March 30, 2013
Guests: Michael Skolnik, Dave Zirin, Rinku Sen, Dorian Warren, Delman Coates, Shola Lynch, Cora Currier, Saru Jarayaman, Sara Horowitz, Annette Bernhardt, Nona Willis Aronowitz
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question. Why are so
many people working so hard and still barely making it. Plus, the dozens
of men starving to death on purpose. And what you don`t know about
political icon Angela Davis. But first, are you a good ally?
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. 48 years ago this month Americans
watched as video of the day that would become known as Bloody Sunday was
broadcast live to television screens across the country. On March 7th 1965
600 people attempted a protest march from Selma, Alabama, to the state
capitol building in Montgomery to advocate for voting rights. As the
cameras rolled these peaceful protesters, just six blocks into their march
were stopped at Selma`s Edmund Pettus Bridge and violently attacked by
Alabama state troopers. The televised images of American citizens tear-
gassed and beaten with clubs by agents of their own government sparked
outrage as viewers across the country watched in horror. And among those
was a woman who did more than just watch. She acted. After Bloody Sunday
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr sent out the call for allies to come to Selma and
stand with him in another march.
And joining the people who answered that call was a married mother of five
from Michigan, named Viola Gregg Liuzzo. This 39-year-old teamster`s wife
divided her time between raising her children, attended classes at a local
university and being an activist. She worked to bring attention to
education and economic justice issues and was a member of the Detroit
chapter of the NAACP. So, Viola could have continued lending her support
to the cause from the relative safety of the north. But only days before
she arrived in Selma, Rev. James Reeb, a Boston minister was beaten to
death by a group of men armed with clubs, but still, Viola came, joining
thousands of others who made the four-day walk escorted by the National
Guard from Selma to Montgomery. During the march Viola volunteered as a
driver for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, shuttling marchers
back and forth between the two cities. One night she was driving
accompanied by a young black SCLC (ph) activist when she was spotted by a
group of KKK members. They pulled up next to her and shot her in the head,
killing her instantly. This Monday was the 48th anniversary of Viola`s
death. And the day after she was killed, President Lyndon B. Johnson
announced the arrest of her murderers and spoke to the nation about her
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Mrs. Liuzzo went to Alabama to serve the struggles for
justice. She was murdered by the enemies of justice who for decades have
used the rope and the gun and the tar and the feathers to terrorize their
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Allies like Viola Liuzzo have always been essential as an
element to the survival and success of any movement. People who could
otherwise remain wrapped in the security of their privilege, but instead
choose to align themselves with those who have no such safe haven. And a
coalition that includes those who are not the primary focus of a cause`s
agenda can straighten a movement by pushing it from the margin to the
mainstream. Even when those allies are imperfect. Marriage equality
advocates can be forgiven for not rolling out the rainbow carpet for
Republican Senator Rob Portman when he recently announced his shift from
adversary to ally. He`d already known for two years about the sexual
orientation of the son who inspired his evolution. And though it remains
risky for Republican to endorse marriage equality, the political liability
is lower now than it has ever been before. Which makes Democrats jumping
on to the bandwagon especially late to the party.
As most visible of the recent Democratic converts, both Hillary and Bill
Clinton waited until the political winds of popular support were at their
backs. These fair weather allies certainly fall short of Dr. King`s
measure of a person. Not when you stand at moments of comfort and
convenience, but at times of challenge and controversy, but the shift in
the idea of marriage equality from radical extreme to ordinary acceptance
may have less to do with what brings an ally to the table than what they do
once they get there. So, a little primer on how to be a good ally.
First, don`t demand that those you are supporting produce proof of the
inequality they are working to resist. Do recognize that the shield of
your privilege may blind you to the experience of others injustice. Don`t
offer up your relationship with a member of the marginalized group as
evidence of your understanding. Do be open to learning and expanding your
consciousness by listening more and talking less. And don`t see yourself
as the Kevin Costner in "Dances with the Wolves" or Tom Cruise in "The Last
Samurai." You are not the savior riding to the rescue on a white horse.
Do notice that you`re joining a group of people who are already working to
save themselves. And do realize that the only requirement you need to
enter allyship is a commitment to justice and human equality. And do
remember the example of Viola who`s most enduring contribution to the civil
rights movement was not that she gave her life, but the way that she lived
Before leaving Detroit for Selma, a friend reportedly warned her against
the danger she might encounter. In response she said simply "I want to be
a part of it." At the table this morning, Dorian Warren, professor of
political science and international and public affairs at Columbia
University and a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute. Rinku Sen is the
president and executive director of the Applied Research Center and
publisher of Colorlines.com. Michael Skolnik is the political director to
hip hop pioneer Russell Simmons and the co-president of Globalgrind.com.
And Dave Zirin, a sports editor for "The Nation." All right, this is the
work that you do, Rinku, what is your rule for being a good ally?
RINKU SEN, APPLIED RESEARCH CENTER: My first and number one rule, really,
is to remember the last thing that you said that the job of a good ally is
not to save anybody, but rather to help create the conditions, under which
people can assert and grow their own power. And so, that means making room
for the voices of people. It means encouraging those voices to say what
they need to say. And it means defending those people when they decide to
assert that power and draw down all of the backlash that any assertion of
power by an oppressed group of people draws down. So, there is one
exception to that rule ...
SEN: ... which is that if you are encountering someone who is in grave
physical danger or is in - you know, under the kind of attack that really
needs to be interrupted right in that moment ...
HARRIS-PERRY: You might in fact need to save.
SEN: You might think about that as saving moment.
SEN: But otherwise, generally, what you`re doing is making space, really.
SEN: And providing defense. It`s about being the flank rather than
getting in front and preventing bad things from happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: This point about making space. After saying - I`ve written
about this, when President Obama at the inauguration uses the language of
talking about gay brothers and sisters, this is to me a kind of making
space moment. Let`s take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Our journey is
not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone
else under the law.
OBAMA: For if we are truly created equal then surely the love we commit to
one another must be equal as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Michael, you have this amazing moment when the president
has been making space. But then there`s always fascinating cultural
moments that have followed, and you and I were just talking about your dear
friend who is someone I am so impressed with on this allyship. Brendon
Ayanbadejo from the Baltimore Ravens.
MICHAEL SKOLNIK, CLOBALGRIND.COM: Yeah, I think, you know, Brendon and I
go back to our UCLA days when we just, you know, young kids and I watched
his growth as an tremendous ally to the LGBT community. But I think what
the president was talking about and what Brendon sort of exemplifies, this
idea that the rights that you take for granted are not valid unless you
fight for the same rights for others. And so when I stood up for Trayvon a
year ago, and just keep fighting for Trayvon where if I can walk down the
street and put my hand out, the taxi cab will not pass me by.
SKOLNIK: Right I`ll walk into a restaurant, no one is asking me to pay
before I eat.. If I can walk through my neighborhood with a hoodie on, the
pair of sneakers and no one is going to call the police that I look
suspicious, then I have to fight for those young black and brown young men
to be able to have the same rights that I have.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So that role of ally is in part about a recognition
that you do exist in the world of privilege.
SKOLNIK: Absolutely. I mean I think for especially as the white male
American, my grandma used to take me to the racing track when I was a kid.
She said, that, you know, (INAUDIBLE) show, the perfect trifecta. I`ve got
the lotto - I hit the lotto ...
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Right. The straight white guy.
SKOLNIK: I`m the straight white guy in America. And so (INAUDIBLE) that I
got privilege. I`ve got to do something with it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. Dave, you know, this question of again,
Brendon and others within the league, it looks like to me that part of
where we`re going to have to go, particularly on the question of queer
Americans, our gay brothers and sisters, our trans brothers and sisters, is
when folks who sort of represent the most normative, you know, straight
white men or, you know, very masculine black men that we see in sports, for
example, when they`re the ones who are acting as allies and we have seen
this before, right?
DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, THE NATION: Oh, absolutely. And that`s what
makes it so important when athletes, for example, do submit a brief to the
Supreme Court saying we stand for LGBT marriage equality. That`s why it
was so important with the role that Brendon played in the state of
Maryland. On a local initiative, on a local state-wide referendum. And
Chris Kluwe, he also went to UCLA. Conspiracy? I don`t know.
ZIRIN: But the puns are for the Minnesota Vikings. I mean Chris Kluwe was
crisscrossing the state, speaking out for marriage equality in advance of a
statewide referendum. It`s a huge difference when people - because let`s
face it. Sports is one of the ways, in which masculinity is socialized.
And so, when you have people who say well, wait a minute, my definition of
masculinity is not necessarily hetero-normative, then that`s something that
actually has I think a tremendous power, and it speaks to what I think is
very important when we talk about what it means to be a good ally. I think
part of it also has to be saying to people you`re not doing this out of
pity. And you`re not doing this out of charity. You have to see it as
also self interest.
ZIRIN: Because we are a better society if young black children in Chicago
can have a good education and go to good schools. We are a better society
if our LGBT brothers and sisters can live out and in peace. We are a better
society if our sisters, our daughters, our mothers can feel safe when they
go out at night. That is a better world that we should aspire to live in.
HARRIS-PERRY: I like this point of view. Dorian, it feels to me like, you
know, part of what will sometimes happen in the question of being a good
ally is when other movements are called on to be allies. So we`ve seen,
for example, some resistance in racial civil rights movement to align with
LGBT movements. And then we see the president making space, lots of folks
coming on board. But then I want to say, all right HRC. All right, GLAD.
Can you guys - you guys now have to make that a reciprocal ally
relationship. I`m going to need you standing for Trayvon Martin. I`m going
to need you standing for voting rights. How do we make those calls between
organizations that (INAUDIBLE) pose to be the allies?
DORIAN WARREN, ROOSEVELT INSTITUTE: It`s a simple principle. It`s an old
union principle of solidarity.
WARREN: An injury to one is an injury to all. And if we can imagine
ourselves in any situation thinking of that one rule, what can I do in this
situation to be in solidarity with someone who is being injured? Whether
through systemic oppression or whether it`s through an individual human
action, what is my responsibility as a human being to ensure that another
human being`s dignity is not put down upon. And so I just think solidarity
should be a fundamental principle between movements as well as between
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, a good union principle. I love that. We love having
you here, Dorian. Stay right there. Because when we come back, there is
somebody working on exactly that good old union principle. The pastor who
made marriage equality his mission when we`re back.
HARRIS-PERRY: When Maryland voters legalized same-sex marriage in the
state on election day, they did so with the support of what had once been
an unlikely ally. Marriage equality has not always been part of the
gospel, (INAUDIBLE) traditionally preached from the pulpit at black
churches, but the leader of one church in the state became a leader among
allies when he made marriage equality a part of his message. He joins us
today. With me from Washington,. D.C. is Reverend Delman Coates, senior
pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland. It`s so nice to
have you, pastor.
PASTOR DELMAN COATES, MT ENNON BAPTIST CHURCH: Thanks for having me on.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, talk to me first. Why was this important to you?
COATES: Well, I decided to go public in my support for marriage equality
after meeting with the same gender couple in our congregation who informed
me of the hardships that they face providing medical coverage and health
care coverage for all of the members of their family. And I felt that it
was a huge injustice that I receive benefits. I had benefits under the
laws of our state that they did not have. And so, it was important for me
to shift the narrative that is so often told about where the black church
and where black pastor stand on providing equal treatment under the law for
gay and lesbian Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask you this. It`s the Easter season. It`s the
HARRIS-PERRY: ... of the Christian Church. And I think there are sort of
two different ways to build this particular ally argument. One is about
public policy, about rights under the law. The other one is the more
theologically based argument about ...
HARRIS-PERRY: ... sort of the love of god in particular. Where - where do
you think is - and so there are different points to come in as an ally.
Where do you think and what do you think is most effective?
COATES: Well, for me the intersection is that the core values that inform
my faith are that we are to do unto others as we want it done unto us. And
so, for me that`s my point of departure. And so for me, the values that
ought to inform this conversation, are the values that we share in common
as Americans. Values of freedom, liberty and justice. And I believe that
what makes our country great is that we can provide religious institutions
the right to define marriage in accordance with their beliefs and
practices, and yet protect all citizens of our country equally under the
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, how hard is it given that there are many of the
Maryland pastors and pastors around the country who are vocal opponents of
HARRIS-PERRY: How difficult is it to bring you to stand in a position
where you are speaking out against other members of your community? Where
in fact you might have solidarity with them on different issues?
COATES: For me, it`s not difficult at all. I pastor in the black church
tradition. And the black church from my understanding has always been on
the side of freedom, justice and equality. And so, for me it hasn`t been
difficult at all. And also, I think it`s important for us to understand
that the texts, the biblical texts that are often used to condemn
homosexuals and gays and lesbians, in my understanding are not condemnation
of homosexuality, they are condemnations of sexual violence, rape and
exploitation. Which is decidedly different from two consenting adults
being involved in a consenting relationship.
HARRIS-PERRY: Pastor Coates, you can preach my Easter sermon any time.
COATES: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you for joining us.
COATES: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And up next, the woman taking on sex schism in the tech
world. Where are her allies?
HARRIS-PERRY: Sexism in the technology received a very public outing
recently, following the events that unfolded at a tech conference. Adria
Richards, a developer and self-described technology evangelist overheard a
conversation between men who were sitting behind her during a session at
PyCon, a major conference for developers. And the men were making comments
about dongles and forking, which for those in (INAUDIBLE) who aren`t
technards (ph) are common technology terms. Only what Adrian says she
heard wasn`t tech talk. She says the men were using these terms to make
sexually charged jokes and Adria reported the men and their comments with
this tweeted photo and a summery of what she`d heard them say. Conference
organizers responded immediately, and escorted the men out of the session.
Good ally job.
But afterwards Adria blogged about what happened. But that was just the
beginning. Richards`s response to the situation made her the target of
social media trolls whose attacks were only intensified when one of the men
who made the comments was fired by his company. She had since been
subjected to death threats, rape threats, racist slurs and having her
personal information publicly exposed online, and Richards employer,
believing she acted inappropriately in how she chose to report what
happened, let her go from her job. So help me, Rinku, because, you know I
just -- this story has just been making me so sad and angry and tired.
SEN: Well, I think there are a couple of really important lessons out of
it. The first one is that if you think of yourself as a good person, you
could just take the words "It was just a joke" out of your lexicon. Just
take them - take that entire phrase out of your vocabulary. Because if you
ever find yourself saying it, it`s probably in the context where somebody
didn`t find it funny ...
SEN: And there`s a reason that that person didn`t find it funny. And
that reason needs to be examined. So to dismiss the effect of the humor -
or of what was said, is by essentially accusing the person who brings it up
of being humorless and unable to get a joke. She got the joke.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, sure.
SEN: She just didn`t find it funny.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, she understood what the dongle (ph) jokes was. Right.
SEN: For a really good reason. It`s an inappropriate workplace behavior.
That`s what we`re looking at. And ...
HARRIS-PERRY: And it was - I mean what I loved about it. Like the first,
like the good part of the story is that PyCon knew that this was
HARRIS-PERRY: They goat what kind of environment this was. And they
actually set up a standard so that people would not be behaving this way.
I just want to take a look at what PyCon`s actual policy is. They had a
policy here saying that PyCon was dedicated to making - in their code of
conduct - "Be careful in the words that you choose. Remember that sexist,
racist and other exclusionary jokes can be offensive to those around you.
And excessive swearing and offensive jokes are not appropriate. So, they
have - they have this position. They started out as good allies on this.
ZIRIN: Oh, absolutely. And it`s worth mentioning that the tech world
itself has a horrible reputation as being just a sewer of sexism and jokes
and frat culture and all the rest of it. And the whole reason why PyCon
put down that directive was a way to actually fight against that
perception. There`s a crisis in the tech world as far as the number of
women who go into it, the number of people of color who go into it, and
PyCon was trying to address that with those rules. And yet you see what
happens as a result. The true face of the tech world comes out with how
Adria was treated.
HARRIS-PERRY: I feel like the social media part of it, too, the idea that
she and we saw with Zerlina Maxwell early from some comments on Fox News.
That rape, saying I will rape you, is a thing that one would say on Twitter
is indicative of what rape really is. Right? That is not about short
skirts and sexual availability, it`s about violence.
SEN: And power. And I think that the other thing I`ve heard often is
people saying that she should have handled it differently. She should have
just turned around and talk to men, hey, that`s offensive. Don`t say that.
But the thing we have to remember, is that, this is why we need rules.
Because informality makes a lot of space for our biases to come out. And
to put the burden on the person who has -- who is marginalized in that
situation to fix it on her own, in the moment, in spite of however many
times she might have heard similar things happen, had to deal with the
psychological and physical and mental, intellectual effects of that.
That`s a huge burden to put on the person who is being put down.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s why we need rules. Also why we need allies.
SKOLNIK: And also, allies need allies. Right, So especially no one came
to her. No - she`s- not enough folks have come to her side. And look at
that, when Brendon came out for marriage equality, it wasn`t until Chris
Kluwe wrote that letter on Deadspin, and holy cow, this can turn. That got
(INAUDIBLE) on board. And then more and more guys are coming forward. So,
I think allies also need allies. We can`t just expect one person to take
on this fight and let them out there on their own. We have to join them
and say, no, if it happens to her, that happen to the next person.
HARRIS-PERRY: And in part because we see, right, we see the growth of it,
right? And so, in this moment Adria`s herself not in danger. But given
that this is happening within the culture of context at Steubenville. And
it feels like it`s not just about this moment, it`s about the whole space
in which we exist.
WARREN: So, I`m glad you mentioned Steubenville, because I think that`s
another example of what the philosopher Hanna Arendt called "The banality
WARREN: That is of ordinary people put in situations where they end up
doing very evil things. And so, there`s the consequence to either not
saying something or not taking a stand or not speaking up. As it ends up
hurting other folks when you stay silent.
ZIRIN: A part of being an ally is not being a bystander. It`s not enough
to just say, in your own head, well, I`m not racist.
ZIRIN: Well, I don`t sexually assault women. Or I`m not homophobic.
There actually has to be an outward action. I mean we have to be judged by
what we do to fight racism and sexism and homophobia in our world and just
a small thing that I`m learning a lot now is I`m trying to help organize
Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Summer where people go and defend the last
clinic that`s open in Jackson, Mississippi, right now. And in the process
of organizing this, it`s very important to let people in Jackson,
Mississippi, take the lead ...
ZIRIN: ... lay it out. So it`s not like we`re coming down there with some
sort of savior complex, but it`s also not enough for us to be quiet and say
well, let`s just wait for Mississippi to stand up. Because if that becomes
the first ever state where there are zero abortion rights, that, of course,
has a national repercussion.
SKOLNIK: Can I say one thing also about being an ally? I think,
especially for young people, is acceptance. Right? Just a simple first --
especially for parents of young kids who might be gay or queer ...
SKOLNIK: ... or transgender, it`s just accepting. I think that just being
the first of being an ally and beyond the political fight, is accepting
your friend, your child, your college roommate. I think that`s an
important thing that we sort of look past. That we`re still not there in
terms of a place of acceptance.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. There`s a kind of a multiple points of entry, right?
There`s the acceptance, then, I think, Dave, to your point about not just
being non-racist and non-sexist, being anti-racist, anti-sexist. And then
our language about organizing, right? Recognizing when your own interest
or the interests of the broader, collective who we are is at stake and
allowing - it Ella Baker, right, who said, strong people don`t need strong
leaders, but they certainly need strong allies.
ZIRIN: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: They certainly need strong allies. Thank you all for coming
and hanging out with me.
WARREN: Ella Baker, that was awesome.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve got Hanna Arendt, We`ve got Ella Baker - It`s
Nerdland, folks. Thank you to Rinku and to Michael and to Dave. Dorian is
going to stick around a little longer. And be sure to check out our site.
Read our latest on two NFL players who are, in fact, making their voices
heard promoting marriage equality and LGBT acceptance. And that`s up on
mhpshow.com right now. Also up next, the prisoners who are still in
solitary confinement after 40 years. It is letter time. And my letter is
to Buddy. He`s no buddy of the "Angola 3".
HARRIS-PERRY: On February 26th, Albert Woodfox, one of the two remaining
in prison members of the "Angola 3" received some potentially good news.
For the third time his conviction for the 1972 murder of an officer at
Louisiana state penitentiary was overturned and a federal judge ordered
Woodfox`s release. After more than 40 years in solitary confinement. But
instead of letting the matter be settled in court, the Louisiana attorney
general just couldn`t help himself from responding. In doing so, he showed
why this case is about more than the murder of one man. It is about the
inhumanity exhibited for more than 40 years by the state. And that is why
this week`s letter is written to him. "Dear Louisiana Attorney General
James Buddy Caldwell. It`s me, Melissa. Let`s start here. I am not here
to try the case of Albert Woodfox. The question of his innocence is for
the courts to decide.
But there was a recent federal judge ruling, and after the ruling Amnesty
International started an online petition urging that the ruling stand, so
that Woodfox could be retried or released, noting that, quote, "Albert
Woodfox has spend nearly 41 years in solitary confinement in conditions
that are cruel, inhuman and degrading." And that Woodfox and Wallace - two
members of the "Angola 3" were sentenced to life imprisonment, although no
physical evidence linked them to the crime and there were serious legal
flaws that came to light." Yet, you, Buddy, just couldn`t help yourself.
You had to respond to the online petitioners. And your response shows your
long held bias. You said to the petitioners, "Thank you for your interest
in the ambush savage attack and brutal murder of officer Brent Miller at
the Louisiana State Penitentiary on April 17th, 1972."
Now, Buddy, no one is disputing the brutality of Brent Miller`s murder.
But what is in dispute is your impartiality and whether or not justice has
been served. Let`s not forget that the "Angola 3" were members of the
Black Panther Party at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. They were
convicted of murder while trying to expose the horrific conditions at the
prison. A prison located on 18,000 acre former slave plantation called
Angola. So, is it surprising to you that the U.S. district court judge
overturned this conviction? Because the state failed to prove that the
grand jury four person was selected on a race neutral basis? You tout the
so called strong evidence against Albert Woodfox by saying that "the
evidence against him is overpowering, that there are no flaws in our
evidence and this case is very strong. We feel confident that we will
again prevail at the fifth circuit court of appeals." Really? There are
no flaws in your evidence? There have been charges of prosecutorial
misconduct, bribing of key eyewitnesses and the loss of key evidence
combined with the lack of jury diversity, that type of evidence doesn`t
sound that solid at all. And regarding these men being held in solitary
confinement, you said, "Contrary to popular lore, Woodfox and Wallace have
never been held in solitary confinement while in the Louisiana penal
Interesting. What do you make of holding a 71 and 66-year-old man who
suffer from arthritis, kidney failure and claustrophobia in a six by nine
foot cell for 23 hours a day for decades? That sounds pretty solitary and
pretty confined to me. So while you may only see prisoners, prisoners
whose incarceration have helped to define your career, maybe you should
start seeing human beings who deserve justice and respect. Sincerely,
HARRIS-PERRY: Last year marked the 40th anniversary of Angela Davis`
acquittal on charges of murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy. The
new documentary "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners," which opens in
select theaters on April 5th attempts to capture her fascinating story. It
explained how she became a political icon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The actions of the FBI in apprehending Angela Davis are
rather remarkable ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A U.S. district court judge set bail at $100,000.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know that the movement to free all political
prisoners is growing every day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They wanted to break me. They wanted me to respond.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was enormous feeling for Angela everywhere in
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know that she is innocent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to tell (INAUDIBLE) in Washington to let Angela
Davis go free.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right, folks. Angela Davis was much more that her
afro. She challenged and continues to challenge the status quo. She has
redefined what it means to be a political prisoner. She endured a 13-week
trial and won. I`m pleased to welcome Shola Lynch, the writer and director
of "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners", which tells this remarkable
story. Shola, I have watched the documentary and more than anything, it
was the fullness of Angela Davis that you bring to us. What did it mean to
you to make this?
SHOLA LYNCH, WRITER & DIRECTOR "FREE ANGELA": Well, you know, going in, I
didn`t know very much about her, I knew her image, the afro, who hasn`t
rocked an Angela Davis` t-shirt in their day, right?
LYNCH: But I started to investigate. And there`s this huge nuance story
that about a woman and a movement.
LYNCH: So I wanted to take it from the second dimension, two-dimensional
image and add the third dimension.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, I think for me, part of what I love about the film is
that you talk about her as an intellectual and as a professor and someone
deeply engaged in the life of the mind.
LYNCH: Well, that`s who she was. I wanted to investigate who this woman
was. First of all, how do the 26-year old philosophy graduate student
become an international political icon? How is that possible?
LYNCH: I mean, Melissa, if I had written the narrative script and tried to
shop it in Hollywood, it will be like - that`s not believable.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, that`s right
LYNCH: Not believable, but it is true.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Well, an insight - there were moments I kept - I was
sitting there with just sort of open mouth awe looking at. And one of them
was the Nixon moments. The moments of Nixon - you know, the standing
ovation when he catches her and the idea that he continuously denounces
her. But what we now know about President Nixon, is pretty appalling.
LYNCH: It is appalling. And, you know, but at the same time - what is the
balance between national security and civil liberties? I mean if you`re in
charge of keeping the nation secure and somebody has been identified as a
terrorist, whether that`s wrong or right, what do you do? So, there is a
balance, but there are facts.
LYNCH: And they play out. And that`s what I was interested in
investigating. When I went into the story I thought OK, I`m going to find
that smoking gun, you know, blah-blah-blah. And I realized - she is
acquitted. She wins the case. And I realize the impression we have of her
is guilty, is as she`s guilty, because the media stock of articles about
her conspiracy, the charges, et cetera is this big. The stack about her
acquittal, this big.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right.
Well, talk about the thing she is acquitted of - I am not sure that viewers
even remember what the actual case is about.
LYNCH: Yes. So it was conspiracy for murder and kidnapping. And she was
implicated in a crime because guns used in a crime on August 7th were
registered in her name. And she had these guns to protect herself. I mean
this is the `70s, folks. Kids were arming themselves in self-defense.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s 2013. People are arming themselves.
LYNCH: Absolutely. It was all legal, you know, all the guns she had
registered, in fact when she bought the last gun she had signed an
autograph at the gun shop.
LYNCH: But the prosecutor felt like with these details that she must be
the mastermind of this crime motivated by love. In other words, kidnap a
judge - an intellectual to kidnap a judge ...
LYNCH: ... in order to exchange for her lover, who was in prison, George
Jackson. And so George Jackson and the Soledad brothers and political
prisoners. It`s a deeply political story.
LYNCH: It is actually, a political crime drama with a love story in the
middle of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: And what are the political aspects of it is? That she was
initially targeted because she openly said I`m a member of the communist
party. So in other words, as an academic with intellectual freedom, she
said, I`m a member of a world view, right, that is out of favor. But that
is precisely what intellectual freedom is supposed to allow you to be.
LYNCH: Absolutely, you know, Ronald Reagan, then Governor Ronald Reagan
gave her a national media platform. Because he wanted her fired for her
politics. But she did, she said, OK, you want to fire me? No. I`m a
communist. And that`s what I do. But I`m going to talk about George
Jackson, Soledad brothers, and what it means to be a (INAUDIBLE) criminal
and define that as a political prisoner.
LYNCH: 26. And it gets her a lot of trouble. But she stands firm. She
never plays the victim. She never apologizes for her politics. And I
think that`s one of the things as a woman ...
LYNCH: To see it play out in this story is really fortifying. Whether you
agree with her politics or not.
HARRIS-PERRY: Shola, actually, I want exactly that - away from Angela
Davis and just onto you for one moment. I feel like there`s going to be a
point when people are going to look at your body of work and realize that
you were the one person who bothered to get our stories, the stories of
African-American women, while we yet lived. That you got Angela Davis.
Her voice is throughout the film. My daughter who is 11 used your film on
Shirley Chisholm as her main school project. Why? Why did you decide to
make sure that you have captured us?
LYNCH: Because we`re silenced. We`re silenced in history. And we were
there. And we were participating. So I want to hear our voice. It
fortifies me as a woman and as a black person. This is - I love America.
I love American history. I love democracy. You know what - we were here.
And you`re not going to tell my story, I`m going to tell my story. And I`m
going to tell it in the way that I see it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, telling our stories. I love this. And it`s women`s
history months. Telling our stories is telling American history.
LYNCH: Yes. And it`s really important on that point, Melissa, to support
the film. It`s in theaters, AMC theaters on April 5th, and if it`s not in
you area, there is tugg - t,u,g,g.com where you can tug - literally, tug
the movie to your local theater. And I`m telling you, you want to see more
stories about women - strong women, black women, tug it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, you got it - you`ve got to vote with your feet on this
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you so much for joining us.
LYNCH: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: And coming up, more on this question of political prisoners.
Because there are prisoners right now putting their lives on the line.
What is really going on inside Guantanamo. That`s up next.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about Angela Davis, one of the best known
political prisoners in U.S. history. But make no mistake, political
prisoners are not a thing of the past. Currently 166 prisoners remain
detained at Gitmo. the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba. This February
detainees began a hunger strike, protesting searches by guards and a
seemingly unending detention. The official number of hunger strikers
stands at 37, with 11 of them being force-fed through tubes. While the
Pentagon remains mute about the situation, the White House had this to say
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSHUA EARNEST, W.H. PRINCIPAL DEPUTY SECRETARY: I can tell you that the
White House and the president`s team is closely monitoring the hunger
strikers at Guantanamo Bay. For details about what is actually happening
there, I would refer you to the Department of Defense. But I can tell you
that you know, the administration remains committed to closing the
detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The progress has been made under
this and the previous administration. But given the legislation that
Congress has put in place, it`s clear that it`s going to take some time to
fully close the facility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So while Congress continues to make it impossible to close
Gitmo, human lives are hanging in the balance. Joining the table is Cora
Currier, a fellow at ProPublica who covers national security issues. Cora,
let`s just start with what is going on. What is happening there in
Guantanamo right now?
CORA CURRIER, FELLOR, PROPUBLICA: Well, as he said, since February you`ve
had what started over what seems like a relatively minor incident of the
searching of Korans, has escalated into a situation where you`re now have
close to - more than 20 percent of the prison - of the population there is
hunger striking. According to the military, the lawyers - some of the
lawyers have suggested the number might be higher. And you have even the
now General Kelly who has the U.S. Southern Command that oversees
Guantanamo, saying that this is what you are seeing is an expression of
frustration with the uncertainty of their fates. You have a number of
prisoners - dozens and dozens of prisoners who were cleared for release
three years ago. 86 people cleared for release by a presidential task
force three years ago. And yet they have not been transferred to their
HARRIS-PERRY: I just want to pause right there. That there are dozens of
people, 86 of them who`ve been cleared for release, who nonetheless are
still being held, still being detained at Guantanamo. And so they are
hunger striking in part because - we are talking about people who don`t
even -- I mean, we had 779 detainees since its start. 600 of them
ultimately released with no charges. 166 still there. 86 approved for
transfer, but remaining there. If you are incarcerated in this
circumstances, what else can you do to get some sort of attention?
CURRIER: And I think another thing that General Kelly said was that the
hunger - the - not the particular (INAUDIBLE), but the prisoners have
watched the State of the Union. They saw that there was no mention from
President Obama of closing - his goal of closing Guantanamo in the State of
the Union. It was also missing from the inauguration address. In January
they quite quietly closed the office in the State Department that was
responsible for resettling detainees from Guantanamo and that there is no
sign that that office is going to be restaffed. So I think what you have
seen is a very quiet sort of winding down of the visible - at least the
visible efforts to the public to close Guantanamo and the detainees are
aware of that. They see that news. And they know that this is fading both
from the administration`s priorities and also from the public- public view.
HARRIS-PERRY: Why? Why are they winding down?
CURRIER: I think it has not been a political priority for the
administration. They initially, you know, it was one of the first things
that Obama did on taking office, was signing order to close Guantanamo.
But it - they didn`t anticipate the political blowback they were going to
get from the plans they had to bring some of the prisoners, for example,
into the U.S. , into detention facilities in the U.S. That caused a huge
amount of blowback from Congress who saw it as bringing terrorists into our
backyards. And they sort of put everything on hold after there was a lot
of blowback. Congress subsequently passed a number of laws making it very
difficult for the administration to bring people to the U.S. Basically,
impossible to bring them to the U.S., difficult, so you could transfer them
to third countries. They are also very concerned about the problem of
recidivism. If they release people. And several years later, they show
up - or months later, they show up, you know, back on the battlefield, so
to speak, that`s a huge political liability.
HARRIS-PERRY: So - so the alternative at this point is that we have people
in American custody who are starving themselves to death and in response we
are now force feeding them which could under Amnesty position be cruel and
CURRIER: The ICRC is the International Community of the Red Cross, it has
arrived in Guantanamo Bay, have made several visits before there,
apparently monitoring situation. They do oppose force feeding, so you
know, you have some outside, you know, involvement in the situation. But
yeah, it`s the standoff. And the military, you know, has acknowledged at
this point that this is - that the detainees are seeking attention. And I
think that you have - as we saw from the White House not a clear stance of
what they`re going to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, the final thing - if it`s a standoff, what can move it?
Who is the one player here who could just make something so it`s no longer
a standoff? So progress in one direction?
CURRIER: You know, I think that`s not entirely clear at this point. The
prisoners and obviously, the guards, have been there for - the prison has
been open for 11 years, so there is a relationship between the guards and
the prisoners and people at this - at this - of this - be it lawyers who
are there. I think some - the public attention probably will move
something on it, but it`s not immediately clear what the immediate demands
are that within this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you for being here and for reporting on this.
CURRIER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: We promise to keep our eyes on it. And your reporting is
one of really tremendous around this.
CURRIER: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you.
And coming up next, why people are working more and still getting less.
I`ve got a "Hunger Games" analogy for you. Plus the woman providing a
unique place for women to eat, pray and love. There is more Nerdland at
the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. This month,
filming wrap for the second installment of "The Hunger Games." The movies
are based on the best selling trilogy about a dystopic future. Now,
dystopian story from classics like a "Clockwork Orange" to my current
favorite of "The Virgin Theories," are supposedly about the future. But
they always help us to see the present in sharp relief. Violence,
environmental degradation, inequality and the consequences of ideological
extremism shape the lives of the characters and they echo in our current
Beneath the unthinkable consumption of state enforced adolescent violence
that is "The Hunger Games" is the bear economic reality of a society that
sees men, women and children only as cogs in a machine. Workers live in
grinding poverty. They know that their labor will never be enough. They
do the jobs they`re told to do, not the work that feeds their spirits. And
all of this is in service of the very wealthy few, who live and consume and
eat and plenty behind the walls of the capitol.
In this dystopic future, fair compensation and human flourishing have
nothing to do with work. And while why we may not be living in "The Hunger
Games", it`s hard to miss the trajectory of our post-recession labor market
and notice that it`s beginning to look a little more like a system that
benefits the elites for the drudgery of a very large underclass.
While the unemployment rate has dropped more than 40 percent of the way
back to prerecession levels, the kinds of jobs people are getting are
keeping them well below the poverty line. Since 2007, there has been a 30
percent increase in the number of Americans living in poverty.
And for those getting back to work, the majority of the jobs are low-
paying. Sixty percent of the jobs lost in the recession were mid-wage
positions. While low wage jobs are the standard of this recovery, growing
three times as fast as mid to high wage work.
So, what does all of this mean for the nature of work itself?
With me now: Saru Jarayaman, who is the editor of the Food Labor Research
Center at UC-Berkeley, and the cofounder of Restaurant Opportunities
Centers United; Sara Horowitz, the founder and executive director of the
Freelancers Union; Annette Bernhardt, who is policy co-director of the
National Employment Law Project and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute; and
Dorian Warren, associate professor of political science and international
public affairs at Columbia University.
So nice to have you all here with me.
So, let`s start asking if people can work full time and still be poor, then
what is work? What does a job mean?
SARU JARAYAMAN, RESTAURANT OPPORTUNITIES CENTERS UNITED: Right now, it
means that you are liver living in poverty. I mean, for the 10 million
workers in the restaurant industry, for example, this is the largest -- one
of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy. This is
the largest employers of minimum wage workers in the U.S., and
unfortunately for the tip workers in particular, they`re earning $2.13 an
So, for these workers, you know, the people who put food on our tables
you`re working full time, sometimes more than full time and you suffer from
three times the poverty rate of the rest for the U.S. workforce and you use
food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce. So the
terrible irony that the people who are putting food on our tables can`t
afford to eat themselves.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sara, I`m a little obsessed with your book, behind the
kitchen door, and I`ve -- in part because I live in New Orleans and I
travel so much, I eat out a lot. But we`re a very food-oriented city.
Part of what I thought fascinating is people are making almost no money and
yet they have incredible pride in their work. They have a sense of, you
tell some stories of people working behind the kitchen door who notice that
the food is bad and they`re trying to make sure that it doesn`t get served
So, on the one hand, even without fair compensation, workers are doing
their job in this incredible way. And yet, we`re not compensating people
JARAYAMAN: I`m sorry.
SARA HOROWITZ, FREELANCERS UNION: Yes. I mean, I think what we`re really
seeing is there are full time jobs in certain industries and then for so
many Americans, almost a third of the workforce, they`re working in gigs
and projects. And it`s very episodic, sometimes they have a lot of work.
Sometimes they have no work. They`re not eligible for unemployment
And so, it`s really becoming very difficult and they`re very much apart of
the declining middle and I think that`s another huge trend that we`re
HARRIS-PERRY: Tell me just a little bit more about that, because this idea
of a gig or a project, in other words, to be freelancer rather than
employee, what difference does that end up making?
HOROWITZ: Well, you know, it`s really like freelance, self-employed, solo
entrepreneur. And what it means is that the nature of the work is no
longer here is a 40-hour job, here are your benefits. It`s we need you for
eight hours. We just need your for the hyper efficient moment that you`re
here to work.
And then, you`re going to go and find out all these little gigs and that`s
going to be enough for you to participate in the American dream. And I
think all of us are saying we`re just not seeing that? We`re seeing this
very bad, distribution of income.
ANNETTE BERNHARDT, NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT: No, I was going to
add, you know, when industries, such as retails, sort of the -- and
restaurants are typical low wage industries, the issue really is, number
one, access to hours, right? Which I think people don`t appreciate. We
say, oh, they`re making $8 an hour. People think, oh, that`s $16,000 a
year. And in fact, it`s $11,000 a year.
But then, what we`re seeing in the retail industry in particular is really
abusive scheduling practices. So people are on call, week-to-week their
schedule changes. There was a great survey in New York City that showed
that only one in 10 retail workers knew what their schedule was going to be
next week, right --
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is the key to being able to have a second job, right?
If you`re going to have multiple gigs --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- the only way that you can have multiple gigs is if you
know when you can sign up for the other one because the other is not
BERNHARDT: And you can`t line up your child care. I mean, it`s extremely
disruptive of people`s lives. So, I think, tunneling, and figuring out the
policy solutions on that end is also really important.
WARREN: Melissa, I want to go back to your initial question about what
does work mean? Because I think what each of these women have said is that
we live in a democracy, but democracy stops when people go to work. The
democratic principles don`t apply to the workplace. We go to work in
authoritarian places, with dictators.
WARREN: So that when you raise you`re voice about the conditions that
we`re talking about, you`re either threatened, you`re fired or retaliated
against for speaking up. And especially when people -- when workers try to
HARRIS-PERRY: And this becomes particularly true in the slack labor
market, right? We`re just kind of looking labor force precipitation,
right? The labor force precipitation has declined. The graph -- just
straight, you know, little line, you know, hill going down.
And as soon as it is a slack labor market, right, and you say -- what is
the thing that you can do as a worker? You can say, well, I`m out of here.
I`m not working anymore. Right now, the response of the boss is, well,
bye, good luck with that.
JARAYAMAN: But coming back to your point, a lot of our folks don`t do
that, restaurant workers, because they take great pride in the work. I
mean, here`s the thing -- the industry treats them like it`s a job and
they`re workers in an un-democratic environment. For a lot of our folks,
it`s a profession. They want to be treated like professionals.
I think that`s true for part-time workers. I know that`s true for a lot of
restaurant workers. You know, the industry says -- it`s incredible to me
to hear this, but they always say, oh, these are people who are moving
through. It`s OK they don`t make good wages. They`re just young people
moving onto something better -- when in fact, the majority of the
industry`s adults with children who take great pride in cooking or serving
-- hospitality is in their blood. And they want to make it a profession.
They want to be treated like professionals.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sure, I have waiters who explain to me in other languages
what is on the menu. They explain to me where the food comes. They will
talk about the wine.
Their level of expertise and pride in the work is very clear. And yet, I
recognize that if I don`t leave a tip, they`re not making minimum wage,
HOROWITZ: You know, I love the way you started the segment by talking
about dystopian futures. I think that one of the things that we all are
trying to look at is what`s the next 20 years like? And I think that many
of us are saying we`re seeing these jobs change, this hyper efficiency.
And we have to start coming together and building our own organizations
that can support workers at the standards that will make our democracy
And I think that it actually shifts us to a strangely entrepreneurial
orientation around cooperatives, mutual aid societies, because the economy
itself, the way it`s going with a real emphasis on quick return is
destroying so many lives and communities that we`re seeing.
And it does revolve around food and retail and all these other things and
we do, I think, have to come together. We call that new mutualism. Other
people call the share economy.
There are so many ways the talk about it. But I think it`s really
important that we get back to relying on ourselves as the first step
economically in being interconnected.
HARRIS-PERRY: So the new mutualism is the way to begin to talk about what
happens that we have gutted labor unions, right? So, if we`ve gutted labor
unions and if we`re looking, we look, for example, at the so-called
Obamacare, right, the Affordable Care Act -- you know, the question of
whether or not you get health insurance at your job would be less important
if we have a single-payer system where health care was a human right, then
working for health care wouldn`t be the issue, right? You would work and
health care is provided, because you are human, right, not because you are
HOROWITZ: You could also have mutual like in France where groups like
restaurant workers, the domestic workers, freelancers, could come together
in groups and provide health insurance for the members with so care about,
we`re so mission aligned, and we`re not interested in profits. I think
that that`s going to be the next step that we`re going to seeing is that
the grouping and solidarity are going to be back in vogue. We are going to
start with the vanguard of these groups that are bringing together a new
kind of economy. And I think that`s the hope and the really interesting
part of this.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is that possible without the structure of the day-to-day
workplace? We`re sitting next to -- you know, we`re on the Ford assembly
line, like, can you do that kind of sort of mutuality without the thing
that made unions possible?
BERNHARDT: The way I think about it is I think on the work organizing
side, let a thousand flowers bloom and it will vary by which industry
you`re in and what form it takes. But I absolutely think we have to have a
dense network of public policies to support these organizing drives. We
can`t let private sectors off the hook. We need government to set a basic
standard in the labor market, whether it`s on wages or health and safety,
or enforcement of wage in our laws.
I think the New Deal --
HARRIS-PERRY: Which is part of why they`re trying to frame public workers
as somehow a draw on the system, because if they set a standard, right,
they can push the standard down.
BERNHARDT: And it`s why we see when their campaigns to raise the minimum
wage, even though it`s cents on a dollar, and we have now tons of studies
showing there`s no negative impact, employers will fight tooth and nail
over every last cent.
These are the fronts of the debate. What I would say is the New Deal
employment and labor law structure is out of date. But the principles
absolutely still apply, that government has a role to set the basic terms
of the labor market and then workers on the other side find the best form
of organizing that fits them. We have at this table several great examples
of the forms that --
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to come right back because there really is a
kind of dystopic story out there in the world about our workplace
realities. It`s in part about this question of job security.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ninety-eight minutes, over an hour and a half -- that`s how
long it took a worker at a Chicago factor to reach a burn center after
being scalded by 185 degree water mixed with citric acid. On that
afternoon in November 2011, Carlos Centino (ph) was left in agony with 80
percent of his body burned because factory losses allegedly refused to call
an ambulance, leaving it to a coworker to bring him to a local clinic.
Three weeks later, he succumbed to his wounds, dead at age 50.
This week, WBEZ Chicago and the Center for Public Integrity reported out
the ordeal, demonstrating through this one temp worker`s story the burden
facing the 2.5 million temporary and contingent workers on the job across
New research shows that temp workers are hurt more frequently that
permanent employees and that those injuries often go unrecorded. As the
use of temporary workers has soared in the past two decades, so has the
frequency of on-the-job injury.
So, when we talk about job security, it`s a very different kind of job
security. This is literally being safe at one`s job. And the idea when we
take away, right, take away that permanent status, you become disposable.
Yes? True? Not true?
BERNHARDT: The common theme here, right, is cutting labor costs. And so,
there`s a lot of ways to cut labor costs. Wages is one of them.
Guaranteed full time employment and full time hours is another. But health
and safety is definitely one of them and I think it`s one that has been
running under the radar screen too often.
You see the temp workers that were just -- this great series on the grain
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, yes.
BERNHARDT: So there is a lot of -- I think the lesson here is about
enforcement, right. It`s not enough to just set standards, but we have to
enforce them. Whether you look at minimum wage or health and safety, we
now have fewer boots on the ground who are enforcing these basic laws than
we did in 1980. And we have many more workers and many more work places.
This is not a sexy, right? You can`t get people riled up about it. But I
absolutely think if we don`t enforce these laws, the promise is hollow.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, the NPR story on the green worker was just -- it caught
me. It was gut-wrenching, because it just never really occurred to me to
think about it, right? And that question that it never really occurred to
me to think about how grain is stored and who is working it.
And, you know, similarly, again, your book, "Behind the Kitchen Door", was
a bit of a reminder to me about how we don`t bother to think about it. And
I just wanted to read this one part that like most Americans, every one of
us can tell a story about a life-changing moment in a restaurant.
We remember the way it looked, who was there, where we sat, what we ate,
how it smelled. But we tend to not notice who is handling our food. The
idea that we can simply decide that whole groups of workers are sort of
invisible to us in the process.
JARAYAMAN: That`s right. And it`s almost purposefully so, right? Like I
argue in the book, I think we as Americans celebrate our culture in
restaurants almost more than anybody else on earth. And yet, also as
Americans, also almost purposefully, we never know who is touching our
food. We don`t know anything about them. We don`t know what`s happening
behind the kitchen door.
And I argue that it`s very purposeful. Part of the dystopia that we`re
talking about is the power of these trade lobbying groups made of large, in
our case, restaurant corporations, the National Restaurant Association,
which has named the 10th most powerful lobbying group in Congress. We call
it the other NRA.
But most people haven`t heard of it. Incredibly powerful and talking about
what Annette is talking about, these are the folks that not only are
fighting against any kind of regulation, but when it is passed will do
things to try to evade it.
So, when Obamacare, ACA, was made constitutional by the Supreme Court,
Darden, the world`s largest full service restaurant company that owns Olive
Garden, Red Lobster, part of the NRA, announced they were going to reduce
all of their worker`s hours to evade ACA, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: It almost killed me. I had already had to give up Chick-
fil-A, around LGBT ally division. And then it was like, now, I`m not
getting cheesy biscuits? Really? It was a rough year for me on this.
WARREN: I want to jump on this. And, by the way, Herman Cain was the
former head of the other NRA, for those of you who don`t know.
But this points to the role of politics in setting the conditions of work,
and how important politics is. So in the case that Sara just mentioned,
there`s a case called policy drift that our political science colleague
Jacob Hacker (ph) uses, and that is the notion that when conditions change,
our policies often don`t catch up to the new conditions. So the minimum
wage is the best example of this.
Inflation has continued to rise. But our minimum wage has not. And so,
what happens is when we attempt to update the policy, you know, the minimum
wage should be $18 an hour based on how productive American workers have
been the last 20 years. When we attempt to change it, we have big lobbyist
groups who use the political process against the majority of workers, they
block any kind of policy change. And so, the policy continues to drift
away from it`s original intent.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sara, that`s my angst about -- like on the hand, we have to
sort of stand up for ourselves. But then I think, but how do we stand up
for ourselves against the powers of these kind of organizing capacities.
HOROWITZ: You know, I think it`s really great point, because what I`m so
struck by is that you have the policy drift because you don`t have the
mobilized constituencies that have the power that actually can bring it
And I think at the Freelancers Union, one of the major things that we do is
we say, you`ve got to build the economic base because then you have your
own money to spend on politics and mobilization. You can`t be dependent
just on foundations or the government. You have to -- like the trade union
has always done, start to build a constituency so you have leverage.
You`re not asking for permission, you`re saying we demand because the
democracy will be better -- the democracy, society will be better because
we`re doing these things. We`re not just asking for just one little group.
And I think that`s what`s so important.
And I think that we have to start really thinking about leverage and power
and not just about talking. And I think that`s what we are coming to the
conclusion. All these groups and it is a thousand flowers.
HARRIS-PERRY: And your point about it being better is not just sort of
theoretically, oh, will be a stronger democracy, but actually better. So,
the front page of the greater New York section of "The Wall Street Journal"
this morning is about the sick pain debate that is raging around the
And this question of sick pay is not just about workers. It`s about all of
us who encounter workers every day.
JARAYAMAN: That`s right. Ninety percent of restaurant workers don`t have
paid sick days. And 2/3 report cooking, preparing and serving our food
when they`re ill.
JARAYAMAN: And so, in my book, there are stories of workers with H1N1
working, serving our food, working with -- I just met a worker with
typhoid, working, serving our food. And so, I could go on and on and on.
And one thing --
HARRIS-PERRY: Because they have to come to work.
JARAYAMAN: That`s right. They don`t have the choice. When you`re working
for mostly tips you can`t afford to take a day off if you`re not paid for
it. And you`re at high risk of losing your job because this industry tells
workers, if you don`t come in, even if you`re sick, we want you to come in.
If you don`t, we`ll fire you.
JARAYAMAN: So, what happened in New York is an important step forward but
unfortunately, it effectively excluded the very people who are touching our
food. And so, we need to keep fighting.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to talk more about the issue of work -- but one
of the things I want to talk about is the threat to my job. I`m serious.
Not this job. My real job, there`s threat -- when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`ve been talking about work, and I want to take a moment
to just talk about my own work. Not this job. It`s a great job. But my
job hosting this program on MSNBC is technically my side hustle.
My real job is what I do the other five days a week -- working at Tulane
University as a tenured political science professor. I`m one of more than
9,300 political science faculty members in the country. One of the much
fewer 461 black political scientist faculty, and fewer still, 161 black
women political science faculty. So, that`s all according to the American
Political Science Association`s recent report on the state of discipline.
So, to say the least, we need to make more. We have been.
1986 was the year that the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute program began,
with the expressed purpose of increasing diversity in political science,
hosting 20 undergraduates every summer since it began. Fifty-one former
Ralph Bunche scholars now have PhDs and other are in graduate school.
And the Bunche program has been widely credited for helping to diversity
the field. How did it happen? Well, Bunche needs nearly $250,000 each
year to cover the cost, 54 percent of which comes from the National Science
And now that is in danger of going away because of what happened on March
26th when Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma led a successful effort to bar the
National Science Foundation from using funds from political science
research, except for research products that, quote, "promote national
security tor the economic interest of the United States."
Yes, the U.S. Congress has voted to eliminate funding for an entire field
of academic inquiry. It`s unprecedented. So, it must be saving a us a lot
of money, right?
Well. No. This is going to save us $13 million. Now, $13 million, if
that`s a lottery price, you take it. But it`s a statistical hiccup by
Washington standards. But Senator Coburn was determined to eliminate the
95 percent of overall government support for academic political science,
according to sciencemagazine.org. The kind of stuff that it pays for goes
far beyond the Ralph Bunche summer program.
Since 1952, the American National Election Studies Survey has asked
Americans a series of questions that are the foundation of understanding
how our democracy works, without the NES, we would not have quality,
durable, nonpartisan evidence about the basic features of our democratic
But Senator Coburn says there`s no enduring need to fund the political
science research because you can get all the information you need from,
quote, "CNN, pollsters, pundits, historians, candidates, political parties
So let me just be really clear: as someone who works in both the academy
and in televised political commentary, political science is not punditry.
It is not news. It is not partisan politics.
Political science is a scholarly discipline. And as Harvard professor and
president of the American Political Science Association Jane Mansbridge
argues, "Grounding political science scholarship at the National Science
Foundation assures political independence, rigorous peer review by experts
in the field, interdisciplinary linkages, and long term commitment to
building scholarly capacity for the future."
And that, Senator, doesn`t have anything to do with TV news.
HARRIS-PERRY: Millenials, they are the folks that some also called
Generation Y and too many in my age group and older assumed that they`re
obsessed with Twitter and Facebook -- not that there`s anything wrong with
that -- or that they are materialistic and mooching.
But are we getting the wrong impression?
Annie Lowrey wrote this week in "The New York Times", "The millenials`
relationship with money seems quite simple. They do not have a lot of it.
What they do have, they may seem reluctant to be spend."
People of my generation entered the job market with a flush tech bubble,
with rising house prices. The `90s were a good time to go get a job.
But many millenials carry a student debt that is almost tripled in the last
eight years into a job market that is struggling to recover from the Great
And on the other end, we are as the "Forbes" magazine termed it, nearing
the greatest retirement crisis in American history as millions of baby
boomers face the end of their careers with inadequate savings.
Joining me live from San Francisco is Nona Willis Aronowitz, who is a
fellow of the Roosevelt Institute and a cofounder of "Tomorrow" magazine.
Also again here at the table are my folks, Sara, Saru, Annette, and Dorian.
Nona, I just want to start with you because I think there`s this -- you
know, I started with "Hunger Games", right? And part of these dystopic
novels are about sort of adolescents reading it. And it feels to me like
it`s in part because young people are facing what looks like a dystopic
NONA WILLIS ARONOWITZ, CO-FOUNDER, TOMORROW MAGAZINE: Yes, and I loved
Annie`s piece. What she was saying is millenials are obsessed about money
because we don`t have it. And another way to read that in a political
context is that we have class consciousness. I mean, the reason that we
are obsessed with money is because we feel like we`ve been getting the
short end of the stick and we can`t take it anymore. That`s why Occupy
And the conflict that she talked about is a little more inner, but it`s two
sides of the same coin. And I think we are very aware of what`s happened
to our generation.
HARRIS-PERRY: It feels to me, though, like there`s still are, if we look
at sort of millenials, it still feels like there are at least two
fundamental classes and perhaps more like, so on the one hand, there`s
young people with huge student loan debt who are over-educated and
underemployed. Then there`s those whole population of very poor young
people who don`t have like that first step on the ladder, who don`t even
have college degrees, no matter how expensive and debt-producing they were.
How do we think about a generation that is so divided in that way?
ARONOWITZ: Yes. You`re right. There is a lot -- there`s a sort of
oversized preoccupation with a downwardly mobile side and a sort of sense
that it`s always a given that there`s going to be poor people. Well, the
poor are now poorer.
I think there`s actually less of a class divide than some people would like
to think. I mean, on one hand a lot of the downwardly mobile millenials
who grew up middle class have now zero network, or sort of now realizing,
sort of -- a tiny sliver of what poor people have always realized. So, in
that sense, that gives me hope that there is some sort of alliance there.
On the other hand, what they`re dealing with and what poor people are
dealing with, are very different. I mean, boomerang kids are the lucky
ones. They get to go back to their parents. There are some poor kids who
are just in really, really dire straits that are in homeless shelters and
really trying to make ends meet or they`re single parents.
So, I think, on one hand, middle class kids have kind of understood what
it`s like to be poor. On the other hand, there`s still a big divide.
HARRIS-PERRY: And, Dorian, I want to ask you about it. To boomerang means
your parent has a basement for you to go sleep in, right? So, it is
simultaneously -- so for a whole group of kids who are down with the
mobile, they are also dealing with parents who didn`t ever have an
opportunity of having parents who didn`t get into that class of having --
even owning a home that has a basement for you to go boomerang back to.
WARREN: Exactly. So, there are a whole group of folks who even if they
had homes, they`ve them in the Great Recession and folks that never had
homes in the first place for people, for their kids to come back to.
But I want to talk about this inter -- among millenials. I mean, we can`t
talk about this topic without talk about prison --
WARREN: -- and the prison industrial complex and the cultural state. So
we have -- we`re channeling a whole group of black and brown youth into
jails and prisons on the one hand, where they probably will never be
employed in their lifetimes. And when they come out --
HARRIS-PERRY: And the white youth, the job they`re going to have -- the
one job that`s left is to guard the young black and brown youth.
So, that -- so we see that happening on one hand. And we tend to ignore
that because they`re not even in the labor market, right? They`re not --
those folks are never considered a part of the discussion.
On the other hand, I think Nona is right. I think the millenials who are
more privileged, and who get to boomerang are finally starting to feel and
realize just a sliver as she said, what these groups of poor black and
brown kids are experiencing. And that does open up the possibilities for
alliances and solidarity.
JARAYAMAN: Can I give you an example of something really hopeful from my
perspective -- is actually the growth of the service economy, retail and
restaurants, is where these folks are coming together. So, you see young
people going through college, actor, students, whatever, going through the
restaurant industry struggling, at the same time they`re working alongside
Actually many of -- you know, the restaurant is one of the few industries
that does hire formerly incarcerated folks. There`s a ton of segregation
and racism and people are held in lower positions -- don`t get me wrong --
but people are coming together.
And so, what I find interesting about that is now, there`s a lot of talk
about minimum wage, right? There`s some movement. We`ll go on the Hill
and talk to staffers, or you know?
Just yesterday, I was with a legislator in Arkansas, and he got up and
said, you know what? You`re telling some stories that I`ve experience. I
was a restaurant worker for many years. I went many days without tips. I
know what it`s like. And so, he was able to relate to the stories in my
book, which are all young people of color who`ve experienced a lot of
So, I feel like the growth of the service economy allows for some shared
experience that we can draw upon to pass policies that are needed precisely
for the people at the bottom.
HARRIS-PERRY: Nona, let me come back to you on this, because you`ve opened
up this possibility of there`s an allied relationship, you know, sort of
possibility. What does that look like?
ARONOWITZ: Well, you have kids with big dreams of having a fulfilling job
and now, they`re baristas or they`re working in restaurants and then you,
as we`ve been talking about, there is this class that has always been in
these jobs. And I think once millenials that they might not get that real
job, and maybe make the job that they already have real, as in your know,
highly paid with, you know, health care and paid sick days, I think that
those class divides will kind of not be as important in this movement.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Nona in San Francisco. We are going to stay on
this topic when we get back, because I also to want to talk to Sara
Horowitz a little bit more about this freelancer`s bible. If I do have a
side gig, apparently, I need to be reading my bible about it -- when we
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re back. And we`ve been talking about the nature of work
and how it has changed.
I was interested as I was listening to Nona at the end there say, we were
looking for the job, right? And I`m thinking about, you know, my parents.
My father worked in one job for 20-plus years, a job that gave him meaning
and identity. And when you said to him what do you do, it was like who you
That`s just not how people work anymore, right?
HOROWITZ: For sure. I mean, I think what Nona was talking about is people
who are in their 20s, they are the new workforce. This is going to be the
norm. They`re piecing together jobs and gigs and trying to figure out how
they`re going to do it.
And, so, one of the things that I did was I tried to write a book called
"The Freelancer`s Bible" to give people a sense of how do you work in this
You talked a lot before about security -- there`s so much insecurity pent
up in this. And it`s really happening to the vast majority of people in
this country. Not just the poor. Not just the middle class. But, really,
everybody but the 1 percent and I really think that`s the point.
BERNHARDT: Yes. Let me make a pitch for we dropped the terms temp worker,
we dropped the term contingent work, right? Everybody, no matter what the
industry, what the precise employment relationship is, how`s employment
insecurity. I mean -- meaning, there`s a lot more churning, You have a lot
spells of unemployment and has wage insecurity.
BERNHARDT: That is happening across the board. I think we have to get rid
of this vulcanization and Dorian has heard me make this pitch before, stop
thinking about that we are in transition. We have arrived at the future.
This is the future of work. We are living it right now. And I think that
has a lot of implications for organizing strategies and our policies. We
are now 40 years removed from this mythical age in the `60s, right, where
we supposedly had a social contract.
We are not going back there. We have to figure out new public policies and
new organizing strategies.
HARRIS-PERRY: The other piece of this, I`m thinking, you know, as you were
talking, there`s an insecurity of being employed and the nature of that.
But I also thinking about what I do think about my two parents. There`s my
dad working the same job for decades. When it was time for him to retire,
he had been a state worker as a university professor, at a state
university, when it`s time for him to retire, what he had in addition to
having job security all those years was retirement security.
My mom who worked at gigs and side jobs and was nonprofits and doing the
best she could, when it came time for her to retire, it was like, oh, what
are we going to do?
So, the other piece of this, not only are the millenials entering into
this, but our seniors who are in circumstances of now having nothing to
fall back on.
JARAYAMAN: That`s right.
Yes, we have a ton of older people, younger people, all going into an
industry, some because they can`t find anything else to do. But I can`t
agree with Annette some more. I mean, our industry is -- you know, one of
the largest and fastest growing, 10 million workers. It`s a mainstay in
And I would argue, these are actually temp workers in many ways because
being in a restaurant, you know, you`re totally insecure. There`s no
guarantee. It`s very seasonal. Your tips fluctuate.
I mean, there`s no paid sick day. There`s no health insurance. Your wage
is insecure and so is your job all the time. And so, you`re moving from
job to job.
Again, though, I want to say it`s not that people don`t want a profession.
They have to move from restaurant to restaurant or piece together different
restaurant, retail and other jobs to make a living, right?
HOROWITZ: I think we`re also talking about a financial ecosystem. Our
retirement system, our pensions are what is funding our stock market. If
we are going o have a workforce that has no money, where will the money
come from? Where are the private equity dudes spending that money?
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re not putting anything in.
HOROWITZ: They should be the first ones trying to build us up, because
what we`re doing We`re really destroying this major part of the economy.
Students have such student debt that they`re not saving. They`re not
looking -- they`re not getting jobs that then have a pension. That`s going
to be really huge coming crisis of the lack of capital.
HARRIS-PERRY: Even as you talk about ecosystem, you know, doing what I`m
thinking is our policymakers are very bad at complexity, right? Even when
they are deeply good intentioned and even they make one shift here or
there, they seem to have a hard time seeing something that is an ecosystem
in that way.
WARREN: That`s what brings to mind. The speaker of the city council,
Chris Quinn, hard time for three years, saying that paid sick leave wasn`t
in the best interest of workers in the city and not business. And, by the
way, the broader context here is that corporate profits are at the highest
WARREN: So parts of the economy are doing very well. But the majority of
workers in this country, as well as unemployed folks are not doing so well.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s one is not sustainable, right? If it`s an
ecosystem, right, therefore it is not sustainable. Like at first, we
think, oh, it`s OK to make the huge profits and starve the rest of it. But
I really this, as soon as you start messing with it at the bottom, the
whole thing falls apart.
BERNHARDT: And I actually think that`s why I think we`re getting a lot of
traction on the minimum wage and why I think frankly, President Obama came
out in support of it, because I think we`ve really turned the corner and
the fight on the minimum wage, we`re no longer defensive about it. Oh, is
it going to cause a job loss or not? We -- people are realizing you can`t
build a strong recovery if working people don`t have money in their
pockets. And that is now the argument for the minimum wage, that it`s
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, we`re living in sequester, right? This is your
point about like there`s not some future coming. There`s not some turn
that we`re about to make.
This is the recovery. And we`re in sequester. I mean, to even begin to
talk about things like plugging up the ACA, pushing back together the
shredded safety net or raising the minimum wage sounds like crazy talk when
we are in sequester.
BERNHARDT: Exactly right. I mean, the other piece of the sequester story
also, the thing that makes me uncomfortable in some of the conversation
about older workers displacing younger workers, right, one as we all know,
these are not rich older workers who just want a little part time gig,
right, they don`t have retirement. They`re desperate for work.
HARRIS-PERRY: They`re trying to pay rent.
BERNHART: They`re trying to pay rent.
The key problem is we don`t have enough jobs. The private sector evidently
after this many months of waiting, ain`t doing it, right?
And so, we really need to get the public moneys in there to do job
creation, infrastructure repair, put people back to work, sending money to
the states so that we`re not starving --
HARRIS-PERRY: Which he stood in Miami, right? He stood in Miami and said,
infrastructure, public works.
BERNHARDT: Have to do it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Just like those two points, corporate profits are at their
highest rate. They apparently don`t need workers to do it, right? So, the
only reason we`re going to create these jobs is going to have to be the
JARAYAMAN: Can I say? I think there`s this mythology that corporate
interests and workers interest are actually diverging.
JARAYAMAN: You know, we have 100 employers around the country doing well
because their workers are doing well, not in spite of the workers doing
They pay their workers well. They provide paid sick days. They provide
HARRIS-PERRY: Who`s good at this?
JARAYAMAN: So -- Tom Colicchio is a great partner of ours, star of "Top
Chef", owner of the Craft Restaurant Group. We`ve got partners around the
country, small mom and pop restaurants.
People always say that`s fine for the big fancy fine dining restaurants,
good, the small mom and pops do it. In D.C., there`s a great restaurant
called Ben`s Chili Bowl.
HARRIS-PERRY: Ah, Ben!
JARAYAMAN: Great employer. Great partner of ours, you know, provide basic
-- really, really takes care of the workers and does well because they do.
And so, I want to say, this dystopia is a mythology that restaurants,
corporations, companies are going to suffer if workers do better, when in
fact we`ve seen across the board, that`s just not true.
HARRIS-PERRY: I can live with that. If I can`t have my waffle fries
because of the LGBT ally question, I can`t have cheesy biscuits, I can at
least have my chili from Ben`s.
JARAYAMAN: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to all my guests, Saru, Sara, Annette and Dorian.
But we are not done yet. Hang out here. We`ve got a little bit more
Nerdland because there is a woman working to make others safe. She is
doing it with no staff and no salary. She is our amazing foot soldier of
the week, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Every week, we bring you foot soldiers, who see a need in
their community and get to work. Some focus on providing food or shelter
or job training or fair access to medical treatment. This week`s foot
soldier does all of these.
Asma Hanif was first inspired by her grandmother, who worked as what she
calls a maid slave, for a physician in the South.
Now, Asma has no memory of her grandmother ever sleeping, just working.
But when her grandmother developed a lump in her stomach, the physician,
the one for whom she worked sun up to sundown, told her, don`t worry about
it. It will never amount to anything. That lump was cancer and it killed
That experience inspired Asma to become an advanced practice nurse. And
while in college at Howard University, she found Islam. And during her
hospital training, she witnessed many Muslim women patients experiencing
So, Asma realized there was a need in her community and she founded an
organization Muslimat Al-Nisaa. It was a holistic health center and it
provides services for women, especially Muslim women who encounter
religious intolerance and cultural insensitivity in medical settings.
But the women, when she was working with them, she realized that they
needed much more than medical care. They were also dealing with
homelessness and domestic violence and inadequate education.
So, Asma established a shelter for Muslim women, including domestic abuse
survivors. And in this home, they don`t have to worry if the food is
cooked in accordance with their religious commitments because it`s and
their need for modesty and prayer because they do. This place is not just
a shelter, it`s a home.
Now, Asma has no staff and no salary. She does this work on her own with
her own effort, and along with her four adult children, their spouses and
her volunteers. And this is more than work. It is a calling.
Asma told us, I am nobody but I`m afraid that on the day of judgment, God
will say to me, one of my servants came to you and you turned them away.
So, for all of her hard work, and for making sure that no one is turned
away, Asma is our foot soldier of the week. And to learn more about her,
please go to our Web site at MHPShow.com.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going
to be back tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern with a closer look at the
question of morality.
But now, it`s time for a preview of weekends with Alex Witt. Today it is
hosted by my guy Thomas Roberts.
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hey, Melissa. Thanks so much. Another
thoughtful show and I look forward to tomorrow. So, thank you.
New and alarming threats from North Korea. Will North Korea`s actions lead
to war? And will the U.S. take preemptive action? And we get the latest
on this developing story.
Also, how might the Supreme Court rule when it comes to marriage equality.
We`ll take a deep dive on that.
Plus, today, thousands of people undergoing blood test to determine if
they`ve contracted HIV, hepatitis or other illnesses after their dentist is
accused of numerous health and safety violations, all of that and much more
on "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" coming your way next.
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