or 60 years ago. Apartheid is a much
more recent story.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My photo class came here really to broaden our
perspective on photography and politics and just humanity in general,
because that will influence how we see the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you`re seeing the terrified faces of all
these people that are going through the protests, and all the people being
carried off bloody after being shot by police in peaceful protests, it just
shows the world that ignorance really does have its own effect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By looking at the images you can kind of see the
raw emotions, the expresses of the people, and you could feel what they`re
feeling and feel their pain, see their anxiety.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Growing up with a white parent and a black
parent, it`s kind of different for me to see that it`s so hard for these
two races to get along when I`ve seen myself that it`s possible.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know the basic gist of what went on and that
there was segregation and that there was some terrible things that went on
in South Africa and that still continue to go on. But, you know, I didn`t
know the extent to it, the violence behind it.
ROBBINS: For us to understand the cyclical nature of history, to
understand that history is always something in flux, and also history is
something that we have a hand in, individuals banded together to change the
society in which they lived. That`s a very powerful notion for us today to
think that in fact, we do have power as individuals and we have power as a
collective to actually effect change.
HARRIS-PERRY: The exhibit closes on January 6th. President Mandela
is now at home in Johannesburg so that he can be close to his doctors. We
join people around the world in wishing the beloved leader a full recovery.
That is our show for today. Thank you to our foot soldiers, Sharon,
Carl, Grace and Elizabeth.
Thanks to you at home for watching. I hope that our foot soldiers
have inspired now. Now is the time. Go to the MHP Facebook page and give
us the name of somebody in your community who`s a foot soldier, who we
should know more about.
And join us tomorrow. We`re going to have a panel of comics breaking
it down -- the year in political absurdity.
Coming up "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" with T.J. Holmes.
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