In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, and Kaya cover the underreported news of the week— including US basketball players stuck in Ukraine and Russia, Hertz car rental report returned cars as stolen, and a free library by Solange’s Saint Heron studio featuring books by Black creators. DeRay interviews activist and comedian Lizz Winstead about her legacy on the Daily Show and her recent advocacy around the Mississippi abortion case.
DeRay McKesson: Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode, it’s me, Kaya, and Myles talking about the news that you don’t know from the past week, the underreported news of the week. And then I sit down with activist and comedian Lizz Winstead about her legacy on The Daily Show and her recent advocacy around the Mississippi abortion case. We chat about the history and future of reproductive health this country, and I learned a ton, as always. My advice this week is to check in on home. Wherever you were born, grew up, the place that you consider home or the people that you consider home, check in on those people. I always found home to be the most grounding part of the world. And you know, my father raised us. I talk to my sister almost every day, and home is truly where the heart is. Here we go.
Kaya Henderson: Hey, Pod Save the People family. We’re excited to be back with you this week. I’m Kaya Henderson, @hendersonkaya.
Myles Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson @pharaohrapture
DeRay McKesson: And this is DeRay, @deray on Twitter.
Kaya Henderson: So friends, a lot to talk about this week. And I guess we should start with the Kanye vide, “Easy.” Which we all just had the pleasure of watching together because I was a little behind the times and hadn’t seen this vide. Y’all, what in the world is going on? OK, first of all, can we just have a moment for the fact that all of this is playing out like in public in this way when it is, I mean, we keep on talking about Kanye needs help, Kanye needs help, Kanye needs help—but like what, like, what are the consequences for a video where you literally decapitate your—I don’t, I guess, romantic rival, and pour roses or, you know, make him a planter and a few other things? Like what, what do we do with this? Wha—ah, can you tell how perplexed I am by all of this? Oh my gosh. What do we do with this?
Myles Johnson: Yeah, I think Kanye’s a really interesting figure, probably not for the reasons that other people find him interesting. Well, to me, he’s an interesting figure, because he kind of pushes you to like, pushes me to think anyway about like the kind of like two sides inside of me which are like the critic, the person who wants something to get better, and like the artist, somebody who thinks you should have all the rights to be able to express yourself. And specifically, when it comes to that video, I think that we can say whatever we want to say about it, but it’s deeply just representative of where Kanye’s to me like headspace is. And Kanye to me, has watched the three part documentary. I loved it. And I think Kanye is, like, deeply disturbed, and I think that Kanye is always wrestling to threaten the power back into his life and into bad boy or to rich or wealth or cool his way back into feeling empowered in his life, And I think this is another example of that. And not to say because, you know, if anybody else did this, it would definitely be seen as abusive and I don’t want to give him any passes, but after watching a three-part documentary, it’s hard for me to even take anything that he creates seriously in this way, because of the fact that, like, he’s always trying to not seem like the dweeb at the record label or seen like the broke kid who’s not as rich as Jay-Z or the person who’s not as talented as, you know, Common or Rhymefest. He’s always kind of doing that struggle and now he’s, you know, lost, you know, says a lot of people, the most beautiful woman in the world, lost his wife to this, dweebie white dude, and now he’s trying to like, do that. It’s just like, it’s hard for me to take him, like to take him seriously. And I guess on the other end, it makes me curious about Kim Kardashian and the fact that yet again, a famous, abusive man is kind of creating the narrative around her family, and I wonder how that’s even like, how that seeping into her brain. But I don’t know, the shock is a little bit, the documentary may curb my shock because I was like, Oh, this is what you do when you’re still 13 in your guts.
Kaya Henderson: I mean that boy aint been right since his mama died, right? And he says, and in the song, something about no more therapists. I, first of all, just on a plain old human level, like he’s in deep pain and I want him to, I want him to be right. I want him to be OK. Like, I’m concerned about his personhood, right? And I think we have seen, you know, genius come from Kanye, and there are a lot of artists who their genius comes from a place of pain, right? My girl, Mary J. Blige, done cornered the market on turning pain. Adele, right, these people have turned pain into, you know, profit. But I’m deeply, deeply concerned about him as a person, A, number one. I’m also concerned about his family. The children are seeing all of this, or will see all of this at some point, you know, because it’s all playing out publicly. And like, I, you know, when people are not their whole selves, like, should Pete Davidson be worried? Like what, what’s—and like what, are there any criminal implications to this?
DeRay McKesson: You know, I watch it and I do, I agree with both of you. Myles, I’m sensitive to the, how do you take it seriously? The thing about that, though, is I think some of his fans take it seriously and they hate Pete. And they, you know, when Pete made his Instagram, they flooded the comments, calling him Skeet, because that’s what Kanye calls them now. And, you know, like that whole thing. And even Kim, when Kim texted him as she posted, and he posted the text message being like, You’re going to get somebody hurt, like, stop it. And he’s like, I’m sorry. The thing, the cycle of abuse to me that this is so, that makes it so clear to me is that he is at once saying, I want my family back, I want my family back, and then like threatening Kim and Pete and all these incredible ways. And it’s like, even if Kim wanted to be with you, it’s like, how do, you how do you go back to somebody who is like openly saying all the worst things about you? Like, do you remember the post where he said the best thing that ever happened to your life was having my first child? That’s what he, that’s what he said on Instagram. Like that is really, you know, that is gross and unkind and mean and spiteful and hurtful. And even in the song where he’s like, I have these kids five hours a day, you’re like, you’re their parent. That’s not like, you don’t get a bonus for having—five hours is not 24 hours, right? Like, and you have all the help, or I don’t negotiate with therapists. It’s like those things make me, they scare me because I think that that, I think we’ve made so many strides around mental health, and then you hear Kanye being like, I don’t negotiate with therapists, sort of normalizing this idea that getting help is actually a bad thing. And that’s like, you’re like, No! So I’m happy Instagram took it off. I am, I continue to be worried. And it’s, you know, I think Kanye is, I like the way that you said it Myles, like this is such a deep desire to not be seen as the “insert here” right? Dweeb, poor guy, da da da. It’s also this really interesting obsession with whiteness. Like it just, even Pete. You know, it’s like—
Kaya Henderson: Come on. Say it.
DeRay McKesson: It is like, it’s like Kim, it’s Pete, it’s like what success looks like. And it’s just like, but while using Black as the arbiter of authenticity, right? And I’m like that, I think Kanye is truly the best spectacle of that in the public right now.
Myles Johnson: Oh, absolutely. I’ve forever called Kanye West, rap’s Cholly Breedlove. I’ve always said that like as far as like just like the Toni Morrison character in The Bluest Eye. It’s like being fascinated with like all of the things that whiteness has, and it’s kind of disturbing. Remember when he had like the contacts and the blond hair, I said, Now this looks a little cra—this not, like, you know, and as somebody who’s a provocateur, somebody who loves Avant Garde fashion and how things look and loves esthetics, like that, I was like, Oh, this looks like somebody who’s literally looking like the disturbance that’s happening inside of him, is like wearing it externally. And chasing whiteness does drive you crazy because it doesn’t exist, and you can never be white enough, and you can never be male enough or rich enough, and it’s built to drive you insane, so and chasing your own tail.
Kaya Henderson: I mean, I also think that since you know, his mother was a phenomenal, you know, integral figure in his life, the next sort of woman of import was Kim. And so, you know, I understand or it seems obvious to me why he’s holding on to, you know, this will be the second important woman that he’s lost, right? And I, like I think we all have deep, deep attachment issues and mommy issues. Everybody has some connection, positive, negative, whatever. I just, I want, I don’t know. I feel like, you know, whatever woman comes his way is, has the potential to run into this kind of a thing. And so it just makes my heart sad. And I think you’re right, DeRay, like, I’m worried that people are going to start getting hurt. And where’s this people? Where the people? Like, I hope that somebody grabs me when I fall off the deep end or when I am exhibiting behavior that might endanger other people? Yeah. Y’all, come get me.
DeRay McKesson: I will say the thing about his mother that I thought was so interesting in this latest round of episodes is he has started to say unkind things about her in a way that I had never imagined. So he’s been like, you know, she kept me away from my father, she did this, like he wouldn’t let me, she won’t let my father be in my life because she was upset. Like as a sort of making the corollary to Kim, like Kim is keeping Kanye away.
Kaya Henderson: The kids.
DeRay McKesson: And the thing that is so interesting about that, about the corollary there is that Kim is making a decision because of Kanye’s actions, right? Like he, he totally is like absolving himself of any responsibility in the situation. And the second thing is that Julia Fox coming out afterwards being like she basically auditioned for the role. Like, again, another white girl, the new girlfriend looks just like Kim. She’s 24, he’s 40, and it’s like, that is just such a, I do think it’s like watching a car crash, like people are enthralled with the spectacle. But again, it, just the obsession with whiteness is so front and center.
Kaya Henderson: My news this week is about the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, but with a slightly Black twist. And so I want to share with you a little bit about Maurice Creek, who is a former NCAA basketball player who played for Indiana, and he played for George Washington University. And he was a basketball star in college and went on to play professionally in Europe. He’s been playing in Europe since 2016, so about six years. And Maurice Creek got himself home after getting stuck in the Ukraine once Russia invaded. Five days after the invasion, he was able to get himself to the border of Moldova and get through after a harrowing experience. He, in fact, was in the car for four hours traveling to the border with two Ukrainian women. He got in line at the border, which was cold, less than 30 degrees, and he didn’t have gloves or food. He waited in line for hours, and when he finally got to the front of the line, like you’ve heard about many of the African refugees, he was sort of asked to move aside and they let other Ukrainians into Moldova before they let him. And finally, they let him in. And his four American teammates had left days earlier, but he stayed. And the reason that he stayed is because the Ukrainian team that he played on hadn’t paid him. And it’s super strange to think about the fact that he’d been playing in the Ukraine for months, he hadn’t been paid ,and the Ukrainian team had been downplaying the possibility of invasion, and he was like, Look, I just need my money so I can get out of here. As the invasion neared, airline prices were spiking and he was like, I got to get out of here, but I literally don’t have money to take a plane. And because he had an assistant coach who was an American who had lived in the Ukraine for 20 years, that coach helped to orchestrate a series of things, a series of steps to get Maurice Creek out and get him back to the U.S.. We also learned this week about Brittney Griner, who’s a WNBA player with The Mercury, and Brittney, who was playing in Russia, was trying to get out of Russia and to come back to the United States when she was detained by customs officials in Russia, who said she had vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage. We don’t know, she’s been in a Russian jail maybe—we don’t know exactly where she is, but it seems that this detention of Brittney Griner is the Russian state, it could be the Russian state acting against Americans. And why was Brittney in Russia? Because she plays for a Russian league in the off season and she gets paid more in the Russian league than she does in the WNBA. Her WNBA salary is $228,000 with the Mercury, and she makes more in Russia than she does in the United States. And so I brought these two pieces of news to the pod because I think when we think athletes, when we think basketball stars, we think everybody is balling. Everybody’s not balling. Not everybody makes it to the league. And even when you make it to the league, if you’re a woman, the money is not commensurate. And so these folks were literally in harm’s way. Brittney is still in harm’s way. As I said, we don’t know. The Russian state is being quite ambiguous about where she is and how long she’ll be there and what the, you know, what the next steps are going to be. But these are regular people, regular Black Americans who are, you know, using their talents to support their livelihoods, and they have to do it overseas and literally they are in harm’s way because of this Russian invasion. And so when we think about the faces of the war, we see Ukrainians and we see other eastern Europeans, we see Russians who disagree with the invasion, and we, our hearts go out to all of them. But there are brothers and sisters who look just like us who are out there trying to make a living who are in harm’s way because they just wanted to ball in Europe. And so I brought this to the pod because I thought, this is a perspective that we don’t usually see.
Myles Johnson: Yeah, I thank you for bringing these stories in because I think sometimes, well, I think this particular like, global political moment, I think does feel close to home because I think everybody’s implicated and we all kind of know that one move from any place can change where we’re positioned in this invasion at all times. But I do think that, you know, often Black Americans and globally Black folks like fit, like are in our own world, sometimes. Like and like that aint really got nothing to do with us, until this happens or whatever. But this invasion is about us right now, and we are we are affected. And then also, I think—and I don’t, this is just a thought, it’s not necessarily a comment or answer or whatever—but I think about how, how much like our lives and how much of our, um, how much of our livelihood, when you when you’re a Black person is intertwined in these like oligarchs and just kind of demented places. Like how like how much we we can’t really remove ourselves if we want economic freedom, and you also want to like do our passion that we’re going to like, be in bed with these places that can do such horrendous things, and also these deeply anti-Black places, because I’m willing to bet it now that a huge reason why she was detained wasn’t just because she was American, but also because she was Black American and because of those other implications that hold that, and we know that anti-Blackness is global, and it’s just scary to think that at any time that can turn violent and you can be, you know, essentially like, you know—tell me if I’m overstating it—but she could potentially be like, essentially be like a criminal of war, right, or like a a prisoner of war rather. Like, that’s horrifying. And just because you want to make a decent living for what you love to do, and I think that, you know, keeping that in mind is always good. But yeah, I have no answers, but just like running thoughts that came to my mind when I was, when you shared that news.
DeRay McKesson: The thing that so, Kaya, I think your analysis of the basketball players is spot on so I’m not going to add there. What Russia has made me think of is how the only way that Putin can do this, or the way that he is able to continue, given, you know, the uproar around the world is because he has blocked literally every form of communication. So it’s like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the internet is dag gone near down. Like all of the TV stations are state run. They’ve ended all independent media. BBC is not there. All the major networks have pulled out. So it’s like this place where you know, you look online and you see these stories where people are like, the people in Russia don’t even think a war is happening! They don’t, they believe that it’s, you know, because Putin’s whole thing is that the Nazis, they’re Nazis in the Ukraine, and he’s going to go [unclear] with the Nazis. But even the Russian people aren’t even allowed to get access to just basic information. It has been interesting to see the world come together. Like Visa and MasterCard, Apple, like Apple products don’t work, like creating this crisis, but I can only imagine what it’s like to be in a country where they have, the only message you hear is that like your leader is right and he’s doing this righteous thing. And the world just disagrees with it, but like, you know, but just such a, it’s—I think I’m surprised that in 2022, that’s even possible, that like, it’s like we are all watching this country in a petri dish with no information, and we all know, we all know both sides or we see and da da da, and they literally, it’s like, there’s just no news. The Navalny doc, I saw it at Sundance, and Navalny is one of the opposition leaders, probably the most famous opposition leader. He’s currently in jail. He gets arrested at the end of the documentary. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when this is over and to see how the world either holds Putin accountable or doesn’t, or does Navalny get out of jail? That whole thing. And somebody asked me today, How should they feel about it? You know, they were like a Black person was like, you know, it feels like we have so much privilege. And I was saying, like, you know, yes, in America, there’s definitely privilege for everybody, relative to some other places in the world. But as Black people, we are all, like no matter where we go in the middle of an invasion, a pending war, like still, they not letting the Black people get on the trains, not letting the Black people on the planes, not paying a basketball players—like, you just, when people have to choose between something, they do not choose Black. And that is like a tale as old as time. And I think this just plays again. And it’s good that it’s getting coverage. Oh, the last thing I’ll say is, you know, people open their borders for Ukrainians ind two seconds. We’re like asylum, asylum, asylum! All these Black—Haiti! Haiti is still trying to get people into places and it’s not happening. So again, it’s a reminder that like we can do all the things, we choose not to for Black people.
Myles Johnson: On a lighter note—but, gee whiz, each time we double back on this, oh my goodness gracious— but on a lighter note, my news is the Saint Heron Library. To know me is to know that most of my heroes are dead, and those people I really love. And Solange Knowles actually serves as like one of my living heroes. I got to meet her at the Telfar show about two weeks ago. And that was amazing, and I looked cool and she looked cool and we just had like a cool moment. And when I was researching news, I try to, if I can, for it to be positive and uplifting. I remembered the Saint Heron Library, which is a library a lot like No Names Library. But specifically the Saint Heron Library serves as a archive for content by Black folks that is not seen. So it has some great, great, great articles of Black literature that you’re like, Wait, I didn’t even know this existed. And if you’re like a geek like me, I’m like, Oh yes, I want like Nikki Giovanni’s like the second book that only had like a run of 50, like, so it’s stuff like that. Solange, said—this is a Vanity Fair article— Solange said “The Saint Heron Library continues the work we have been building by preserving collections of creators with the urgency they deserve. Together, we seek to create an archive of stories and works we deem valuable. These works expand imaginations, and it is vital to us to make them accessible to students, and our communities for research and engagement, so that the works are integrated into our collective story and belong and grow with us. I look forward to the Saint Heron Library continuously growing and evolving and over the next decade becoming a sacred space for literature and expression for years to come.” Speaking of, one of the examples of the books that I really loved, if you, if you go on the Saint Heron site, you’ll be able to see this—but one of the books is “No Matter Where You Travel, You Still Be Black” by Houston A. Baker Jr., which is like, like when I tell you like just afrocentric like, geek nuggets and you’re like, How did you all get this? This is a really great resource. I think it’s a beautiful thing. And again, we are in a very particular time when it comes to celebrity artist and Solange continues to be somebody who I think really makes really interesting decisions with what she decides to do with her platform and her vision, her voice. And I just love this, and I was happy to bring this on as news. Yeah, that’s my news for this week.
DeRay McKesson: It is the organizer mantra from forever ago, right, that we got to teach the people so that they know what’s true and what’s not true. That we got to wake people up, people aren’t woke. And there’s no moment more apt for political education than this moment to help people see stories about blackness that are not only stories of slavery, but are also stories of a whole host of other things. I was actually thinking the other day about how, you know, what we even know from the period of enslavement is the tip of the iceberg of evil. That, like, I’m sure, the worst, because the enslaved were not allowed to read and write, the worst things that people did, we just like, we don’t, there’s no written account. But these stories are reminder of both what has been and what’s possible. And I’m excited that, you know, people, I even think about Twitter as, like some people say, some brilliant things that like, don’t travel far, but that was a word. You’re like, That was brilliant. And then give out a library of books that is essentially those things is really quite—think about the analysis, you know, as an activist, when I’m looking for texts to read to inform my work today, I’m almost never reading people who write today, partly because most people writing today aren’t berious and not, they haven’t actually done a thing in the world. But also because there’s a generation of like the ’50, ’60, ’70 who wrote so much about the decisions they made and about the world they were in, about what power looked, like about how they should move, and those writings are still grounding writings for me today.
Kaya Henderson: I appreciate Solange and, as you said, Myles the way she uses her platform. I think, you know, she has gone from being Beyonce’s little sister to carving her own space as a cultural curator, as an innovator. I mean, I was on the Saint Heron website, and she’s got a ceramics residency where she is supporting artists in their ceramic work, right, black women practicing ceramic art. She is undefinable, honey, and I love it. She does what she wants to do and this library piece is really, really important. Besides just giving people access, you know, a lot of this primary source material is how researchers and academics actually, what they do their dissertations on when they have access to this kind of thing. And when people do their dissertations on Black history, Black culture, that stuff becomes part of the academy in a very official way. And so she’s making this material available, which will mean not only will more people read it, more people will analyze and write about it, and it becomes part of the respected and acceptable canon, which, you know, for some people, that’s important, but it’s also part of us creating our own canon. What is, what do we want all, you know, all Black kids to read before they graduate from high school? That’s the question that I’ve asked myself, and that’s part of the reason why I founded Reconstruction, which is about Black history, teaching our own history, our own culture, our own literature. And I think that Solange using her celebrity to take on these really, really important preservations of writers, of artisans, of musicians, it just warms my heart and makes my heart smile. So shout out to Solange. Thank you, Myles, for bringing us to the pod.
Myles Johnson: Of course. [sings] “I tried to sip it away.”
DeRay McKesson: Get out, get out! So mine is about Hertz because, you know, I had to, you know, I got to weave the police in, and I saw this story, was like, You know what? The world is just a crazier place than even I think some times. So there are a couple of stories, so there’s one in USA today. All of these are actually from the past week. So if you rented a car from Hertz, there could be a warrant out for your arrest. That’s one of the stories. Who knew that Hertz has actually been filing police reports reporting cars that were returned, rental cars that were returned, reporting them as stolen. So one story I read talked about a woman named Paula Murray. She ran it from Hertz in 2016 and then in 2021, she was actually going to be a dispatcher for the state police. She walks in to fill out some paperwork and gets arrested. She spends the next three months trying to get answers from Hertz, which is then in Florida, before they finally dismiss her charges three months later. So there are 230 plaintiffs who are suing Hertz for false arrest and in some cases, prosecution, and the lawyers representing this cohort believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg. What Hertz admitted in the filing is that they file an average of 3,365 police reports about stolen vehicles in a given year. And that is just wild, that they are, that their recordkeeping is so bad they don’t really know who returned a car, who hasn’t and they’re just reporting the cars as stolen. And I think about this. I returned a rental car once and they kept calling me like, Where’s the car? I’m like, I turned it in, took, gave you the keys, took a picture, da da da, and they’re like, We don’t have the car. I’m like, I don’t have the car either. I definitely like, turned it, I got on a fight. And I just, I didn’t either, I was like an aberration. I thought that was like a weird mess up at one station. I had no clue that they were weaponizing their shoddy system for record keeping and literally just filing police reports. And anybody who’s had a, who’s been arrested or been in the criminal justice system, you know that it’s not as easy, once the police arrest you, it’s not as easy as Hertz calling and being like, Oh my bad. It’s a whole process that people need a lawyer to go through and navigate the system. It’s costly. This woman’s out of a job. She had a job. She didn’t do anything wrong. She returned the car and it’s Hertz problem. And as you can imagine, Hertz isn’t like helping her get a job back, which is why they’re suing. And this is just a reminder of the collateral consequences of an arrest. Forget a conviction—people often talk about the collateral consequences or the long term consequences of conviction—but for the majority of people in this country, an arrest itself has long-lasting consequences, and Hertz is a culprit.
Kaya Henderson: Y’all, this was mortifying to me. You know, it’s sad that some people were jailed for this alleged theft, and at least one was allegedly held at gunpoint just hours after paying for a rental. Y’all know me, I’m afraid of jail. I try to stay on the straight and narrow because that’s a place that I plan on not going. Could you imagine if my scaredy-cat self had returned the car and the police pulled me over because they thought that hours later, after I had returned my car because Hertz said that I stole it? Whew. This is tragic. It is a tremendous example of corporate greed, overreach. They talk about this being systemic, so the only way that is systemic is if there are policies that instruct people in Hertz’s all across the country how to do this, when to do this, why to do this. And you know, a lot of these people are long-term renters whose car has been, you know, they are going, they’re renting because their insurance is paying for it, usually while their car is being fixed for something else. So you could imagine, you know, people who are living right on the edge of poverty, your main vehicle gets disabled and you are going through the insurance company doing all the right things and because Hertz is bugging out that you ultimately get arrested and potential—this is, it’s just horrible. And this is, I mean, I think you should be very careful about who you rent from.
Myles Johnson: Yeah, it’s damning. And also, I think, you know, on the more extreme side of things but I think you can’t overlook it is any Black people have to interact with the police, it could become deadly. And I think that to have policies as something, I don’t know anybody who has never had to, anybody over 25 has never had to like in some way like interface with a hertz or a rental service, and this is your policy, you might quite possibly be putting somebody in danger—God forbid, something else was on their record or something like that and then, you know, the police have the right to do whatever, and they might think that you’re dangerous because of something else that’s on your record or something else that might have been done, and then and—or even depending on what neighborhood you are and they think that, you know, like Grand Theft Auto is a big deal, a if you go and they think you’re dangerous or think that they have reason to, you know, use force or whatever, it can turn deadly. And I think that all companies, for whatever reason they have in their policies that who make it part of the policies that interface with the police when things don’t go right, need to reexamine that, and the Black community should reexamine our relationship with those places if they don’t change those things, because that can turn deadly, you know, like DeRay said with the arrest and everything, of course, but you know, our interactions with the police can often be fatal, so that’s definitely something to take seriously. Thank you for bringing that, that grounding, depressing news DeRay..
DeRay McKesson: Just got to keep it, keep it grounded.
Myles Johnson: 100.
DeRay McKesson, narrating: This week, we have Lizz Winstead back on the show to chat about federal and state laws targeting abortion access and overall reproductive health. We talk about Roe v. Wade and Supreme Court’s intention to overturn the decision and what people can do. We talk about The Daily Show and her history on The Daily Show, which I didn’t know about. And Lizz argues that this is not just a woman’s issue, and we need all-hands-on-deck fight to hold people accountable in the states to maintain reproductive autonomy for all citizens. How do we mobilize our local communities around reproductive justice, where are the resources to assist us? Lizz helps guide us through these times with regard to the issues around reproductive health and a lot more. Here we go. Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
DeRay McKesson: Lizz, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Lizz Winstead: Always. Happy to be here.
DeRay McKesson: So a lot has changed. You were on the podcast a while ago. Can you talk about, let’s just start with what’s going on in your world today?
Lizz Winstead: What’s going on in my world today is, the truth is 47 years of our constitutional guaranteed right to abortion is about to be erased by the Supreme Court in June. So there’s no, anybody who says, Well, if the court overturns Roe v. Wade—don’t listen to those people, they’re not serious people. The court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. And so for activists on the ground working on reproductive health rights and justice issues, we’re trying to figure out what the landscape for access to abortion looks like starting in the summer. And it’s pretty scary. And so that’s what I am waking up every day thinking about.
DeRay McKesson: Got it. I have a lot of questions about that. And before we talk about that, though, I wanted to talk about the L.A. Times article that came out featuring you in July 2021 about The Daily Show. Now, I didn’t know this, that The Daily Show was actually started by two women. Most people in popular culture know it because of Jon Stewart, and the article talks about how you and your partner Madeline, I think, was her name, right, Madeline?
Lizz Winstead: Madelin, Madelin.
DeRay McKesson: Madeline. I done gave it a jazz, Madeline—how y’all were so instrumental to it. Can you talk about where the story come from? Did it, was somebody just asking about it? Or how did this come up last year? And then what is the true story of how it started?
Lizz Winstead: Yeah. So it came up because, we it was the 25th anniversary of The Daily Show last summer, and The Daily Show wasn’t doing any anniversary around it. Nobody was, and I was like, That’s super weird, y’all that like 25th anniversaries or something, everybody celebrates. So I don’t understand. So we call up Comedy Central. We’re like, Are you doing anything? And they said, No. And it was like, OK, well, then Madelin and I are going to get together all of the OG crew who launched the show and talk about what it was like. Because here’s the thing, DeRay, and this is really, I need some journalists to figure it out: there is no video from the first two years of The Daily Show. It was hosted by Craig Kilborn. There’s, it doesn’t exist. It’s not on the website.
DeRay McKesson: Wait, what?
Lizz Winstead: Yes, it’s gone. It’s I have VHS boxes. In fact, I just put up a thing on Twitter yesterday because I have VHS tapes that are direct from the masters. But I think that, I talked to Madelein and I was like, Do you have any copies of the show? And she said, No, I don’t know where they are. She said, I’ve heard they’ve been destroyed. I was like, Destroyed?! What? So I’m trying to get these boxes of VHS tapes I have to like the Paley Center or some organization so that they can be in the public record. They don’t exist. They don’t exist. Yeah. So that’s pretty—
DeRay McKesson: I honestly, I didn’t know that Craig Kilborn was the first host either, by the way, until I read the story.
Lizz Winstead: Yeah, no, I know. I mean, nobody knows it was two women. And you know, I often, when people say, Oh my God, I had no idea. And I said it should give you more than just pause that you had no idea. You know, why is it that in the history of The Daily Show, the two people—I was also the head writer, created the show, Madeline and I—there wasn’t a Daily Show and then there was and Madeleine and I together created the concept. And you know, why is it that the network and everyone involved never celebrated the two women that created it? I can’t answer that for those that chose not to, but it’s a question. It is a question.
DeRay McKesson: Now, what, what made you, was it hard to pitch it to people? Like, were people like, This is silly, this is never going to work. Like, how did you how did you push through and make a format that hadn’t been done before?
Lizz Winstead: So, it is, it’s a Cinderella showbiz story that when I tell folks, they’re like, That’s never happened in the history of showbiz. And there’s one other show that this happened to, and I’ll tell our story and then I’ll tell you who the other show was. So I myself started out in standup, did political standup for most of my career. I was working on, Jon Stewart had a talk show that was on MTV before it was, before The Daily Show and everything. So I worked on that show. I was a segment producer, but I was always really political. And when the show got canceled, our bosses at at The Jon Stewart Show were tapped to run Comedy Central. And then Jon was tapped in a two-year development deal with David Letterman’s company. I think, in my mind Letterman was freaked out by how talented Jon Stewart was and didn’t want competition in late night, so he locked up Jon in one of those sweetheart deals they give people in show business where they’ll pay you a bunch of money, but they actually don’t let you make anything. It’s really garbage, our industry, quite frankly. So our bosses at The Jon Stewart Show called Madelin and I in and said, You know, one of the things that we want to do a Comedy Central is have an anchor show in the evenings that’s kind of a recap of the day’s news. And I had done some political and newsy one-woman shows. I myself have always been very political in my comedy, and so I said, you know, it’s not just responding to the news. The medium itself is a mess and I feel like should be held up to scrutiny. And they were like, OK. And I was like, OK. And they go, Tell us more. And so I was like, Well, you know, I think we should hire disgruntled news people who are just mad at, because they can’t actually tell stories anymore, because at the time, everything was very sensational. You know, think about like the O.J. trial, the Menendez brothers, there was only CNN at the time, was the only news channel. And so it was this very non-newsy, “if it bleeds, it leads” like just trying to get ratings kind of news. And so I said, why don’t we get real news people who are funny and then give them comedians who care about news and present a show that is produced like a newscast, but runs like a comedy show? And they were like, That sounds great. And then they said, But it really sounds like we can’t really pilot this, so what we’re going to do—and that means like do a test episode—what we’re going to do is give you a year on the air to let the show develop. And that is unheard of in showbiz. It is completely unheard of. And the only other show that ever got that was The Simpsons.
DeRay McKesson: Why do you think they did it? Why do you think they, why, why did you get this, this crazy deal?
Lizz Winstead: I think because they knew that you had to see there’s so many facets of news. You know, when you watch it every night, it’s either there’s a breaking story and you got to go to eight million people and you have to, and you have to, there’s so many elements that would get involved every night, it’s almost like when you produce a newscast, you’re reinventing the wheel every single time. And I think that they wanted, they knew that just one pilot episode wouldn’t allow them to see if they had a working format. Also, news is really cheap to produce, so why not let it roll, work out the bugs, develop segments and then see and see where it goes? I think that that was honestly because of the nature of the format, they wanted to see a bunch of different ways that it could be done. And so every day that you would wake up, you would do some kind of other sort of news program, depending on what the news was. And so I think that’s why. It was pretty lucky.
DeRay McKesson: How did how did all of your work on The Daily Show prepare you for the activism that you are engaged in today around women’s rights, around reproductive health? Or did it not?
Lizz Winstead: Oh, it 100% did. It was the catalyst, I think, for everything. I’m somebody who has always been a curious person. I’m somebody who has, you know, as a woman walked with always some level of fighting power, also as a white woman with some level of privilege. But the thing I think that was the most interesting part of it was the stand up. When I was doing straight stand up, you know, every time I could talk about a lot of issues, but when I would talk about reproductive rights, health, abortion, there was always a bristle. The audience was always like, mmm, really? And then even at The Daily Show and subsequently at my other work, like I had launched Air America Radio, when white dudes are in charge, they quell talking about anything that has to do with abortion and reproductive health, things that are considered—and I’m putting air quotes around this—”women’s issues” because they’re like, Ooooh, I don’t know if it’s kind of a broad enough audience, or, That’s really polarizing. And so even at Comedy Central, they would say two things to me. They would say one, you’re not an activist, you’re a comedy writer. And I was like, I’m kind of both. Actually, I’m really both. And so when that got hammered into my head on top of, And really, let’s stay away from this other third-rail thing, I realized that I was kind of an anger fluffer. I get people all riled up, tell these stories, and then I was not allowed to ever have a call to action. And so as I moved through corporate media from comedy all the way through all this other stuff, I, we got a lot of pushback on on that. And I finally just said, it’s does me no good to inform people and to, especially, play with their emotions and their livelihoods, if I can’t then also tell them what they can do and how they can participate in being part of the solution. That became really important to me. And so I had taken a break from doing this crazy MSNBC show that I was working on with Maury Povich and Connie Chung to write a book. When the book was finished, I wrote it back in my hometown of Minneapolis, and I was driving back to Brooklyn and I had my two dogs and I rented a van and I drove across country and I went and visited clinics all over the country. Because it was right in 2010 when all of these laws just started happening all over the place and clinics started closing. And I drove all over doing fundraisers for clinics and the clinic’s all said the same thing to me: You know, no one ever visits us, nobody really understands, you know, we’re almost confused about why you’re here. And it kind of broke my heart and I realized that they were struggling in their own way to have the community understand what they were doing. They were going to work every day being assaulted in front of their clinics. They’d have to drive home in a different way each night. Most of these clinics are run by Black and brown women who are helping other folks who are low-income BIPOC folks, you know, get the care they need, and they’re tired and nobody cared about them. And I was like, I can be part of bringing community together to help support the work these folks are doing. So I went back to New York and I gathered a bunch of folks who I work with, comedians and activists and producers, and I said, I kind of want to get back out on the road and do some shows that will, comedy shows that will gather folks in because they like what we do, and center the folks, the community activists on the ground to also be part of the show and tell their story and about the work they do and what they need. So for the past, you know, six or eight years, I’ve been traveling around the country with really great comics and really great musicians doing these community events that helped grow activist bases at a local level. And it’s been really, really incredible. And seeing the intersections of racial justice, reproductive justice, economic justice, environmental justice, you know, having folks all come and see each other and know each other, it’s been pretty cool.
DeRay McKesson: We’ve had a couple of people want to talk about the abortion conversation and the scary Supreme Court and you know, it’s looking bleak. And you even started this conversation by saying it’s going to be overturned. How are you not hopeless, or like, what can people do? Or is this just like you wait it out and hold your breath and we pray? Or like, what is the, what’s the what?
Lizz Winstead: I think where we keep our hope is that it’s going to go back to the states. And so it’s going to be on us to really be participating more than we ever have in our lives around what’s going on in local politics. I have to believe that people are going to learn that very quickly based on Roe being overturned, because Roe gets overturned because of laws that passed in state legislatures and are signed by governors. So, you know, in our next iteration of how we mobilize, I really do not want people going to Washington. I want people to mobilize at home. I want people to really start thinking in their own communities and learn from the people doing the work. You know, thinking about boot camp days where you learn about all of the ways that you can help facilitate people accessing the care they need, so that you can find your place in the movement. Are you somebody who wants to get on the phone and try to help folks who need some assistance, whether it’s actual to pay for their procedure or travel or lodging? You know, do you want to be somebody who’s helping fund those things and connecting people with the funds? Do you want to be somebody who helps escort to clinics? Maybe it’s your jam to, like, help work on legislative stuff. Maybe it’s your jam to do direct action like—but I don’t think people understand all of the resources that are available to them and so part of the work that we are going to be doing as we look towards June and beyond is really helping mobilize on the ground these kind of, you know, teach-in boot camps that people can really immerse themselves into all the ways they can help and then come out with knowledge and then where they connected in all those things. Because I think being in community is, as you know, is always the thing that keeps you going every day, and making sure that those numbers grow, and keeping people active with stuff they can do, that is always a laundry list of things that can be, you know, meeting them where they are, having people look at a list of activism and tools to say, Here’s my capacity this day, this week, this hour, and having them feel like they can make change with the capacity they have, and really making sure that also people understand as we move forward that bodily autonomy and access to this care, everybody, it’s everybody’s problem, right? For years, it’s been kind of like, I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, You women, when are you going to figure this out? You must be terrified. I’m like, I wish you were terrified to understand the humanity piece of this because we all go through it. You know, when I talk to my cis men friends and I’m like, How many relationships have you been in where your partner paid for the birth control? Oh, almost all of them, right? Then you have benefited from birth control and access to our reproductive care. And so I think that, like getting everybody involved is also going to be crucial because you got to hold politicians accountable and tell them that their jobs are on the line if they don’t care about it. It’s the only way this stuff works.
DeRay McKesson: What kind of what kind of volunteering have you seen to be the most, like when people call you and they’re like, I want to fight, what have you seen to be—and you just mentioned a range of things that people can do—what have you seen to be like the most common entry point for people, or what have you, what would you say is like the most impactful thing that people—is it, is it actually volunteering at a clinic or is it like getting to five friends to email somebody? Like, or, I don’t know, how do you think about the, because I think people listening to this are like, on your side and are, and don’t know what to do now. They know the range of things, you know?
Lizz Winstead: Right. Well, if they, I always say it’s not necessarily— sometimes I think we go about it wrong. Sometimes I think we tell people what they should be doing, rather than offering a panoply of things that people can look at. Like, it you go to our website, we have a resources page, AAFront.org/resources. It lists a myriad of things that you can do so that you can make a self-assessment of your own capacities. Because the one thing that I think we can’t say enough when it comes to getting people into an entry point is, Tell me what it is you love to do, tell me what your skill sets are, tell me what you can do and what you do do effortlessly, and I can almost always guarantee that I can help translate that into making change. Because I think that trying to wedge somebody into a space that isn’t something that motivates them or inspires them or keeps them up at night or wakes them up in the morning, they’re not going to be a sustaining member of making change. And for me, it’s that self-examination always of our movement and of the work that I do that says, Come here, talk to me and, or come here, talk to my organization about who you are, what you do, what you know, what’s important to you—and I can guide you to where you should enter. I’ll help you with that entry point.
DeRay McKesson: Boom. I like that. What do you, what is the next five years of the reproductive health conversation?
Lizz Winstead: You know, DeRay, it’s so, that question is the hardest question because you and I talked, I think two years ago, the landscape of sort of when I go to my darkest spaces, if you were to tell me that I would have woke up in September 2021 and that the Supreme Court would uphold a law where people could bounty hunt other human beings trying to access abortions, and that would be OK, I would say, you know, I mistrust humanity as much as the next guy, but that can’t be true. So, I, on one level say I can’t imagine, because so much has happened that I can’t imagine. But then I have to try to imagine something because I really want to help people see it. So in the next five years, what I hope that we can do as activists is support the clinics in our in our spaces. And I think that medication abortion and self-managed abortion at home is going to be a road that we need to go down. A lot of folks don’t know that just this year, medication abortion, which was invented in France in the 1990s and has been legal in the United States since 2000, is a two-pill regimen that someone can take up until 10 weeks of pregnancy, where you basically you have your abortion at home. It’s like a heavy period. Safer than taking Tylenol. And I want to say that again: safer than taking Tylenol. For years, just up until this fall, it had been under strict, strict scrutiny. A classification that is allowed for only the most dangerous of drugs under this FDA classification, and that classification went away under the Biden administration this year so it’s more accessible. People are going to be able to get it through the mail in certain states, are going to be able to get it through telemedicine, which is being with your doctor on the computer or on the phone. So that’s going to be something that we need to push forward in as many states as possible to make it easier to access all the ways that we can. And I think that’s going to be a big push forward in our movement. As well as really just we have not had conversations around reproductive health that have been really centering the patient at all. And so I think that patient care, I think storytelling is going to be a big part. I think when you put a face and a person and an experience, and you front-face with that, you’re going to be able to much more find common ground and empathy. There’s a great reproductive justice organization run by Rene Bracey Sherman that is an abortion storytelling organization called “We Testify” and you know, their tagline is, “Everybody loves somebody who’s had an abortion.” And I think, you know, leading with love and leading with that is going to definitely be a big piece of our way forward.
DeRay McKesson: Now, I thought I read yesterday it may be, that there was another state, like a state really close to doing another ban, or almost is about to do a ban, or did just do a ban that wasn’t Texas. Did I make that up?
Lizz Winstead: No, you sure did not honey. It happens every day. You know, you could make that statement every day and you would be right. So just know that.
DeRay McKesson: That’s not good.
Lizz Winstead: It’s no good. It’s very bad. So Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, Arkansas, have all done similar proposals—and Alabama—all done similar proposals to this Texas law. Very similar. But I think the bigger thing to know, and this is part of the sort of like overwhelming larger scheme is, there are 12 states right now who have put in place something that’s called a “trigger ban” and what that means is they preemptively created a law that says if Roe v. Wade is overturned, within 30 days of that happening—30 days to six months, depending on the state—all abortion will be banned in our state, outright, no exceptions for rape or incest, in 12 states. There are 13 other states that have near total abortion bans that will be triggered if Roe v. Wade is overturned. So what we’re talking about as the Supreme Court comes down with their ruling is 26 states that will not be servicing 75 million people of reproductive age. And if that just sounds like big numbers and you can’t even imagine what that’s like, just because of Texas and their six-week ban, states as far as Maine have two to four-week waiting time on just getting an appointment because of the people who have had to flee Texas to get care. So when you take 25 other states on top of that, we are heading for a crisis that is, we are woefully unprepared for. And even states like California, New York, Illinois, that have progressive policy around this, don’t have the facilities or the doctors or the capacity to take on what’s about to happen. And so I’d like everyone to really take pause on that because a lot of people are going to be turned away and there’s going to be a lot of very scary decisions that people are going to make about their own lives because we all know you can have, you can make anything illegal, of people need it, they’re going to, they’re going to find ways to get it or find ways to do it themselves. And those ways are often not safe.
DeRay McKesson: Boom. There are two questions we ask everybody. The first is: what’s a piece of advice that has stuck with you over the years?
Lizz Winstead: A piece of advice that stuck with me over the years: someone said to me, You matter, act like it. And I, and I always loved that and think about that a lot when thinking about advocating for myself. So that is, that’s my big one. You matter, act like it.
DeRay McKesson: And then to the people who are hopeless, right, the people who are like, OK, we’ve done all the things we’re supposed to do. We tried, we emailed, we called, we testified, and the world still hasn’t changed in the way that we wanted it to—what do you say to those people?
Lizz Winstead: I say to those people, it’s think about what you have to offer, what your capacity is, and what that means for you staying in a movement and sustaining your activism. I think that also whatever your issue is, try to find a way that you can connect and be with the people who are affected by what’s going on, because humanity meeting humanity is really for me what keeps me going every day. I don’t know that I could just like work on environmental issues without being on the ground, working every day with the people who are impacted by environmental injustice, right? Like, I don’t, I can’t personally stay in a movement if I’m not working side by side with the people and taking leadership from the folks who are directly affected. And so I think thinking about it in those ways and figuring out those ways to connect with the humanity on the work every day, it will keep you grounded and it will keep you in the fight. And you’ll see change. You will.
DeRay McKesson: Boom. Well, we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back on, and I’ll be following the fight to make sure that I’m being the best ally that I can be.
Lizz Winstead: You know what? You’re being super great, and I love it, and thank you so much for having me.
DeRay McKesson, narrating: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by A.J. Moultrie and mixed by Veronica Simonetti, and executive produced by me. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.